Christian novelist brings mystery and romance to a place once called home
In Carolyn Koontz DeArteaga’s world the line between reality and fiction is like a blurry watercolor, where characters cherry pick from real-life people, and imaginary streets and landscapes dovetail with places in three-dimensional time and space.
In DeArteaga’s new novel, Wake the Sleeping Lady, she transports us to a Pickens County that exists one step removed from our own plane of reality. Many elements are left in tact, such as The Woodbridge Inn, Oglethorpe Mountain and the charms of Appalachian culture, but she spends plenty of time flexing her creative muscles, replacing Jasper with the small mountain town of Windy Ridge and substituting other well-known landmarks with ones that dip their toes into the imaginary.
It is in this world that DeArteaga introduces us to Julie Taylor, a young, independent psychologist and horse trainer living alone on Oglethorpe Mountain.
“Like Julie Taylor, our Oglethorpe Mountain home served as a retreat from the bustling humanity in the city,” DeArteaga said. “Deer ate from our hands, turkeys chased our cat around the yard, and each year the black bears rolled through with babies behind. We pushed away stress by walks through the woods lined with Georgia pines and carpeted with mountain wildflowers.”
From the opening scene the reader is swept into the torrent that is Julie’s life, one permeated with mystery and romance, but one that is fortified by the heroine’s unwavering Christian faith.
It is only when Julie begins to let someone else into her world that her life, which until this point has operated seamlessly on her own terms, starts to unfurl.
After becoming romantically entangled with Mark Andersen, the mayor of Windy Ridge, unexplainable events beginning to happen. A mysterious rider on horseback nearly sends her and her horse Princess plummeting off a cliff. A stranger breaks into her home. A copperhead finds its way into her truck.
Julie’s instincts tell her that someone wants to harm her, but other characters in the novel chalk the strange occurrences up to coincidence, leaving Julie to trust in her intuition and rely on God for direction.
“I’m drawn to women and their needs,” DeArteaga said, who owned property on Oglethorpe Mountain for 30 years with her husband before moving out of the county.
“I’m a Christian writer and I was looking at so many women, so many Christian women who were reading a lot of what I thought was junk,” she said. “These are things that are falling into our culture, but things I felt women ought not to be enjoying. What I saw was a lot of erotica that made me uncomfortable and I thought I could do something better than that.”
While DeArteaga says Julie’s character was loosely based on a coworker, the protagonist’s unwavering moral compass seems also to be a reflection of the author’s own personal constitution, where women’s voices are valued and speaking with God is more than an obligatory afterthought.
“Julie’s relationship with God is natural,” DeArteaga said, who broke away from her own religious upbringing to arrive at a worldview where God can be petitioned with prayer and miracles happen daily.
“Julie’s friend Sandy calls some of her prayers toss up prayers,” DeArteaga said. “Julie’s relationship with Him is not something that just happens in the morning or at bedtime. It’s ongoing, all day long.”
Through her characters and the relationships between the characters DeArteaga makes it clear what she believes a solid relationship with God should look like, but the book doesn’t get bogged down in preachy theology.
Stylistically, Wake the Sleeping Lady is very accessible, a casual read that could be devoured in just a few sittings thanks in large part to its speedy pace.
“I like the twists that keep you moving along,” DeArteaga said. “My husband says this is a great fireplace book or beach book. I used to get books on tape and I liked to listen to mysteries, women’s mysteries and I like to write what I enjoy.”
And although DeArteaga wrote the novel with a female audience in mind she believes the strength of the story may attract some male readers as well.
“My youngest son told me he read my book,” DeArteaga said, “and I told him, ‘Darling, you know it’s a chick book. It’s for women.’ Then he said, ‘Yeah, but it’s a great story.’”
Pickens residents will find it exciting and somewhat surreal to read a romantic thriller set to such a familiar backdrop, and in the end the reader will find satisfaction in a mystery being solved.
DeArteaga does, however, leave one element of the story unhinged to act as the jumping-off point for the book’s sequel, which is completed but which has not yet released by her publishing company OakTara.
“You are left not knowing what happens with Julie and Mark,” she said. “But that’s where the other book picks up. Julie realizes things about Mark that affects her in the next book. She’s still there; she still lives in her little house on Oglethorpe Mountain, but there are new adventures.” EXCERPT FROM WAKE THE SLEEPING LADY:
She told people in Marietta that the town of Windy Ridge was one of those places where people say, “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.” One side of Main sported Fred’s, two gift shops, Windy Ridge Pharmacy, and a pizza shop. On the other sat Windy Ridge Baptist and the Bank of Windy Ridge. Porter Lane crossed Main with the library and government buildings. The Church of God sat at the edge of town…Where else, thought Julie, would the feed-and-seed store have a sign for Golden Rule Lumber and the church sign sport a different Scripture every day? Today it said, COME AND SPEND TIME WITH ME. SIGNED, GOD. It occurred to Julie that she needed to spend more time with God to get back that peace she wasn’t feeling this morning. If strange things kept happening she would need more in the coming days.
Carolyn Koontz DeArteaga is a wife and mother of four grown children, one who died from complications with diabetes.
She is a psychologist with a Master’s Degree in community counseling and now works as a Christian counselor for several churches in the North Georgia area.
DeArteaga’s husband is a pastor and the author of numerous books.
You can purchase a copy of DeArteaga’s book locally at Jasper Drug & Gifts or Moore Furniture on Main Street. It is also available online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Borders.com, Target.com, or anywhere OakTara books can be found.