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Jane Threw Her Bible Away

Jane Threw Her Bible Away

The Forest Service Ranger Station in Camp Crook. The brown house in the background is similar to the one where Jane and Pam meet.

Jane threw her Bible away years before she moved to Little Missouri. Her lack of faith is a major player in See Jane Run! Finding a way to show rather than tell readers why Jane threw her Bible away was a real challenge. My daughter, who is doing a final consistency read through before the manuscript goes to the publisher, says a recently added flashback rose to the challenge.

The flashback is based on something that happened during my high school years. I had forgotten about it until about 10 years ago when my uncle–the inspiration behind Uncle Tim in the novel–invited me to look through the journals he’s faithfully kept for decades. I chose the one for 1973-74, which was my senior year in high school. I scanned pages for mentions of our family. One described a phone call to my uncle after I got home from school and found Dad on the bathroom floor. My uncle came over. He cleaned Dad and dressed him in fresh clothes. My uncle’s journal account ended with these words, not written out of pity but with deep compassion: Poor man. Poor wife. Poor family.

To be clear, I didn’t lose my faith after the real event. However, I used it in a fictional flashback to show why Jane threw her Bible away and abandoned her faith. The excerpt you’re about to read is an early scene. It takes place a few days after Jane moves to Little Missouri. On a walk around town she meets Pam, who shows her around the Forest Service campus. Here goes:

After the tour ended, I declined Pams offer of more tea. 

Then would you join us at church tomorrow and come to Sunday dinner?”

I wanted to say no. After all, I had wasted years going to church, following every thou shall” and thou shall not” in the Bible. Every night at bedtime, I asked God to heal my father. I prayed the same prayer night after night. But Dad didnt get better. He got worse. Even so, I prayed up a storm. Until the day I walked the bathroom and found him huddled on the floor by the toilet, feces smearing the floor.

 He gazed at the wall and spoke in a monotone. I fell off the toilet.”

Its okay, Dad. Ill call Uncle Tim.” 

His jaw clenched. Its not okay. A daughter shouldnt see her father like this.”

Uncle Tim got there as fast as he could and took over. While he gave Dad a bath, I went to my bedroom, found my Bible, and threw it away.

I opened my mouth to say I didnt go to church, but opted for Iowa nice. I dont want to put you out.”

Put us out? Dans grilling hamburgers, and Im making potato salad.”

My mouth watered. 

What do you think of the scene? Does it showing rather than tell why Jane threw her Bible away? You can leave your feedback in the comment box!

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To Take an Editor’s Advice–or Not–Is Tricky Business

To Take an Editor’s Advice–or Not–Is Tricky Business

To take an editor’s advice or not is, at least in my book, is a tricky business. In this case, the book is See Jane Run! I cut my fiction writing teeth on this story. Writing the manuscript took the better part of ten years with interruptions due to the births of 4 grandchildren, authoring 4 non-fiction books, a hand injury that limited my typing to hunt-and-peck for several months, surgery on a broken foot for me, back and hip surgeries for my husband, the commencement of our multigenerational living arrangement, and moving into a new home after 25 years in the previous one. In the process, I listened carefully to feedback from several editors and came up with 4 questions to determine whether to take an editor’s advice–or not. Here they are:

  1. Have other editors or readers, independent of one another, said the same thing? When the answer was yes, I made revisions to take care of the issue.
  2. Does this feedback have the potential to solve a niggling issue I recognize but couldn’t figure out how to resolve? If so, I applied the suggestion to the manuscript, perhaps tweaking it a bit in the process.
  3. Does the suggestion enhance my vision for the story? If so, I used it.
  4. Does the editor have experience to back up a suggestion? If so, I was more likely to incorporate it.

Now, here’s are illustrations of how those questions helped me decide whether or not to take an editor’s advice.

Question #1

No less than 5 editors kind enough to read what I thought was the completed manuscript (that was at least 5 revisions ago), said the characters, setting, and dialogue were good. They also said the plot needed work. Their feedback led to major revisions, including the cutting of several early chapters.

Question #2

About 2 years ago, I paid a well-known editor a lot of money to give what I thought was the completed manuscript a thorough going over. She said that See Jane Run! had nearly all the elements of the cozy mystery genre rather than the historical mystery genre. Her words solved my ongoing niggling uncertainty about the manuscript, and the entire series, genre. I revised the manuscript yet again, following her suggestions about how to make it a full-fledged cozy mystery.

Question #3

The same editor also advised setting the story in the present day rather than in the late 1970s. She said books set in the 70s don’t sell well. After much consideration, I chose not to change the time frame because doing so didn’t align with my vision for a set in a remote area that forced people to rely upon one another rather than on modern technology. Also, the community is so remote that it feels more like the 1950s and 60s than the 70s. Books set in those decades are hot right now.

Question #4

Another editor also commented that the isolated, 1970s community where the story takes place didn’t ring true. She divulged that she was only a baby in the late 1970s, but all the books she read from that era included hippies and the Viet Nam war because that was what people talked about back then. As a young adult, I lived in a community similar to the book’s setting for 7 years starting in the late 1970s. The picture above is of Main Street. In our town in ranch country and populated by cowboys, hippies and the war were rarely mentioned. Based on my personal experience and the editor’s lack of it, the manuscript doesn’t mention them either.

The manuscript, which this time is very close to its final revision, is now with an editor who will make more suggestions. Will I use all her suggestions? No. Will I use some of them? Yes. Thanks to my 4 questions, deciding to take an editor’s advice–or not–while I read what this editor has to say won’t be quite such a tricky business.

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Bone Broth: When Old-Fashioned Goes Vogue

Bone Broth: When Old-Fashioned Goes Vogue

Bone broth is a new fancy, schmancy name for what I’ve been making for years. I first made it in the late 1970s after we moved to Harding County. Only we didn’t use the now trendy term “bone broth.” If we boiled a chicken or turkey carcass in a pot of water for a couple hours, we called it chicken broth. Or turkey broth. If we did the same with beef bones or ham bones, we called it beef broth. Or ham broth.

This morning, I made chicken broth. Not bone broth. The sight and smell of the pot bubbling on the stove reminded me of the Harding Country values that blessed my kitchen during our 7 years living there and for the 36 years since we left.

  • Use what you have because “running” to the grocery store is a pain when the grocery store 23 miles away.
  • Refuse to throw away something that looks like garbage (like bones) until after every bit of goodness has been eked out of it.
  • Homemade is best.
  • A deep freeze is your friend.
  • So make lots of whatever you’re making and freeze it.
  • In winter the great outdoors makes a good freezer, too. (Which explains while several jars of broth are cooling on the front porch before they go in the deep freeze.)

While the broth cools, I’m brainstorming ideas about how to incorporate those cooking lessons into future books in the West River Mystery series. More than the recipe included at the end of each one. Something integral to the cozy mystery being solved. Because in kitchen values are worth passing along. Because there will be no pressure to use the phrase “bone broth” since no one in protagonist Jane’s world would use such a pretentious term. And because See Jane Cook! is a really good title.

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See Jane Run into 2021

See Jane Run into 2021

See Jane run into 2021. Or to be more accurate, see me dance for joy because the revisions to See Jane Run! requested by the publisher are done. That means the manuscript is off my plate for a few months as it’s now with book coach Anne Fleck for a consistency edit. She’ll check it over to see how the book flows with t he odd bits that have been added and those that have been removed. Once she’s done, I’ll look over her suggestions and decide what and how to incorporate them.

If you’re looking for an editor, I highly recommend her. Not because she’s my daughter, but because she’s really good at what she does. Her website is being revamped at the moment, but if you need a good fiction book coach or editor, you can contact her at novelspiritsbooks@gmail.com.

Back to what I was talking about. Writing time’s going to be scarce in January as I’m teaching some virtual workshops. I’m hoping for a little time for polishing first draft of See Jane Sing!, but I’m not banking on it. Teaching workshops is tiring and time-consuming. They also pay very well, so I’m not complaining. By the end of January 2021, I will have earned more income than in all of 2020. Maybe that’s why I’m dancing for joy.

Before 2020 runs out, I want to say thank you to all of you for your encouraging messages throughout this writing journey. It began over 10 years ago when I first wrote the idea down in the notebook pictured above. The theme, the names of characters, and the story have evolved since then, but my reason for writing has not. You are the reason I keep working to get the West River Mysteries published. Which is going to happen in 18 months. Here’s the timeline for the first three books in case you missed it before.

Summer 2021: See Jane Run!
Fall 2021: See Jane Sing!
Winter 2022: See Jane Dance!

After that, the plan is to publish a book a year until I run out of ideas. So here’s to running into 2021 and beyond! I hope you’ll run with 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.

 

Christmas Baking and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Christmas Baking and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Christmas baking and sweetened condensed milk are a dynamic duo for six weeks during the holidays. However, this combination can lead to problems for those who live in rural areas.

I became acquainted with some of those problems during the first fall we lived 23 miles from the closest grocery store and 70 miles from a full service supermarket. Some of those problems were, and perhaps still are:

  1. Thinking far enough ahead to add sweetened condensed milk to the shopping list you’re making for the October trip to the big city* because you’re pretty darn proud of yourself for remembering to write down Halloween candy.
  2. Realizing, once you get back home, that you should have tripled the number of cans needed for Christmas baking so there are enough for the recipes you will inevitably forget to consult.
  3. Having the October shopping trip postponed on account of winter weather making an early appearance. Which means that in the future Halloween candy and sweetened condensed milk should be on July shopping lists, right under watermelon and sweet corn.

I never had enough sweetened condensed milk for Christmas baking. So finding Sylvia Padden’s recipe for a substitute version in the Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book felt like the best Christmas present ever. For some reason, stocking the pantry with powdered milk was never a problem. And even though powdered milk isn’t known for deliciousness, Christmas baking and sweetened condensed milk aren’t affected by its taste.

Condensed Milk Substitute

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup + 2 tablespoons powdered milk

Dissolve sugar in hot water. Thoroughly mix in in powdered milk. Let cool 5-10 minutes before using.

*For citizens of towns with less than 100 residents, communities with populations greater than 1000 qualify as “big cities.”

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