I’ve only been on the Appalachian Trail once, and that was decades ago. As I briefly mentioned earlier (All That We Carried), my hubby Tim and I took a few of his male high school students down south for a camping trip.
Part of that involved camping in Virginia along the trail. Before we even reached our campsite, it rained and we got drenched. We all voted to abandon camping.
But our car was a long way down the mountain—a full day’s hike. So Tim hitchhiked to get down there faster and retrieve the car. The boys and I waited in the only dry spot around: a cruddy men’s restroom.
So there I was with three high school boys in a guy’s privy (akin to an outhouse) on a distant mountain in the dark in the middle of a rainstorm. And pregnant! Did I mention that? Yes, I was four months pregnant with our first baby.
Let the good times roll! Fortunately, they were already rolling. Tim and I had a blast on that trip. The guys did, too. If I had to be stuck in a forlorn latrine in a rainstorm with a bunch of high school boys, I would pick those guys. Hands down.
Maybe someday I’ll get back to that trail. After all, I love that area. Plus, I gravitate to southern stories, particularly those set near the Smokies in North Carolina. That’s why the setting and premise of Mulberry Hollow by Denise Hunter immediately intrigued me.
It doesn’t take place on the Appalachian Trail, but the trail has an important role. The locals, including those living in Mulberry Hollow, welcome hikers who periodically stumble into town. In this case, someone who collapsed on the doorstep.
When a handsome handyman faces a medical emergency on the Appalachian trail, his sudden appearance in town challenges an ambitious doctor’s plan to remain single for life.
Avery Robinson decided to be a physician after helplessly watching her mother lose a battle with a terrible disease. Now at risk of developing the same illness, Avery guards her heart from love. She’s driven to protect her loved ones as a workaholic doctor in the tiny mountain town of Riverbend Gap, North Carolina.
Contractor Wes Garrett is hiking the Appalachian trail, in memory of the man who died saving his life, when an illness racks his body. After an agonizing fifteen-mile hike to Avery’s clinic, he collapses on her doorstep. He recovers to find himself in debt again—but this time to a beautiful doctor.
When he decides to help her renovate a rundown carriage house, the obstacles to their attraction sprout like weeds—starting with the woman waiting for Wes at the end of the trail. Will he be able to relinquish the debt he owes his best friend? And will Avery find the courage to risk everything for love?
Thirty-year-old Avery is a go-getter, devoted to her medical clinic in Riverbend Gap, near the Smokies along the Appalachian Trail on the French Broad River. Mulberry Hollow is her neighborhood. The clinic is on the first floor of her house. She has a great staff but is looking for another doctor to help shoulder the patient load. Unfortunately, she has a 50% chance of inheriting the horrific genetic disease her mother died from. Thus, her motto “plan for the worst, hope for the best.”
What she’s not looking for is love.
Neither is Wes Garrett. He has debts to pay, in more ways than one. But after he collapses on Avery’s doorstep and she nurses him back to health, he owes another debt.
The arrangement? As a contractor, he lives in and renovates her carriage house in preparation for the new doctor she hopes to hire. That takes time, of course. Several weeks. Just enough time to inadvertently ignite a romantic fire between them. One they resist. And enough time for Avery’s over-protective step-brother to step in.
Avery is close to her family, including step-brothers Cooper and Gavin. Her endearing father only offers his “two cents’” worth of advice by setting two pennies on the counter. If Avery picks them him, Dad shares his thoughts.
Wes, an honorable man, is determined to finish hiking the trail in memory of his deceased friend, and get to Albany, New York to fulfill an obligation to his friend’s sister.
So any sparks between Avery and Wes must be squelched immediately. Which isn’t easy even with plenty of hurdles to jump through. Avery wants to avoid rejection in case she she gets ill. She never wants to subject a husband and children to what their family endured throughout her mother’s illness. She has made peace with remaining single.
Wes works hard to not be like his deadbeat father, so he overcompensates in the responsibility department. Bearing more burdens than he needs to, in my opinion.
Yes, I thought he took some concerns too seriously, and I wondered how he arrived at certain conclusions. But considering his upbringing and his devotion to his departed friend, it made sense. Wes’s loyalty to the guy’s sister and his fascination with Avery were mutually exclusive.
Yet he is drawn to Avery—a beautiful mix of strength and vulnerability. But not fragile. There’s a difference between fragility and vulnerability. As a contractor, he has a unique take on things:
“Maybe he sensed a certain vulnerability when Avery was concerned.
But fragile? He all but scoffed at the idea.
The two things weren’t at all the same.
Vulnerability had a cracked foundation;
fragility was a foundation built on poor soil.” —Wes, p 146
These characters have real wounds and fears. Responses to their respective plights are believable. Yes, it’s a romance, so we know the ending. But with all that Wes and Avery must overcome, and the fears they must face, how in the world will they break through barriers?
In a very engaging and satisfying story, the true nature of love shines, through empathy and sacrifice.
Though I read Mulberry Hollow out of order in a three-book series (Book 2 of 3), it works fine as a standalone. But I definitely want to spend more time in Riverbend Gap.
If I lived there, I’d want Avery to be my doctor. And my friend. I’d want to hang out with Wes, and share mealtimes with Avery’s whole family.
Join me for some Q & A with Denise Hunter.
Questions about Mulberry Hollow
You have multiple series and standalone novels in multiple settings (Vermont, Indiana, Nantucket, Vermont, Montana, etc.), including several in North Carolina. Do you have a personal connection to North Carolina, the setting for Mulberry Hollow? What was your inspiration for writing this story?
Denise: My husband and I travel a lot, and we’ve fallen in love with North Carolina. The state just has so much to offer from the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to the sunny shoreline. I decided to set the Riverbend Romance series there when I came upon the tiny town of Hot Springs.
The Appalachian Trail runs right down Main Street, and many of the shops and businesses are geared toward the hikers. I love how the community supports the hikers by giving them rides to the grocery or inviting them to supper. There’s such a beautiful symbiotic relationship between the hikers and townspeople.
How did you decide on the characters and situations of your heroine Avery and hero Wes? Why did you choose Huntington’s disease (as opposed to other genetic disorders) as the potential health risk?
Denise: Since Avery is part of the Robinson family, she’s a character in book one, Riverbend Gap. She’s opening the town’s one and only medical clinic. Wes steps into Mulberry Hollow as a hiker who wakes up on his trip one morning with a raging fever. He stumbles onto the clinic porch and collapses to be found by Avery.
For Avery, I wanted a reason why she’s shut herself off from having a love life—why she’s dedicated herself to the town’s health instead. Huntington’s fit the bill. Also, one of my friends has family members with this dreaded diseased, and I wanted to shine a spotlight on it as many are unfamiliar with it.
How well did you know Avery, Wes, and other characters when you started out? How did they evolve during the writing process? Did Avery and Wes hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Denise: I knew Avery pretty well from book one, and when I start a story, I generally like to know what the character wants, why, and what are his/her obstacles. Beyond those basic things, I kind of let the characters lead the way through the story. I get to know them as story goes.
Just for fun—what would Avery have to say about you?
Denise: Oh, I think Avery and I would get along great! She’d invite me over for book discussions and brownies, and I’d offer to cat-sit while she and Wes go away for the weekend. 🙂
What kind of research did you do? There’s construction work, medical skills (even labor and giving birth!), the Appalachian trail . . . What’s the most unusual thing you had to do or research to create this story?
Denise: I’m very blessed to have a husband in the construction business! I peppered him with questions and then read aloud pertinent scenes to make sure I got the details right.
For the labor and birth part, a very nice reader, who happens to be an OB nurse, read that scene for me and suggested a few corrections. And for the medical clinic details, another writer and doctor, Rhonda Wells, was kind enough to read the entire manuscript and suggest changes.
I’m very blessed to have knowledgeable people around me who are willing to lend a hand!
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Denise: There hasn’t been one particular book that inspired me to be a writer, rather a cumulation of all the books I’ve read. I wanted to be able to tell stories that entertain, provoke thought, and stir the heart.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share a couple of examples of how a story grew from an initial idea.
Denise: I actually stumbled upon the idea for the Riverbend Romance series when I was researching for a previous series. When in northern Georgia I came upon the start of the Appalachian Trail and became curious about who would set out to hike this incredibly long and arduous trail. After a bit of research I knew I wanted to write a series set around a trail town.
You’ve had the experience of three novels being adapted to film. What was that experience like? Were you involved at all with the process?
Denise: Having my books adapted into movies was a dream come true. While I wasn’t involved in the script or really the evolution of the story to screen, I was invited to be on set, and that was an experience not to be missed. It was so surreal seeing the characters I’d created in my mind walking, talking, and laughing.
It was crazy to see a crew of 50 people running around, making the whole machine work. The producer was kind enough to give me (and my husband) a brief cameo in 2 of the movies. It was pretty awesome!
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Denise: I’m very excited for the release that follows Mulberry Hollow, Harvest Moon. Though each novel can stand alone, the whole series sets up some questions about the hero in Harvest Moon—Gavin. This is the book that fully answers those questions and also gives him the kind of happy ending he deserves. It was a very fulfilling story to write.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Denise: I’d say write the book you want to read. What stirs your heart and keeps you awake at night? Write something you feel passionate about. Do your research. Learn the craft—both by reading about writing and by attending workshops. Then do the work. It takes many butt-in-chair hours to write a book. If you don’t want to do that part, then you don’t really want to write a book!
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you like Mulberry Hollow and southern fiction set in Appalachia, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Also near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, my novel takes place about fifty years earlier, in 1968. Like Mulberry Hollow, the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community shine through. But northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
In June, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden.
Additionally, this month, All That Is Hidden won the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
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Denise Hunter Bio
Denise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 40 books, three of which have been adapted into Hallmark movies. When Denise isn’t orchestrating love on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, playing drums, and reading as much as humanly possible. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband have raised three boys and are currently enjoying an empty nest. Learn more here.
Join me next time for a visit with author Anita Klumpers.
Meanwhile, have you read Mulberry Hollow or any Denise Hunter books? Do you have a favorite? Have you been to the Smokies? Answer in the comments below.