The 2020 Work-in-Progress

                                    I’m about six weeks into “European Bistro” (a Dimensions chart), the current cross stitch project. I’m enjoying the complexity of it. This part (lower left corner of the finished piece)  has a great deal of depth, achieved […]

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Bookscapes: Brushed Out of the Picture

            Last week was the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, the day when Nazi Germany formally surrendered to the Allies. It  reminded me of a telling pair of photographs that I dug up when I was doing the research for one of my favorite writing projects: a biographical novel called […]

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Mother’s Day at Meadow Knoll

                      It’s not just a day for moms on our human calendars. It’s a big week–a month, actually, for moms all over our Hill Country homestead. This whitetail doe brought her fawn for us to see, while the two of them enjoy a morning browse […]

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Hunkering Down

We’ve lived here at Meadow Knoll for over thirty years, and this has been the most beautiful spring I can remember. The New Dawn rose on the trellis beside the deck is heaped with fragrant rosy-pink blossoms. To the delight of the hummingbirds on their northward migration, the crossvine climbing the east wall of the […]

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“Winter” Cross Stitch Finished!

The fiber crafts have been my lifelong passion. I learned to crochet when I was a child and became a doily and potholder entrepreneur, peddling them to the neighbors. I learned to knit in my twenties, and my kids got socks. At midlife and beyond, it was quilting, spinning, weaving, felting–all of which are lovely […]

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Writing the Journey

It’s a cliche to say that life is a journey. But it is. Sometimes the way ahead is straight and clear and well-traveled–plenty of mile markers and traffic signs. Sometimes we reach an intersection and we don’t know which road to take. And sometimes (like right now, for instance) the road just seems to disappear. […]

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Some Post-Apocalyptic Thoughts

The Covid-19 news of the past few weeks is having an effect on all of us. The sun may be shining, the daffodils may be blooming (or not, yet, depending on where you live), and you may be going about your business pretty much as usual. But things are changing–or rather, this thing, this virus, […]

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Bookery 101: The publishing calendar

The other day (on Valentine’s Day, actually), a reader wrote to me. Mary is someone I hear from often enough to recognize her name and appreciate her comments. She writes: “I’m so sorry to learn there won’t be a 2020 China Bayles. Is there anything we, China’s readers, can do to persuade a 2020 book?” […]

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Ugly Lovelies

Some things in nature aren’t beautiful. They just are as they are, like ball moss growing on a branch: a plant that is not a parasite (as people often think) but an epiphyte, getting a living by perching on a convenient limb, minding its own business and making its own food. Its roots only cling, […]

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Writing Linked Fiction: Thoughts on Craft

  I’m about to send a just-completed trilogy of Pecan Springs novellas (DeadLINES, Fault LINES, FireLINES) to my copy editor. This is the second of these trilogies (the first was The Crystal Cave, and a third is already beginning to take shape at the back of my mind. So maybe it’s time to think out […]

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Journaling: Notes From Past Lives 1

I recently celebrated my eightieth birthday, which—in an unexpected way—has given me permission to publicly claim my age and document this part of the journey. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?) In my reflection on times present and past, I began reading through the two memoirs and the many blog posts I’ve written over the […]

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Bookscapes: The Fur Person

This enchanting 1957 cat-memoir by May Sarton may be the grandmother of the current litter of cat-cozies, a fact that may or may not endear it to you, depending on how you feel about cats and cozies. I ran across it on my shelf last week and sat down with it immediately, remembering the great […]

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Loving Eleanor Goes to the Movies?

Contest update, Sat. 1/11: Thanks to all the great readers who helped Eleanor come in close to the top of the pack. But not quite close enough. She was overtaken by projects about an Aussie rollerskating champion and an auto racer. That’s Hollywood for you. 🙂 But over 17,000 people visited the site, so Eleanor was seen […]

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Adventures in Research: Becoming a Writer 4

The thing is, I’ve always loved research even more than writing. Which is a curse, really. Plenty of writers simply simply sit down at their computers and spill out stories, their imaginations fired by nothing more than . . . their imaginations. I have a problem with that. It’s my problem, of course. There is absolutely nothing […]

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From Typewriter to Word Processor: On Becoming a Writer 3

Lives change, as I said in Part One and Part Two of my previous posts on this continuing thread. If you haven’t read these, you might want to skip over there first. “The tools we write with change the way we think.” Friedrich Nietzsche typed this sentence–or something like it, on the first commercially-produced typewriter […]

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Herbal Lightning Protectors

 A natural meanes to preserve your house in safety from thunder and lightening: If the herb housleek or syngreen do grow on the house top, the same house is never stricken with lightening or thunder. —Didymus Mountain, 1572 Since Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod, most of us feel pretty safe. But before then, people […]

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BookScapes: Review of And Every Word Is True

When In Cold Blood was published in 1965, Truman Capote’s book was a landmark, widely promoted as a factually true account of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in a small town in Kansas, and of the investigation, the trial and appeals, and the execution of the two convicted killers. Capote (with his longtime friend […]

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My Life in Typewriters: On Becoming a Writer 2

Lives change, as I said in my previous post on this continuing thread. (If you haven’t read this, you might want to skip over there and see where this blog series begins.) Yes. Lives change. I was a stay-at-home mom and a freelance kids’ fiction writer from the late 1950s into the early ’60s, living […]

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Yaupon Holly: Wild Caffeine

Back in Civil War days in the South, coffee was impossible to get. But that didn’t mean that Southerners had to give up caffeine for the duration. All they had to do was go out to the yard or the nearest woods and pick a bucket of yaupon leaves, dry them, and brew. Voilà! A […]

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BookScapes: Review of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

My experience of Shirley Jackson began with her two memoirs, Life Among the Savages (1952) and Raising Demons (1957), both genuinely funny, crisp, and captivating. I discovered them in the early 1960s, when I was a young mom with small children, learning how to write and wanting a career as a writer. In those books, […]

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All Writers Start Somewhere: On Becoming a Writer 1

I get a lot of questions from book collectors and bibliographers about the books I’ve written over the decades. I began thinking about writing a short post to answer some of those specific questions. But—as usual—that thought morphed into something else. As a result, what you’re going to get (in a series of posts) is […]

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Whoo-dunnit?

One of the pleasures of living here at MeadowKnoll is the close company of animals, some domestic, many wild. Over the years, we’ve raised cattle, sheep, geese, ducks, peacocks, guineas, chickens, dogs, and cats. Our 31 Hill Country acres are a permanent home to coyotes, raccoons, possums, nutria, foxes, deer, squirrels, snakes, and (unwelcome!) feral […]

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The Tale of the Priscilla Hollyhock

The Hollyhock [Alcea rosea] was once eaten as a pot-herb, though it is not particularly palatable. Its flowers are employed medicinally for their emollient, demulcent and diuretic properties, which make them useful in chest complaints.—Mrs. Maud Grieve, Modern Herbal, 1929 When I was a girl, I loved the frilly hollyhocks that grew along the garden fence […]

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BookScapes: Review of WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS? by Beverly Lowry

For me, Beverly Lowry’s book about the Austin TX Yogurt Shop murders ranks right up there with Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood as among the very best of true crime. But you have to be patient, for the story world Lowry recreates is initially–and deliberately, artfully, confoundingly–as confusing as the real world she must […]

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The Case of the Noisy Parrot

The talkative parrot who shows up near the end of A Plain Vanilla Murder has developed his own personal following, it seems. Maybe  you remember him from the book. His name is Mr. Spock. China Bayles describes him as “a stunning green parrot with an orange beak and splashes of red and blue under his […]

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BookScapes: Review of HEARTLAND, by Sarah Smarsh

Our Story Circle reading circle met yesterday to talk about Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh–a lively discussion that spilled over into a second hour, with lots to say, lots to share. For me, reading Heartland was a heart-breaking, evocative experience that brought back my childhood and young adult years, spent on a farm and in a small rural community […]

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Mystery Unscramble Giveaway

Contest closed–congratulations to the winners! I’ve teamed up with 10 other mystery authors to bring you a Mystery Unscramble Giveaway–both a contest and a word game. (Mystery readers love word games, right?) For each author’s name you correctly unscramble, you’ll get one chance to win that author’s book, plus one chance to win the grand […]

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Back Home Again

    We’re back home in Texas after a cool couple of weeks in the southern Rockies of New Mexico. We love it there, with wonderful views of the clouds spilling over the mountains and cattle grazing in the valley below. It’s a long drive–almost 12 hours–but we have audio books to listen to and […]

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Appetizers & Snacks

            Stuffed Mushrooms For parties, prepare, stuff, and refrigerate ahead of time. But don’t bake until you’re ready to serve. I bake a batch, serve them, and put another tray in the oven. 1 pound fresh mushrooms 6 tablespoons butter, divided 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped 1 egg, beaten 1/2 […]

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Breakfast and Brunch

                McQuaid’s Breakfast Burritos There are many variations on this popular recipe, which is a basic breakfast wrapped in your favorite tortilla. We make these for the freezer and microwave for breakfast-on-the-go. Since it’s McQuaid’s favorite breakfast, it appears in many of China’s mysteries. Saves time in the […]

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Drinks

                    Xocolātl (Spicy Hot Chocolate, Aztec Style) Cacao plants were first cultivated in Mesoamerica some three to four thousand years ago. The Olmec people ground cacao’s dried, fermented seeds into a paste and mixed with water to make a chocolate drink known as xocolātl. To make […]

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Breads, Biscuits, Bagels and Such

                  Slow Cooker Herb Loaf I love this recipe. It’s a great alternative for those of us who love home-baked bread in the summer but don’t own a bread machine and hate to light the oven. And when the oven is full (think turkey), the slow cooker […]

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Soups, Stew, and Chili

                  Bill’s Favorite Italian Sausage Stew We like to make this super stew with a spicy Italian or Italian-spiced turkey sausage. Cooking for a crowd? This recipe is infinitely expandable, infinitely variable. Serve with hot herb bread and a salad for a satisfying meal. 1 pound sausage, […]

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Veggies

              Roast Vegetables with Garlic and Herbs If you spread the veggies in a thin layer, they will be crisper. The homemade onion soup mix gives them an extra flavor boost and reduces the need for salt. 5 carrots, scrubbed (peel if necessary) and chopped 5 ribs celery, washed […]

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Main Dishes

                    Pork Tenderloin with Herb Rub The USDA now advises us to cook pork to an internal temperature of 145°F, then allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes. The lower temperature makes for a more juicy, tender meat. I use a cast-iron skillet to brown […]

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Desserts

                  Orange-Rosemary Apple Pie Best served warm, with vanilla ice cream. Pastry for a 9” 2-crust pie 6-7 cups peeled and sliced apples (I like Granny Smith) 2 sprigs rosemary 1/2 cup orange juice 1/2 cup white sugar 1 teaspoon flour 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon […]

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BookScapes: Review of THE FIVE, by Hallie Rubenhold

Exceptional research underpins this riveting study of the five victims of Jack the Ripper. These are well-told stories of women’s lives in mid-to-late 1800s, converging in the Whitechapel slums of London in the summer and early autumn of 1888. Rubenhold’s book is a much-needed corrective, staying away from the murderer and the murders but focusing […]

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New Mexico Sunflowers

It’s late summer here in the New Mexico mountains, almost autumn, and the meadows are filled with the rich gold of sunflowers, accentuated by tall spires of mullein. We’ll be here another week or so, enjoying the warm days and crisp, cool nights–a big change from the uncomfortable heat and humidity back in Texas. The […]

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BookScapes: Briefly 08/29/2019

Briefly, two true crime narratives about the current challenge of keeping libraries safe as the value of their special collections skyrockets and criminal collectors look to them as a source of valuable goodies. Disappearing Ink: The Insider, the FBI, and the Looting of the Kenyon College Library, by Travis McDade, is the  fascinating story of […]

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