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My latest novel, and the conclusion of my Maple Valley Trilogy, has been out for two months now. I’ve had a brief rest from writing, in which I’ve been busy with high season at my bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn, spending fun summer times with family, languishing on too hot, too humid days (and nights), stressing out over  the latest goings-on at my husband’s church, and promoting “Merry Go Round”.

But now it’s time to get back to work. I’ve dusted off my electronic copy of Blue Belle of Scotland, a novel I first started about eight years ago. I was within a chapter of  being done with the book soon after I married my husband. I remember trips in that first year of marriage when he would drive, and I would type into a laptop propped on pillows perched on the open glove compartment door. Life with a new husband, a 13 year old stepson and new people in a new town soon took on cyclonic properties and has been a whirlwind for the last 7 1/2 years.

Glengorm Castle, Island of Mull, Scotland, at sunset.

Fast forward to the present, and three or four used laptops later – the last chapter of Blue Belle of Scotland is missing, and I am one blue belle. By the time I discovered the chapters were missing, it was far too late for benefit of instant recall. My husband eventually recovered a few pages of the missing text, but gone is the climactic, attempted murder at the top of the keep, the tender reunion of Alianna and her savior, Micheal’s heartbreaking downfall… and who knows what else…

Tobermory, on the Island of Mull, Scotland – the setting of Blue Belle of Scotland.

It appears I am in good company. In “Love Me”, a short story written by Garrison Keillor for The Atlantic, Keillor writes about leaving a manuscript in the bathroom of a train.  The bartender in the story, who tells the devastated Keillor that T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land fell into a hot bath, where the ink washed off, and that Robert Frost once wrote a poem that was eaten by a dog, advises him to “Take adversity as an opportunity! Pick yourself up and do better. That’s the American way. You lose your manuscript, you write a better one!”

Ernest Hemingway was devastated when his first wife, Hadley, lost a suitcase filled with his manuscripts at the train station as she was traveling to Switzerland to meet him in December 1922. She had packed all of his manuscripts – including the carbons – in a small valise, which was stolen (Never leave your bags unattended!). The material was never recovered and the marriage eventually failed. If found today, I suppose Hemingway’s missing works would be worth their weight in gold.

This is not the first time I’ve lost a precious creation. When I finished my sophomore year at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, I left Chicago directly, without first returning home to Minnesota, to drive to Bar Harbor, Maine to meet my friends Julia Swann and Katherine Anne Hutchins. I was told I could leave some of the personal belongings I had packed up from my room in a storage area in the dormitory. I labeled the boxes with my name and address and drove off to Maine with a light heart and a couple of suitcases filled with clothes. I soon had three or four jobs – playing an old piano and a pump organ at a tea house called the Crystal Palace, working as a chambermaid, and serving lobster to hungry tourists in the tiny town of Hull’s Cove. I also picked blueberries, made a lot of scrumptious pancakes and muffins, lived on my own for the first time ever, and got engaged. It was decided that I would drop out of college since my future husband and I would be heading off to live in Germany.

That fall, I returned to Wheaton to say good-bye to my friends and retrieve my belongings, only to find they had gone missing.  One box included the work I had done for my creative writing class that spring. In it were short stories and poems I had labored over  for hours. And I could not remember them, perhaps because my summer had been so full of new, first-time sights and experiences, perhaps because my memory is bad. Most of the poems were frivolous – one was about a tennis ball, and obviously wouldn’t have changed the world with it’s austere wisdom. But there was also an Easter sonnet that I had written on Good Friday of that same year that still haunts me. I remember only one line, in all it’s iambic pentameter glory:  “We live as though the stone, unrolled, still lay across the door.”  In my heart, I believe it was inspired, and was and still is the best thing I have written.

Island of Mull, Scotland.
Sheep grazing in Ayrshire, Scotland.

I will rewrite the final chapters of Blue Belle of Scotland. Perhaps the new ending will be better than the old one. Perhaps what was lost can never be found.

Eileen Donan Castle, Scotland.
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Blue Belle Inn.

Laura Ingalls Wilder books

On the Banks of Plum Creek at the Blue Belle Inn B&B, Saint Ansgar, Iowa

In the little town of Saint Ansgar, Iowa, where I’ve lived for 20 years, a conscientious Christian has posted a sign on the way into town that announces “The wages of sin is death.” Not exactly the greeting you might expect…

On the back of the sign, which you can’t possibly see until you leave town (unless you can spin your head around and drive at the same time – I can’t), is the rest of the story:  “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”

The Bible verse (Romans 3:23) is one of my favorites. When read in its entirety, it has a beautiful message. But I hate the way the sign leaves me dangling. What if I don’t leave town for several days, two weeks, or a month? What if I leave town by a different route? What if it’s dark? I might never get to the good part. I might never know the rest of the story.

As a reader – of signs and books, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. If the beginning of a book is too depressing or slow-paced, I might not keep reading long enough to get to the good part. If a climax builds too slowly or drags on for too long, I might stop caring before I get there. If a book contains too many cliff hangers, I’m going to be very frustrated, especially if I have to wait a year or two to finally find out what happens. Even in a series where each book comes to a complete end, with the next installment starting up with a new character or generation of the same family, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. I forget pertinent details, names and relationships and connections between characters.

And what about those books that have multiple story lines about several different characters and so many sub-plots going all at once that by the time you get six chapters down the road and are finally taken back to the main storyline, you can’t even remember what was going on? Next time I pick one of them up, I’m going to read Chapters 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21, then go back and hit Chapters 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22… and so on. It’ll be much less irritating.

Am I the only one who gets impatient if I’m left dangling too long?

The third and final book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, Merry Go Round, was released about a month ago, and it’s been surprising to me how many people have bought all three books at once. “We’ve been waiting until the trilogy was complete”, they’ve claimed. “We hate having to wait between books, so we don’t even start a series until we can read the whole thing from start to finish.”

I wrote as fast as I could when I was working on Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round, knowing that those who had started the series were clamoring for the next in line. My publisher worked with me as much as possible to get each subsequent book out quickly. I do understand where those readers were coming from, and am glad I could oblige without leaving anybody waiting for too long.

If the owner of the “Wages of Sin is Death” message is reading this, my advice is to get a second banner and post them like the old-fashioned Burma Shave signs… “The wages of sin is death,” and then a few yards up the road, a second sign with the hope-filled conclusion, “The gift of God is eternal life…” I don’t mind being left hanging for a few yards, but I don’t like to be left waiting for too terribly long, or the point is lost on me.

A little suspense is great, but don’t keep me on the edge of my seat forever. A nice, slow build up to a tender love scene is very sensual, but don’t dash my hopes too many times or I may not even enjoy the happy ending when it comes. As a reader and a writer, my opinion is that once you have the momentum going, it’s best to keep on climbing at as brisk a pace as you can manage.

And as for my neighbor, if you’re going to tell me the bad news, you’d better find a way to share the good news now – not later!

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Daybreak – New Release! (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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