Jennifer Wixson's Blog

January 20, 2018

(Writing) Life Beyond the Sovereign Series

Sometimes I feel sort of shell-shocked when I actually grasp the fact that I've written five books in less than six years. (Actually, six books, but I'll get to Apple Tree in a bit.)

As most of you know, in January of 2012 I set out to turn a pastoral message into a novel, Hens and Chickens. Somehow the simple story of two women moving to Maine morphed into a five-book series, The Sovereign Series. When they say that sometimes your writing gets away from you, they aren't kidding!

So ... what's next on my writing horizon?

First, there will not be another Sovereign Series novel anytime soon. Sorry, I'm burned out. Plus I think I've left Sovereign in a good place, which is where I began, which is with Maggie. She's happy, now. She didn't die from cancer, although I confess I was definitely going to kill her off before The Minister's Daughter. (I had a change of heart after many of you begged me not to show her the exit and instead axed poor Peter, Maggie's husband.) These days, there isn't much drama occurring in the bucolic town of Sovereign and I expect there won't be, either--at least until all those bairns grow up. Check back with me in ten years or so. Book 6, To the Waters and the Wild might be peeking out of my pocket by then.

In the meantime, I'm thirsting to work on other writing projects, especially those that are different. Lately, I've relished the first-person experiential writing I've done about our life here on the farm, Letter from Troy, published as a regular column every three months by Islandport Magazine. This is a great new quarterly periodical that features excellent photos, as well as short stories and essays by some of Maine's best writers. My husband (the Cranberry Man), my mother-in-law, and I often can't wait for my complimentary copy of the magazine to arrive in the mail and buy one at the bookstore, which is saying a lot considering how parsimonious we all are.

In that same first-person style of writing, I recently penned an essay on farming for Stone Pier Press, a San Francisco Publisher. My essay, Re-creating the Warp and Woof of a Healthy Local Food System, describes how my early life on our multi-generational dairy farm in Winslow affects how we farm today on my husband's ancestral place in Troy. The Stone Pier editor Clare artlessly asked for one or two photos to accompany the piece. Whee-hee! Photos, you say? Have I got some for you! I spent a snow day pouring over the thousands of pics I've taken of our cool Scottish Highland cattle over the years and finally narrowed my selection to a dozen images. (If you visit our farm FB page you can see how wicked photogenic these bovines are. ) Good luck picking out one or two, Clare!

The experiential writing that commenced with the regular Islandport column further blossomed last summer when I took it to another level in the form of a journal. In the heat of the day I'd disappear with my pen and notebook for an hour or two, scribbling in the shade of a gnarled apple tree situated in a copse of woods behind our house. Writing nearly every day, I filled three 9.5"X6" notebooks. When summer was over I re-read the journals and decided my disquisiton was worth publishing. I pulled the writing into a little book I call Under the Apple Tree. It's a nature/spiritual reflection journal in which I write about the local flora and fauna, which includes the antics of a quirky chipmunk and Walter the tree frog, as well as what's happening with other critters, birds, and bees. The book is very personal in places, too. I lost my mother in the spring of last year and so some days I was drawn not only to record the goings-on of the natives, but also to wrestle with some demons within me. I think Apple Tree, although very different from my usual writings, will strike an intimate chord with readers. Barring unforseen circumstances, I expect Under the Apple Tree to be published this summer (2018). (Look for publication information on this and the Stone Pier Press essay on my FB author's page )

Currently, I'm hard at work researching a non-fiction history book. Last year I was handed the bones of a book about our Wixson family's Civil War experience, which my father's cousin, the Rev. Raymond Wixson, was working on at the time of his death in 1996. His widow Georgie has given me all of Ray's notes and research, literally handing me the baton of this fascinating tale. The 1860s story about a mother, Catharine Wixson, who loses her last born child (at nine days old) and her first born child (in a Confederate prison)--and then dies herself, all in the span of a year--has been weighing heavily on my mind and heart since Ray passed away.

I'll be sharing this compelling narrative through the use of the more than one hundred heartfelt letters exchanged between our Union soldier, Atwell Wixson, and his family at home in Albion (and later Augusta) Maine. The Wixson family's collection of Civil War letters is unusual in that we possess the family's letters to the soldier, as well as the soldier's to the family. (Most family letters were destroyed on the battlefield, but Atwell's were returned to his parents by his bunkmate when he was captured in a Confederate attack known as the Beefsteak Raid.) The letters (and other artifacts, such as photos, daguerrotypes and even the desk at which Catharine wrote the letters to her son) have been donated to the Maine State Museum. As heir to the story, however, I have copies of them and about a dozen boxes of Ray's notes, which include family records, history books, geneologies, copies of deeds, and other information. Before I put pen to paper I have a lot of work to do. I need to get to know these people (my great-great-great grandparents, their children, and family and military friends) as well as I know the residents of Sovereign. This important leg-work might take me a year or two, but I believe the outcome--a poignant story and important historical record--will be worth the wait.

Another historical item on my to-do list (history is really calling me these days!) is to resurrect the small-town series I was working on before I started the Sovereign Series. This triolgy, which I call The Unity Series, is based on the life of Hannah Chase Bartlett, a 19th century Quaker minister and one of the first white women in Unity, Maine. I've actually completed (but not published) the first book in this series, 25-Mile Pond, but the novel definitely needs a re-write. My Dad, who read and enjoyed Book 1, keeps asking me when I'm going to finish the other two books as he's eager to know what happens to Hannah next. "Soon!", I reply, but that's not good enough for Dad. At age 86, Dad's worried I might not get the series completed before he "steps out" (his words for going to claim his Great Reward). Needless to say, I feel quite a bit of pressure on that score to get the other two books written ASAP.

In addition to the Civil War book and completing my Unity Series, I'm also working, albeit via the drip method, on a screenplay about a 19th century clergyman from England who travels to Australia during the height of the gold rush in that nascent country. Again, this writing is based on a true story--the travels and travails of a stubborn parson who rode horseback through the Outback determined to bring salvation to the godless. Even though I'm panting to focus all my writing efforts on this screenplay, I probably won't be able to go full speed ahead with A Cure of Souls for months (or even years) to come.

So much to write--so little time! Sometimes I feel downright overwhelmed by it all. I mean, how much extra times do I think farmers have, anyway!

Just when I feel convinced I can't possibly do all this heavy literary lifting before I go to claim my Great Reward I remember that, hey, I've just written six books in less than six years! Not only that, I created the entire town and people of Sovereign out of the whole cloth of my imagination. By contrast, these historical projects on my to-do list already have the bones of the books in place. With so much meat, muscle, and sinew to work with, I should be able to get them written in six shakes of a lamb's tale (er, tail).

Cue dramatic music.



The End (NOT)
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Published on January 20, 2018 06:36 Tags: civil-war, farmer, farming, her-story, history, letters, maine, screenplay, sovereign, the-sovereign-series

June 9, 2016

Why I Probably Won't Rewrite Hens & Chickens (Unless You Think I Should)

According to my fans, friends, family, and even disinterested reviewers, the books in my Sovereign Series of rural Maine novels are getting progressively better. In addition, both my (divorced) parents agree -- actually agree -- that my last novel The Minister's Daughter (Book 4) is my best work to date, and they have read a LOT of my stuff, including some really bad poetry I wrote when I was thirteen. The kudos are very gratifying, to say the least, and should have worked wonders on my literary ego. Except that it hasn't. Instead, this particular praise has nearly worried me into a state of obsession (which is sort of OK because every writer-cum-farmer/beekeeper/Quakerminister is most likely obsessed with stuff).

Why am I obsessed? Because if my last book is my best -- and I'm progressively getting better -- than my first book Hens and Chickens must therefore be my worst. Gulp. This wouldn't be problematic if I wrote TV commercials, magazine articles, or even soap operas, but readers of a series of novels always seem to want to start with Book 1. As often as I have reassured individual readers at a book signing that these books are standalone novels, I am reassured in return by that reader that, nevertheless, she will read the books in the order they were written. And so I find myself autographing another copy of Hens & Chickens. while Books 2 & 3 Peas, Beans & Corn and The Songbird of Sovereign, which are MUCH better books, languish on the shelf.

I get this. I really do. When I find an author I love, I start from the beginning of her work and plow on through. But obviously if Book 5, Maggie's Dilemma (due out for Christmas) must stand upon the shoulders of Books 4, 3, 2, and 1, and Book 4 upon the shoulders of Books 3, 2, and 1, (etc., etc.) it goes without saying that Book 1 must be the strongest book of the bunch. And it is not. Had I known in 2012 when I began this little literary adventure about the goings on in my (fictional) rural town of Sovereign, Maine that I would be writing a series of books -- not just one novel -- I would have left the dang sermons out of the first book! Sermons? Yes, here's what happened:

Hens & Chickens was an extension of a pastoral message I gave in January 2012 to the 1st Universalist Church of Norway and the West Paris Universalist Church. The sermon was so well-received I decided to stretch it a bit, adding, say, another 84,000 words. (My literary ego at the time was in full bloom, kind of like a bad season of pine pollen.) Unfortunately, I also elected to retain the original pastoral message -- and not very well-disguised, either -- in Chapter 4. Wait! It gets worse. I also decided to stick a later sermon into the book (Chapter 31) as a pause before the denouement. This was akin to tapping someone on the shoulder while she was having sex to tell her how to vote. Needless to say, this lectiuncula interruptus has not been well-received.

To compensate for my injudiciousness and downright stupidity, we have given away thousands of copies of the eBook Hens & Chickens. We (to be understood here as: me, myself, and I) calculated that by making the weakest link available at no cost (i.e. FREE), we could thereby shore up the foundation upon which the entire series rests. Wrong again! For some reason, those who pay nothing for something -- and do not like said something -- feel more obligated to trash that something than someone who has actually forked over cash money for it and these overly-zealous reviewers appear to feel it is their bounden duty to prevent others from purchasing this book. As a result, we have ended up with many more negative reviews for poor Hens & Chickens than we would have had we not given so many books away. And while I am not personally bothered by negative reviews (seriously, I am not), I understand perfectly that bad reviews suck, uh, ... suck the life blood out of my Sovereign Series as a whole.

One of the first freebie reviews out the gate, in fact, was written by a very talented individual, Camelama (rather an interesting choice for a pen name). Camelama's review was so concise and so painfully spot-on that I was actually awed by it -- until I woke up and realized that if she had spent half the time writing something meaningful instead of trashing me, Camelama might have left the world a creative piece of work with some lasting value instead of a negative review that will be forgotten as soon as I can get it out of my head.

While I'm not bothered by negative reviews (except obviously Camelama's) I do pay attention to all of your reviews posted here on Goodreads or on Amazon or other literary websites. I especially appreciate constructive criticism. You have told me there are other issues with Hens & Chickens, too. One of you was particularly bothered by the numerous exclamation marks in Book 1, complaining that the exclamation marks made it seem as though Lila, the main character, was in a constant state of excitement. (This was after giving me four stars--bless you!) And MANY of you complained of the OVERUSE of CAPITAL LETTERS in Miss Hastings' DIALOGUE and also her peculiar way of drawling out: Dharrrling! Ouch, ouch. (But that's how she speaks, truly!)

After being encouraged by you, despite all the flaws in Book 1, to continue my story where Hens & Chickens left off, I took up my pen again to write Books 2, 3, and 4 (and am now working on Book 5 even as I write this). I heeded your constructive criticism and going forward attempted to correct my overuse of that pesky exclamation mark. I also eventually solved the CAPITALIZATION and dharrrling issue simply by killing off the character of Miss Hastings in Book 3. In fact, my writing is getting better mostly because I listen to you my readers. Those of you who love spending time in Sovereign, Maine and tell me my characters feel like good friends now have contributed as much to the success of the series as I have. You ardent fans (and even not so ardent fans) are what keep me going, keep me writing, when I long to close up the laptop and tumble into bed after a hard day of chasing cows, fixing fences, and trying to get Camelama's review out of my head.

Because of your constructive criticism, I've made some attempts to rectify the problems in Book 1, too. I went back and corrected some of those grammatical and stylistic issues in the eBook, which obviously is easier and cheaper to fix than the print book. But the more serious issues with Hens & Chickens demand a complete overhaul, a ripping out of the novel's backbone and inserting a more "normal" and therefore acceptable structure. I know now that (most) of you 21st century readers do not like it when the author speaks directly to you from the middle of the story. This literary device was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, but as usual I'm a bit behind the times (or ahead of it) and this direct address, also known as breaking the fourth wall, has sooooo gone out of fashion. Speaking directly to you not only interrupts the flow of the story, but also awakens you to the real world, a world you were probably trying to escape in the first place by picking up my book.

A little Voice inside my head says that, for the good of The Sovereign Series as a whole, I should rewrite Book 1. Keep the story, but keep Maggie the minister (i.e. yours truly) from interrupting with her asides and her sermons. But I can't bring myself to perform this major surgery. Not yet.

Maybe ... someday. Maybe NOT. I don't know.

What do you think? After all, I'm writing this series for you, my readers and fans.

I'm not bothered by negative reviews (seriously), but I do take what you think ... seriously. Let me know what you think. And whilst I await your input, I'll go back to chasing cows, fixing fences, and trying to get Camelama's review out of my head, which review, now that I seriously consider it, has helped make me into a much better writer. Thanks, Camelama!
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Published on June 09, 2016 04:56 Tags: chickens, cows, farming, hens, jennifer-wixson, literary-style, maine, quaker, sovereign-series, writing

May 22, 2015


I like to make the rules. Who doesn't? Even my Scottish Highland cattle know that the guy in charge gets to move the fences, the fences that divide our pasture up into seven sections (yes, they can count) of great green grass, good green grass and not-so-good, not-so-green grass. (Mob grazing, the fashionable new moniker for rotational grazing, is a very realistic description considering how our girls act when we turn them into a GREAT pasture.)

I don't like it when my rules are broken. Who does? OK, so maybe the rule breaker enjoys breaking the rules, but let's not go there because of, well, the cows.

Regarding my Sovereign Series of novels, however, I want it known from the start that I've already had to break my own rules TWICE. First, because there was not going to be a series at all; there was only going to be one little book. Just one. Hens and Chickens (This is where the fence gets moved the first time.)

After the book was published, however, I was convinced by seductive flattery and impressive book sales to expand the fictitious world of Sovereign, Maine into a series of three novels. (That means penning ONLY TWO more books, in case you are not so good at counting as my girls.) "Everybody is doing it," I was told (writing series, that is, not moving to Sovereign, although many readers said they wanted to relocate to Maine after finishing Hens & Chickens). A series would be easy for me, they said, because I wouldn't need to make up new characters or settings; I could just keep on using Rebecca and Wendell and the Gilpins and ... you get the picture.

Although I had many other writing bunny trails I wanted to follow and real-life fences to fix and move, I gamely agreed to dedicate two more winters to spinning out the saga of Sovereign. (Yes, I write in winter when there are no fences to move because they are all under six feet of snow here in Maine. The cows go where they want in winter but since they don't want to go far from the hay, there is really no need for a fence at all. But, I digress.) Giving up two more winters to spending time in a town I love, visiting old friends and stuffing my face at the kitchen table in the old Russell homestead, might not seem like a hardship; however, when one is approaching one's seventh decade, one realizes that she is not going to be able to, a. write that many more books (at one book a winter I might be able to crank out another 15-20 books), or, b. continue to move fences.

And then there came a hue and cry from fans, who, after all, are the only entities who really matter (in addition to the cows and my husband, in that order) begging me to give Miss Hastings her own book. Miss Hastings was too good a character to play second fiddle to anyone, they declared. Tell us HER story! (Did I mention I was susceptible to flattery?) I hesitated. I dithered. I equivocated. I consulted my husband. I thought about consulting the cows but decided against it, although one of them, Jasmine, the herd boss cow, is particularly astute for a bovine. Finally, I decided to move the fence AGAIN and added a fourth book. The Songbird of Sovereign (Actually, Songbird is Book 3, coming as it does in the chronology of the series between Book 2 and what was originally going to be Book 3, The Minister's Daughter.) OK, so now I am up to FOUR BOOKS. (Unless Doris is counting because she often has difficulty with single digits.)

In the fourth and supposedly final book ... (I say "supposedly" to alert you here there is another fence shift coming) ... anyway, in Book 4, rather, just before the book opens, I had planned to kill off the narrator, Maggie the Minister, ending the thread that connected all the novels thus ending the nexus of the series. In farm speak, that is the equivalent of selling the cows so there is no damn need for the fences. Unfortunately, somewhere between Book 2 Peas, Beans & Corn and Book 3, readers bonded with my character Maggie. This was annoying because originally many of those same readers disliked her. Now, they were worried about her cancer treatment and her romantic relationship with her childhood chum Peter and frankly had become far too codependent with someone who wasn't even a real person. So, what else could I do? I changed my rules AGAIN. <spoiler> I have not killed off Maggie. I eliminated another character so that I could make the plot of Book 4 work. It was tough, but I was able to get Maggie out of town so I could get her daughter, Nellie, back into Sovereign. The book, after all, is entitled The Minister's Daughter.</spoiler>

Now, the fences have been moved so many times I've forgotten where they were supposed to be in the beginning. After setting out to write ONE BOOK about the little town of Sovereign, Maine I am up to FOUR BOOKS (or will be soon when The Minister's Daughter is published Sept. 19, 2015) and yet I still have the nexus alive and well. OMG. What a dilemma! Combine that with more seductive flattery and kind book reviews and there is little left for me to do except declare, "Tear down the fences! Let the cows go where they will." (Not in reality, you know; this is a metaphor. My cattle are still contained or at least they were the last time I looked out the window.)

"Better not to make any rules than to keep breaking them!"

The result is I might or might not write more books in my Sovereign Series. But before those of you who care get your hopes up, I must warn you there will certainly not (at least I don't think so) be Sovereign novels coming year-after-year like our cute, fuzzy Scottish Highland calves because I'm taking the bull out of the pasture this summer. (Cue the metaphor music.) Next winter I will NOT be huddled over the woodstove writing. Instead, my husband and I are travelling to Australia to mostly have fun but also Uncle Sam should know (and maybe some of my fans will want to know) that I will be doing research for a nineteenth century historical novel, Cure of Souls, about an Episcopalian minister who becomes an itinerant preacher in the gold fields of Australia. (Don't worry -- someone is staying home to take care of the cows.)

But, take heart! I will return to Sovereign one day, to continue the saga of Maggie the Minister and all of her quirky friends and neighbors. Also, because I have torn down the fences and now can basically wander and write whatever I like whether it is related to this blog thread or not, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank my family, friends and fans for ALL of your delightful and supportive reviews, comments, messages, and queries. You have helped me become a better person by realizing that fences are not only a way of keeping cows in, but also a way of keeping people out. When we expand our world -- even a fictitious world like Sovereign, Maine -- we all become better human beings. The only thing I ask from you now is that you do not share this precious piece of knowledge with Jasmine (or any of my other cattle) because, as I have said, she is particularly sharp and should she stumble onto this Truth she would need to be sent to the place where there are no fences and lots of angels.

For those of you who want to keep up with what's coming down the pike (I haven't even mentioned The Sovereign Series Cookbook, also coming Sept. 19, 2015 -- more on that in a future blog post) you can find the latest on my writing on my Facebook author's page and also follow me on Twitter @ChickenJen. And now I wish you "Happy trails!" with few fences and lots of GREAT green grass everywhere.
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Published on May 22, 2015 16:58 Tags: chickens, eggs, hens, history, maine, organic, sovereign-series

April 6, 2014

Writing for Readers

My newest novel, The Songbird of Sovereign (Book 3 in The Sovereign Series) is currently at the editors. The book will be released July 19th and already I'm hearing back from my editorial team that this is my best book yet.

FYI my editorial team is a hand-picked group of literati -- family members, friends, Twitter acquaintances whom I've never met (I kid you not) -- who comb through my words searching not only for mistakes but also for hifalutin malarkey. Their eyes are the first to see my creative efforts (next to mine and my husband's) and often what they preview never sees the light of day because, well, because they ax it. Ouch, ouch.

But my editors are first and foremost readers. They do not lay awake at night plotting ways to Edward Scissorhands me rather they lay awake at night because they have a good book in their hands. My goal then is to make my book one that is impossible for my editors to put down. If they can't put it down I can rest assured that you won't be able to put it down, either. How do I do this? I lay awake at night plotting ways to keep them up at night. Hey, a smart person once said: "If your writing doesn't keep you up at night, it won't keep anyone else up, either." That is so true!

So, whilst writing The Songbird of Sovereign I burned a lot of midnight oil creating devious and delightful plot twists. I also slept with a pen and pad of paper next to my bed and nearly every night I woke up out of a sound sleep with a clever amendment or a cool addition. I scribbled these nuggets down, often not bothering to turn on the light, which was a serious boo boo because in the morning my notes looked like Sanskrit.

In the future, if literary critics ever take a look at my body of work (supposing those august folks ever stoop so low) they will note that this is the book in which I stopped writing for myself and started writing for readers. My ego trip changed course in Songbird. Suddenly, I stopped trying to write the Great American Novel and started to write something that would please you. Would you like to go on a winter picnic in the Maine woods? Check. Mushroom hunting? Check. Have you always wanted to pull up a chair at the dining room table of the old Russell homestead during one of those locavore feasts? Check. How about discover the secret of Miss Hastings mysterious past? Check. Eavesdrop on her youthful love affair? Check. Take a ride on the Reading Railroad? (Wait, no, that's not in there, but some of the characters do take the train a lot.)

My goal with The Songbird of Sovereign is to mesmerize you so much so that once you start reading this book you won't be able to stop. I want to entice, allure, intrigue, worry, thrill, and otherwise engage you with these fabulous intertwining story lines, one from the 1940s and the other from the present day. By the looks of the feedback I'm getting from my editors, I've succeeded.

So, get your favorite, most comfortable beach chair ready for this July because my editors and I guarantee that once you pick up The Songbird of Sovereign you won't be able to put it down!

The Songbird of Sovereign

Jen Wixson
April 5, 2014
Troy, ME 04987
Jennifer Wixson

For more information on The Sovereign Series please visit our website
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Published on April 06, 2014 05:38

January 20, 2014

Moving Between Times

My head hurts. My teeth ache. I stumble a bit as I toss another stick of rock maple into the woodstove. True, the barometer is falling (and it's winter and it's Maine) but that's not the reason. Nope. It's because I'm moving back and forth between times writing The Songbird of Sovereign (Book 3 in The Sovereign Series). Where is George Jetson and his zippy Jetson-mobile when you need him?

The book opens in summer 1941 in Sovereign, where farmers are experiencing a drought. Wendell Russell's stoic grandmother, Grammie Addie, of whom we've only heard snippets in Books 1 & 2, takes the lead in Chapter 1. Cue her husband George "Pappy" and hired hand, Bud. Another walk-on belongs to Miss Hastings' lovely and vivacious mother, Helen. The clock ticks. Stuff happens. Cue Chapter 2, Sovereign, summer 2013. Maggie the Minister has returned to town after a six-week sabbatical. It's rained so much since she was gone that it's been hard to make dry hay. Boing! (That's the sound of me trying to pull my head out of 1941.)

Don't ask me why I'm doing this. There are some things authors can't explain. Stories just present themselves to us in a certain way and our job is to get them written down. Some stories are strippers; they can't wait to reveal themselves. Some tales are morbid, and require digging out of the musty, moss-covered ground with spade and violin bow. (I told you I was losing it.) Some are codependent (this one) requiring the support of another story in order that everything grow upward toward the light.

I am not a fan of the codependent story. There ought to be a law against 'em. One minute 21-year-old Henry Graham is flirting with young Jana Hastings at the sanatorium and the next minute Leland Gorse is mushroom hunting in the Sovereign woods with Cora Batterswaith. (Leland is almost old enough to have a leg in both stories, but not quite.)

Then there's the whole war thing. No, not our current war in Afghanistan (with which Bruce Gilpin, our hero in Book 2 was concerned) but Europe's war (later to be known as WWII). NOTE TO SELF: Resist the urge to think America is always at war.

For some reason I now recollect when I was ten, living in Michigan for one awful year. I couldn't wait for it to end. There was no snow. No Bonnie (my dog). No grandparents. I was so unhappy I stole 10-cent candy from a local gas station. (Don't condemn me; I think the guy felt sorry for me and let me take the candy.) The whole time I was physically living there I was emotionally and spiritually back in Maine. I felt disembodied, disconnected, sort of like I do now.

It's hard enough writing one book because I never want to come up for air; I'druther stay in Sovereign. But the codependent book is worse. Picture Tarzan attempting to swing on two vines at the same time and you get the drift. Ouch, ouch.

Cranberry Man has just returned home and is going around throwing open every window in the place. It's 85 degrees Fahrenheit inside. I kid you not. In Maine. In winter. Remember that stick of rock maple? Well, I didn't. I forgot to close the woodstove after I tossed in the stick. Cranberry Man says it's lucky he showed up when he did; we were two minutes away from a chimney fire.

Cue the inner gimbal and rotor. The world starts to spin. Dr. Ketchum, my gyroscope is out of control!

Oh, yes. Dr. Ketchum. Did I mention the tuberculosis? That's in 1941, but it could almost be now, since TB is making a comeback in the 21st century.

Not. Sure. I. Can. Pull. It. All. Together. (Really regretting that "D" in sewing in Home Economics.)

The scent of roses permeates both worlds, my olfactory shorthand for Miss Hastings, our little Songbird of Sovereign. She's the star of both books, my north star to whom I look for direction. But will the Songbird ever sing again?

Find out in July 2014...that is, if I don't burn the house down first.

For more information on The Sovereign Series visit our website:

Hens and ChickensPeas, Beans & Corn
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Published on January 20, 2014 16:15 Tags: historical-fiction, maine, rural-romance, the-sovereign-series

September 22, 2013

A Book of Her Own

When I first began writing Hens & Chickens I had no idea that it was going to be the first book in a series of four novels. I actually didn't even know that I was going to finish the was meant to be an antidote of sorts to the greed on Wall Street, much like Miss Pinkham's Tonic or the original Moxie.

However, once I finished the book and put down my pen, I began to miss my old friends in Sovereign, Maine so much so that I decided to expand my one little book into three novels. When I shared this decision with my First Readers (a Very Important Group of People), however, many of them chided me for not giving Miss Hastings her own book. "She deserves it!" said one reader, literally shaking my own words right back in my face.

Well, this was astonishing! Not only that someone disagreed with ME (the Almighty Authoress) but also that Someone (or Someones) believed that THEY as Readers had the right to direct the course of my career!

Four books instead of three?! Really!

However, they were right. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the central theme of the Sovereign Series -- LOVE -- revolves around the character of Miss Hastings, whose very adult life is a beautiful living metaphor for unconditional love.

Lately, I can't get Miss Hastings out of my mind. When we last left her, she was improving from a bout of despondence that set in after the death of her girlhood friend Mabel ("Ma") Jean Edwards. Ma Jean was the only living person still alive who called Miss Hastings' by her first name, Jan. Our little friend was so depressed by her loss -- by what seemed in her 88-years a gross accumulation of losses -- that it was too much for even her to bear. And she took to her bed in sorrow.

Even now, I can feel the pain that tugged at her heart. Like her, I have lost more good friends and loved ones than I can stand. "No more!" I sometimes want to cry. Worse, I have to stop myself from becoming one of those people who, upon waking, reach first for the Obituaries and then for their cup of coffee.

But good things happened this past summer in Sovereign, that helped perk Miss Hastings up. I won't spoil the story by telling you all the latest news from Sovereign. That will come next year in The Songbird of Sovereign, the heartening -- and heart-wrenching -- story of Miss Hastings.

In the meantime, there are tomatoes to harvest and can, and wood to stack, and the cows to consider. But even as I'm doing my chores I can faintly hear and see Miss Hastings -- she is crying now, so softly, weeping, into her pillow. I don't want her to cry; I want her to rise up and rejoice. To dance again as she did in her youth with Henry Graham. Yes, that is his name, the love of her young life. He is thin and handsome. I can see him holding out his hand to her.

Where are they going? Wait! Aren't we going with them?!

Perhaps I never wanted to write a book about Miss Hastings because I never wanted to say "goodbye"...

Hens and ChickensPeas, Beans & Corn
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Published on September 22, 2013 14:16

June 16, 2013

Love IS Lord of All! (or, The Unexpected Consequences of "Peas, Beans & Corn"!)

This is a different kind of love story. It's a tale of how a writer's trick has turned into one of the biggest gifts of my life.

It's probably not a secret that we writers "borrow" from people we know. Sometimes we borrow your looks. Sometimes we borrow your character. Sometimes we borrow, well, all of you, if we think we can get away with it. I've done this once or twice over the years and never got caught yet. (Some folks think I've borrowed them for one of my novels, but the ones who suspect me are so wrong.)

While writing my newest novel, Peas, Beans & Corn (White Wave, June 29, 2013) I borrowed for my hero Bruce Gilpin the personal character and rugged good looks of a former boyfriend, let's call him the "original" Bruce. I figured I was fairly safe, since I hadn't seen or heard from the original Bruce for 35 years. (Yes, thirty-five years. That's a LONG time, like so long!)

I loved him. Let's just get that right out there. I adored him. He was a US Marine. I can still remember the night we met, even after more than three decades. A friend and I had gone out dancing to a disco club (remember disco?), to the Fireside, in Escondido, California. My friend was on the dance floor, and I sat at a table disconsolate by myself (I actually think I was dozing) when Bruce tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance. That was the beginning of our nearly two-year relationship, a love affair that spanned thousands of miles and spawned hundreds of letters.

We didn't break up as much as we drifted apart, thanks in large part to his military career and my blossoming career as a freelance writer. For many reasons (too numerous and boring to mention) after I returned to Maine I ultimately broke up with Bruce, even though I still loved him.

I never contacted Bruce over the years, although many, many times I was sorely tempted. Why not? Because I felt as though I didn't have the right to interrupt his life. I wanted the best for him, and if I wasn't going to make that commitment to him I figured I should just get the heck out of the way. And so I vowed to myself never to track him down, attempting to rekindle our romance. And the years went by, piling up one after another, as time has a terrible habit of doing.

Flash forward to January 2013, when I started writing the second novel in my Sovereign Series...

I didn't think about the consequences of borrowing the original Bruce when I began writing Peas, Beans & Corn. I never realized that I would see Bruce's face etched into the back of my eyelids when I closed my eyes at night or that I would hear his voice in my head every minute of every day. I never understood the longing for him and the love for him that I'd buried for 35 years. Oh, boy, did my writing bring up lots of stuff! But I couldn't stop thinking of him because I couldn't stop writing the book, not with a publishing deadline looming large!

However, another consequence of borrowing the original Bruce is that my character Bruce is a wonderful human being. He's funny. Charming. Good-hearted. Dutiful. (Maybe a bit too dutiful, which sets up some drama in Peas, Beans & Corn). He's loving and lovable. In short, he's everything you'd want in a romantic hero. I know all of you are going to love him as much as I do.

When I finished the novel and sent it out to the editors, I felt an awful sense of loss. Not only did I miss all the wonderful characters of Sovereign, Maine, I also missed the original Bruce all over again. I couldn't stop thinking about him, wondering how his life had turned out. Had he married? Did he have children? Grandchildren? OMG -- was he even still alive?!

Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. Like any red-blooded woman, I took to the internet and did some cyber-sleuthing. There, under the cover of anonymity, I discovered that -- thank God! -- the original Bruce is still walking the earth!

And so I did what any one of you would have done -- I wrote to him. I held my breath, and waited. A week went by. Then two. I began to wonder: Did my letter to him get lost in the mail? Did he hate me for breaking up with him? Or worse, had he forgotten me?!

Astonishingly, I discovered that the original Bruce was in Afghanistan! The very same place from which my novel's hero, Maine Army Guardsman Bruce Gilpin, is returning from in Peas, Beans & Corn! In fact, the similarities between their two lives are eerily uncanny.

When he finally received my letter in Afghanistan, the original Bruce immediately emailed me. No, he certainly had not forgotten me! I'm glad to report that, like me, he's happily married now (like I said, this a different kind of love story). He's a Dad and and Grandfather! And the original Bruce says he's honored that I've borrowed his character for my book. (I hope he still feels that way after he and his wife read their autographed copy!)

I have an old 70's photo of Bruce and me, and when I look at the grainy picture, I'm transported effortlessly back in time. All the old emotions -- the love, the joy, the peace -- come literally gushing back up. It's as though someone or Some Thing took hold of time and ripped it out of existence, like tearing the skeleton out of a fish or the framework away from our daily lives. I think now that we parted back then so that we could learn the miracle of True Love -- nothing can destroy it! Not affliction (and Bruce and I have both had our share of suffering). Not time. Not space.

Tears fill my eyes as I contemplate this unexpected gift of understanding. I'm so happy knowing that he's happy! I feel as though I can die at peace now. (Though not right away, of course; I still have two more books in The Sovereign Series to write.) I didn't realize how I'd been unconsciously worried about the original Bruce for years (decades), as though he was my twin and we two had been separated at birth.

Someday I hope the original Bruce and I will meet again. For I still have so much I'd like to say to him. (I'd like for our spouses to meet us, too.) But mostly I just want to say, "Thanks." Thanks for still loving me -- for always loving me -- and for revealing to me that Love is truly Lord of All.

Jen Wixson
Troy, Maine
June 16, 2013

For more information about The Sovereign Series visit our website

Peas, Beans & Corn
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January 25, 2013

BACK TO WORK -- In Progress, "Peas, Beans & Corn"

Yep, I'm back at it. Writing again, just as though I do it for a living. (Oh, yeah, right.)

After socking enough hay in the barn to carry 17 hairy Scottish Highland cows through a Maine winter, harvesting the garden, canning string beans, freezing peas, and running around like a crazy lady to all those book signings for Hens & Chickens, I'm finally. yeah. back. yeah. at. yay! work. PHEW.

Since January 1st, I've dashed off 30,345 words. That's 10 chapters. 10 chapters = 1/3 of Peas, Beans & Corn! (Book II in The Sovereign Series.) Totally awesome.

Of course, all those long hours on the tractor this summer helped. I'm not just swinging that tedder and rake around the hayfield, I'm thinking about the love story between the newly-minted Afghanistan war veteran Bruce Gilpin and 21-year-old Amber Johnson, organic chicken farmer, Emily Dickinson lover (yes, there's an Emily connection), and a zillion bits of other stuff. Such as: What sparks bring our lovers together? What keeps 'em apart? What about Ryan MacDonald, the high-powered Perkins & Gleeful attorney who decides to rusticate in the small town of Sovereign? What about Bruce's ex-wife, Shelia? What about that pushy minister? (Oh, yeah, right.)

Then, I know Bruce and Amber's mothers don't approve of the match. Rebecca (hey, how's that new marriage to Wendell working out?) is worried about the PTSD thing, and Maude (still baking up a storm?) thinks Amber is too young (and besides, we know Maude wants her son to marry his childhood chum Trudy Gorse). How does all this stuff manifest itself? (Hint: there's food involved; in Sovereign, there's always food involved.)

In Peas, Beans & Corn we meet the Ladies Auxiliary of Sovereign, as well as the Old Farts (their husbands) who hang out at Gilpin's General Store with Ralph. When the Ladies are hard at work raising money to save the world, the men are toasting their toes by the fire and stuffing their faces with Maude's apple strudel. (I think I'druther throw in with the Old Farts, like, totally.)

And then we also uncover the history of the Westcott Canning Factory of Sovereign, Maine. Shuttered now for 40 years, the old cornshop was once famous for its "canned gold," sweet corn the town shipped around the world, to soldiers on the front lines of the Civil War and sailors hazarding the Seven Seas. What happened to the canning factory? After 100 years, why did the old cornshop close?

Can Bruce Gilpin get the canning factory up and running again? Should he?

And finally, is Miss Hastings, the town's beloved 87-year-old retired music teacher still alive? Spoiler Alert Yes. And interesting enough, Miss Hastings has a special connection to the old cornshop.

If I stop dawdling here (and get back to work writing) it won't be long now before you have all the answers in Book II of The Sovereign Series, Peas, Beans & Corn (White Wave, June 2013)

Hens and Chickens
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Published on January 25, 2013 16:22

November 30, 2012

Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

I read something penned by my infamous Maine neighbor Stephen King (well, he's actually my sister's neighbor on West Broadway in Bangor) years ago about excavating story ideas from his psyche, as though whole novels were buried down there and all he had to do was don his Indiana Jones fedora and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y dig 'em up. Well, writing fiction doesn't work quite that way for me, although interestingly enough the ground does play a role in it.

For me, the creative process is just that -- a process. Before I can muckle down to work, I need a setting, someplace for my story to be tethered. Since I was a kid growing up on a dairy farm in Winslow (Maine) I've always been tied to the land physically, emotionally and spiritually. If I don't have a story setting with which I'm connected I might as well try to change water into wine (OK, I know, that story's been taken).

The idea for the little town of Sovereign, Maine came to me when I contemplated what it would be like to live in a place filled with good-hearted people, a place in which evil kept trying but never could get a toe-hold -- a frost pocket of goodness, say. In a flash, I pictured such a place in my mind, with tall swaying pine trees, rolling pastures dotted with cows and a general store that smelled like cinnamon and peppermint and acted as the heart of the town.

Naming the place "Sovereign" seemed like the right thing to do, since where I live in central Maine the towns are called "Liberty" and "Freedom" and other such heavily symbolic names. (In fact, my present hometown of Troy was once called "Joy.") Also, the term "sovereign debt" was all over the news (with the fiscal crises in Europe and all) and I wanted to make a symbolic statement that maybe money shouldn't be "sovereign" in this world -- maybe the "ultimate power" should be something like, well, like Love.

Once I sniffed out the town of Sovereign, Maine (and settled on its name and nature) it naturally followed that I had to find some folks to live in Sovereign. So, who would live here?

Well, that's easy. There's got to be a shopkeeper (Ralph Gilpin) and his wife (Maude Gilpin, nee Hodges) and their grandson (15-year-old Gray, short for Grayden) and the kid's Dad (Bruce Gilpin, who's off fighting the war in Afghanistan). There should be a retired teacher or two (Miss Hastings, age 87) and her pet chicken (Matilda) and of course a couple of single men (Wendell Russell, 64, the old chicken farmer, and Mike Hobart, 30, the handsome carpenter) to act as the love interests for our heroines (Lila Woodsum, 27, and Rebecca Johnson, 48) whom I somehow had to get from where? (Boston) to Sovereign for some reason or other (maybe, after being downsized from corporate America?)

You see how easy this is?

Once I've pitched my tent, the story comes gushing up like a freshet, threatening to destroy my husband's peace of mind. I start to spend all my time in Sovereign, worrying about the peeling paint on the old Russell homestead and the lack of business in Gilpin's General Store. I linger beside Black Brook to listen to the peepers, and follow the town characters through their lives like some kind of weird stalker. I know what's in everybody's underwear drawer, what recipes are in Grammie Addie's cookbook (Oh, did I forget to mention her?) and how much Miss Hastings paid for those black anklet boots she bought in NYC in 1952 ($2). It's almost creepy, I know so much stuff.

And the story keeps growing, because like all of us, my characters have histories, friendships, loves and losses. Before you know it, my little tale of pips and peepers has become the novel Hens and Chickens and then the one novel has become a series, The Sovereign Series, because I discover that it's gonna take me at least four books (and a cookbook) to tell their stories to my satisfaction.

Yikes! By now, my husband is really sweating it, scrambling to figure out how he's gonna get fed over the next few years.

When I've manifested a good setting, peopled it with quirky and lovable characters, it's impossible not to trip over a doozie of a story (or two or three hundred). And that's the long and short of how my creative process works. I guess I'm not so much different from Stephen King after all.
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Published on November 30, 2012 13:16 Tags: creative-process, hens-and-chickens, stephen-king, the-sovereign-series, writing

September 29, 2012

The Muse Awakens: The Inspiration behind THE SOVEREIGN SERIES

I thought she was dead. As in rigor mortis. Never to rise again. My Muse!

At 6, I knew I wanted to be a writer. By age 20, the Muse was in full swing and I dispatched novels, plays, poems, short stories, teleplays, and even a half dozen murder mysteries (hey, it was the 80s).

But ten years ago, the Muse vamoosed. No, Goodbye, have a nice life, Jen. No kiss on the cheek. No warning, like frost on the pumpkin. I just suddenly discovered that I had. Nothing. To. Say.

I thought my writing career was O-V-E-R. Oh, occasionally over the decade I found myself thinking: I really should write another novel. But that thought came randomly, in a lazy, desultory fashion like rain dripping off the roof or smoke rising from an opium pipe.

I followed other career paths (most notably, the ministry) and attempted to convince myself that the Muse was part of my past, not my future. It didn't work. I felt as though I was going in the wrong direction, like my propulsion through life was fueled by past memories not future hope.

Then, one cold gray January morning in 2012, whilst motoring over the back roads of central Maine (on my way to a gig at the Norway UU Church), I felt a flicker of inspiration. The flame was warm (not hot) but my pulse quickened in recognition and remembrance. My Muse! Returned?! After all these years!


Suddenly, I was gripped by an urge to write as strong as the cramping from the foulest case of food poisoning. I had to get IT out! Write IT down! Put IT on paper!

IT was just a simple thought, really, that we 21st century geeks (and non-geeks) are not helpless victims; that we can take command of our lives and -- despite the failed economy, the wars, the discouragement, the distress, the squabbling politicians -- we can find a place for ourselves, go there and carve out who we truly want to be. When we have nothing, we have nothing to lose.

Like food borne bacteria this simple thought multiplied in my gut until IT became the novel, Hens and Chickens. And I had to get it out.

I began writing Hens and Chickens in early February 2012 and finished the 1st draft of the novel on May 16th. I hadn't written anything (except for a few pastoral messages) in more than a decade and now I'd written an 85,000 word novel in just over two months!

I guess I did have something to say. I just needed my Muse to reawaken so that I could get IT out.

But why did She who had lain dormant (or perhaps strayed from fidelity) for ten years awaken? Why did She spring to life? Restore my soul? Remind me of my troth to words?

Alas, I don't know! If I knew how to move the Muse I'd be a rich woman. Every deadbeat (and Deadhead) writer in the world would be knocking at my door as though I'd just built the world's best musetrap.

But this was only the beginning. Once I expelled Hens and Chickens, I discovered more. In fact, quite a bit more. I wasn't ready to leave the world that I had created, the simple yet savory world of Sovereign, Maine. And I also discovered that my early readers of Hens and Chickens also wanted more and so I decided to create a series of books, The Sovereign Series, to continue the story where Hens and Chickens left off.

Wallowing in possibilities, another simple idea exploded in my gut, which was the notion that although there is a natural order of things in the world, Love (always supreme) has the power to reorder Life's possibilities. This thesis is the basis for the novel, Peas, Beans and Corn, the second book in The Sovereign Series.

And then there is a 3rd book ... and a 4th book ... and finally (my Muse allowing) The Sovereign Series Cookbook for those of you who've already asked me to share some of the wonderful oldtime recipes from Grammie Addie and her friends.

The Muse has awakened. The story continues. I'm not sure where we're going yet, but at least it's forward! And it's already. A. Glorious. Ride.

I hope you'll join us.

Hens and Chickens
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Published on September 29, 2012 06:26