Appalachian Journey ends, new series begins

CC Tillery moves on from Bessie Daniels

Fred McCormick

Just before the new year, C.C. Tillery's fans were introduced to Lizzie Baker, the protagonist in "Through the Brown Mountain Lights." The historical novel uses the mysterious phenomenon to transport Baker to the Antebellum South to a place outside Morganton.

"Through the Brown Mountain Lights" is the first book in the newest series from C.C. Tillery, a pen name for sisters Cyndi Tillery Hodges and Christy Tillery French.

The novel is the first of Tillery's "Brown Mountain Lights" series that will take readers on a well-researched trip back in time, much like Tillery's last project, the four-book "Appalachian Journey" series, set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries south of Black Mountain in the Broad River community.

C.C. Tillery is the pen name of sisters Christy Tillery French and Cynthia Tillery Hodges. Both are published authors in their own right, Hodges under the nom de plume Caitlyn Hunter, known for her paranormal romances based on Cherokee legends. French has written suspense and thriller novels.

The sisters' career paths converged when they decided to tell the story of Bessie Daniels, the great-aunt their father John Tillery told them about their entire lives.

Christy Tillery French, left, and sister Cyndi Tillery Hodges write historical fiction. Their "Appalachian Journey" series is set in the Broad River area.

"Growing up he was always telling us stories about his great-aunt Bessie," French said. "Some of them were really heartwarming stories, and some were humorous. We kept telling him he needed record them because I knew when he died they wouldn't live on."

French and her sister decided they would write a book about Bessie, who grew up in Hot Springs to become a "strong, independent woman in a time when women were expected to be docile and meek," according to  Hodges. The end product was "Whistling Woman," a look into Bessie's early years.

"Initially we wrote it just for family," French said. "It took about three years for us to research, and we really just thought maybe a few people would read it. In about a year it really took off, and our readers wanted us to continue her story and tell more about her life."

That's because Bessie was ahead of her time, French said.

"We did not know her that well," she said "Growing up, we would visit her in the summer, but she died when I was a teenager. She was a progressive thinker, very independent. She would not just stand by if she saw something she thought was wrong."

The second book in the Appalachian Journey series, "Moonfixer," gets its title from a nickname given to Bessie in Broad River, where she moved to live with her husband, Fletcher Elliott, at his Stone Mountain home.

"We tried to keep the history in the book as accurate as we could," French said.

Hodges was fascinated to learn the history of Cherokee customs and to portray Bessie's familiarity with herbs and plants as sources of healing. Those customs were passed down her from her great-grandmother, who was Cherokee, according to the sisters. Learning about the area provided even further insight into life in the region in the early 20th century, according to Hodges.

"I had heard of the Melungeons (dark-skinned East Tennesseans of mysterious provenance), of course, but I didn't know anything about them," Hodges said. "I hadn't heard of the Red Shirt Democrats, the Eugenics movement in North Carolina or the Encephalitis Lethargic epidemic."

The project proved to be much more than an in-depth history lesson for Hodges and French. The sisters found a devoted readership; time working together on the series brought the two closer - so close that after releasing the last Appalachian Journey book, Hodges and French began talking about how much they missed working together. C.C. Tillery's newest series was born.

"When the last book of the Appalachian Journey series was finished. we were both relieved but also sad," Hodges said. "It was only a matter of days before we started thinking about doing another series. I enjoy the writing but more than that, I love the time spent with Christy plotting, planning and just bouncing ideas off of each other."

Interest piqued?

Visit cctillery.com for more about the sisters' writings.