Works in Progress: May 2022

The painted buntings are here–a cheerful sign that summer has arrived. So far, I’ve seen three males at once on the millet feeders, so our little breeding colony has returned for another year. And I saw a hawk flying low into the woods last night, which suggests that there’s a nest back there. (One year, I saw a hawk nest high in a mulberry tree, with the sun haloing their downy feathers–quite a sight.) No fawns yet, but they’ll be along soon. The thermometer hit 103 yesterday, with only 1.8″ rain so far this year. Very dry and hot: climate change in progress.

The Hermit’s Peak fire continues, also a work in progress, moving north toward Angel Fire and Taos. Our cabin appears to have survived (with some smoke damage), although nearby houses burned, one with a shingle roof, the other with close-up trees. Ours has a metal roof, and Bill has been regularly thinning trees and clearing brush, so it’s not just a matter of luck (although there’s certainly that). But our village (Pendaries Village) has to get back on the grid before power and water can be restored to 200+ individual houses–a massive task that will take months. Our loss and disruption is minor, compared to those who have lost their primary homes and livelihoods. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, and this forest (adjacent to the Pecos Wilderness) was long overdue. The fire fighters have been nothing short of heroic. If you’re interested in following the fire, there’s a new Facebook page. They think it is likely to continue until the July/August monsoons put it out (if we have a monsoon this year).

Needlework. There’s been so much going on that I set aside the big fractal I was working on in favor of a smaller, less demanding project. This one is better suited to the shorter time periods I have for craft work. That fractal was a joy but also a huge challenge, and every time I had to put it down, I got lost. I’ll post it here, along with my other craftworks.

On the desk. I’m celebrating another finish–well, more or less. The O’Keeffe/Chabot project, titled Someone Always Nearby, is finished, for the time being. Its publishing future is still uncertain–my agent, Kerry, has a list for submissions and will manage that part of the process over the next few months. If it goes to an editor, there’ll likely be more work to do. Plus, I haven’t yet done the Reader’s Companion that the book needs, so readers can follow the research trail that led to the fiction.  I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

June is almost here, and the Dahlias new book, The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker, is coming out shortly. The Dahlias and I hope you like it. It gave me a chance to learn about the political shenanigans of 1935 and the powerful political machine of Huey P. Long, who died that summer. (The novel tells the true story behind his death.) There are some astonishing parallels to the contemporary political scene.

Meanwhile (because work is one of the great pleasures of my life and because I feel privileged to do work I love), it’s time to get started on another China mystery. I’m rereading a dozen or so of the latest books in that series and the plot soup is simmering on the back burner. More on that in a few weeks.

Reading note. This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.―Zen poet Alan Watts


45 comments on “Works in Progress: May 2022

  1. Oh, my! That first China Bayles is 30 years old now. No wonder it’s falling apart! Thanks for the compliment. I’ll settle for being China when I grow up. 🙂

  2. Susan, see my note to Karen Lawrence, above. China will be back in Texas in the 2024 book, I promise.

  3. I know from experience (BTDT) that reading an entire series is a huuuge commitment, Karen. China, Ruby, and I applaud–and thank–you. The characters seem very real to me, too, after living with them for 30 years now. Bill and I used to joke that China and Ruby even came with us on vacations, although Ruby had to leave her guitar at home (she liked to play it while we were driving). Long-running series are a challenge: in some ways, too comfortable for the author, who ought to be learning and experimenting and growing–not writing the same book over and over again. I’ve been lucky to be able to do most of my “experimenting” in other series and stand-alones. But being comfortable is still a challenge. 🙂

  4. Susan, I have just finished rereading your entire Chiba Bayles series, ending with the last two, “A Plain Vanilla Murder” and “Hemlock”. I can hardly wait for the next one. They just keep getting better and better. I keep having to remind myself that China, McQuaid, Caitie, Brian, Ruby, Smart Cookie, Blackie and all the rest aren’t real people! I feel like I know them personally. I also really enjoy the Darling Dahlias. Thank you so much for sharing your talent and hard work!

  5. Love your books. Reread every year. Falling apart! Need one about Sheila and her baby !

  6. I read your books over every year. Usually, when a new one is coming out. Just finishing Hemlock for the 3rd time. Always enjoy every book. But like them in Texas! That is where I live! Victoria. I really want one with Sheila and how she is coping with her baby! Also, truly enjoy the Dalia series. Love learning about the 30’s.

  7. Nancy, if reading written books is holding you up from visual reading, See: NLS-Bard (National Library Service – Bard system) provides audio books free to those with medical necessity.
    You may have to search, but your local librarian should have details or be able to access them.
    Most all books from contributing publishers are available in audio form. It’s a service from the Library of Congress providing readers with a digital book reader and supplies needed to download books from National Library Service. Try 800 424 8587 for the DC office. Good luck! V

  8. I too am looking forward to a new China Bayles book. I’d like to keep her in Texas this time. I live in the Carolinas (SC) but have never been to Texas. Tell us MORE and MORE and even MORE about Texas.

  9. So happy for another Dalia novel. I started reading your novels back with the first China Bayles novel (which I still have although the glue doesn’t hold so well on the spine anymore!) and they are always well written ( drives me crazy when there are grammar and logic issues). Just wanted to say thank you. I want to be like you when I grow up!!!

  10. Can’t wait for the new Dahlias! Just now midway through the China series and I am amazed at your story telling skills. I’m trying to figure out how you do all you do and write too. Surely you must have a clone that helps you out. I love how I learn about history and geography in addition to enjoying my favorite genre. Thank you for providing so much entertainment. Only drawback for me is that I listen to books on tape and I go through them too quickly lol. Keep it up! Many regards, Connie

  11. I have never seen a painted bunting and I so appreciate your newsletter! I love reading all about nature.

  12. Your post is full of so much accomplishment during what has to have been such a stressful time. My hat is off to you for keeping your cool! Love hearing about all of your projects taking shape and about the Painted Buntings. Pretty sure I would be guessing that I was hallucinating if I saw such a colorful bird at my feeders! …
    Thanks for the peak inside the publishing world! I have also wondered about how authors fair when their works are made available through ebooks and online audio at our libraries?

  13. Sounds like the buntings know a good summer resort area when they see one. Hoping for rain, too, but we seem to always be betwixt and between.

  14. Paper trails are fun for me, too, Beth. I appreciate any author who is willing to leave one for me, even if it’s only a bibliography.

  15. Helen, so glad you brought the buntings into your life–and that they brought the indigos! Bet your feed store is happy too. 🙂 Ours is anyway–we feed a LOT of it.

  16. So happy to hear another China Bayles book is coming. My favorite! That’s wonderful news about your mountain retreat. I’m very pleased for you.

  17. Hi Susan. I love hearing from you and look forward to more China Bayles in the near future. We too, have been fortunate to have Painted Buntings here in the Hill Country. So happy to see them again this year. It was 97° today. We’re hoping for some good rain next week. Good luck to us all.

  18. Read and stitch! I totally agree!! But sometimes life interferes. I am a quilter and I would rather be doing that or reading any day! I recently took the plunge and started writing an newspaper column for our tiny local paper. I just realized it is somewhat like “Lifescapes”. Great inspiration! Thank you for all your books and keeping up with Lifescapes.

  19. I love that there will be a Reader’s Companion to Someone Always Nearby. Ever since about 3rd year of college, one of my favorite parts of any written piece is the “paper trail.” And I’m totally excited for a new Dahlias read. And to have China back! Take good care, both of you!

  20. You are lucky your library ordered it for you. I worked in libraries for 30 years BTW. I can only use audiobooks so sometimes the library has one or more often, I have to buy it from Audible. One of the libraries that I belong to is a town library and does not have any of Susan’s audiobooks. The County Library has some of hers. I read all of her books in hardcover once upon a time. Now that is impossible. As our population ages, this will become more common. Yes I have seen 6 ophthalmologists to see if new glasses would help.

  21. I agree with Mirjam, you are amazing! I am 5 years younger, and my brain can no longer keep up with all the characters in the books I read. I now have to make a note of each character’s name and a brief description of them when they are introduced. It’s not dementia, just too much bad national and world news, children’s and grandchildren’s activities, and doctors for all our ailments (hubby’s and mine) — too much to keep up with, when all I want to do is read and stitch. Keep on keeping on, Susan! You’re a joy!

    P.S. So glad your beautiful cabin is okay!

  22. Another Darling Dahlias! I don’t want to wish my life away but knowing it’s almost June brings the next treat closer. China Bayles is another always happily anticipated delight. Thank you so much!

  23. Hi Susan….always love hearing from you. Had been hoping for an update on your cabin up in God’s country…an area we know and love!! We were only 4 miles from the big fire in Medina county a month or so ago…and it was very scary. You were the one who got me feeding white millet several years ago and this year I decided on 2 millet feeders and shortly after the painted buntings returned I counted 11 males at one time and several females. They also brought the Indigo Buntings this year…simply because of your advice to feed the millet!!!! I’m always looking forward to another China mystery and can’t wait for the Georgia O’Keefe book. Hang in there…..big hugs!!!!

  24. Thanks for asking the question , Cynthia. I’ve been meaning to summarize the industry changes (which are substantial). You gave me the opportunity.

  25. Both stores i went to were B&N, so I’ll just think positively that they had a run on your books and were simply sold out. Thanks for responding, and I will get an order placed.

  26. If you want to buy from an indie bookstore, you’ll likely have to order the books. B&N should have most of the titles, but not all. Online is the most reliable place to buy. What’s going on? Major upheaval in the publishing world (supply chain issues created during the pandemic, the closing of print shops, buyouts of some smaller publishers, disappearance of many bookstores, dramatic inventory reduction in others, distribution issues, increased demand for ebooks, decreased demand for print books,shift to print-on-demand, etc etc). Plus I took command of my books several years ago and currently publish (most of) them under my own imprint, which gives me a welcome flexibility while it makes for more limited bookstore distribution. Glad you’re enjoying the books! Hope you’re able to find what you’re looking for.

  27. Sounds like your library gave you an early peek at Poker. The recipes are scheduled for publication on June 7, the actual publication date for that book. (Glad you asked the library to order it–and glad you liked it!)

  28. Hi Susan,
    I love your books and am always anxiously awaiting the next volume in both series. However, when I went to two different bookstores (both part of the same chain), neither had ANY of your books. Is there something going on? While I know I can order them online, I prefer to go to the bookstore (even if it is a chain it’s better than nothing!) I just thought it was very odd. I live in Colorado.

  29. So happy to hear that your casa is still standing and can be repaired. So many people have lost their homes, jobs, businesses and new fires can be expected sadly through the summer unless we have extra wet monsoon season.

  30. My library answered my request for the purchase of RedHot Poker. I hate to admit but my work pretty much stops when a new book of yours is available. Read it and liked it. But why are the recipes not available until June 6? HPLong sounds as though he and Trump are soul bros. Keep writing and I will keep reading. Thank you. Malley

  31. Thanks for the update on your cabin and glad to hear that it survived! Looking forward to the Dahlias next adventure!
    Try to keep cool!

  32. So glad your lovely mountain home is safe. Love your comments about the birds in your location. We, also, are bird watchers and feeders. That brings a lot of joy. So excited about the new Dahlias on the horizon!! I just love the “girls” and the history of the time and what people are doing. Oh, and YES! A new China being formed in your mind!! Can’t wait for it to come to paper!! Things to anticipate and look forward to! Stay well.

  33. Well, they like to think they’re realistic. They keep urging me to include all the little daily details of their lives so that you’ll know what it was like to live in that time and place. (Who knew when bra cup sizes were first marketed or when they found that first quiche recipe?)

  34. So glad the next Darling Dahlias will be out soon. I look forward to them and really enjoy how they represent time and place. After having lived in the South for 20 years, these ladies seem so realistic.

  35. Mirjam, your English looks very good to me–I’m sure you won’t have any trouble. Yes, hoping to work as long as my health (cognitive, physical) permits. I began the China series when I was 52, back in 1992. I’ll leave the math to you. 🙂

  36. I’m glad to heat your cabin seems to be safe! And I can relate to switching cross-stitch projects right now. I have a couple of really small projects to finish, then I want to start on a SAL that I’m already late to. But what have I been stitching? A doodle cloth with interlocking squares loosely based on a log cabin quilt pattern. The only decisions required are when to stop a color of floss and which one to use next.

  37. Dear Susan, when I was about 23 years old, I read your translated books about the former lawyer with great pleasure. Now, 25 years later, I have given my life a new direction and have more space to read. I looked up the books with herbal names. Could there be more titles? Much to my surprise, you are still writing. And you are an inspiring person yourself ;-). I’m going to read the rest of your books. And there are many! They haven’t been translated, so I’m sure I’ll get good at English that way. Thank you for your inspiration and your wonderful novels where you are in a different world for a while.

    Mirjam Hoekstra
    (The Netherlands)

  38. I love reading your articles! I live in Manhattan and with all the crime and mayhem going on here now it is so nice to read about your peaceful ,bucolic area. Thank you!

  39. Oh, dear Linda–our grandson was just a couple of miles from that CO fire. We were watching it, too. So glad your daughter’s house was spared!

  40. Susan, our daughter and her family live in Louisville, Colorado which is one of the towns that burned in January. The fires came within 2 blocks of her house. We were watching the progress online for 24 scary hours. I am so grateful your mountain home was safe, but know smoke damage can be an issue as well. I wish the best for you and Bill. I guess these fires are something we are forced to deal with now…even in Texas!
    Take care! Linda

  41. I just love this newsletter. It reminds me to sit still and enjoy the here and now. Beautiful painted bunting photo! Thank you for sharing with us!

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