The title WAS Little Birds. It has been changed to The Sweet Blue Distance.

There is a lot of confusion out there about which novel is coming out next. Here’s the skinny.

The Sweet Blue Distance

If you know my historical fiction, you’re aware of the Wilderness series (six novels, 1792-1824) and the Waverly Place series (two novels, a third currently in preparation, 1883-85).  The Waverly Place novels jump forward to tell the stories of women whose mothers and grandmothers were central to the Wilderness novels.

There IS a third Waverly Place novel forthcoming, but it won’t be the next one published. The next novel (already finished and delivered)  is a kind of bridge novel that takes place in 1857 — after Wilderness, before Waverly. Originally I called this novel LITTLE BIRDS, but my editor and the marketing people just couldn’t live with that. After long and sometimes tense discussion, the title became THE SWEET BLUE DISTANCE.  This is the permanent site for the novel:

Things will be messy for a while, and for that I apologize.

Sweet Blue (my shorthand for the title) is set in 1857 in New Mexico Territory, and serves as a bridge between the Wilderness series of novels and the first two novels of the Waverly Place series.

A small and unassuming chapel used by the Penitentes since the 1700s. Abiquiu, New Mexico.  ©Phillip Noll/Raven Mountain Images



Carrie Ballentyne is a girl when her life is upended and she must leave Paradise, a small town in the great forests of northern New York State. It is the only home she  has ever known, but a tragedy makes it impossible to stay. With her mother – recently widowed – and her younger brother Nathan she moves to Manhattan.  Her mother remarries, a well-to-do old family friend, and they settle down in a large house on Waverly Place. Carrie never learns to like the city, but she and her brother respect their step-father, Dr. Harrison Quinlan (if not their step-sister Margaret), and school is a welcome distraction.

 At fifteen Carrie enters into a midwifery apprenticeship with her cousin  Amelie Savard  She attends nursing school as well, because her patients and their children need more than one kind of care.

When she has been employed by the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital for six years, the director brings her a letter from his brother-in-law,  of Santa Fe in New Mexico territory. Dr. Markham is looking for a nurse and midwife to join his practice. To the person who can meet his rather unusual requirements he offers a modest salary and room and board with his family. The requirements are unusual but they appeal to Carrie.

Dr. Markham requires someone who is not put off by living far from civilization, with few amenities. The landscape is harsh; the person who joins his practice will have to be comfortable traveling on horseback to see patients. The patients are poor, and most of them have no English. A willingness to learn Spanish is a non-negotiable requirement. The Navajo, Apache and Kiowa and other tribes sometimes attack wagon trains and settlements, so this midwife must be courageous, committed and able to handle weapons. At the same time, she will be living side by side with Indians of many tribes — primarily the Pueblo nations –  and she must be ready to learn about their cultures without assumptions or prejudice.

With Nathan as a traveling companion, Carrie sets out for Santa Fe. The first part of the journey is by train. The rail system reaches only as far as St. Louis, and from there they board a packet on the Missouri River. Once they reach the Kansas Territory border they must join a wagon train.

Carrie will find Santa Fe to be full of unexpected contrasts. It is a town dominated by two forces: first, the Army, which is there to protect the citizens  (but not necessarily all citizens) from Indian raids and to keep the territory under American control.

In the course of the journey west and finding a place for herself in Santa Fe, Carrie finds she can no longer evade the repercussions of the events which made her mother leave Paradise for Manhattan. While she struggles with unresolved loss, she develops a relationship with Eli Ibarra, his father Basque, his mother of the Jemez Pueblo. “Carrie has to learn what it means to be Indian in the west.

In Santa Fe Carrie deals with racial, religious and ethnic conflicts, with slavery and with women’s mental and physical health, and with the political chaos of a nation on the brink of Civil War.

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