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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.


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.

Mapping Out Little Missouri

Mapping Out Little Missouri

Northern two-thirds of the town above and southern two-thirds below. Forgive the overlap. My tech skills aren’t what they should be.

Mapping out Little Missouri was my first order of business when I decided to stop thinking about See Jane Run! and actually write it. My husband and I lived in the town that Little Missouri is modeled after for 7 years. We were young back then, and the town is small, plus we’ve gone back to visit now and then. So I was confident that my recollection of the place was accurate. But I wanted to be absolutely sure.

I called the court house of the real county that the fictional county of Tipperary County is modeled after and asked to be transferred to the department in charge of the maps. “That’ll be Mary,” said the woman on the phone. “I’ll put you through.”

Mary, as it turned out, was the parent of one of the kids I’d taught when we lived out there. She sent not only a map of the town, but also a map of the county. She wouldn’t let me pay for them because that’s what people do out there.

The maps are tucked between the pages of the black and white speckled composition notebook where I jot down all my Little Missouri cozy mystery thoughts. And I used them to sketch the map pictured above. It’s in the same composition notebook with the maps from Mary.

The map came into being ten or more years ago. Since then I’ve published five non-fiction books, and I’ve written and rewritten See Jane Run! at least ten times to get it to the version my agent is pitching. Some characters, like Ole Olofson, have disappeared. Others, like Marvel Kelly, have had their names changed. ( In case you’re wondering, Marvel’s gone from Marvel to Vida to Ida.) And some are waiting in the itwings to appear in future books in the series.

If you’ve been to the town that Little Missouri is modeled after, you may think you recognize some of the buildings. You may think you worked or lived in some of them. When my husband and I study the map, we believe we’ve identified three places similar to where we lived. That’s saying something in a town that small. But we never lived in a house like the one where fictional Jane lives and teaches.

Hopefully you haven’t been utterly confused by all this talk about what’s real. Just remember that Jane and Little Missouri are figments of my imagination. Also remember that figments of imagination have minds of their own and tend to venture into unexpected places. Which explains is why my first order of novel writing business was to nail down the fictional setting by making a map. So neither creation or creator will ever be completely lost and confused.

The Roots of See Jane Run!

The Roots of See Jane Run!

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

Adding a Dollop of Caregiving to the Cozy Mystery Genre

Adding a dollop of caregiving to the cozy mystery genre, and this year I'm taking the leap. I'd love to have you join in the adventure! Here's how.

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.


See Jane Wait

See Jane Wait

Poor Jane. Poor, patient Jane is undergoing another revision. Or will be if life ever settles down.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.
Mom’s finances.
Our finances.
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.

But then.

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.