Twenty-First Century Mabels

A few months ago, a stranger wrote to tell me how personally moved she was by The Sisters, and, in particular, by a short scene in which my character Marshall, a student of archaeology, tells Rainey about his childhood passion for collecting old potsherds.  After Marshall discovers his first fossil–the imprint of a beetle in a small stone–he puts his shoebox full of potsherds in the garage and forgets about it.  A couple of years later, he finds his artist mother at her worktable, setting the sherds into plaster, “making something beautiful, something new and whole out of what had been lost and broken.”

This passage was so meaningful for this reader that she wrote to tell me of her work with Living Water for Girls, a foundation dedicated to creating a safe refuge for young women who have suffered the trauma and brutality of sex trafficking.  The staff of Living Water for Girls provides the patience and multifaceted care these young women need in order to rebuild their shattered lives into something new and whole.

This past weekend, I had the lovely, humbling honor of speaking at the spring fundraising event for Living Water for Girls and the even greater privilege of meeting some of the radiant young people who have been saved thanks to the efforts of the dedicated, visionary women who make up the Circle of Friends.  Because of them, in fewer than seven years, 79 traumatized young women have built wholly new lives.

For those of you who have read The Sisters, you’ll understand when I say that, this weekend, I felt as if I’d met a dozen or more twenty-first century Mabels.

That reader who wrote me in the last days of December is a stranger no longer, but a friend and, yes, a sister who counts me as part of the circle.


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My Day Job (And Then Some)

It’s not unusual at all for people who don’t write to imagine that this is what writers do all the time–or at least what they do full time.  How I–and thousands of other writers!–wish that were so.  Alas, it isn’t for most of us.  But if you’re curious about the work that absorbs most of my time, my work that, from August to April,is not only my day job, but my night job and my weekend job, click here.

My work for the Bluegrass Writers Studio is what pays the bills so I can spend the precious summer months in my writing cave.



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Fudge Weather–in THE SISTERS and in Real Life

It’s that time of year again, when the weather in most of the United States is turning toward the dry and cold–FUDGE-MAKING TIME! 

I posted this recipe last year, but here it is again, in case you missed it.  This is the fudge–at least it is in my imagination–that Bertie makes in Chapter Seven of The Sisters in anticipation of Alma’s Christmas visit.  The flavor of black walnuts permeates everything it comes near–which makes the black walnut the perfect signature nut for Bertie.  If you dislike the flavor of black walnuts, you can substitute any other nut, but if you don’t like nuts at all (say it isn’t so!) you can leave them out altogether and still come away with a devastatingly dark chocolate fudge.

Here’s the recipe!

Bertie’s Black Walnut Fudge

A Recipe by Nancy Jensen

(in honor of Chapter Seven of The Sisters)

3 T. butter (6 T total for recipe)

10 T. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

–Melt butter in 3 qt heavy saucepan over low heat.  Add ½ of the cocoa and stir into the melted butter.

¼ cup heavy cream

¾ cup whole milk

–Measure the cream and milk into a single cup.  Add ¼ to the butter and cocoa mixture, stir in, then add the remaining cocoa, stir, and then the remaining milk and cream.

–Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the milk is scalded and the cocoa is well mixed in.

3 cups sugar

3 T. light corn syrup

1/8 t. salt

–Stir in the sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is fully dissolved.

–Cook without stirring until mixture reaches the soft ball stage (236 to 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.)

–Pour into a clean 2 qt saucepan that has a handle.  Do not scrape the cooking pan.  Set the fudge to cool on a rack and immediately add:

3 T. butter

Do not stir.  Cool until lukewarm—until you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan for several seconds without discomfort.

While the fudge cools, line a 9 x 9 pan with buttered parchment paper.  Leave long edges so you can lift the cooled fudge out of the pan.

When the fudge is lukewarm, add:

1 ½ t. vanilla

Beat with a wooden spoon until the candy begins to thicken and lose its gloss.  Stir in:

½ cup of chopped black walnuts.

Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing to the edges with the wooden spoon if it needs nudging.  Mark into pieces with a sharp knife while still warm.  When the fudge is cool, using the parchment paper, lift the block out onto a cutting board and slice through the marks with a thin, sharp knife.

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Thank You, Readers

I’ve only just realized it’s been more than two months since my last post.  Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you’re climbing the Mountain of Minutiae–head down, concentrating on nothing but the next step.

Despite that frustration–which includes longing for the peace of my writing cave and the company of my characters–what I really want to do here is not to complain about all the minor but relentless tasks that come along with the beginning of any academic year, but rather to thank all the readers who have continued to take the time to email me to let me know what The Sisters has meant to them.  I still recall the thrill of the first few emails that came in the weeks after The Sisters was released in 2011, but I never imagined that, two years on, I’d still be getting as many as I do. 

So, thank you, Readers.  To all of you.  But a special thanks to those of you who have taken time to write–to tell me how you were drawn to the book, or how you felt as you read, or which character touched you most closely, which you wanted to slap or to hold in your arms.

All summer, I worked hard on a new novel and made some real progress.  My promise to you is that, having cleared most of the minutiae, I’ll be getting back to work on book within the next few days.  I can’t tell you when it will be finished, but I’m working on it!

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Soon, very soon, much sooner than I would like, I’ll have to pack up my spirit and move out of my writing cave, where I have spent the past three months–happy even when the words have come slowly, painfully twisting back on themselves; delirious with joy when (much less often) words have dropped from my fingertips, swift and sure.  In ten days, I’ll be back to my teaching duties, giving most of my time and attention to my students’ work instead of my own.

Three years have passed since the last time I was able to live for an entire summer inside my own writing–and now I know for certain, having been away so long, that this cave, regardless of which characters inhabit it with me, is my true home.  Preparing for the school year feels like packing for a long journey–one during which, I hope, I’ll be able to stop into my cave for a day or two, here and there.  But until next May, I must content myself with being only a visitor, looking forward to the sweet day when I can become a cave-dweller once more.  And to the even sweeter day when I can move in to stay.

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