Is popular North Carolina author Ann B. Ross the model for Miss Julia, “the main character in Ross’s popular series?

Tune in to UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch to find out. It airs at 5:00 this Sunday afternoon.
I will give you a big hint. Ross says that she is definitely not Miss Julia. But Miss Julia lives in a town called Abbotsville, “a town that is so much like the Hendersonville,” “North Carolina,” “where Ross lives,” that it is very hard to tell the difference.

Since the publication of “Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind” in 1999, “Miss Julia has taken over Ross’s life: a new Miss Julia book almost every year, including “Miss Julia Throws A Wedding,” “Miss Julia Hits The Road,” “Miss Julia Meets Her Match,” “Miss Julia’s School of Beauty,” “Miss Julia Stands Her Ground,” “Miss Julia Strikes Back” and “Miss Julia Delivers the Goods,” all of which appeared on the extended New York Times Best Seller list.

What accounts for this remarkable success? Like Margaret Maron (Judge Deborah Knott) and Jan Karon (Cynthia and Father Tim Kavanagh), other North Carolina writers of successful series, Ross has developed a central character who resonates with readers. And, like Maron and Karon, she brings a cluster of other interesting people into the lives of her central character.

Readers come to know so much about the characters these authors create that they cannot wait for the next volume so that they can find out the latest about the characters, people who have become their friends.

More even than plot or story line, these books are like long letters from home. Ross’s fans have come to know and love Hazel Marie, who was the mistress of Miss Julia’s now deceased husband. Now, Hazel Marie and Miss Julia are best friends. Miss Julia is childless, but she loves Lloyd, the son of Hazel Marie and Miss Julia’s husband. She loves Lloyd as much, maybe more, than if he were her own. Miss Julia has a wonderful new husband, Sam, but it is not certain whether or not Sam is loved more than “Little Lloyd.”

You get the picture. If it sounds strained, I understand. But I have become one of Ross’s readers who cares about each of these people, and I am anxious to know how each of them is getting along.

Of course, Ross’s success is more than good characters. She is a gifted and imaginative storyteller.

In her latest, “Miss Julia to the Rescue,” Hazel Marie’s husband, J.D. Pickens, a private investigator, winds up with a gunshot wound in a distant West Virginia hospital, where the local sheriff confines him because he suspects that J.D. is involved in some kind of criminal activity. Miss Julia and a nurse friend, Etta Mae Wiggins, rush to West Virginia to rescue J.D. and bring him back to Abbotsville.

 They arrive in West Virginia just in time for church. They run into a friendly group of church people, join them for services and then find that worship takes place with the aid of poisonous snakes. Horrified and frightened, Miss Julia is still impressed by the loyalty and devotion of her new friends.

When she and Etta Mae get back home, there are more religious challenges. Miss Julia has to deal with a group of advocates of a new “Church of Body Modification,” where commitment is demonstrated by tattoos and attachment of heavy metal objects to the believer’s body, “which test and push the limits of flesh and spirit.”

This plot would be interesting even if the reader did not love Miss Julia and Ross’s other characters.

Almost as much fun as getting to know her characters and following her stories is watching Ross talk about her work.

Don’t miss the chance to meet her Sunday afternoon.