“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

I have birthed a baby, built a house and published three novels. In each of these significant achievements, I have depended on, if not the kindness, then the expertise of strangers.


My first child was born in Brussels in 1977. Although I went to pre-natal classes, I was pretty clueless. As the youngest child in my family, I hadn’t been around babies much, hadn’t even babysat as a teenager. Over nine months of a mostly comfortable pregnancy, I read voraciously, developing a theory about what kind of birthing experience I wanted and what kind of parent I planned to be, but when eight pounds of slippery, screeching, pink-rapidly-turning-to-red baby was placed in my arms, I experienced a moment of ecstatic panic. My baby! How wonderful! How frightening!

The birth itself (I’ll spare you the gory details) was straightforward. It was the post-natal week spent in a private room at the Clinique Baron Lambert that revealed to me the gap between the intellectual and the physical. Thankfully, a string of unfailingly patient nurses and aides explained in slow, simple French, how to bathe and dress this fragile little person with jerky limbs and a raw knot of tissue on his tummy where a day ago we had been linked together. A lactation specialist guided me through the first painful forty-eight hours until my milk came in. And when I desperately needed to sleep, someone would quietly take my son to the nursery for a few hours.

Having been raised under the National Health Service in England, I took for granted that all these services were available to me free of charge. It was only when my second child was born in Georgia—almost on the floor of the reception area as I fought the urge to push while completing reams of admission paperwork—that I understood how blessed I had been. Twenty-four hours later I was home again, and glad to be so.

In early 2011, the decision to build on a plot of land the family had acquired several years before in the Methow Valley of north central Washington was carefully taken. We deliberated over the plans, adding and subtracting features, calculating costs, selecting finishes and fittings. We interviewed several contractors, the final choice depending on a family connection and a tour of an impressive construction site.

The builder broke ground around Memorial Day.


“We’ll have you in by Thanksgiving. . . . Or Christmas, anyway.”


We celebrated Christmas on the other side of the mountains in Bellingham. And New Year, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, . . .  Frustration mounted.


“He didn’t say which year!” My husband’s joke fell flat. We learned that the salmon run on the Columbia was phenomenal that fall. Then a chance arose for the crew to go hunting in British Columbia before the cross-country ski trails opened in the Valley.


We moved in Memorial Day weekend, 2012. The house was—is—beautiful. Expert framers, carpenters and tilers made the design a reality, and better than we ever hoped. But we learned something else from this experience: living on Methow time. Why come to this astounding place if all you want to do is work? Surrounded by natural beauty and outdoor adventures year-round, it would be a sin not to enjoy the opportunities offered.


Now, I hold a new baby, “A Splintered Step,” my third self-published mystery in the Sarah McKinney series. As before, the writing (the pregnancy, the design phase) was enjoyable. I do believe I’m getting better at this! Even revisions, which I previously found to be a slog, went smoothly. The labor pains started with trying to upload the manuscript for publication as a paperback. The cover was the wrong size; something to do with the number of pages which determines the spine width. From there, I plunged into a series of online formatting snafus exposing my technological inadequacy.


My excuse: the highly-academic, all-girls high school I attended in the sixties scorned any practical skills like typing. We were to pursue a life of the mind, become doctors and lawyers and such. Other people would change the oil in our cars, unblock our clogged drains, and type our letters. Of course, this was before technology overtook us, but the mindset was established.


With the help of the experts at CreateSpace, the Amazon division that enables the publication of not only books, but CDs, DVDs and videos, I worked through these manuscript problems.  A primary credit should go to my husband, who, when I whined about some vagary of the Word for Mac program I was using, said “Google it!” My poorly framed search immediately returned a step-by-step work-around I could never have discovered on my own.


Babies, houses, books. So many similarities: you can’t hurry them, and bringing them into the world involves a share of pain, but when they’re finally here, the pain is forgotten in the wonder of creation. Each of them is a collaborative effort, loved ones and strangers lending their expertise and kindness to the project.


“A Splintered Step” is available on Amazon now, as an e-book and a paperback. It’s also on sale at independent bookstores in the Pacific Northwest, including Village Books in Fairhaven and Lynden. Sarah McKinney’s plans for a cozy Christmas at home with her lover are disrupted by a chance encounter with a figure from her abusive childhood, and a murder. This time her adventures lead her to London, Oxford and South Wales. Enjoy! And don’t forget to write a review. Reviews really matter in terms of online visibility, regardless of whether they are “five star” or not.




Mystery Marian's Musings

On Books and Other Important Things