Midsummer in the Texas Hill Country

We’re used to the midsummer heat here in Texas, but this year has been brutal–the highest temperatures ever recorded (108 in Austin, 111 on our north-facing back deck) and a record-breaking string of 100-degree days that began in June and continues into July.

Severe drought here, too–everything is tinder-dry. I usually have a collection of summer annuals in pots on the porch, but it’s too hot for them. The desert willow, however, is thriving. This is its favorite time of year and the tough little tree, a Hill Country native, is covered with delicate, pale lavender orchid-like flowers. Lovely to see on a blistering day, the blossoms are adored by the hummingbirds. Nobody wants a hurricane, of course, but rain from the Gulf would be a gift, even if it came with lightning and wind.

The current needlework project is this stylized Americana scene  by Charles Wysocki, “Quilts for Sale.” Fun to work on and just enough of a challenge. I usually start in the top left corner–you can see where I am in the hoop, as of last evening. I have a way to go, don’t I? I should be finished by this time next year–but no hurry. It’s the process that matters to me, not the product. Currently working on this while I listen to Scott Turow, whose complex legal novels I enjoy for their characterization and intricate plotting.

“Listen” is not quite accurate, though. I like to use the text-to-speech function on my e-reader, so I can see the text while the text reads itself to me. I can mark it and make notes, too. IMO, one of the best things that’s happened to books since movable type.

On the writing desk. I’m working on Forget Me Not, another China Bayles mystery, #29. (Is that possible? Thyme of Death seems like yesterday.) This one is set in Pecan Springs, where the fictional summers are always climate-controlled. At the rate the story is developing, it will likely be a late 2023 book. While you’re waiting for more China, of course, there are the Dahlias. Their latest, The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker, was out early this month. And Someone Always Nearby, my novel about the long friendship of Georgia O’Keeffe and Maria Chabot, is under editorial review. I’ll give you a pub date when I have more information.

Also,  my brother and I are wrapping up the family history project we’ve been working on for ten years (intermittently), more intensely in the past year. Of course, there’s always something new to learn, but we’ve answered the insistent question that propelled us into this search in the first place: Who was our real grandfather? It turns out that elusive grandfathers can be even harder to find than elusive fathers. In this  case, the difficulty was compounded because the Main Event took place in 1902 and our father appears to have been his father’s only offspring. But we found our guy, with luck, a couple of tell-tale clues, and a lot of DNA help from Ancestry.com. Now, we’re rounding out the story for our kids and cousins.

About Coyote Lodge. You may remember that for the past 20 years or so, Bill and I have had a home in  the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. We call it Coyote Lodge, for the chorus that rings through the night. We can’t use it as often as we once could, so we’re listing it. You can see the photos here.

It hasn’t been a pleasant summer for those of us who watch the news and care about what happened on 1/6/21 and what is happening now in D.C. and in statehouses across the country, as some states get their teeth into recent SCOTUS rulings. Reproductive rights, voting rights, Second Amendment issues, stability in our government–it feels like everything is up for grabs, to the highest bidder, the dark money with the deepest pockets, the angriest and most hateful people. Watching, listening, we’re all at a loss for words.

But here’s what has to be said, and remembered. Each of us must find, in that deep-down core within us, the strength to get through to the other side while we work for change in the ways we can, in all the ways we can. I’m thinking of that brave young woman, Cassidy Hutchinson, who found the courage to speak, putting to shame the fearful, powerful men who have failed to tell what they know. And I’m remembering Dilsey, the strong Black woman in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: “I seed de beginnin,” she says, “en now I sees de endin.” We need Cassidy’s courage and Dilsey’s strength, to see things as they are now and where they will be tomorrow. And to find, somewhere in each of us, the will to change that ending.

Reading note. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. So must we all.–Hillary Clinton, tweeting about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to obey Speaker Mitch McConnell’s order to stop reading a letter from Coretta Scott King. The tweet went viral with images of Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Beyoncé, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gabby Giffords, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Princess Leia.

A reminder. I read and appreciate your comments. Uncivil responses will be deleted. There’s enough of that on Twitter.



53 comments on “Midsummer in the Texas Hill Country

  1. I agree with all who love your stories, characters and your writing style. I’m amazed how much material spills out of you and is put to paper so often! As a reader and big fan, thank you for your continued supply of top-notch reading. Looking forward to visiting the next Darling ladies adventure.

  2. Thank you for your blunt but encouring statements. We must be awake, aware and most of all active. To quote Elie Wiesel, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
    And on another note, I do love your books! The Darling Dahlias and China are two series I continually reread. They are worlds I greatly enjoy visiting. Your historical novels fascinate me. My sister, with whom I have lived for nearly three decades adored your and Bill’s series as Robin Page. She was so disappointed when you stopped writing it. All the best to you and Bill and I pray that the winter is kinder to you that this summer has been.

  3. I love your books and am so happy that I found your website and can receive your newsletters. Mystery is probably my favorite genre but the herbology is such an added delight. Thank you from a fellow Texan who is currently enjoying the soothing rain after a very hot, dry summer. And, I have to add, your “voice” in the Darling Dahlias books reminds me very much of Harper Lee.

  4. I love the Dahlias and look forward to each new one. Seeing how they cope with hard times gives we hope that we can do it too. I also look forward to your comments on what is happening to our country. Women are beginning to realize that throughout history as a group we have been oppressed, suppressed and abused and it’s time we all say “no more”! Don’t let anyone discourage you from putting your thoughts in your books. I have read every one and loved them all!

  5. I have always loved your books. Your strong women characters and their beliefs are precisely what appeal most to me. Keep it up please!

  6. Love your books, and I love that you’re not afraid to say and write what you really think. It’s refreshing, Looking forward to the next China Bayles!

  7. Thanks for your entertaining and enlightening books! I love an intelligent woman and author, you give me hope!

  8. Thanks for your words of encouragement. The situation in our Country does get disheartening at times. My 93 year old Father watches the News and wishes he could do more. But he votes absentee ballots and IMHO that’s doing a lot.
    Try to stay cool! This heat wave across the World is frightening!

  9. Just beautiful, thank you. Up in Denton we are fried. I keep thinking it feels like a punishment and….I guess it is. 🙁 Just wanted to add that I love the Dahlias. My mama grew up in the Florida Panhandle during the Depression (b. 1931) so this world would have been familiar to her.

  10. I love your writing. Have read all of your series, but especially love the Dahlias. I also had a Kaypro years ago! Please keep up the good work and take good care.

  11. I love your cabin. Wish I could buy & move there. Hope someone will buy it who will take good care of it. Now that I am in my mid 70s I can’t take on that much property. Glad you are bringing out another China Bayles. I love your stories of her. I look forward to each one eagerly..

  12. Even here in “cold” MN temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees F today and then rise tomorrow! I just finished your latest Dahlia book and love the series. Especially enjoy background of small town community and political activity with the garden club ladies keeping it all together. Like China too of course.
    Hard times face out country and I thank you for pointing out the qualities of honest citizens who are truly heroic under incredibly stressful circumstances..

  13. Thank you for your writings and supporting us in the work that needs to be done in our nation. As one of the delegates said in the Continental Congress, “ I’ve never met a subject too hot to discuss” . Barbara Robbins

  14. It does make me laugh, Sabrina, and I gotta admit the boss was right. Remember what General Sheridan said? “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in the other place.” (1866)

  15. Your comments on the weather reminded me of something I said that will make you laugh. Years ago while reading through the China Bayles series I fell in love with the Hill Country & told my husband I wanted to move there. He mentioned it to his boss, a Texas native & he said, “she does know it’s hotter there than Alabama ?” That ended my desire to move, Alabama heat is brutal enough for me!

  16. I thought Cassidy Hutchinson was so poised and calm in her testimory and I admired her for her courage. But the most spectacular example for me in the past year was the Grace Under Pressure example of Ketanji Brown Jackson in her rigorous days of confirmation hearings. I was so proud of her abilities to remain gracious in what she was put through while at the same time feeling embarrassed for the way she was treated. Not to mention angry. She is someone worth emulating; I should be so articulate under assault.

  17. Coyote Lodge is so beautiful! I’m sorry that you’re selling it. I couldn’t agree more about the political situation in our country. Who knew our democracy was so fragile? We are living in scary times. I’m glad you’re working on another China Bayles mystery and I can’t wait to get it and read it to my mother. She had trouble reading now, due to macular degeneration.

  18. The mother and daughter poll workers who testified inspired me to call our local board of elections and sign up to be a poll worker in our next election. We have to be brave and speak out to save our country.

  19. Penny, I too remember Lab Girl–such an amazing book! Thank you for reminding me of it, and of the need to smile–as we persist.

  20. Clinton wasn’t just quoting McConnell, Kris. She was turning his denigrating remark into high praise. Yes, Warren persisted–as must we all, especially when we are told to sit down and be quiet. Enjoy Turow–Presumed Innocent is his best, I think. Outstanding.

  21. I remember Mitch McConnell making the statement “Nevertheless, she persisted”. It seemed so typical of him to try to denigrate a female colleague. Was Hillary Clinton just quoting him or am I wrong?

    Thanks for the tips on Scott Turow and Red Hot Poker. I’m off to Amazon now.

  22. I love your books and agree with your comments about the political situation. Thanks for the reminder to find the strength to keep going; I needed to hear that. I hope your New Mexico place sells quickly. Its really lovely and sorry you and Bill can’t get there as much anymore. Looking forward to reading the new Dahlia when my library gets it. I really need to see if they have the Pecan Springs Trilogy.

  23. I spent a month in a rehab center this winter. Found your “Cats Claw” in their small collection of books.. Really enjoyed it. Plan to make the red potato salad one of these days.

    I’m in NW CT where the weather hasn’t been too hot yet. Have my own well so don’t worry about water.

    Your Coyote Lodge looks so nice. Hope it sells soon.

  24. Your New Mexico place is gorgeous; I know you must be sorry to have to let it go. It looks so cool there! I always appreciate your comments on today’s issues. I’ve been thinking recently about balancing the sorrow in our lives with joy. We have to hold both. Visited a bee farm recently and learned amazing things about bees. Did some further research and discovered that focusing on the wonders of nature is joyful. I’m remembering the wonderful lessons we learned about trees in Lab Girl. Doing this has helped me keep my sanity as I read Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote.

  25. I’m in the northeast so it’s been a little cooler. I enjoy hearing directly from someone in Texas about the climate and social aspects of the area. We too have our dug in defenders of political views. Have to keep working toward progress and a peaceful world view. In the mean time looking forward to reading more of your wonderful books. The bright spot on the horizon.

  26. I just finished Red Hot Poker, I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next one. I am anxiously waiting for the next China Bayles book.

  27. Congratulations on discovering your grandfather. It took me 30 years to discover the mystery of my great grandfather even though I knew his name the whole time. I knew where he lived, too. Then after I paid extra for Newspapers.com, I got his obiturary. That was an eyeopener and explained why I had such a hard time discovering information about him. One thing that the pandemic has provided for us is the availability of virtual information. I am also very gratiful that New Jersey had an 1895 census when so much was lost with the 1890 Federal Census.

  28. And I have great respect for you, doing what you do, and persisting. . . There are plenty of us who appreciate your writing, for multiple reasons, and hope that you continue to do it for a good long time. Thank you!

  29. I have enjoyed your books and commentary. I hope all who read your thoughts will follow up with written words to their legislaters (sp). They all need to know and hear how we feel. We have sent them to repersent (sp) us. No matter what our thoughts are. We send them, they should hear us. PS. My spelling isn’t as good as it used to be.

  30. Can’t wait for the next novel! My sister lives in ABQ, so NM is near and dear to my heart. Beautiful home! Good wishes for the sale

  31. It’s been really hot and dry here in the Missouri Ozarks too. Possible scattered thunderstorms tomorrow. Emphasis on scattered. Watering raised garden beds and flowers is a daily chore. Being out in the country on a well causes us to debate whether or not to keep watering. We haven’t had measurable rain in weeks.
    Susan, seems that I learn something new when I read one of the China Bayles stories. After having read Hemlock, I starting noticing all of the hemlock growing along roads in ditches. I’m sure it’s hemlock because of the purple splotches along the stems. Then, while at a friend’s house, I noticed a patch of hemlock along the edge of her yard. I mentioned it to her and she was really surprised when I described hemlock’s characteristics. She thought it was Queen Anne’s lace. Her husband has since removed it.
    Thank you for writing such entertaining and educational China novels.

  32. I share your pain. We live in central Texas (very close to the fictional Pecan Springs) and the temps have been beyond brutal and gardening of any kind is nearly impossible. Adding to that are water restrictions, with the specter of our neighborhood wells running dry if there isn’t some sort of rain event (and people agree to conserve water). I am in total agreement with your views on the current situations in our country. Courage and strength are a mainstay of our society and many regular citizens have demonstrated these traits time and time again. Now it’s time for those in power to do the same. Thank you for your words of wisdom. And stay cool!

  33. You do give me strength when I most need it by reminding me of all those who have gathered their wits and persisted in the face of other times of menace.
    Here’s a glimpse of how it’s been this past week. A plumber whom I rather desperately needed, goes on and on about how transparent Trump is and what a remarkable businessman he is. My neighbor is a Proud Boy Wannabe with a fence full of hand painted comments as such. I cannot have a yard sale because he sends his gun toting pals over to make everyone uncomfortable. I cannot post political signs for local Dem candidates for fear of retaliation. ….. It has all changed so fast.
    What ever happen to the American virtue implied in “I don’t agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” ?? And may I add, even to put it in a book!
    If one finds a book so offensive, stop reading it.
    Thank you for a place to say this and for recharging my battery with your cogent thoughts.

  34. I absolutely agree about the China Bayles books. I really love them. More China and less Dahlias would be great. I hate to think we still have another year and a half to wait!

    Your new needlework project looks lovely. Old quilts have such wonderful history behind them. I have several that my grandmother made in the early 1900s.

    We had a little shower two nights ago here in Austin. Here’s hoping for more soon! Enjoy the rest of summer.

  35. As a hobby oil painter, I am anxiously waiting for your book about Georgia O’Keefe.

  36. I love your books, and I look forward to the next one. I also love your wise comments to each of us to find the strength to do all we can to get through these dark times.

  37. Amen, Susan. I think it’s time I binge-read all the China novels. I think I’m behind a few.

  38. Always look forward to your emails and comments.

    Cant wait for the next China Bayles novel. Hurry and finish writing it. I have read all the China Bayles mysteries and look forward to them.

    I met you several years ago in Dallas. You were at a book signing at a small mystery book store near SMU at Snider Plaza. I was excited to meet you then as you are one of my favorite authors.

    I just finished a great book The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict. You might like it if you havent already read it.

    Lets all try to get through this heat.

    Shirley Dillon
    Richardson, Texas

  39. Your neighbor to the east, Arkansas, is boiling, too. And the whole state is under a burn ban. Hoping for rain some day soon.

    I just finished Red Hot Poker and enjoyed it. I had heard of Huey Long but didn’t know much else about him. Sounded kind of familiar…

  40. Even in Connecticut we’re desperate for rain. I can only hope that the many people who pooh-poohed global warming are coming to their senses and will join the struggle against it before it’s too late for all of us — and I mean all.

  41. We finally got some rain here in NM and our pasture is green. I’m happy your cabin survived the enormous fire! It looks lovely and I hope it sells soon.

  42. Jeff, thank you for your comment. But re Roe, you might want to reread Queen Anne’s Lace. With regard to political views, read The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker. I respect authors who write for their own entertainment and the entertainment of others, but that’s not who I am. I write to find out what the world is about and share my discoveries, whatever they are, with readers.

  43. I for one enjoy your political views as much as I do everything else you write. You go girl with your opinions. In books or not. That is what makes the world go round.

  44. We’re praying for rain here in Kansas too, Susan. I so hope Texas doesn’t experience the power emergency you lived through last summer. Who says global warming isn’t real,
    I’m looking forward to your next China novel and also the book about Georgia O’Keefe. Thank you for the uplifting post this morning. It’s sometimes easy to get depressed about the current state of our country, and reading your sensible words helps. Please stay well and cool if possible!

  45. I can’t wait for the next China Bales book. I have read and loved all of them.

  46. Reading your well considered thoughts bolster my flagging spirits in the direction our country seems to be going. God bless all these strong women whose names we know and all the rest of us who just need to GET OUT THE VOTE. Our daughter and son-in-law from Austin have been visiting friends and relatives in GA, NC and OH so have so far escaped some of the TX summer weather. Best regards from eastern NC where the humidity will cause a temp of 90 to get a heat index reading of 102!

  47. Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony was one of the few times I felt this country may find its way through the mess we’re in. Dark money is definitely a big problem and difficult to fix. I enjoyed the Red Hot Poker. It is very timely and has such a wonderfully creative ending. I’m looking forward to your next two books!

  48. I have enjoyed every one of your books. I hope your political views regarding 1/6 and R v W do not make it into your books.

    Please do not go the routes of Steve Berry. It is fiction for entertainment not political discourse.


  49. We were down your way last weekend with our daughter and son in law. We got to spend four lovely days at a great little house that was very peaceful just outside Johnson City. Yes it was hot but we enjoyed wine tasting at a couple of our favorite wineries, sitting out on the deck in the evenig (two thunderstorms cooled things down), watching the deer and a resident jackrabbit. We use 281 to get home, so I think about you every time as we go past the exit to get to your place.

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