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East River, West River, and More

East River, West River, and More

East River, West River is a phrase familiar to past and present citizens of the Dakotas. Everyone else in the world is most likely oblivious to East River, West River talk. If you’re among the oblivious ones–a group that included me until my husband and I moved to South Dakota–this  quick tutorial is designed to enhance your understanding of a concept foundational to See Jane Run! and its sequels.

  1. The river referred to is the Missouri, which divides South Dakota into two neat halves. My spit spot Mary Poppins nature has always been grateful to have lived in South Dakota rather than in North Dakota, where the divide between east and west is messier.
  2. East River refers to counties east of the Missouri. West River refers to those west of the Missouri. Pretty simple, right?
  3. East River has farms. West River has ranches. Always remember that the words “farm” and “ranch” are NOT synonyms.
  4. East River is populated by farmers. West River is populated by cowboys. DO NOT confuse the two.
  5. The cultural divide between East and West River is far wider than the Mighty Missouri.

Last week I met with an editor who’s interested in publishing See Jane Run! and future books in the series. Exciting, yes, but all I can say until a contract has been signed is that things look promising. One reason is because the editor has an affinity for the region of the country where See Jane Run! is set. He has lived in both Dakotas and Montanas, so he gets the whole East/West, Farm/Ranch, Farmer/Cowboy business. Upon reading the manuscript, he immediately identified the culture shock experienced by Jane, the book’s protagonist and amateur sleuth, as a crucial element of the story.

Something we discussed in our 2 hour virtual meeting was how to communicate that element effectively. One easy way, I realized as we talked, was to change the series’ name from “The Tipperary County Mysteries” to “The West River Mysteries.” Not only does the change magnify the cultural divide, it also expands the setting from a single fictional South Dakota county to anywhere west of the Missouri River. Oh, the possibilities!

Whether you live East River, West River or up a creek without a paddle, I’d love to hear what you think of the change. Also, I promise to make a big announcement with all the juicy details once a book contract has been signed.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Hear Jane Sing’s Author Is Singing for Joy

Hear Jane Sing’s Author Is Singing for Joy

Hear Jane Sing's author is singing for joy, and for good reason. Once you read this post, perhaps you'll want to join in the celebration.

Hear Jane Sing‘s author is singing for joy and for good reason. I should know since the author is me. The reason for all the singing, which some people at my house consider more caterwaul than music, is warranted because the first draft of Hear Jane Sing! is finished.

Yup.

The rough draft of second book in the Tipperary County Mystery series is done. It began several years ago with some jottings on page 95 of an old composition notebook. The writing of it was delayed for many reasons: revisions to the first book in the series, See Jane Run!, contracts for non-fiction books, a busy speaking schedule, and family stuff. But when the pandemic led to the cancellation of spring and summer speaking engagements, the time was right for turning the ideas in the composition notebook into a first draft.

Which, as may have been mentioned before, is done, DONE, D-O-N-E!

Once the last chapter was finished, I put the manuscript away for a week. Partly because there were other things that needed doing. Partly to create some distance between it and me before launching into revisions. And partly because I was afraid to reread the draft and discover that what I’d written was absolutely terrible. A few days ago, I screwed up my courage and opened the first draft. Like all first drafts, it was bad.

But it wasn’t terrible.

That realization gave me the courage to write this post. To let readers know that the project is moving forward. To strengthen my resolve to find a publisher for the Tipperary County Mystery series. To continue the revision process. To jot ideas in my notebook about the third book in the series. To sing for joy because the first draft of Hear Jane Sing! is done, DONE, D-O-N-E!

Even if it sounds like caterwauling. Care to join me?

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Winter Is Not All Bad

Winter Is Not All Bad

Winter is not all bad. That was my mantra a couple days ago when a surprise storm dumped 9 inches of snow on our town in a few hours. It was very pretty coming down (good news) and half of it had melted by evening (even better news). If all snowstorms were like that, I’d be a big fan.

Winter is my least favorite season. My reasons begin with cold and dark and snow. They end with 25 years teaching elementary school, during which I spent 4-5 months of every year supervising kids who at least 6 times a day were either putting on or taking off hats, scarves, mittens, snow pants, coats, and boots.

However, winter is not all bad. Kind of like fictional characters, who need to be a mixture of good and bad, like real people. For instance, the protagonist of See Jane Run! has good characteristics such as caring for kids and seeking justice by catching the bad guy. And the bad guy, who shall remain nameless, is bad. But not all bad. He reinvented himself after a bad break. And he’s a good listener.

But what, you may be wondering, is good about winter? The answer is soup. By my way of thinking, soup season begins with the first snow, so this year’s soup season will be longer than usual. To celebrate this goodness, here are links to my favorite soup and stew recipes. Except for Mom’s Chili, they entered my recipe bank after we moved to Iowa.

  1. Mom’s Chili
  2. French Stew
  3. Minestrone
  4. Crock Pot Bean Soup
  5. Slow Cooker Chicken Thai Soup
  6. Turkey Tortilla Soup

Do you have a favorite soup or stew recipe? Please share it in the comments below and leave a link to the recipe if you can.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Concrete Withdrawal

Concrete Withdrawal

Concrete withdrawal was something I dealt with during our first year in South Dakota. The memory surfaced yesterday while we watched a skilled crew of men pour the floors of the basement bump out and the downstairs and upstairs garages.

To me it looked like our addition boasted more concrete than all of Camp Crook’s paved outdoor surfaces. The town had no paved roads or paved parking lots. There wasn’t a house in town with an outdoor patio. During a reading lesson that included “curb” as a vocabulary word, my student asked, “What’s a curb?”

I thought a while. “Have you gone shopping with your parents in Belle Fourche?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you know how when you park downtown, you get out of your car and go to where the street and the sidewalk meet?”

She nodded.

“You know the bit where the sidewalk is higher than the street and you step up?”

Another nod.

“That’s the curb.”

Big grin.

To be fair, Camp Crook did have more concrete outside than our addition has. The gas station had some around the pump. The Forest Service complex had a few sidewalks. So did the school and a couple buildings on Main Street. Across from the school was what everyone in town called “the concrete slab.” It was a fenced in area about the size of a basketball court complete with baskets. But that wasn’t enough for a young woman who came from an Iowa town with paved sidewalks, roads, and parking lots everywhere.

In a letter to a high school friend, I said I was going through concrete withdrawal. Now that I’m older and wiser, I know it wasn’t concrete withdrawal. It was culture shock. Jane deals with the same sensation in See Jane Run! and subsequent books in the Tipperary County Mystery series. Until she learns, like I did,

that gravel roads are safer to drive on during the winter–and the winters are long on the tall grass prairie,
that raised wooden decks are better than concrete patios in summer–because it takes longer for mosquitos to hunt you down, and
that gravel roads and walkways lead to houses filled with people who welcome you inside whenever you visit.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Life with My Heart in Two Places

Life with My Heart in Two Places

Life with my heart in two places was hard for many years. Writing fiction helps me cope, though my homesickness will remain as long as I live.

Life with my heart in two places began in 1978 when Hiram and I moved from the ice cream capitol of the world in Le Mars, Iowa to a remote part of South Dakota. I was homesick for paved roads, orderly green fields of corn and soybean, and living close to the library and stores. And my family. I really missed my family.

Not surprising since I was twenty-two and away from home from the first time.

The surprising bit began seven years later when we moved back to Iowa, and I became homesick for South Dakota. My homesickness continues to this day, even though my morning walks along the lake are filled with beautiful views. I snapped this picture and imagined what fall must be like in Harding County as the cottonwoods drop their leaves against a backdrop of rugged buttes and short grass prairie.

Life with my heart in two places won’t end as long as I’m on this earth.

Writing fiction is the perfect way to cope with homesickness. Every afternoon I sit in our Iowa living room, open my work in progress, which on this day is Hear Jane Sing!, and start writing. Immediately I’m in the town where we once lived, surrounded by the children and families I still love. I can smell the crisp, fall air and almost touch the stars hanging low in a sky untouched by light pollution. When it’s time to fix supper, I return to Iowa where a trip to the grocery store for missing ingredients takes ten minutes or less.

So far as life with my heart in two places goes, this is the best of both worlds.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.