Tag Archives: the road unsalted

Grade A Dark Amber

SH-Maple Syrup jugEvery novel gets rolling with a key event, one that in the grand scheme of things doesn’t appear to loom large but, in retrospect, can be seen as important.

In my first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted, the pebble that shoves the plot into action is the arrival of a 12-year old girl named Suzanna Owens. She’s the niece of the town’s postmaster, Ted Owens.

Suzanna’s mother, Ted’s older sister Allison, unceremoniously dumps her daughter on Ted’s doorstep. This excerpt from the novel takes places at Ted’s breakfast table the morning after Suzanna arrives.

The book’s title, by the way, refers to Class 6 or abandoned roads in Vermont. These (mostly) dirt roads are not maintained during the winter. Since they are not cleared of snow, they are not salted either. One of the plot twists in The Road Unsalted involves such a road.

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.



Ted Owens watched sunlight ooze across his kitchen table as he stirred half-and-half into his second cup of coffee. The knot of anxiety in his belly tightened as his niece poured milk on her cereal. When she first arrived, Ted was inclined to think of Suzanna as “that poor kid” but the child would have none of that nonsense. In their short conversations over a Sunday-night supper of BLT’s and soup—Ted’s culinary skills were limited—the girl expressed no eagerness to see her mother again nor any contempt for Allison’s actions. In fact, Suzanna’s demeanor reminded Ted of the resignation of airline passengers who just learned their flights had been delayed…again.

He’d asked her timidly about school, and was informed that until last Thursday, she’d had a seat in a sixth-grade classroom in Las Vegas, and she expected her mother to drag her back there soon enough. So, Suzanna announced, it would be a waste of time to attend school at Carding Elementary.

Ted felt his eyebrows rise at this pronouncement, and the hatred he harbored for Allison kindled anew. It was all well and good to ruin your own miserable life but to drag a child through your muck…

“Does your mother do this sort of thing often?” he asked. “Drag you off in the middle of the night, I mean.”

The girl nodded, spooning up her milky breakfast. “Sometimes it’s because she gets fired but sometimes it’s because there’s a new Bruno,” she said.

“Bruno? You mean that man who drove you here?” Ted had never laid eyes on anyone named Bruno before. He always imagined a man with a name like that came standard issue with a broken nose, and biceps the size of full mail sacks. Ted worked in the Carding post office, and moved a lot of full mail sacks so he knew what he was talking about. But the man behind the wheel of that large black car had been skinny with a face like a tack. Bruno didn’t fit the profile.

“Oh, I don’t remember what that guy’s real name is,” Suzanna said. Ted’s eyebrows reached  for his thinning hairline. “I call all my mother’s boyfriends Bruno because it’s easier to remember that way. Can you get some Cheerios next time you’re at the store? And maybe some bananas, too? I like fruit on my cereal when I can get it.”

Ted winced. She calls them all Bruno because it’s easier to remember? How could a mother do that to her child? Aloud he said, “Would you rather have something besides cereal? Eggs? Pancakes?”

The girl stopped spooning soggy flakes into her mouth. “Pancakes? Can I have them with maple syrup? I had some once, in a restaurant, from a bottle shaped like a leaf. Mom said it was made here in Vermont but that was before I knew where Vermont was. It was very good.” She stopped moving for a moment to listen intently to a passing car.

“That’s a taxi delivering Lydie Talbot,” Ted said. “She’s takes care of her sister, Millie Bettinger, across the street. It’s not your mother.”

The girl relaxed, and they exchanged their first conspiratorial look. “I kept the leaf bottle. It’s in my suitcase,” she said. “You can see it if you need to know what I mean by maple syrup.”

Ted smiled. “No, it’s OK. We see those little leaf bottles around here a lot. Andy Cooper, over at the store, he sells a lot of them.” Ted stood up, opened his refrigerator then placed a small glass jug in front of the girl. Dark brown liquid filled it to a point where sugar crystals marked the line between syrup and no syrup.

Suzanna pulled the jug closer and tilted it in the light. “Are you sure this is maple syrup?” she asked.

“Yes. I helped make it, in fact,” Ted said. “A friend of mine owns a sugarbush up on Belmont Hill.”

“Maple syrup comes from a bush? I thought it came from a tree,” the girl said.

Ted laughed. “No, though now that you point it out, I suppose bush is kind of a strange term for a place where lots of maple trees grow together and get tapped for syrup. Try pouring a little on your cereal.”

Suzanna looked doubtful. “It’s darker than what was in my leaf bottle. Will it taste different?”

Ted’s eyebrows, which had climbed down from his hairline, now bunched up against one another. Suzanna thought they looked like two fuzzy caterpillars coming together for a kiss, and she quickly put her hand up to her mouth to scratch an itch that didn’t exist in order to hide her grin. She didn’t want her uncle to think she was rude. Since he was now her only friend in the world, that wouldn’t do at all.

“It probably tastes even better than what you had,” he said as he pulled a spoon out of the silverware drawer. “You see, there are different grades of maple syrup based on their sugar content and color.” He lifted the jug, slid its spout open, and dripped a little of the brown liquid into the bowl of his spoon. “I think that the grade A dark amber is the one most worthy of pancakes.” He handed the spoon to the girl. “Here, try it for yourself.”

She obeyed, tasted, and then let a pent-up grin rip across her face. “I can put this on cereal?” she asked.

Ted poured a thin spiral of syrup over what remained of her breakfast. “Have at it,” he said.

Suzanna dug in with relish, and Ted let himself think that maybe this uncling business had a lot going for it after all.

He stood up, and stretched his back. “I need to get to work,” he said. “Since you’re not going to school, you need to come with me.”

Suzanna looked up, her eyes round as buttons. “Why?”

“Well, I can’t leave you here all alone, now, can I?” Ted said.

“Mom does, all the time.”

Ted smiled. “Well, I’m not Mom.”

Suzanna scooped up the last of her cereal. “That’s what I like best about being here so far.”

The Importance of Maple Syrup

TRU-2018 coverThe fourth Carding, Vermont novel, Lights in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018 and to celebrate, I’m dipping into the preceding books in order to whet your whistles.

On the schedule for tomorrow is an excerpt from the first book, The Road Unsalted.

One of the first scenes in the book takes place at Ted Owens’ breakfast table the morning after his niece, 12-year old Suzanna, is unceremoniously dumped on his doorstep by her mother.

Like most Vermonters, Ted is a connoisseur of maple syrup. Here’s a sample of what’s in store tomorrow.

Oh, and while I have your attention, can I ask a favor of you? Book sales are important to every author and I am no exception to that rule. If you have read my books (thank you), would you consider posting a review on Amazon.com? You have no idea how much your thoughts can influence other readers.


SH-Maple Syrup jug

The Road Unsalted

TRU-2015 front cover onlyMy first novel of Carding, Vermont was inspired by a true incident that I heard about when I was a newspaper reporter. That “true incident” morphed over the course of writing The Road Unsalted as I got to know the wonderful characters who live in the town that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

But I still marvel at how one person’s actions can change the course of events in a whole town, which is among the many things that happen in The Road Unsalted.

Now I freely admit to having a lifelong reading addiction. But, like most readers, I never feel I have enough time to devote to this wonderful, illuminating pastime. So most of my book reading happens just before I fall asleep at night.

Which means that anything I read can color my dreams so I write books that I would like to read just before I fall asleep at night. I think you will too.

The Carding, Vermont novels, starting with The Road Unsalted, are all priced at $14.95 and are available on Amazon. But you can support your local author by ordering right here.

Just go to our BOOK SALE page and fill out the order form. We will invoice you so you can pay by debit or credit card, and then the books will be on their way.

Testing, Testing

I’m working on the final draft of Thieves of Fire and have gone back to the crow on the cover because I want both The Road Unsalted and Thieves of Fire to have the same look.

test cover with crow 04252015
One of the downsides of being able to do this kind of work yourself is that you have the tools for endless tinkering.

I’m going to send this one out for feedback and then, I think, go with it.

Crowd Editing, Part One

I’ve recently had an interesting publishing experience that I want to explore over the next couple of days. It involves the difference between editing and proofreading as well as, believe it or not, marketing.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
Last month, I printed 100 copies of Thieves of Fire for marketing purposes. This was a “private” print run done before releasing the book to the public.

My first task was to share copies of Thieves with folks willing to review it on Amazon. Some of these folks I know but many of them are readers who contacted me about my first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted, because they liked it. My hope was that they would like Thieves of Fire as well or tell me honestly if they didn’t.

Either way, their opinions matter to future readers. (A side note here: No matter how much folks want to believe that the internet has changed marketing “forever,” word of mouth is still the most important marketing asset anyone can have.)

I knew there were still some typos in the review copies and probably a couple of stray words left behind as I made my final edits so I invited everyone who accepted my invitation to let me know about any mistakes they found.
TOF book wrap for web
Much to my surprise, people loved having the opportunity to interact with my book in this way. It has been such fun to read their feedback, to hear what they think about the cover, what characters they liked, how the book kept them up at night reading (oh yes, I love hearing that), and oh-by-the-way, here’s a list of the typos that I found.

I need to interject here to tell you that Thieves was edited before I sent it to the printer to make review copies so I was confident it didn’t have any structural problems that would call for large amounts of rewriting. To me, publishing an unedited book is a sign of disrespect to readers.

But we all find typos in books. We all find extra words or punctuation errors. Correcting these is a process called proofreading, and readers are very, very good at it because errors interrupt their reading experience. Finding a typo is a lot like stubbing your toe when you’re out for a walk in the woods on a beautiful day.


So I was not surprised when folks contacted me with corrections. What did surprise me is how much they enjoyed being an intrinsic part of publishing Thieves of Fire.

Revision Is the Soul of Publishing

Every creative being revises. Does the soup need more salt? Thyme?

Does this scarf go with this jacket? Does this fabric make this a better quilt? What happens if I move this plant from here to there?
TRU-2015 front cover only
If I change this word in this sentence here, does that make the story flow more smoothly?

One of the many benefits of independently publishing my books is that I can change and revise as I see fit.

My thinking about the covers for my Carding novels has evolved a lot since I first publishing The Road Unsalted in May 2013. Back then, I was wedded to using quilts for the covers. But I’ve been reminded that when you change a medium (book-to-movie, quilt-to-book cover), you change the viewer’s perception.

While I love the quilt made for the cover of The Road Unsalted, I realized it had too many elements in it for a book that’s only 5 x 8 inches in size.

So I downsized, sort of, keeping that lovely yellow VW that Nancy Graham made for the original. And while experimenting with that, I scanned the black and white background from another piece of fabric in my stash and suddenly realized that the wavy effect is just what roads feel like this time of year, all bumpy and wiggly with frost heaves.

With Thieves of Fire charging up to the publishing gate, I figured it was a good time to revise the cover of The Road Unsalted and fix some of the little stuff that others have found in the text. I also changed the description of the quilt made by one of the characters so that it coincides with a quilt I’m working on for an upcoming quilt book that’s a companion to The Road Unsalted.

That one is called String Theory I: Quilts and Patterns for the Parkinson’s Comfort Project. That one’s coming out in May.

Meet Chloe Cooper’s new quilt:
Chloe's quilt top-2015