Place & Thyme: A Substack Project, Coming to You Soon

Did you ever happen on a phrase that suddenly kicked something off in you, way outside its original context? That’s happened to me more than once–most recently, when I was interviewing Janet Tyson about her work on Elizabeth Blackwell, the historical character in Hemlock. Janet began her research project in her mid-60s, she said, so she have something that would keep her “engaged and productive” for the rest of her life.

That phrase–engaged and productive--resonated with me. Over the past five decades, I have had the good fortune to publish more than my share of books with a number of traditional publishers and under my own imprint, in print, pixel, and audio. I’m in my mid-80s now. I’ve been thinking that it’s time to retire from long-form work–novels, that is. I don’t want to end a career as Agatha Christie did, with books that dwindle down because the author is running out of passion and purpose.

But I’m one of those writers who (as author friend Judy Alter says) can’t not write. If not novels, what kind of writing and publishing will keep me engaged and productive as long as I have the wit and attention and health to manage it? In what forms, what formats, what media? And how to stay engaged with readers, as I’ve done in so many book group sessions? I love my WordPress website, but it’s not easy to connect with readers here. WordPress does not lend itself to extended discussion, chats, or podcasts–things I’d like to play with.

So when I discovered Substack, I began to think how I might use it as a way to create the kind of participatory community I had in mind. I’m calling it Place & Thyme (with a hat tip to Andrea Grimes, who suggested the title and has been a helpful and supportive mentor throughout this process). The full site isn’t ready for prime time yet, but  you can get an advance peek of the planned schedule here. Those of you who have been coming to to read the monthly All About Thyme and LifeScapes will still find them here, as usual. But you can also find them at Substack, free. Plus (for supporting subscribers) two additional monthly posts–the familiar BookScapes and the new Senior Chronicle, in addition to discussion, chat, Q&A, and short fiction and serial fiction. I am super excited about this, because it will give me a wider playground for my writing work (which is really play, you know). And more opportunities to connect with you.

To answer the question you have in the back of your mind: what about books? You probably know there are more coming: Someone Always NearbyA Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe and Maria Chabot (Nov. 7) and Forget Me Never, China Bayles/Pecan Springs #29 (next spring–no webpage yet). After that . . . well, I (almost) never say never. But I’m looking forward to more short fiction, especially to playing around with the Dahlias and with stories like the ones I wrote for An Unthymely Death years ago. It’ll all start happening  on September 4. I hope you’ll be with us.

So before you forget it, click over to Place & Thyme and take a look. Subscribe (it’s quick, easy, free), and you can be a part of whatever we’re doing. You might also take a look around Substack. Some of the best writing on the internet is going on over there. Whatever your passion and purpose–whatever keeps you up at night or makes you late for dinner–you’ll find something to feed it.

Reading note

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
Bilbo: I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinnerJ.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit 

Your turn. All civil comments welcome. I join in as I have time and something to add to the discussion. If you have questions about the Substack payment structure, see Maryellen’s question below.

36 comments on “Place & Thyme: A Substack Project, Coming to You Soon

  1. My local public library (Niskayuna, NY) has such engaging librarians! One of this month’s highlighted book selections is Gardening. There, among the expected titles about planting various types of gardens was a shiny new copy of The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker! ☺️
    I lived in Austin (90’s), read all of your books and even meet you at an event in Fredericksburg (maybe it was Kerrville?) back then!!
    So delighted to reconnect with your work!!

  2. Ronald, yes! I always look forward to seeing readers’ choices–such interesting combinations. I’m thinking of ways to integrate this site and FB with the Substack project. Maybe a book club?

  3. Thanks, Glorianne. Working on the last chapter now–thought China and I were done, but a new idea came along and we had to go back and build it into the earlier chapters.

  4. The Senior Chronicle is a major interest of mine, too, Lynda. These years are uncharted territory for us: we’re the first generation of women to take our life experiences and skill sets into the elder years. It’ll be interesting to see how creative we are.

  5. I’m inspired, Susan. I just turned 70 this year and I recently started writing on Medium. I’ve enjoyed many China Bayles adventures over the years and I can’t wait to see where Substack takes you. Particularly interested in the Senior Chronicle.

  6. I hope you’ll still continue your Saturday morning post on Facebook (“what’s on your TBR stack?”) I love how its evolved from a simple listing to a series of mini-reviews and cross commentary among the posters……I usually get a few suggestions each week.

  7. Had to set The Darling Dahlias and The Texas Star down to sign up. And so happy to do so. Thanks, from me too, for your reply to Maryellen below. You cleared up some of what I was wondering about. Substack could use you in marketing! 🙂 👍 Love your weekly plan. Just remember no wheelies coming out of the gate! 🤗

  8. i have learned so much from reading and trying the recipes and enjoying the information on the special day events. i too am a herb lover. i now have a great selection of your books. Keep on writing and i will keep on learning!

  9. Your Cottage Tales are my favorites! I have them all…mostly paperback but one hardback.. Passing my love of them on to grandchildren as well. I had no idea you had crossed in to the fabulous 80’s. I feel ancient at 76 (long-term chronic issues) so I find you to be inspirational!

  10. I got interested in herbs via the medieval era (my PhD period) and have enjoyed learning their historical importance as much as their current uses. I put some of that information to work in Queen Anne’s Lace, where the historical use of that plant, as an abortifacient, becomes the central issue in the backstory. The more we know, the more we know we DON’T know!

  11. You, through Chyna, got me interested in herbs and herbal remedies. I have always been a “love-to-read” person also, so when I happened on Brother Cadfael and learned even more about herbal remedies I was fascinated. The thread through the centuries has been so interesting to see!

  12. “Chatty and conversational”–yes, that’s a good way to describe the Cottage Tales narrator! Her voice began to develop in the third book and got stronger as the series went on. And connection with readers has been the immense reward of the writing, for me. I’m happy to find a platform that can make that happen more often.

  13. The pandemic gave us all a chance to rethink where we are with our writing work–that, and the growing/changing opportunities for publication (Kindle short reads, for example). Substack has be around since 2017 but got a big boost in the pandemic and is continuing to grow in size and in new features: podcasting, for example, which I can’t do from WordPress. (Not sure I want to podcast, but it’s an option.) RE guest posting, yes, if reader/members would like that. After launch, I’ll do a poll and we can figure out what directions we’d like to go.

  14. Very good question, Maryellen–we all share your apprehension! Yes, each SS is priced separately. You can choose which to follow free (I follow quite a few) and which to support. Every SS newsletter carries the option to unsub–look in the footer for that link. (SS has made this very easy.) You can unsub from a paid status and resub as free, if you decide to do that. Did I fully answer? More questions about this?

  15. I’m thinking that a reading group would be interesting, Beth–so many of us are retired and spend big chunks of our time with a book.

  16. OMI, Pamela–those early newsletters date back to 1994–nearly 30 years ago! I had a little mail-order bookstore then: my books, plus indie/author-published herb books. Fun and interesting, and it kept me in touch with readers in a good way. Thanks for prompting the memory!

  17. This sounds really exciting and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. I’m a retired HS English teacher, and reading is definitely part of my life. It pretty much always has been as I read well before entering kindergarten. I do like to write (cards and letters ☺️) but even those who know me just a little bit know that I can never not read! So I’m most thankful you’re a “can’t not write” one. ❤️

  18. I’ll follow you anywhere you are and in whatever format you want to write in. I subscribed to Substack and look forward to seeing what you do there. I have a box with your early print newsletters that you used to mail out, so I’ve followed you for a long time now. Thank you for all that you do!

  19. Personally – very confused with Substack and paying to subscribe. I know other public figures that have migrated there. Do I pay a separate subscription price for each substack I register for? So far, I have not paid for any content. I am afraid to start because I feel like it with be like my cable bill with too many add-ons.

  20. Very exciting! I did freelance article writing and maintained a blog for six years and then during the pandemic I decided to take a break and think about the next step for my writing. I have been exploring other writers on Substack and look forward to your presence there. Maybe you will consider some guest essays?

  21. Yes to that. I’m 85 and love being inspired by my age mates. During this spell of hot, steamy weather, I rediscovered your COTTAGE TALES series…perfect. They are chatty, conversational and really invite the reader in, while reminding us how different our lives are from those human and animal lives in “the land between the lakes.” Thank you for the stories you tell and for continuing to explore ways to stay in touch with your readers.

  22. Oh, good, thanks. I think the Substack platform has a lot of strong potential, for both early-career writers and those who have been around for a while. For the writers, it’s a supportive community and it’s relatively easy to learn. I think it suggests a model for where publishing may be going in the future.

  23. I hope to be following your writing in whatever form you choose.

  24. You might be interested to know that Katz was a contributor to Maddow’s first Deja Vue podcast episode. Butler was quite a character–and a hugely important figure to a big segment of 1930s America: the WW1 vets and their families.

  25. Thanks for the preorder! And yes to the Otowi book–I’ve enjoyed Peggy Church’s work. We lived on the other side of the mountain. The area and its history are dear to me.

  26. Just pre-ordered Someone Always Nearby from our local bookseller (Words in Maplewood, NJ) and coincidentally am headed to the O’Keeffe show NYC’s Museum of Modern Art tomorrow. Have you read a book called The House at Otowi Bridge (not about O’K, but rather about Los Alamos)?

  27. This is very exciting to hear! I still have many of your books to read, but am glad you’ve been posting more frequently. Love to hear what is going on in your neck of the woods and to expand my knowledge. For example, I didn’t know Rachel Maddow had written so many books so am now reading Blowout. Also had not heard of Smedley Butler so have purchased the Jonathan Katz biography.

    Thank you for all you do!

  28. I already spend a lot of time on Substack, and I agree it’s got a lot of good writing. I’ll be joining you!

  29. But I didn’t say I was hanging up my pen. Just changing my story–form, format, medium. Hope you’ll hang around, Missie. We 80-somethings have to stick together.

  30. Since I am now 81 I refuse to believe you are mid 80s. I have about all of your books and jump to purchase each new offering. Depresses me to think you might want to hang up your pen !

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