Dear Readers and Friends,
First of all, I hope that however you chose to celebrate Thanksgiving this year—such a deeply strange year, and difficult for so many—you found time to rest and to feel loved and give love. Thank you to those from the last newsletter who shared what they were most grateful for in this season. Several of you mentioned being grateful for jobs—so that you could share with people who’d lost theirs. That kind of generosity gives me great hope. May your tribe increase, and may you inspire others to be as kind. Secondly, thank you so much for subscribing to the newsletter! Today is Launch Day for Under a Gilded Moon, so join me in lifting a glass of whatever you have nearby (no judgement 🥂), to give a toast to books and all the stories we tell, and to the friends who love them like we do. If you’ve watched this particular story grow from an idea to a lovely hardcover (with a book jacket and even a second scene underneath to die for—all by the talented Rex Bonomelli), thank you for your companionship and support. If you’re new to the story, welcome! My new team member Judy Collins has been hard at work creating an entirely fresh and gorgeous website (my earlier site looked—and was—so very DIY) that is full of stunning photography, historical timelines, recipes and suggestions for book clubs, behind-the-scenes information and much more, so come on in and look around: joyjordanlake.com. She’s also responsible for the new look of the newsletter, so I want to express publicly how grateful I am to her for her talents, and for rushing the process so we could be ready for launch day. (Now get some sleep, Judy!) Below is a bit of background on how Under a Gilded Moon came to be, but there’s much more on the website and in the Historical Notes of the novel itself. Always feel free to send your own thoughts about these mountains, this novel, or Biltmore itself. Regardless, thank you for being a lover of stories. No matter what December brings, I wish you and yours a season of continued gratitude, and of love that extends beyond our walls. Wishing you a season of much peace, joy and compassion. Please know I’m grateful to be connected with you. Happy Holidays.
Biltmore Estate Asheville, NC
Celebrates it 125th Anniversary this Christmas Eve
Looking Back . . .
Sometimes as an author, you look back—way back—and realize you were doing research on a book long before that novel ever came to be plotted or pitched. In my early twenties—quite some time ago now—I was able to spend several summers working for two different and equally beautiful summer camps in western North Carolina, Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, and Camp Gwynn Valley in Brevard. Those long, lovely summers helped solidify my enthusiasm for the Blue Ridge Mountains and my respect for the culture that has grown and evolved there. One of the summers I worked for Camp Rockmont, some of us on camp staff—all of us sunburned and sweaty—were invited to a home on the grounds of Biltmore Estate belonging to a young woman my age, Dini Cecil (later Pickering), who was connected to Rockmont through a young man she was dating and would eventually marry. Dini, whom I remember as gracious, down-to-earth, and unassuming, turned out to be the person, along with her brother Bill, who would later inherit Biltmore. This seemed a fitting place to thank her again after all these years for the hospitality and pizza that night, and to thank the current staff of Biltmore Estate, who's unfailingly responded to all my questions with patience and interest. I should admit that I began research on George Vanderbilt fully prepared to depict him as merely a background, one-dimensional character, nothing more than the privileged benefactor of his robber baron relatives. But the more I read, the more intrigued I became by the actual man’s complexity: his love for art and the outdoors, his voracious reading, his desire early in life to become an Episcopal priest, his ongoing interest in matters of faith, his contributions to forestry and sustainability, his hospitality, his generosity, and his commitment to bring hundreds of new jobs, as well as training and schools, to western North Carolina. I'd just begun thinking it would be intriguing to set a novel at Biltmore, and various settings around the estate were suggesting ideas for scenes and conflicts--including one tour guide's mentioning the trouble George Vanderbilt had purchasing the last several parcels of land from locals who wanted to hold on to their land. Kerry MacGregor and her family began to take shape in my mind then, though it would be a while later before I could begin research in earnest.