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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.

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.

Country School Christmas Programs and Santa Suits

Country School Christmas Programs and Santa Suits

Country school Christmas programs were a big deal and still are where country schools still exist. That’s why preparing for the Christmas program plays a major role in See Jane Sing! In fact, the progress of the program is a device I use to drive the story’s sense of urgency. Jane wants to solve mystery before the Christmas program as the morning after the big show she will go to her parents’ home in Iowa for Christmas break.

But enough about that.

The purpose of this post is to focus on the Mr. and Mrs. Santa costumes in the above picture. But first, a word about the amazingly adorable models, Shawn Burghduff and Mary Philippe, who were third graders when they nabbed their starring roles in that year’s program. The picture evokes equal parts joy and sorrow when I see it. Joy to have been their teacher for three years and sorrow over Shawn’s death due to a freak illness when he was not yet thirty. When See Jane Run! is released, it will be dedicated to him.

Give me a minute to stop crying.

Okay, I’m back with some fun facts about the Mr. and Mrs. Santa costumes.

  1. I made the costumes. Except for Mrs. Claus’s striped apron and Mr. Claus’s black belt. Their parents supplied those.
  2. When we moved to Iowa, the music teacher borrowed the costumes every year for the third grade Christmas program.
  3. Before the first borrow, I made a white, ruffled apron and matching mob cap for Mrs. Santa.
  4. My daughter wanted to be Mrs. Santa Claus for Halloween when she was in second grade. I bought granny glasses, washed and ironed the costume, and boom, it was ready. She was adorable, and my propensity to save costumes was vindicated.
  5. I still have the costumes. They’re too big for my grandkids, ages 2 and 4, but that doesn’t stop them from playing dress up in them.
  6. Every time the costumes come out, I think of Shawn and cry happy tears.

Give me another minute to find a tissue.

Okay, I’m back with one last observation related to fictionalized scenes about country school Christmas programs. They take me a long time to write and use a lot of tissues.

Go figure.

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.

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.