Forty-two years ago this month, the roots that eventually grew into See Jane Run! were planted. My husband (we’d been married for 10 months) had started work at Sky Ranch in northwest South Dakota. I joined him a few weeks later. My mom, my Uncle Jim, and two of his three daughters (my cousins) helped with the move.
The morning we took off, Mom snapped this picture.
It was not an easy move. Everything Hiram and I owned was packed into our used Ford pick up. The pick up proved to be less than reliable. The trip took longer than expected. The house we had rented sight unseen in the little town of Camp Crook turned out to be smaller than anticipated. But the thing that really threw us for a loop was the herd of cattle on the state highway right outside of town.
I’m still kicking myself for not taking a picture.
The image is as fresh to me now as it was in June of 1978. Maybe that’s why Jane, the protagonist of the Tipperary County mystery series, along with her uncle and mother encounter a herd of cattle lounging on the the highway in the opening chapter of See Jane Run!
While writing the scene, I did my best to paint a word picture of what Jane saw and felt in that moment.
Not all of Jane’s emotions matched mine, but some of them did.
Not all of Jane’s adventures happened to me, but some of them did.
Not many of Jane’s fellow citizens were people I knew, but a few of them–all long dead– are.
However, Jane’s culture shock is the same as mine was. So is her growing appreciation for the unique place she moved to right out of college. Through Jane, I want to share with readers the culture and heart of the remote corner of the world where I once lived and still love.
With Jane’s help, I hope you’ll be able to picture it, too.
Adding a dollop of caregiving to the cozy mystery genre has been a dream of mine. So this winter, I’m making the giant leap from writing non-fiction to fiction while my agent pitches See Jane Run! to publishers. I’d love to have all my caregiving friends join the adventure. Because cozy mysteries are fun, and caregivers need more fun in their lives. Do you need a little more convincing? Check out the book’s elevator pitch:
When young woman dies and an old bachelor rancher goes missing, a greenhorn schoolteacher solves the mystery. But the murderer remains free to roam the vast, remote short-grass prairie of South Dakota in the late 1970s. Can she keep the killer from claiming another victim?
Jane, the schoolteacher, has a disabled father. Guilt from leaving her mother to shoulder all his care dogs her throughout the story. Years of watching multiple sclerosis steal away her once-vibrant father move her to find the person who killed the mother of one of her students.
Are you ready to leap with me? Then jump in with me as this website is transformed into my cozy mystery fiction central HQ. From here on out, the plan is to feature pictures, snippets of history, and authentic recipes from where and when the story takes place. You’ll also find exclusive content and more at Down the Gravel Road’s Facebook group, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. (Note: If you want to search for Down the Gravel Road on any of those platforms, shorten “road” to “rd” as in “DowntheGravelRd” or “Down the Gravel Rd”) Once the website’s RSS feed and mailing list are up and running, you’ll be able to sign up for those and stay up to date on everything the site has to offer.
Still not sure about adding a dollop of caregiving to the cozy mystery genre? Maybe these questions and answers will ease your concerns.
What’s a Cozy Mystery?
Cozy mysteries are a sub-category of the mystery genre, and they have several characteristics:
- They almost always feature an amateur sleuth.
- The sleuth solves crimes that impact their work.
- They usually take place in a small city or town,
- They have a limited amount of suspects.
- They have no sex, hard-core profanity, or violent scenes.
To read more about cozy mysteries, check out this Huff Post article.
Why a Cozy Mystery?
I’ve loved cozy mysteries since high school when I read Agatha Christie for the first time. Well-written cozies with vivid, character-driven stories are my favorite escapist medium. When I left teaching to become a writer, I was surprised by my 16 years of success with non-fiction. This giant leap is a return to my first love while I still can. After all, I’m 63 now and not getting any younger.
Why Are You Adding a Dollop of Caregiving to the Cozy Mystery Genre?
A first rule for writers is to write what you know, so combining my passion for cozies with my experience as a caregiver makes perfect sense. My teaching experience and the years my husband and I lived in a teeny-tiny town in northwest South Dakota are also big players in See Jane Run!
Are You Ready?
Then leap over to Down the Gravel Road. Stay up-to-date by signing up for the website’s RSS feed and Down the Gravel Road’s mailing list. Find exclusive content and more at Down the Gravel Road’s Facebook group, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Poor Jane. Poor patient Jane. The protagonist of my South Dakota mystery novel has suffered a setback. She was turned down by editors in the nice, cozy publishing houses I had hoped would give her a good home.
Now, there’s no need to worry.
Jane is not dead or abandoned. She’s just waiting quietly for her creator to complete another edit of the book. Yes, you read that right. Another edit. This time to ratchet the suspense level up a notch. Something one of the publishers suggested that was confirmed when a writer friend read the book and offered similar feedback. When two writing experts give similar feedback independent from one another, an author is well-advised to sit up and pay attention.
So I did.
During the week at Idaho family camp, I spent several afternoons revising and was almost certain that at this rate, the rewrite would be done by the end of July. Then I arrived home to the aftermath of almost two months of travel.
Groceries to purchase.
Piles of mail.
Emails to return.
Preparations for speaking engagements.
Flowerbeds to weed.
Yada, yada, yada.
By last weekend, I was finally caught up. Confidently, I wrote “work on mystery revision” in the afternoon slot in my planner for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I spent several hours revising on Monday. I was pumped and sashayed around the house that night, absolutely sure that by the end of the week, the revision would pass the halfway mark.
News came that the funeral of the mother of a dear friend would be Wednesday morning, 2 1/2 hours away. The Man of Steel had to work, but we both agreed that I should attend. Which meant in addition to visiting Mom on Tuesday and a speaking engagement on Thursday afternoon, two breaks already factored in, I would also be gone Wednesday.
But, I told myself, Friday was still intact.
Until something possessed me to pick up 10 dozen ears of sweet corn and spent Friday afternoon processing and freezing 30+ quarts of sweet, golden goodness. Poor, patient Jane uttered no objections. She may live in South Dakota, but she grew up in Iowa and understands the importance of having sweet corn stashed in the freezer to be eaten on dark, frigid January nights.
But I feel guilty. Oh, so guilty.
I’m not sure I can open the latest revision and look Jane in the eye. She’s been such a good friend. Never complaining. Never manipulating. Never snitching sweet corn. Even nodding approvingly when she heard about the plan to attend the funeral. Then she settled back to wait.
And wait. And wait.
This week, my planner has four afternoon appointments scheduled with Jane. I’ll be accepting no phone calls, gathering no vegetables, avoiding social media, and taking no prisoners. All for the love of Jane.
Poor, patient Jane.
The wait for news from publishers about the fate of the mystery novel See Jane Run! continues. Pretty typical in the book world, so instead of checking email 10 times a day, I’m plowing ahead with the second book in the series, See Jane Sing! Since the last update on that book’s progress, I’ve written her out of the snowdrift, where her cherry red VW bug was stuck fast during her return trip from Thanksgiving with her family in Iowa. I am quickly discovering the challenges of writing mystery novel sequel snowstorm scenes. Here are ten of them.
10. Creating a recap of the previous book that gives new readers enough information to read the second book in the series and is so captivating, they are compelled to purchase the first book in the series.
9. Perfecting the timing so the driver has gone too far down a desolate, gravel road to turn back when the snowstorm hits while leaving enough miles and time for the formation of a large snowdrift, so the beaching of a VW Beetle to seem plausible.
8. Describing how to substitute an empty orange juice can for bathroom facilities when snowbound without providing TMI.
7. Unearthing a variety of verbs for walking through deep snow. As in wading, plowing, plodding, etc. (Your suggestions welcome in the comment box.)
6. Finding verbs for putting on winter gear. As more ways to describe donning gloves, hats, boots, coats. (Once again, your suggestions are welcome!)
5. Cooking a variety of turkey leftover dishes popular 30 years ago. (Yup, your suggestions are coveted.)
4. Deciding what mistakes to fix and what changes to make immediately and which ones to leave until the second draft.
3. Writing dialogue when the character who rescues Jane and her snowbound car hardly says a word.
2. Conveying the joy an elementary teacher feels when she returns to school after vacation and can once again enter the world of childhood with her students.
1. Keeping from getting in the car and heading west when writing about a tiny, fictional, South Dakota town makes a writer homesick for the place where she once lived.
Yes. it’s true. I am posting a mystery novel update only 2 weeks after the previous one. Not because a publishers who received the proposal has issues a contract, though one requested the entire manuscript last week.
Which as my agent, the Man of Steel and I agree is a good sign.
I’m posting this update because I have finished the backstories of the new characters set to debut in the second book in the Tipperary County Mystery Series, chosen its title (See Jane Sing!) outlined the plot, and have completed the first chapter.
Which ends with dear Jane stuck in a snowbank.
In her bright red Super Beetle. Imagine the car on the right painted the color of the car on the right with the front bumper and half the hood buried in a snowbank during a blizzard on an isolated stretch of gravel road in far western South Dakota.
Which never happened to me or the Man of Steel during our years in South Dakota.
But it could have happened. And we did have a bright red 1973 Super Beetle. It was cool. And kind of impractical for stocking up on groceries at the nearest supermarket 70 miles from home. So we soon traded it in for a VW Rabbit.
Which was slightly more practical, but most of the ranchers thought we were nuts.
But I digress. Back to Jane who is stuck in a snowbank without a cell phone. Because cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. Even so she knows the whole town, and possibly the National Guard, will soon be looking for her.
Which is why she’s calmly eating Thanksgiving leftovers instead of panicking.
I have to admit that this week’s snowstorm put me in the mood to write the scene. And I should warn you that no more tidbits about the opening of See Jane Sing! are forthcoming, Thought you should know that the person who rescues her is a new character who may or may not bear a slight resemblance to the Man of Steel.
Which is a good place for me to stop.
Don’t worry about Jane. She has a peanut butter jar full of water for drinking and an orange juice can to pee in if worst comes to worst. She’s gonna be just fine.
Lest the title of today’s post gives you the wrong idea, Jane’s not smiling because the mystery novel, See Jane Run! has found a publisher. She’s smiling because her creator and author (that would be me) has come up with a new name for the series.
Some of you may recall that copyright issues nixed the original moniker, which was The Fun With Dick and Jane Mystery Series. Thanks to brainstorming sessions with my big sister (who wanted the series title to reflect the remoteness of the setting) and my agent (who thought Tipperary, the name of the fictional county where the novel is set, should be used) and the history of the far away corner of South Dakota where we once lived, a new name for the series has been chosen. Are you ready?
The Tipperary County Mystery Series
Here’s why I–and the Man of Steel agreed with me once we reviewed the history behind it–think the new series title is superior to the previous one. Far, far away in Camp Crook, South Dakota in Harding County where the Man of Steel and I lived for 7 years, and long, long before we moved there a colt was born just across the border in Montana. Not an unusual occurrence in 1905 before the automobile age began. The owner hoped to break the colt to ride, but the 4-year-old horse was spooked during a thunderstorm and became unmanageable.
In 1915, the owner took the horse to Camp Crook and a highly regarded, local bronc rider saddled up the horse and gave him a whirl. As it turned out, the horse gave the cowboy a twirl, bucking him to the ground. The cowboy was carried to the hotel to recover. When he caught his breath, he quoted the lyrics of It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary, a popular song of the era. The horse was immediately named Tipperary. Over the next ten years, only 1 cowboy completed a successful ride on Tipperary, an event that occurred at the very end of the horse’s fabled career. During our years in Camp Crook, Tipperary was still the talk of the town. We were friends with an old bachelor rancher whose father had owned the horse.
Back then, the name Tipperary intrigued me for two reasons. First, my uncle, who also my high school world cultures teacher, mentioned it became a sort of anthem for British World War 1 soldiers headed for the Western Front. Second, just a year before we moved to Camp Crook, the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show sang it at the end of the season finale. So the tune ran through my head when my husband and I first drove the winding road to and through Harding County for job interviews.
30 years later, the name Tipperary intrigues me for two more reasons. First, the lyrics are more than 75 years old, so they are public domain. That means no pesky copyright issues. Second, the chorus to It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary still ring true. They come to mind whenever I think of the dear people we left behind in 1985 when we moved to Iowa.
It’s a long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Farewell Leicester Square!
It’s a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart’s right there.
In so many ways and on so many days, my heart wings its way back to the little town where cowboys still ride broncs and the descendants of Tipperary’s first owners still live. My dearest wish is that one day, if the first book in The Tipperary County Mystery Series is published, Tipperary will win the hearts of all who read it, too.
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,
But my heart’s right there.