Works in Progress: Summer 2020

The current cross stitch project. This one is a Dimensions kit called “European Bistro”–16″ x 11″ on Aida cloth, 18 count, so it’s big and a bit picky. I started it in April 2020, and it’s going pretty fast–except that I haven’t done much of the detailing yet–the outlining that creates the illusion of depth and makes the individual elements stand out. You can see some of that on the left side, where I’ve done a bit of it: picture frames, window, sign–but not the bike tires.

There’s also lots of half-cross, which (counter-intuitively) is harder to do than cross-stitch because all of it has to have the same tension. The red crisscross is the red nylon grid I put in to mark the fabric in 10×10 blocks, making it easy easier to see where you are. I wouldn’t try this without some kind of gridding.  And yes, I always start in the upper left.

This project is about 40% finished, if you don’t count the detailing. I enjoy big projects because I don’t waste a lot of time stopping and starting. This one has so many varied components that it’s never boring. Well, almost never.  At the rate I’m going, I’ll finish it early next year. If you can do this without a magnifying lamp, your eyes must be much better than mine.

The current book project. Some of you may remember that last year, I started a China Bayles mystery called Hemlock. I was almost halfway through the book when I injured my back and had to turn to something easier and less complicated (the novellas). Since then, I’ve now done two novella series, both set in Pecan Springs: one featuring China’s sidekick Ruby Wilcox, the other featuring crime reporter Jessica Nelson.

I’ve also just finished a third project: The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily. It goes to the copy editor tomorrow, then to the layout editor, who puts it into print and ebook form and adds the cover, which is already completed. You’ll have it in October or November, when it may give you a little respite from the election and its aftermath.

Now, I’ve gone back to Hemlock, another two-story novel, like Wormwood, Widow’s Tears and Queen Anne’s Lace. The frontstory takes place in North Carolina, where China has been asked to investigate the theft of a unique and valuable book, Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal. The backstory takes place in the 1730s in London and explores why and how Elizabeth created the book and what happened after that. I’m loving the project, but it is layered and twisty and a challenge to put together in a comprehensible way. There are lots of details that create the illusion of historical depth–a little like the “Bistro” project. Look for it in early spring, 2021, when we’re all living with whatever happens in the election.

Whatever your current work-in-progress, I hope you are staying safe and sheltered in this crazy Covid summer. As I write this, there is a gathering of a quarter of a million mostly unmasked bikers in South Dakota, a crowded and potentially super-spreading event. This is nuts. Please don’t do it. Be safe.

Reading note. The most important things to remember about backstory are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest. Life stories are best received in bars, and only then an hour or so before closing time, and if you are buying.–Stephen King






30 comments on “Works in Progress: Summer 2020

  1. Just finished Hemlock and enjoyed it immensely,as I have all the China Bayles books. I checked this web-site for the chicken and slicks recipe because the slicks sound like my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother’s pot pie, the recipe for which my mother never could find (if in fact it ever existed in written form) and which she could only describe to me. I won’t ever know for certain, but it will be interesting to try.

  2. The half stitches are hard to do, yes. I use a dental pick as a laying tool, in my upper (left) hand. This takes a little practice but now feels very natural and maintains the tension. Somebody else told me that she used cross for the whole thing, so you’re not alone in that! And it’s really not crazy, Madhurani: we do this for the process, not the product. It’s like working a mantra, relaxing into it and knowing that the real “product” (outcome, result, goal) is the doing of it, not the “done” of it. (Hope that makes sense!) Good luck to both of us–this one is quite a challenge!

  3. dear susan, i just started european bistro last month, finished 1/4 th of it, but then gave up on half stitches. i do not like them stretching the design in 2 corners. so i went back and crossed over the half stitches, decided to make the design in full stitch, i am not even sure that it will give it the depth and smoky background from the original painting, but i plan to go ahead with full stitches, when i am done i will take a long look at it. crazy but it does not matter. cross stitch is so calming and happy for my mind.

  4. I’m a gardener with an interest in the useful and medicinal properties of plants. During the lockdown I reread some of your mysteries and was struck by your observations/poetic descriptions,the wonderful use of dialect and local expressions, the rich interior life of China, and especially the importance of relationships, to the plot. I grew up in a small northern Minnesota town, and I find the setting of Pecan Springs comforting. I’ve also tried some of your recipes, and love the way foods, food prepartion/sharing enrich the stories. Thank you,

    Dana Marie St. George
    Palo Alto, CA

  5. So many interesting details in this post! I had no idea cross-stitch grids existed, nor did I know magnifying lamps existed – both will be helpful for my cross-stitch! Also thrilled to hear about the Dahlias!

  6. I try to do detailing as I go along, Linda. It’s not all the same: I hate curves and picky stuff, don’t mind straight lines. I can see some (chair backs) that need a do-over. Slows you down,though, doesn’t it?

  7. So, Susan, do you do some detailing before you finish a project? That is my least favorite part of cross stitching! I love your pieces and your books!

  8. Began reading China Bayles years ago & have continued to follow her & Ruby through the years. Always great reads & feel I know them personally! Can hardly wait for “Hemlock” to appear. Now I’m intrigued by the Enterprise trilogy. I’m also a cross stitcher involved in a year long project! Thank goodness for magnification.

  9. Susan, thanks so much for this comment, especially about “variety.” I set out to be a genre writer because I wanted to earn a living as a writer and genre seemed the best path. But within that choice, I have resisted getting stuck. Each of the contemporary Pecan Springs mysteries is different enough to feed my need for variety, and I was able to move into historical fiction and memoir with the help of supportive editors and the Robin Paige co-author (Bill). And when author-publishing because technologically feasible, I was able to indulge myself in biographical fiction. Now, I’m enjoying playing with form: the novellas give me a greater latitude. The singles may not be very deep, but the linking helps to offset that somewhat. I’m looking forward to other experiments and am encouraged by readers who understand the need for experimentation. Life is too short to keep reproducing the same plots over and over again. 🙂 Again, thanks!

  10. You never cease to amaze me with the variety and exceptionla quality of your writing. I am very excited about the new books coming, especially Hemlock. I also love the Dahlias. In fact, I love everything you write. Am reading Jessica’s stories now. I have to agree with the comment above, that we ofetn resemble a nation of teenagers unable to deal witth probems and having to learn the hard way. We seem to have lost the concept of acting for “the greater good”. Don’t even hear those words anymore, to our loss. I have times when I am nt sure the country is going to survive this time with our democracy intact. Your writings are a great help. Thank you

  11. Just finished Firelines. Enjoyed it immensely! Looking forward to reading the latest Darling Dahlias adventure.
    It is amazing how you can create so many books in a short time span that are so well written and engaging! Keep up the good work!

  12. There is no end to your wonderful creativity, Susan. We, your faithful readers and lovers of your complex cross stitch projects know that to have crossed paths with you has been a beautiful gift. Thank you….

  13. The cross stitch is coming along beautifully, Susan. It is remarkable how those tiny stitches create the sense of depth. Is that building in the top left like rough stucco? Hard to tell from the photo, but the texture looks so good.
    My library agreed that Ruby’s novellas should be part of our collection, so they are ordering it, and I get first dibs when it comes! 😉 I’ll try for the Deadline one next. Hopefully Hemlock will be ordered automatically, as they have all the China books, but I’ll be watching. Can’t wait for the Dahlias and Voodoo Lily to find out what happens with Liz and Bent and the Writers’ Project!
    I agree about the Sturgis gathering. Despite all the ways in which we can be great, sometimes it seems like we are a teenage nation, lacking the maturity to handle well those things we don’t like. Sadly we often have to learn the hard way.
    Thank you for your thoughtful words, and stay well!

  14. Yay! Yay! Yay! Can you tell I’m excited for Hemlock to come out? It sounds wonderful, as are all the other China Bayles books. They are my favorite and helped me through some hard years when my daughter and her family moved to Austin. Reading those books helped me have a “feeling of the hill country”. I felt more connected and that meant so much to me. Now we are here in Austin too! Thank you for your wonderful books.

  15. Lorrie, I am so sorry to hear about your family members. I don’t think we realize just how horrible this thing is until it happens to somebody we know and love. Please be safe.

  16. Your cross stitch project makes me want to start another hobby! Alas, my hands have trouble even with the guitar and banjo these days. I just received Fire Lines. I enjoy your work so much, looking forward to Darling and especially Hemlock.

    Thank you for helping to fill my favorite pass time.


  17. You are a patient woman Susan. Your project is lovely. Good to hear that The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily is off to the editors now. Hemlock sounds really good. I too have loved your two story books. I agree with you that it is nuts to go to a gathering of 250,000 people during this pandemic. Sadly we will see the damage that has been done in a few weeks. We just lost our Uncle and a Cousin (he was only 20 yrs old) to this terrible virus. We have other family members who are sick. It is frightening when the phone rings. I am glad that you continue to stay home and stay safe. Take good care of yourselves.

  18. Susan, your needlework project is so beautiful. It has come quite a long way since you first posted a picture in the spring. You are an ambitious stitcher. Agree with you on half-crosses – they are a pain. (I do small projects in needle & thread. The large projects frustrate me after awhile.) Thank you for sharing it with us. We are anticipating your new stories too! I have asked my local library to obtain the Deadline novella series. The first novella series featuring Ruby was such fun. It is appreciated that you keep us posted on the happenings in Pecan Springs and the Dahlias. Cheers.

  19. Love your posts, Susan. I’ve always admired, and been awed by, how much you accomplish. I’m excited over your new book projects; can’t wait to read them. I have especially appreciated your insights; your skillful, sometimes very subtle, way of weaving relevant social/current issues into your stories; and your thorough research. You are high on my list of special people. I remember fondly the Story Circle listserv. It was a dynamic, heart-full, supportive and funny exchange. Please keep China and company and the Darling Dahlias coming. They provide a great respite, particularly in this unusual time, a time, I feel, is asking for introspection and deep reflection. Stay safe. All the best, always.

  20. Totally beautiful cross and half cross stitch piece !!!! Widow’s Tears was such a riveting novel, it gave me goosebumps many times. I learned so much about that hurricane that i went online and read a lot more about it. We are so lucky to have the mass communication and worldwide weather information we have in these times, it really saves lives. I just love all your books, thanks so much for being such a creative and enchanting writer !!!!

  21. I love the quote from Stephen King! Just finished my latest cross stich project (the last in a series of monthly themed panels that I change out and hang on my front door each month). On to some pumpkin towels to use in the kitchen during the fall.

  22. Susan, I don’t think I could ever pick my favorite China book…but I will say now that it is Queen Anne’s Lace! I love the 2 story concept, so I cannot wait for Hemlock! I am hopeful that when it comes out, we will all be in happier times.
    Take care, Linda

  23. I enjoy your posts. I am also one of your China books fans. I own all of them and so I look forward to the next one. Books that contain both today’s story and a strong back story challenge me. That said, I am at a time in my life where I am looking back on my own life. Wondering how I became the woman I am today and all the other versions of myself I have been. Your writing helps me remember there is always a back story. Always a reason why things happen. Stay as safe as you can as we live through this strange situation we find ourselves in. Your posts brighten my world and encourage me.

  24. It is beautifu,l but so intricate I would ever attempt anything like that. Good luck!

  25. I can’t wait to read Hemlock ! I love your two story books! I love China and Ruby, I’m a devoted fan!

  26. So enjoy your posts. I feel like I know you. I have read almost all of your books to date but must admit China’s are my favorite. So good to know you are safe and well in Texas. In anticipation of my next read…Hilary

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