Volume XXII, Issue One | March 2022
Little Souls to be Published April 26
Several years ago, I wrote a novel about the 1918 flu epidemic. I thought it should be published on the 100th anniversary of the flu. Nobody else did. There wasn’t much interest in the Spanish influenza, and even less in a novel about it. Fast forward to 2020 and COVID-19. My agent called one day and asked, “Do you remember that manuscript on the 1918 flu epidemic? I think the timing’s right.”
I pulled up the novel on my computer and reread it and discovered the problem with it wasn’t just lack of interest in the subject. The story itself had some problems. I hadn’t seen them when I was writing the manuscript, but reading it with fresh eyes, I found the flaws were obvious. I did some rewriting, and my agent submitted the manuscript to St. Martin’s, my long-time publisher. My editor wanted additional work on the novel.
One problem was the title. The original manuscript didn’t have one. Eight years ago, when I was in Italy with my daughter Dana, we toured Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo. I saw a quote from Hadrian that mentioned “little souls.” I thought that would make a great title for a book. So four years later, when Dana and I were in Rome, we went back to Castel Sant’Angelo and searched the whole building for the quote. Dana finally spotted it on our way out. She photographed it, and I kept the words in the back of my mind for a future book. When the Spanish flu manuscript was revived, I thought Little Souls was the perfect title.
I had no idea I was going to write about the Spanish flu. The idea came from something I read: The flu was so bad that bodies were left out on the street to be picked up by death wagons. What a great way to cover up a murder, I thought. That was the start of Little Souls.
This is the story: Lutie, an artist in the advertising department of a downtown Denver store, comes home to discover her sister, Helen, standing over a dead man, a knife in her hand. The dead man is the abusive father of a little girl the sisters took in after her mother died of the flu. The sisters have no idea of how to dispose of the body until Lutie suggests they leave it on the street for the death wagon. But the police aren’t fooled and soon come asking questions.
St. Martin’s blurb continues: “Meanwhile, Lutie also worries about her fiancé ‘over there.’ His mother, it turns out, harbors a secret of her own and helps the sisters as the danger deepens, from the murder investigation and the flu. Set against a background of an epidemic that feels all too familiar, Little Souls is a compelling tale of sisterhood and of the sacrifices people make to protect those they love most.”
My schedule of appearances for Little Souls is iffy, due to COVID.
I’ll post the list here on my website when it’s finalized.
Tenmile, My Upcoming Mid-grade Book
Place has always been a character in my novels, even in my children’s books. So I was thrilled when my editor at Sleeping Bear Press came up with the title Tenmile for my upcoming mid-grade novel. This story of a girl who wants to escape the drudgery of an 1880s mining town in Colorado’s Tenmile Range is scheduled for publication later this year. I’ve used the Tenmile Range in my adult novels Prayers for Sale and The Last Midwife, but this is the first time the mountain range has been the background of a children’s book. I’ll tell you more about Tenmile in a subsequent issue of Piecework.
One Book One Valley
The Vail Public Library has chosen Tallgrass for its One Book One Valley community read. This year is the 80th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to over 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast being rounded up and sent to 10 relocation camps during World War II. One of those camps was Amache in southeastern Colorado, the setting of Tallgrass. Vail Valley (Colorado) residents will read Tallgrass as well as Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies, my midgrade novel, also set at Amache. The U.S. Senate voted in March to make Amache a federal historic site, managed by the National Park Service.
The four-day One Book One Valley event which includes a documentary, a living history performance, a Japanese windsock project, and class discussions, concludes on Thursday, April 7, with my speech. It’s at 5 p.m. at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.
Jane and the Year Without a Summer
By Stephanie Barron Soho Crime
I love Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mystery series. In this one, Jane and her sister, Cassandra, journey to Cheltenham to take the waters in hopes of treating Jane’s ailments. A doctor blames Jane’s poor health on her spinsterhood because “the uterus is to blame for every kind of affliction common to your sex, Miss Austen—nervous complaints, lassitude, strong hysterics, a dangerous desire for excessive learning.”
The two sisters take rooms at Mrs. Potter’s boarding house, with a cast of characters. There is a murder, of course, and Jane sets out to solve it, with the help of the painter Raphael West. Jane fell in love with him in a previous book. Barron’s writing, along with her characters and the twists and turns of their relationships, and the colorful Regency setting, is delightful.
This is a bittersweet novel, however. Jane’s health is declining, and you can’t help but wonder how many more Jane Austen mysteries there will be.