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Interview: April 2, 2015

If Linda Goodnight had a theme song, it would start, "Well I was born in a small town..." Growing up in Prague, Oklahoma, she dabbled in poetry, made up stories in her head, and read every book she could get her hands on --- including GONE WITH THE WIND, which she credits with jumpstarting her own writing (or rewriting) career. THE MEMORY HOUSE is the first installment in her Honey Ridge series; set in the small town of Honey Ridge, Tennessee, it’s a tale of tender love and a house that’s rich with secrets and brimming with sweet possibilities. In this interview with The Book Report Network’s Bronwyn Miller, Goodnight opens up about the real-life tragedy that inspired her to write THE MEMORY HOUSE and how writing it helped her deal with her own recent loss. She also shares great advice for young authors, as well as generous insight into what she’s working on next.

The Book Report Network: Congratulations on the publication of THE MEMORY HOUSE, the first installment in your Honey Ridge series. How did the experience of writing this book differ from your earlier titles?

Linda Goodnight: Thank you so much! I’m really thrilled with this new direction in my writing and appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

THE MEMORY HOUSE is a bigger, meatier book than my other novels and took longer to both plot and write. It contains a number of heavy issues that put it in the women’s fiction genre rather than series romance. Perhaps the biggest difference was the type of story. THE MEMORY HOUSE is both a contemporary and a historical story, with the dual storylines blending together at the end. My previous books have been mostly contemporary romance.

TBRN: You had said that you were moved to write about Julia and her young son’s disappearance by news reports of children who were abducted and never found, particularly a story close to home --- the disappearance of a local boy. Can you tell us about that case and why it resonated with you?

LG: A few years ago, my son’s family moved to Alma, a small town in Arkansas where Morgan Nick, age six, was abducted from a little league baseball game in 1995. Alma is the kind of warm, family-oriented town where neighbors are friends and bad things don’t happen. And yet, Morgan disappeared while chasing lightning bugs with other children, and she has never been found. When my son told me the story, I couldn’t shake it. As a mother, I have suffered the scary moment in a large store or the mall when my child was not where he was supposed to be. For those few minutes until he was found, the terrifying possibilities of what can happen to a child circled around in my mind. So to imagine what it must have been like for Morgan’s family when Morgan was never found moved me tremendously, and I began to wonder how such families cope.

As an aside, Morgan’s mother started the Morgan Nick Foundation, which helps others find their missing children and provides educational programs and DNA/ID kits for children’s safety. You can read more about the foundation and Morgan’s story online at

TBRN: How much research did you do for the Civil War sections of the novel? Did you read any books about that era in history that proved particularly helpful?

LG: Even though I am a history lover, the American Civil War was not an era I had studied in depth. It was important that I be as accurate as possible. So, yes, I did a great deal of reading and research. I went to Tennessee, toured some battle sites and visited Carnton Plantation, which was the sight of a major battle and was used as a hospital. (Visit Carnton if you have the chance. It’s beautiful and moving.) I also read many online history sources dealing specifically with the war and the numerous battles in Tennessee. The Internet is filled with authentic Civil War-era letters and diaries that were kept by soldiers, as well as the families they left behind. These were a marvelous source that captured the formal language, the mood and the mindset of the time period, and were by far my favorite resource. Additionally, I read much of a volume called CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote and also WIDOW OF THE SOUTH by Civil War historian Robert Hicks.

TBRN: Was it challenging to write a story in two different time periods? How did you go about the writing process? Was it simultaneous?

LG: Far more challenging than I expected it to be! I started out writing the two plotlines simultaneously, but soon realized the very diverse time periods required a different voice and tone. After many starts and stops, I decided to write the shorter historical portion first, and then weave it into the contemporary. In the end, a few changes were required, but overall that process worked well enough that I am following the same procedure for book two, THE RAIN SPARROW.

TBRN: Which character in THE MEMORY HOUSE do you feel is the most like you? Did you find certain characters more difficult to write than others? Did you draw upon people from your life for any of these characters?

LG: I’m probably most like Aunt Opal, the grumpy old lady! Seriously, in this book, I didn’t find any of the characters difficult to write, but I have experienced that in other books. Generally, I write ordinary, small-town people from the South who share my values. Though I have written books set in cities with wealthy business people as the lead characters, those people are much harder for me to write authentically.

No, none of these characters is drawn from real life. 

TBRN: One of the book’s more prevalent themes is lost children, either literal or metaphorical. In the opening pages, you mention you had recently suffered the shattering loss of your son, Travis Goodnight. Our deepest condolences go out to you and your family. How did your loss affect your work on the novel?

LG: Thank you for your kind thoughts. Losing Travis has been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced and we continue to grieve. I wrote most of this book while staying with my son at his home during the last months of his life. I think, perhaps, my own sorrow helped me write honestly about my characters’ grief. I absolutely understood their suffering. Some days I couldn’t write at all, but most of the time, writing the book forced me to concentrate on something other than my heartache.

TBRN: In the acknowledgments, you mentioned two places as inspiration for the Peach Orchard Inn. Can you tell us a little about these two B&Bs?

LG: Only one place is a B&B. Winston Place, just across the Tennessee line at the base of Lookout Mountain, was built in 1831 by a railroad magnate. Two stories, double balconies, two staircases and many bedrooms, the house was never a plantation, but it is the quintessential southern mansion. The owners were delightful and allowed me the run of the house, letting me into all the rooms, sharing the history and restoration process. Visiting there made it easy for me to see how a home like this could become a bed and breakfast without losing its historical integrity.

Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, which I mentioned earlier, was the perfect place to study the use of a large home as a field hospital. Used as such after the Battle of Franklin, Carnton is now a museum, open to the public and restored to the way it was in 1865. Tour guides tell detailed stories about the family, the battle and the many soldiers who were treated here. Blood stains remain in the original wood floors, slave quarters are still intact and a sobering Confederate Cemetery, created by the family, remains on the property.

TBRN: What would you like readers to take away from THE MEMORY HOUSE?

LG: Hope. Always, always, no matter how dark life may get, hold onto hope and keep moving forward. The inscription on Mikey’s garden in THE MEMORY HOUSE is also the motto of the Morgan Nick Foundation and a major theme of my book: Love always hopes.

TBRN: Do you bring much of your personal life to your stories and characters, or is writing an escape from the everyday for you?

LG: A little of both, I think. Like most writers, I draw from the world around me, from snippets of conversation or a news story or some little thing that triggers a thought, much like the Morgan Nick story did when my son shared it. Then my mind starts spinning with the possibilities. Author Robin Lee Hatcher is quoted as saying, “God never wastes a hurt,” and that’s so true for writers. While not writing about the specific incidents in my life, I draw on the emotions I’ve experienced to make my stories real.

TBRN: You truly are a Renaissance woman. You worked for years as a nurse, and then switched to education, where you were voted “Teacher of the Year” by your colleagues. What made you make the switch from nursing to education? And how and when did you transition to becoming a writer?

LG: I loved nursing, but when my children came along, I wanted to spend more time with them. Nursing schedules are not very conducive to family life because, as they say, sick people don’t take off on holidays or weekends or birthdays. After returning to college to finish my teaching degree, I worked in a small rural school to be around my children every day. I love working with children, and teaching was a perfect fit for me and my family. The transition to writing was more of a dual teaching and writing situation for a long time. I’ve always written, but never seriously until about 10 years into my teaching career when I decided to write a book. I don’t really know why except that I love to read, I love words, and I love to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could do something out of the ordinary. Even though my books began selling, I juggled both careers for another 12 years until I could take early retirement from teaching. Now, writing is my full-time job.

TBRN: Is there a subject or a setting that you would love to write about but haven’t tackled yet? 

LG: So many, but Ireland jumps quickly to mind. Travel is a beloved hobby, and every time I visit a new place, I want to set a book there. I visited Ireland the summer before last and fell madly in love with the wild beauty, the nature, the sea, and the mysterious mists and bogs. And who doesn’t love those Irish accents?

TBRN: How did growing up in a small town in Oklahoma inform you as a writer?

LG: Almost all of my books are set in small towns, mostly because that’s what I know best. Small town life is in the deepest fiber of my being. I don’t think there is any one thing I can point to. Rather, it’s the sum of living in a relaxed, friendly place where everyone knows me and I know them, where colorful characters abound and stand out more than they would in a larger place.

TBRN: Do you recall one specific book from your youth that inspired you to pursue writing?

LG: GONE WITH THE WIND! I found the ending so unsatisfactory that I kept rewriting it. Clearly, I was meant to write books with happy endings…and so I do.

TBRN: When did you feel like you were a “real writer?” The first time you were published, or when you got your first book deal?

LG: Those days are so long ago, I’m not really sure. Probably with the sale of the second novel when I realized selling the first wasn’t a fluke after all!

TBRN: What advice can you offer any fledgling writers out there?

LG: Today writers can do something I couldn’t do when I first started out; but just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. Some writers publish too soon by self-publishing an early manuscript. Resist that urge no matter how exciting it sounds and learn the craft first to avoid later embarrassment. (I am forever grateful that my first manuscripts never saw the light of day!) Read, study, learn, rewrite and polish. And in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.” A little talent and a lot of persistence go a long way.

TBRN: When can readers expect the next Honey Ridge book? Can you tell us a little about it?

LG: THE RAIN SPARROW is book two of the Honey Ridge novels, and I’m working on it right now. Like THE MEMORY HOUSE, characters come to Peach Orchard Inn and find more than the rest and peach tea they paid for. Again, there are lots of secrets and trouble and wounded souls. Here is a book blurb that I hope will tempt you!:

Hayden Winters has gone to great lengths to hide who he really is. Now a successful novelist, he comes to Peach Orchard Inn to research and write his next bestseller never expecting that both the past and the future await him there. Troublesome dreams of a Civil War romance plague him from the start, and an abused boy on the doorstep of Peach Orchard Inn stirs a memory he’d rather forget.

Carrie Riley is a sparrow in a family of painted buntings, content to deliver books to shut-ins and busy herself with small town life. The Honey Ridge librarian, Carrie is afraid of storms, airplanes and pretty much anything outside her comfort zone. Though she admires Hayden’s books, the charming, semi-reclusive writer is way outside Carrie’s comfort zone.

A mysterious disappearance, the abused bo, and Hayden’s troubling dreams bring Carrie and Hayden together, but will a call from the past destroy everything Hayden has worked so hard to become?