In interviews I’m often asked about the inspirations for my stories. Here are  the stories behind the stories. I hope you enjoy these behind-the-scenes looks at my books.

 MRS. LEE AND MRS. GRAY  In 2002, more than 80 years after the death of Mary Custis Lee, the eldest daughter of the general and Mrs. Lee, two wooden trunks belonging to Miss Lee were found in the vault at Burke and Herbert Bank and Trust in Alexandria, Virginia. Among the scrapbooks, souvenirs from her extensive travels, locks of hair, photographs, and newspaper clippings was a letter to Mrs. General  Lee from Selena Norris Gray, an enslaved woman at Arlington. The long and chatty letter revealed a surprisingly close relationship between the two. The letter sent me on a search for the history of the Norris family and the Gray family and the connections they shared with the Lees. Mary’s journals helped me flesh out the story that became the novel  

220px-Fanny_Kemble_cph.3b17325A RESPECTABLE ACTRESS This novel about beautiful young actress wrongly accused of murder was inspired by the life of Frances Anne Kemble, a noted British actress who came to America for a theater tour with her father  to help pay off his debts. In Philadelphia she met Pierce Butler, a St Simons Island, Ga plantation owner. The two married and Fanny accompanied him to Butler’s Island. She was horrified at what she saw there and wrote a book about her experiences. Fanny was never accused of murder but her marriage to Butler didn’t last and she returned to England. My fictional actress, India Hartley, must stand trial for the shooting of her co star before she can even think about her future.


Sorrel Weed House, the inspiration for the Browning mansion in The Bracelet

Sorrel Weed House, the inspiration for the Browning mansion in The Bracelet

The custom of giving jewels that convey a message to one’s true love, and the sad history of a prominent 19th century Savannah family inspired this story of a young woman who receives a bracelet from a secret admirer. When she realizes the message is a deadly one, she must track down the donor before he ruins her engagement to her childhood sweetheart and destroys her family’s reputation. The Sorrel-Weed house on Madison Square was the inspiration for the mansion of my fictional Celia Browning and her family.

CAROLINA GOLD–A LowCountry Novel

I fell in love with the South Carolina low country on my first visit fifteen years ago. The beauty and the history of the place grabbed hold of my heart and my imagination and has never let go.  On one of those early trips, I bought a book called A Woman Rice Planter, the story of Elizabeth Allston Pringle and Chicora Wood,  her plantation on the PeeDee River.  CAROLINA GOLD is inspired by Mrs. Pringle’s life and writing. In researching this book  I hired a guide to take me upriver to Chicora Wood. I could imagine Mrs. Pringle walking along the shaded piazza, one eye to sky, worrying about whether the “freshet” would destroy her crop.


I grew up in Tennessee, next door to the beauty and the history of the Great Smoky Mountains. For my first series of historical novels, I invented Hickory Ridge, a nineteenth century fictional town set in the majestic east Tennessee mountains. In the center  of town along a brick-paved street lies a bustling railway station, a barber shop, a bakery, and Jasper Pruitt’s mercantile where residents buy everything from bridles to molasses.

Based loosely on Cade’s Cove,  my imaginary town also boasts a  busy lumber mill, a newspaper office, a schoolhouse,a home for children orphaned by war, and a country church where my characters— Ada, Mariah, Lillian, Carrie, and Bea— gather on Wednesday afternoons to make quilts and share the latest news.

I hope Hickory Ridge has become a favorite fictional town for you, too, and that you’ll visit again and again in the pages of BEYOND ALL MEASURE, BEAUTY FOR ASHES and EVERY PERFECT GIFT.