Work in Progress: August 2021

August and September are butterfly months here in the Texas Hill Country. The blue mistflower (wild ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum) is blooming, and the blooms seduce whole flocks of queen butterflies. When I walk past the mistflower bed dozens of queens flutter up, disturbed–the minute I’m gone, they settle back again. There are painted ladies, viceroys, fritillaries, big sulphurs, and little yellows. And swallowtails: black and spicebush and pipeline and this gorgeous tiger, taking a breather on a juniper branch.

It’s spider and snake month, too. A golden orb spider has draped her web over the chicken coop window, so I have to be careful when I open it. And I’ve missed capturing a good-sized snake twice. By the time I got the nest-box lid propped open and had the snake stick in my hand, he had prudently disappeared. But I remind myself that an egg or two a week is a small price to pay for the job he does keeping the mice out of the chicken feeder. Ah, life in the country . . .

On the writing desk. I just finished the first pass through the copyedited manuscript of The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker. The copy editor will clean up all the changes (not very many, this time). Then it goes to the book’s layout editor. The cover artist will be done with her work soon (stay tuned for a cover reveal!). Looks like it will probably be in your hands by April 2022. The book is set in 1935, the fifth year of the Great Depression, the Labor Day hurricane that ripped across the Florida Keys, and Huey Long (a hurricane of another sort) decided to run for president.

Also in progress, a still-untitled novel about the friendship of Maria Chabot and Georgia O’Keeffe, the friendship that produced the marvelous O’Keeffe house in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The book is based on a collection of letters the two women exchanged between 1940-1950, when Georgia was in New York and Maria was in Texas and New Mexico. The letters themselves are wonderful, richly documenting a turbulent decade that shaped the lives of two fascinating women. It’s not only the decade in which O’Keeffe reached a new pinnacle of fame as an artist, but the decade in which her famous husband died–and the decade of WW2, at that. It’s an unparalleled collection and a beautifully rich resource for biographical fiction. But if you read it, beware of the editorial interventions. One of the editors wants to narrow your understanding and tell you what the letters mean. Don’t let her do that.

The release of Hemlock, China Bayles’ latest adventure, has been a little ragged. The “official” release date is September 7, still a couple of weeks away. But Barnes and Nobel seems to have shelved the book already (both the hardcover and the paperback), and Amazon is apparently shipping the paperback. Both the audio and the ebook editions will be released on 9/7. And your library should still be able to order it, if they haven’t already. Please ask.

And of course, there’s needlework. Isn’t there always? This one, in honor of my current writing project, is a version of O’Keeffe’s “Red Canna,” a series she painted in the 1930s.

Reading Note: Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing–and keeping the unknown always beyond you.–Georgia O’Keeffe


23 comments on “Work in Progress: August 2021

  1. The “octopus” of snakes. 🙂 I read that they don’t like the smell of cinnamon, cloves, onions, garlic, and lime. If it wouldn’t bother the chickens it might be worth a try. We have been battling spiders and we have found spraying peppermint oil inside of the house really helps. I also have been using a hose end sprayer with citrus dawn dish detergent on the exterior. I figure at least I am annoying the crud out of them. Ha! I hope you enjoy the last few days of summer.

  2. Thanks so much for this note–I love that series, too. Writing it was always such a joy–and a nice change for me, with those animals. They were a special and unexpected pleasure.

  3. Susan, I have enjoyed reading China Bayles and the Darling Dahlias, but I have just found your Beatrix Potter books through interlibrary loan. It is a series that strikes me clear to the soul! I grew up in Chicago, married a hog farmer and now live in a small, Michigan city. My tiny lot is a wildlife habitat with a good scattering of herbs and a few roses.
    Please excuse my rambling here, but the Beatrix Potter series combines her cozy characters with Miss Read and Miss Marple mixed in. As I read, it feels like a supper of comfort food macaroni and cheese followed with a favorite ice cream, if that makes any sense. Having borrowed several through the library, I know I will be purchasing the set to curl up with again and again!

  4. Lorrie, we mostly have bull snakes in the chicken coop–impossible to keep them out. I’ve seen them skinny down and push through 1″ chicken wire fencing. A “narrow fellow in the grass,” as Emily Dickenson put it.

  5. Congratulations on the release of “Hemlock”! Looking forward to reading it. Your walk with the butterflies sounds wonderful. What kind of snake is taking the eggs? You are brave to try to catch it, maybe you are right that it is a good way to keep away the mice. Your needlework is gorgeous! Lorrie

  6. The Hemlock hardback cover is absolutely gorgeous !! The story is fascinating as always .

  7. It’s always so nice to hear from you, Susan. I’m jealous about all those butterflies! I have a few, but it must be stunning where you are. I’m looking forward to your newest releases (I’m a big China Bayles fan and have started exploring the Darling Dahlias). Thank you for letting us be part of your world. You are blessed. Be well.

  8. Susan, I have read all China, Darling Dalhia, and most of your Beatrice Potter adventures and Robin Paige books from our library. The Kansas inter Library Loan program is bringing the books missing to our Manhattan, Ks public library. The reality, kindness, honesty and herbal knowledge your characters share is inspiring. I like the general goodness portrayed. Please keep writing.

  9. Ahhh such a nice afternoon read. Thanks as always. Have my copy of hemlock on order. Wouldn’t miss it ! Hilary

  10. So happy this news arrived when it did because I am now first in line for Hemlock at my library when it arrives. And I am so looking forward to catching up with those Darling Dahlias in the spring. Your part of Texas sounds lovely, and I appreciate hearing snippets of your relationship with the natives (butterflies, snakes and spiders) and their role in your environment. I don’t think I could deal with the snakes. Peace & Joy!

  11. Delightful needlework – so colorful. You have a patient hand. Thanks for sharing Dahlia and China news too, Susan. Can’t wait. 🌺

  12. Starting “Queen Anne ‘s Lace ” today. How many to catch up to Hemlock? Before all this I had no idea of the glories of Texas, just perceived it as gray and brown as seen from the Dallas airport. California doesn’t seem to have nearly the variety of wildflowers and herbs.

  13. Hi Susan–if the pandemic (ever) ends, I’m looking forward to what used to be an annual trek with my husband to the Hill Country. His dad lived in Burnet for thirty-five years before he died, and we made the trip to visit him every summer. For many of those years, I took one of your books along: you were sort of a tour guide(and touchstone) for me: the Bluebonnet Cafe,the Peach Festival, little herb shops. You’ve been a mentor and ( it feels like)a friend. A buddy and I met you at a talk you gave in (I think) a plant nursery in Beaumont, near Lake Charles, where we live. (There might be a story for you in Lake Charles, with all the hurricanes and devastation. The town is ruined; people here are trying hard to recover, but normal is hard to imagine these days.)
    So thanks for all the books for all these years! Your books are good medicine. Looking forward to _Hemlock_ and future Hill Country excursions. Sincerely, Connie McDonald

  14. Wow…your comment about the editor (totally agree with you) made me think there’s a reason why it’s called the “op/ed” page. The two are not mutually synonymous. 🙂 And I LOVE your current needlepoint. The colors just sing in multi-part harmony. Gorgeous! Looking forward, as always, to your latest books <3

  15. Your imagination and productivity continually amaze me. I am anxiously awaiting your two new books. I have a friend who recently did a walk for Altzheimers(her husband is a sufferer) in the Lake District and posted pictures on Facebook. They reminded me of your lovely series on Beatrice Potter which I loved.

  16. You get my vote for Woman Who Gets It Done! If I get to laugh along the way, all the better. Do take care!

  17. Oh, Sandy, where that snake is concerned, I sincerely wish for a lightning bolt, and a couple of Wonder-Woman colleagues to give me a hand. If you’d seen me trying to catch him, you would have doubled over laughing.

  18. My, I find your productivity and capacity to complete so many projects quite amazing. Looking forward to everything! And thank you for reminding us that there is more to Texas than the politics. I am so glad you have all of those butterflies and the surrounding countryside to take breaks with. Though, better thee than me in dealing with that snake in the hen house! I picture you in a Wonder Woman get-up ready to throw a lightening bolt!

  19. I had the fun of releasing four monarchs in to the world a couple of weeks ago; a friend had left them (and her dog) with me while she was out of town. The first was also witnessed by a little girl and her mother who happened to be walking past at the time.
    Looking forward to Hemlock. I won’t mind if it’s early!

  20. The colors in your needlework are so vibrant and beautiful. I cannot wait to read more books written by you. I’m so glad ‘Hemlock’ is coming to my eReader soon! Thank you for all that you do.

  21. Anxiously awaiting both books. Books have been my solace during the pandemic. Thank you for the wonderful hours I have spent reading your book.

  22. Thrilled to hear about the new Darling Dahlias mystery! Can’t wait for it. Also looking forward to “Hemlock.” September 7 is not so far away now. Goddess bless!

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