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Piecework  Newsletter


Read the newsletters from Sandra Dallas for news about upcoming books, stories, Sandra's Picks and reviews:

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Tenmile, My Fifth Midgrade Book

Volume XXII, Issue Four | Dec 2022

“Why don’t you write a book about a girl who wants to be a doctor?” my Sleeping Bear editor Barb McNally asked me.

Easy for you to say, I thought. You don’t have to come up with a plot. Still, I was at loose ends. I didn’t know what to write. Finding a plot, as I’ve said a hundred times, is the hardest part of writing for me. So why not at least give it a try? I came up with a story about a girl in a Colorado mining town in 1880 who dreams of getting away and going to medical school.

I love writing children’s books. Once I know the story, the writing seems to flow easily. It did with this one. Only it didn’t flow very well, as it turned out.

Barb is unusually kind. After she read the manuscript, she raved about my heroine, Sissy, and the other characters as well as the setting. She said it needed just a bit of work, however. We talked the story through, and when we were done, I realized what she really was saying was the manuscript sucked. So back to drawing board—again and again. I don’t know how many drafts I went through. Barb is a perfectionist, and I don’t why she didn’t throw up her hands and wonder why I just didn’t just quit and take up golf. Or maybe she did but was too nice to tell me. She kept saying I was almost there. The story just needed a little more tweaking. Finally, thanks to Barb’s persistence, Tenmile came together, and in the end, we were both pleased with it.

My nephew Nicholas and his new book: Tenmile
My nephew Nicholas and his new book.

The story takes place in the Tenmile Range of Colorado, the same mountain range I used in my adult books Prayers for Sale, Whiter Than Snow, and The Last Midwife. The mountain range is real—Breckenridge is on the Tenmile—but the towns are fictional.

Like all of my children’s books, Tenmile is dedicated to my grandson, Forrest (although he’s 20 and a bit old for midgrade books. My nephew Nicholas likes them, however.) When Forrest was learning to talk, he couldn’t say Sandra. The name came out Sissy, so that’s what he’s always called me, and that’s the source of my young heroine’s name.

Here’s how Sleeping Bear describes the story:

Life in 1880 Tenmile, Colorado, isn't easy. But it's all that 12-year-old Sissy Carlson knows. She's lived here her whole life, watching her father, the local doctor, tend to the town's citizens. And while the mountain setting is gorgeous, Tenmile is a rough gold mining town. It often feels like there's just a thin line between life and death. Mining is a hard job; men are hurt or even killed. Sissy sees the same thin line between the haves and the have-nots as she assists her father in his practice, seeing firsthand the personal and not-always-private struggles of his patients. Now that she's older, Sissy is starting to think of the world beyond Tenmile and where she might fit in. What opportunities might she find if she could just get away? What kind of future does Tenmile offer, especially for a girl? A poignant coming-of-age middle grade novel by New York Times-bestselling author Sandra Dallas.

The early reviews have been good. Kirkus, for instance, calls Tenmile “A fast-moving tale that leaves readers plenty to ponder.”

Dana and I were in Istanbul recently and spotted this man reading Little Souls.

Dana and I were in Istanbul recently and spotted this man reading Little Souls.


A Family Christmas?

Our family hasn’t been together for Christmas since before COVID. The first year of COVID, Bob and I had Christmas Eve dinner by ourselves, then participated in a service on Zoom with our First Presbyterian Church of Georgetown congregation. The next year, Dana stayed in New Orleans, while the rest of us sat six feet apart at Povy’s house and connected with our extended family over Zoom. Last year, we thought we would be together again. But the day Dana arrived, she found out she’d been exposed to COVID. She rushed around and finally found a test that gave her instant results—negative! We sighed with relief. Then Povy discovered she’d been exposed. It was too late for her to be tested. So she cancelled Christmas Eve dinner, and Bob, Dana, and I—and my brother—had dinner by ourselves. This year, we have our fingers crossed that we’ll all be together—in person, this time, not just in spirit. I hope that after the COVID years, you, too, will be with those you love during the holidays.


Sandra’s Picks

The books in my Denver Post column last month were so good that I decided to run the entire column.

Blackwater Falls

By Ausma Zehanat Khan Minotaur Books

When the body of a young Syrian girl is found hanging crucifixion-style on the door of a mosque, a female Muslim detective is assigned to the case. Inaya Rahman is not just any detective. She’s a member of an elite squad of the Denver Police Dept. Community Response Unit, and the sheriff of Blackwater Falls, where the body is found, is furious that he’s been taken off of the case.

There’s good reason for that action. The sheriff is powerful and corrupt, and higher-ups want to expose him. More important from Rahman’s point of view, the sheriff previously had all but ignored the disappearance of two Somali girls. He claims they are run-aways.

No one can ignore the bizarre death of Razan Elkader. It’s not only the placement of her body but the fact she had been frozen. Ice crystals cling to her body. A scholarship student at a prestigious school, Razan had ties to some of Blackwater Falls most powerful entities. She was an intern at an aerospace company. Her father worked at the local packing plant, where he was nearly killed when he tried to form a union. And Razan had run afoul of the leader of the evangelical church that dominates the community and the man’s gang of avenging motorcyclists.

In her search for the killer, Rahman runs afoul of all of these elements and even finds resistance from her boss, Waqus Seif, who seems to appease the sheriff. Rahman and Seif are attracted to each other, but Rahman worries that Seif is a sell-out. Moreover, both have secrets.

The first in a detective series by Colorado writer Ausma Zehanat Khan, “Blackwater Falls” is not just a thriller but a story of faith. In a distinctly different work, Khan explores a world unknown to many mystery readers.

Cheap Land Colorado By Ted Conover Alfred A. Knopf

You’ve seen them in the San Luis Valley if you’ve driven U.S. 285 on the way to Taos—ramshackle dwellings cobbled together of old lumber, corrugated iron and discarded windows and doors. Maybe you’ve wondered who would live in such places.

So did Ted Conover, former Denver resident and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He spent four years living and working with the off-gridders who dwell in the valley. At first, he expected the bulk of the residents would be idealists and hippies with a few self-sustaining environmentalists thrown in. He was surprised to discover that most of the off-gridders were “the restless and the fugitive; the idle and the addicted and the generally disaffected,” he writes. Most of the 1,000 off-gridders had turned their backs on urban America because life “had become unsustainable, whether because of too many bills or too many disappointments.” They were mostly Trumpers, pro-gun and America first. Some were drug users, and many grew pot.

Conover agreed to volunteer for La Puente, a group dedicated to helping the poor. He brought free firewood to the dwellers and offered a helping hand. He quickly learned to honk before he turned off the road and wait until someone came out of the house—to avoid vicious dogs or a gun.

To truly understand the off-gridders, Conover knew he had to live with them and rented a trailer. The first morning, he woke up to minus 7-degree weather, his trailer door frozen shut. But he grew to love life in the valley, the sweep of stars in the night sky, the beauty of the sun on prairie grasses. He bought himself a site and stayed, on-and-off, for four years, becoming an accepted member of the community. He came to understand the residents’ independence, their kindness to neighbors—and their loneliness

“Cheap Land Colorado” is an introspective look at a group of Americans who have built a culture unlike anything since the Great Depression. Written with affection for his subjects, Conover tells their stories and makes readers understand this slice of American life.

Death on a Winter Stroll By Francine Mathews Soho Crime

It was a stressful Thanksgiving for Nantucket police Chief Merry Folger. But the President of the United States had successfully left the island after spending the holiday there. Merry could relax and enjoy the annual Christmas Stroll.

Not so fast. First a famous wildlife photographer is found dead at a boarded-up house. Then an infamous Hollywood agent is discovered face down in a swamp. Both were killed by shotgun blasts. The deaths are curious, because as far as Merry and her crew can tell, there was absolutely no connection between the two victims.

The island is packed for Stroll. The agent’s wife is filming a movie staring heartthrob Chris Candler for a TV series. But Candler is distracted by his concern for his bulimic daughter, Winter, who is struggling with a terrible secret. Winter dodges her bodyguard and runs into Ansel. He’s vacationing with his father and stepmother, who happens to be U.S. Secretary of State.

The two bond, and Ansel takes Winter to meet his real mother. He’d discovered the year before that she is not dead, as his father had told him, but is hiding in the derelict house so that she can photograph birds for a book.

Then the bodies are discovered, and everybody, it seems, has a reason to be guilty of one—but not both—of the murders. Merry and her detective, Howie Seitz, must solve the mystery and arrest the killer before the Secretary of State and her entourage decamp for Washington and the film crew packs up and returns to Hollywood.

“Death on a Winter Stroll” is the seventh in Denver author Francine Mathews Merry Folger mystery series. (Mathews, as readers may know, is also the author of the charming Jane Austen mystery series, under the name Stephanie Barron.) “Stroll” is an intriguing mystery, but even more captivating are her descriptions of the island and ocean in winter. They’re luminous and add richness to the story.

A Dream of Justice By Pat Pascoe University Press of Colorado

In 1969, two Denver lawyers, Ed Benton and Monte Pascoe, ran for the board of the Denver Public Schools. The board had recently passed a resolution listing school integration as its goal. Denver parents were scared to death that meant bussing. Benton and Pascoe lost overwhelmingly.

It was a hollow victory for the antibussers. Just weeks later, pro-integration forces filed a lawsuit against the board demanding that schools be integrated. The suit was in the courts for four years, until the U.S. Supreme Court eventually decided in the plaintiffs’ favor. And it was more than 20 years after that that the court terminated jurisdiction.

Pat Pascoe, who later served 12 years in the Colorado senate, was intricately involved in her husband’s run for the school board and later worked with the schools as they implemented the court’s orders. “A Dream of Justice” is Pascoe’s highly detailed story of the decades-long struggle to integrate the schools.

The book quotes at length from court documents, which might be mind-numbing except that the author intersperses the text with the details of her family’s life as her children voluntarily attended a minority school. There are also quips from Ed Benton, who had been on the school board when the resolution was passed. When he received 2 a.m. phone call threatening his life, he listened politely, then said, “You have the wrong number.” And when a schoolboard member suggested further study on integration, Benton quipped, “We don’t need more study; we need more courage.”


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