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Media: Authors Interviewing Characters: Joy Jordan-Lake

From the bestselling author of A Tangled Mercy comes an enthralling novel of secrets, a tumultuous war of ideas, and murder as classes collide in the shadow of Biltmore House.

Joy Jordan-Lake interviews her character Kerry MacGregor

It was a moment of intense conflict or, at least, my imagining it—the poor versus the privileged, the native born versus the outside interlopers, the wealthy Northerners versus the Southern Appalachian folk—that Kerry MacGregor, a young woman with a foot in both worlds, walked in.

I’ve always loved the Blue Ridge mountains and spent many summers there working as a camp counselor. The Biltmore Estate sits in the heart of these mountains, and several years ago when I was visiting, a tour guide mentioned that toward the end of George Vanderbilt’s acquiring the land, he ran up against a couple of mountain families for whom money—even heaps of it—was no motivator. They were simply determined to keep the farms that had been theirs for generations. In my imagination at that moment—both admiring the artistic vision of George Vanderbilt and admiring the fierce determination of the mountaineers—Kerry MacGregor took on life.

It is the fall of 1895. Kerry has spent the past two years on scholarship at Barnard College in New York, a chance she earned through the former teacher of the one-room schoolhouse in the Appalachian Mountain cove where she grew up. But now, as the story begins, she’s been called back to her home just outside Asheville where her father is dying. She knows all too well that going home might mean she’ll forfeit her chance to come back—and watch the future she’d planned slip away.

(Kerry MacGregor and I both fall silent as steam swirls around us in the station. Now a whistle blows, echoing over the platforms of Grand Central Depot.)

Me: So, I don’t want to make you late for your train.

Kerry (meeting my eye, then looking quickly away): The truth is, I’d love nothing more than to miss it.

Me: But I’m guessing you won’t.

Kerry: No. I won’t.

Me: Some people would, you know. Miss it, I mean. It’s not like your father…. (I stop there.)

Kerry (turning fully now to face me):  Should I finish the thought for you?

Me: I didn’t mean to offend—

Kerry: You didn’t. It’s no secret back home that my father drank more often than he plowed. Or hunted. Or fished. Drank more often than he breathed, nearly. And that he could be a hell of a mean drunk. So it’s not like my father ever did much for me except make me learn to notice every single detail—the exact rhythm of his walk or the grip of his fingers on the fiddle’s bow. Notice so I could gage exactly how much he’d drunk already. How volatile he’d likely be. Was that what you were getting at?

Me: Um. More or less. Though I intended to word it more gently.

Kerry (with a ghost of a smile): You know, if we’re being honest here, some authors would’ve given a character they liked a better set up. This situation I’m launching into…. A father I resent—not just for my own sake but because he made my mother’s and my siblings’ lives miserable. That same father back home dying. Me having to decide between continuing on at the college or leaving New York to go back to that cabin, that life, to care for my family.

Me: It’s a real choice.

Kerry: Not for me it’s not.

Me: Plenty of people would stay here. Finish their education. Maybe scrape up some money somehow to send down to the family but not go back in person. Because going back could mean—

Kerry: Getting stuck there. Of course it does. You don’t think I know the risk?

Me: Then….

Kerry: What kind of person would leave thirteen-year-old twins to take care of themselves? Or let their father, regardless of whether he did this to himself, die in a ditch all alone?

Me: There’s that, sure. Although your Aunt Rema—

Kerry: Is old and tired. And she’s already watched out for them for the past two years so I could come here. She has a chance at regular work now. A steady income. At… You of all people know where I mean. Where she’d be a cook. Not far away from the farm.

Me: You still can’t even say it, can you? Can’t even sound out the words Biltmore Estate.

Kerry: It’s not about can’t. Let’s just say I choose not to say it. Or have anything to do with George Vanderbilt and all his thinking he can buy up whatever and whomever he wants. 

Me: I’ve read he also wanted—that is, wants—to help the people of Southern Appalachia.

Kerry: No one asked for his help. Least of all me. That was the one thing my father and I agreed on: we will never, not ever, sell out to him.

Me: You realize there are only, like, three holdouts, maybe just two, in all his thousands of acres? Most people sold long ago.

Kerry: Most people wouldn’t be—

Me: Wouldn’t be you. I know. God knows, I know. But, look, don’t take out your frustrations on me. I’m just the writer here.

Kerry: Taking George Vanderbilt’s side?

Me: It’s not about sides. Look, I’m rooting for you. I realize you’ve got a lot on you right now. And not to slip into spoilers, but things may get a lot worse.

Kerry: You’re serious? How could they get worse? Unless the farm… But at least it’s still producing okay. Right?

Me: About the farm…. Actually, you’ll see for yourself. Let’s just leave it at that.

Kerry: But tell me the cabin’s still there. And the farm: it’s still ours.

Me: It’s, um, still yours. But, look, you’re whip-smart and tough. You know how to analyze a Wordsworth poem and make bootlaces from squirrel hide.

Kerry (cocking her head): And you don’t? I thought you said you’d grown up in the mountains, too. 

Me: Yeah, but hundred and twenty-five years from now…. Let’s just say I don’t spend a lot of time skinning squirrel.

(A train whistle sounds again, and a conductor calls out from the far platform, where passengers are jostling one another in their rush. Two gentlemen in top hats hurry past in conversation. The taller of them glances back at Kerry. And stares. She meets his eyes defiantly.)

Kerry: Did you hear what that man said to his companion about the mountain people? Something about traveling down where “George is building that castle of his” and “God knows why he chose there.” Something to that effect.

Me: There were people who wondered. I mean are. Not me, you understand. I think it’s one of the most gorgeous spots on earth. Just…a little remote if you’re a millionaire from New York.

Kerry (tossing back her mane of red, wavy hair): They’re headed for the last train car, one of the private ones. At least I won’t have to see those two again.

Me: (clearing my throat)

Kerry: No. Don’t tell me I have to cross swords with their sort. You know I can’t stand men with soft hands who’ve never worked a day in their lives.

Me: And you’ve also got a problem with the opposite, too. Someone raised just like you.

Kerry: If you mean Dearg….

Me: I might.

Kerry: I’ll be making clear to him there’s no future for us. Not after these last two years. Besides, I’ll be so busy running the farm, caring for the twins and for….

Me: Your father.

Kerry: Exactly. My father. How am I going to care for him when my blood boils just thinking of seeing his face? You know, I feel like I might explode.

Me: I know. Things will get better. I mean, after they get a whole lot worse.

Kerry: That’s supposed to make me feel better?

Me: Sorry.

Kerry: You want to tell me about those two in the top hats?

Me: I can’t. But just…keep an eye on them both. For two very different reasons. That’s all I can say. Just…you know. Keep an open mind. And also…

Kerry: Also what?

Me: Also watch your back. And the twins. Keep a close eye on them. I mean, just in case there’s, you know, some danger ahead. Soon. As in, very soon.

Kerry: The expression on your face. You’re deadly serious.

Me: Deadly would be right.

Kerry: As in…someone’s going to die? Is that what you’re telling me? This is your cheery send-off?

Me: The rules, remember. Just…okay, yes. Not you, obviously, this early on in the story. But, yeah. There’s a death coming up. And you’ll want to be paying attention. All those miss-no-detail skills you acquired growing up with the kind of father you had… You’ll need those now. More than ever.

Kerry (picking up her one piece of luggage and her tote bag made from an old flour sack): I’d stay to try and squeeze something more from you, but the Royal Blue’s about to leave.

Me: And you’re not the type to miss a train. Or leave your family to fend for themselves.

Kerry: It’s your fault, you know. That I’m like this.

Me: What? Stubborn? Smart? Responsible to a fault? If it helps, you’re my favorite character in the whole story. Though I do have a soft spot for Lilli. And Sal. Also, George Vanderbilt surprised me—in a good way. He might you, too.

Kerry: I’m steering clear of Vanderbilt and that whole crew from….

Me: Biltmore. You have got to learn to say the word. Trust me.

Kerry (backing away and raising the hand gripping her tote in a half wave): Not if I have nothing to do with their sort.

Me: Yeah. Well. About that…. Listen, have a safe…that is, a watchful trip. And don’t forget. Those two guys in the top hats….

Kerry: I know. Watch my back.

Me: Take care of yourself, Kerry. And also…not to add more pressure on you, but let’s just say there will be a lot of people whose welfare depends on you. And your paying attention to every single detail.

(Mounting the steps to her train car, Kerry turns back to call out.)

Kerry (shaking her head): All right, then. No pressure there. Just every. Single. Detail.

We both lift a hand in a wave.

Kerry: Wait. Will I see you again? 

But the train whistle shrieks again, and steam encircles her car.

I wave again. But don’t call back an answer.


About the Author

Joy Jordan-Lake is the bestselling author of eight books, including the #1 Amazon Bestseller A Tangled Mercy and Blue Hole Back Home, which won the Christy Award in 2009 for Best First Novel. Her upcoming novel Under a Gilded Moon to be released on 12.01.20.

She holds a PhD in English Literature, founded a food pantry in New England for women and families experiencing homelessness, and has taught literature and writing at several universities.

Jordan-Lake lives outside of Nashville with her husband and three children.


Her historical fiction, Under a Gilded Moon, released Dec. 1, 2020

Find out more about her on her website

Follow her on Twitter


Crawdads meets the Crawleys…Threaded through with a meticulously researched, well-crafted mystery, this is historical fiction at its best.” —Fiona Davis, NYT bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

From the bestselling author of A Tangled Mercy comes an enthralling novel of secrets, a tumultuous war of ideas, and murder as classes collide in the shadow of Biltmore House.

Biltmore House, a palatial mansion being built by the Vanderbilts, American “royalty,” is in its final stages of construction in North Carolina. The country’s grandest example of privilege, it symbolizes the aspirations of its owner and the dreams of a girl, just as driven, who lives in its shadow.

Kerry MacGregor’s future is derailed when, after two years in college in New York City, family obligations call her home to the beautiful Appalachians. She is determined to distance herself from the opulence she sees rising in the Blue Ridge Mountains, however close its reach.

Her family’s land is among the last pieces required to complete the Biltmore Estate. But something more powerful than an ambitious Vanderbilt heir could change Kerry’s fate as, one by one, more outsiders descend on the changing landscape—a fugitive from Sicily, a reporter chasing a groundbreaking story, a debutante tainted by scandal, and a conservationist prepared to put anyone at risk to stoke the resentment of the locals.

As Kerry finds herself caught in a war between wealth and poverty, innocence and corruption, she must navigate not only her own pride and desperation to survive but also the temptations of fortune and the men who control it.


Behind the Scenes of UNDER A GILDED MOON


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