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 by light/shadows and the interesting combination of half-cross and full-cross stitches. The odd-looking grid is my keep-track grid, so I don’t lose my place in the complicated chart.

You’d think half-cross (/) would take half the time of a full-cross (X), wouldn’t you? Not so: it takes more time, because you have to be more careful with the thread tension and be sure that the stitches lay flat. Plus, there’s a lot of back-stitching–outlining. Not a project that can be hurried, believe me. Best done with an audio book: I’m listening, with the text, to Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, the first of his legal thrillers. This is a reread of a book that (IMO) is much better on the second or third reading, when you can appreciate the author’s creative development of his obtuse unreliable narrator, whose legal smarts are entirely trustworthy but who is dumb as a brick when it comes to close personal relationships. Turow set a high bar for himself with his first book. I’ve just finished his latest (The Last Trial)–especially interesting, with its parallels to our current real-life situation.

Speaking of which. We’re still sheltering in place, as are so many of you. I’ve been staying put (the privilege of age), while Bill (six years younger than I) goes out once a week to fetch the mail and shop for groceries. Our closest grocery store (a 30-mile roundtrip) doesn’t do curbside pickup,so he does “real” shopping. Our local hardware store is considered “essential,” so he can shop there, too. I shop online for books (absolutely essential) and other necessities. Living in the country means that we’re not in the habit of going out for restaurant meals, so we don’t feel deprived of that pleasure. In fact, we don’t feel deprived at all. We have books, the internet, television, and lots of open landscape. We are increasingly grateful to those who are leaving their homes to work so that we can stay home. And I’m very grateful that we enjoy each other, still (after three decades of marriage) find new topics of conversation, and continue to learn new things about the lives we lived before we began living together. It’s all pretty amazing, actually.

To those who’ve been asking about the next China Bayles project. The writing has been interrupted by one of my volunteer projects for Story Circle, a network for women writers. But I’m back at work on the current Dahlias mystery (The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily) and hope to finish it by the end of July.  Once that’s done, I’ll likely pick up the China mystery I dropped when I injured my back a year ago. I can’t remember where I left that project, so I can’t say right now when it’ll be finished and published. But it’s in the works. In the meantime, the latest Pecan Springs novella trilogy (Deadlines, Fault Lines, Firelines) will be available in ebook online (Kindle, Nook, Apple) in July and August (July 7, July 21, August 4). Print folks, yours will be published in an omnibus edition (all three titles together) on September 22. Sorry–no word yet on audio.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which always means buckets of rain here in the Texas Hill Country. Wherever you are, I hope you’re sheltering, or (if you choose to go out) that you’re masked and careful. Please be safe.

Reading note. And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”Mary Oliver


34 comments on “The 2020 Work-in-Progress

  1. Dear Susan I am rereading all the Darling Dahlia books and realize how much our situation today mirrors theirs almost 90 years ago: people out of work, hurting for money and adequate food, and so on. And the courageous people who keep on keeping on and work to help others.
    I wondered if you had thought of putting together a book of the Darling Dahlia recipes? I keep thinking I have to get the books back from the library to copy them out. I enjoy all your series, and in these difficult times, it is easier to reread your books, escape perhaps, but essential. I am about to reread the Hilltop series, the ones of yours I started with, as I grew up near there.
    Thank you very much, Pippa Kiraly

  2. Just finished re-reading/listening to the Dahlia’s series and I’ve been wondering what they’ve been up to. Last we heard from them they were on the brink of an important time in history that I know you have researched so well. So glad they’re are willing to let you catch up with them soon. 🙂

    • Amy, they’re always on the brink. 🙂 I’m hoping that they’ll finish The Voodoo Lily in time for you to have it in October!

      • Terrific! Fun timing too! I was also thinking about our friend, China, and how COVID may or may not hit Pecan Springs. It will be interesting to see how novelists proceed as this pandemic unfolds. Last fall, I finally started to write the series that has been populating itself in my head for the past few years. I feel in a stuck place, since our world seems to be clearing it’s throat right now, and, we’ll we’re all waiting to see how we will proceed. Was it easier to hang out in Darling right now, rather than think about Pecan Springs? I know it was for me as I was re-reading them recently!

        • Good luck with your writing, ABJ. You’re right: feels like limbo time, hard to feel in sync with the world. Right now, I find myself preferring Darling, but am very conscious of the BLM issues in that setting, which are difficult to address in a light-hearted mystery.

          • Isn’t that so true! And wow, it just occurred to me that the gift of ‘hindsight’ adds a challenging twist to writing from the point of view of the Dahlias during that time. I guess writing about ‘what you know’ can be as difficult as writing about ‘the unknown’. I’ll be looking forward to both! Thanks!

  3. While surviving quarantine, I’ve been really enjoying the audiobooks for the Victorian Mysteries that have come out over the past few months! I’d read the books along with my murder mystery loving mother years ago but coming back to them now in such uncertain times has been so comforting and a nice adventure while I try to learn how to punchneedle! The first three came out on Audible in such quick succession – any idea on whether others will follow?

  4. Thanks for the glimpse into your needlework. Half-cross stitches are the bane of my existence!! More time for reading, needlework and another try at knitting is a “benefit” of self-help to me.

    • Another stitcher who did this chart told me that she converted all the half-cross to full, Carol. I completely understand her motivation! I use a dental pick as a laying tool, which helps equalize the tension. But there’s no denying that this is a slow chart–no land speed records on this one!

  5. You just made my day! I love knowing the Dahlias and China will be back and I’m more than ready to slip back into the Dahlias’ world. We are appreciating the space we have on this old farm on the outskirts of the city and are traveling through this crisis trying not to become too fearful to enjoy what we can.
    Re-reading the Dahlias allows me to escape for a much needed respite! I’m so grateful for your books.

  6. I lived seeing your work on the cross stitch. I used to do allot of it. In fact, I say it saved my sanity when i had thyroid disease. I lik the way you divided your fabric into tens. I hadn’t seen that done before. Clever!

  7. Wow, the cross stich project is so richly textured 🙂 ! How long did it take you to construct the grid (great idea)?
    It’s going to be lovely!

    • It’s a large project–the gridding took about 8-9 hours, Diane. But I’d be lost without it, literally.

  8. Kudos to you for doing counted crossstitch. Many decades ago I became spoiled by printed crosstitch. Although I have done counted petit point for small medallions, counted was crossed off my list of fave projects. Your work is beautiful.

    I am looking forward to new China books.


  9. Wow! Your cross stitch is beautiful! You must have good eyes. I’m wondering if you’ve read A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier? It’s about a woman who joins a society of broderers who embroider kneelers for the cathedral. It’s set in the time just after World War I when there were so many “excess women” after they lost husbands and boyfriends to the war. A lot of the story is based on fact and some of the characters really existed. I think you would find it very interesting on several levels!

    I will definitely be getting the next trilogy, but the one I’m especially looking forward to is the next China book. Can’t wait!

    Stay safe.

  10. As I looked at your cross-stitch I was transported back in memory some 10 years ago to when my late mother was here. I would walk into her home and find her in her recliner, a large magnifier hanging from her neck and watch quietly while she attacked her latest petit point cross-stitch project. I never saw her as peaceful as when she was cross-stitching. Years ago she sent in a photo of my late son, when he just one year old to a pattern online store and they made a pattern that took up several pages. It hangs in my hallway and always brings a smile to my face. Most visitors think it is a photo. Several of her pieces greet me in other rooms of my home.
    I so appreciate your writing! I love the Story Circle Network you founded!
    This pandemic is quite the game changer in so many ways. I wonder who we will be when it is all over. I just wrote a piece on that for my writing group and will probably send it to SCN.
    Thank you again for all you do and share with us.
    Jeanne Zeeb-Schecter

  11. I must apologize, Susan, that I failed to mention your new China Bayles LINES trilogy in my morning comments. Very excited to anticipate new adventures in Pecan Springs. Why is it we think small towns are mostly boring? Modern fiction proves otherwise. Cheers to China, Ruby and the crew. Sure to be a fun read.

    • Oh, no need! I just want to be sure that people understand the relationship of the novella series to China’s mysteries: they all take place in Pecan Springs. My opinion about boring: life is boring whenever the people who are living it don’t have enough curiosity to ask why or wherefore or who what when. 🙂

  12. I love your new project & am very intrigued with your grid system. I am finishing the baby Afghan for the newest great nephew. Not sure about the next project….another Angel or Victorian house, probably.

  13. I enjoy, so much, your cross stitch projects. I have given up with no more wall space for hanging. Downsizing from a house to retirement apartment will do that. A few years ago I found some cute Christmas ornaments with cross stitch designs which keeps my needle in practice.

  14. I’m so glad to here you will be getting back to the China Bayles mysteries! And I look forward to the Pecan Springs trilogy. So sorry to hear that you hurt your back. I was not aware of that. But I had become worried about you since you didn’t seem to be writing as much as usual. Thanks for letting us know what is happening with you!

  15. I very much enjoyed the Body trilogy, so I’m looking forward to the Lines trilogy. Your cross stitch is impressive. I have an unfinished one and you’re inspiring me to pull it out and finish it. Thanks!

  16. Susan, It’s fun to hear how your writing is integrated into your “ordinary” life. It seems to flow just as my days lately do from cooking and baking bread to studying French on line to playing cards with my husband to reading to watching the plants and birds and squirrels(as they eat the birdseed!) on our deck. I don’t feel deprived either. As a nurse and for 20 years a single mom, I always had to work a lot to make ends meet and never had the luxury of being “Susy Homemaker”, so I am enjoying most of this. I miss seeing my grown children and our former foster babies who are now from five to three years old, but this time feels almost like a gift. I am really looking forward to the Dahlias and China and I will get the new trilogy on my kindle. Thank you for all you do! (and thanks for adding Nurses Week to your calendar!)
    Cindy Womack, Eatonton, Georgia
    PS: There’s a wonderful new web site called The View From My Window on which people from all over the world share pictures and comments as we are isolated from each other. It really says how the world is one big family. You would enjoy it. I recommend it if you haven’t already found it.

    • Cindy, thanks for that recommendation: There’s a moving letter on the page, from the founder–testimony to the difficulties of managing a hugely successful online activity. I was delighted to see so many lovely scenes. Now I don’t feel so guilty! There are many, many who are treasuring their views of their world and finding them truly unlimited.

  17. Thank you so much for your post. It gives us hope for the future and something to look forward to. Keep hanging in there. Love from Minnesota.

  18. Your project is absolutely gorgeous. I will look forward to seeing the finished project in time. Wonderful to have updates on your writing. Something to look forward to. I just finished the last of the Victorian Mystery Series. Do you and Bill plan to add any more to that series? I really enjoyed all. Of course, China and The Dahlias and Ruby’s trilogy are old friends and I am very anxious to see what they have been up to. My husband and I are doing much as you and Bill, except without the country setting, and we do have delivery on our groceries. We will shelter in place as long as we feel we need to be safe. Stay well and safe, and keep writing!!

  19. A question about your needlework project. I have several panels taken from the Mille Fleurs at the Cluny Museum in Paris. I bought them as kits. I worked a dog in wool and then in silk to see the difference. I like both.

    I am working on a pillow top that has a William Morris design. I didn’t notice when I ordered it that the thread is cotton. Am not sure I want to finish it Do you prefer one thread over another?

    • Carolyn, most embroidery floss is cotton, so that’s not an issue. DMC is the U.S. “standard” floss, but there are many excellent European brands. I’ve had several similar European kits with “unbranded” floss and have yet to experience any bleeding. If you are concerned about that, cut a few lengths and test them. A possibility, if there is bleeding: substitute DMC floss. I’m sure you can match the colors. Good luck! (Love those William Morris designs!)

  20. You are always so thoughtful in your posts to us, Susan. The needlework is gorgeous. I personally make small Christmas ornaments with thread and beads. They come together quickly. Long projects tend to frustrate me. I get bored part way through and then give up. There is something to be said for completion. Getting lost in an audio book is one thing I haven’t done in quite awhile. Dvds of British mysteries are my current binge while in quarantine. VERA with Brenda Blethyn is simply the best. I also am re-discovering cooking. Mushroom and spinach alfredo later today, with salmon on the side! Cheers to you, Susan. Please keep us up-to-date on your life? We love it.

  21. I am really annoyed when I cannot get books except on Kindle……I love to hold a printed volume in my hands…..and do not own a Kindle nor plan to buy one……really hate to miss your books

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