Nancy Stevenson’s Long Reach



By Judy Carmack Bross




The Georgia Strait in British Columbia

Out July 3 on Amazon and elsewhere, Nancy Stevenson’s Long Reach is the mystery to take along on your summer retreats.  Set against the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest and featuring a Mountie, a First Nations healer, pulp mill polluters and an intrepid heroine, the mystery makes the magnificent Georgia Strait, British Columbia setting key to the plot and the plot a true page turner involving attempted murder, kidnap and conspirators responsible for air, water and land pollution, and suspense until the final page.

 Unexpected twists abound as do evocative descriptions of life on the water, an area that the Chicagoan knows from many summers there with her late husband, Senator Adlai Stevenson III. Lovely phrases like, “white seagulls darted like ballet dancers into the waves,” and references to the plaintive cries of loons, now an endangered species, show her ability in making nature essential to the plot.

“The title refers to a nautical term where a long reach is a stretch where the wind currents would be expected to be steady,” Stevenson said.

Quickly, the plot spins everything around and the reader is off on an adventure where currents spin in many directions across the Georgia Strait which lies between Vancouver Island and the southwestern mainland coast of British Columbia.

Stevenson writes on her website

“I have my first novel, Long Reach, published by The Wild Rose Press, due to be released in July, four months before my 90th birthday. I worried about talking about this to other people, so a friend sent me the following information for encouragement. Doris Lessing (born October 22, 1919) published Alfred and Emily at almost 89. Elmore Leonard (born October 11, 1925) published novels until his late 80s. Tom Wolfe (born March 2, 1930) released Back to Blood, his first novel in 8 years at age 82.Toni Morrison (born February 18, 1931) published her 10th novel, Home, at age 82. Alice Monro (born July 10, 1931) released Dear Life at age 81.

“I’m not comparing my work to any of these greats, but it is interesting to note that it’s never too late to put our stories out there for others. I am grateful to my friends who urged me to take this book out of my filing cabinet and work on it again.”

“This writing, it’s a disease,” Stevenson said.  “I have always loved family sagas and decided to write children’s stories when my first grandchild was born.  She is now in her 30s.  I took a class with Richard Peck who has won awards for his novels for young adults.  I think he found my first efforts horrible but he really showed an interest and encouraged me to continue.

She has authored Horse Dreams, a coming of age novel about an eleven-year-old latch key child who learns not only about a stallion but also about self-reliance, and Capitol Code, about a 13-year-old sleuth.

 Stevenson describes herself as a “pantser” when it comes to writing mysteries, working without elaborate outlines and charts of red herrings and the like.  She has discovered what many other fine writers find that the characters themselves speak to her about what’s going to happen next, often introducing her to another character essential to the plot. “Characters just kept coming out as I wrote, the harbormaster and the wonderfully cranky Mabel seemed to introduce themselves to me,” she recalled.

“The place was the real motivator.  Ad and I went on our honeymoon to the Georgia Straight and rented flat-bottomed houseboats there at first.  Later we found a heart-shaped little island where we built a cabin and for 30 years we came and went with the children,” Stevenson said.  “Ad loved exploring and the whirlpool scenes are real in the book.  Often our son-in-law would be our rapids guide on the rivers.  There were no cars or stores on our island, you got places by swimming, walking or kayaking.  We were always out on the beaches and the coast, checking our prawn and crab pots and growing a vegetable garden.”

The Stevenson’s cabin on their heart shaped island in British Columbia

In the March 23, 2024 issue of Classic Chicago Magazine, Elizabeth Dunlop Richter interviewed Stevenson about her life in the political arena, an article I recommend you go to in our archives.  Richter wrote:

“Stevenson has been in the public eye for over 50 years. The wife of the late U.S. Senator from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson III, the Smith College graduate participated in over a dozen campaigns, shook tens of thousands of hands, and was nourished on the campaign trail by everything from donuts to the proverbial chicken dinners. During some hectic 50 years as a political wife, she energetically supported her husband’s campaigns for state representative, state treasurer, U.S. senator, and Illinois governor. And did I neglect to mention, raised two boys and two girls along the way?”

Adlai Stevenson III, Nancy Stevenson, Gov. Adlai Stevenson II on Nancy and Ad’s wedding day.

Stevenson speaks powerfully about the environment damage done to this beloved area by several pulp paper mills and by global warming.

“The climate was different in 1955.  The mountains would be snow packed even in a hot summer August, now the mountains are bare at that time. In our later years there we saw mudslides, salmon and prawn spawning beds were covered, fishing declined significantly, skin rashes occurred and there were damaging materials in the water and toxic fumes due to the pulp mills. In a way, it is not a useful book because it is set in 1998 and all the damage has been done but there is still hope that people will take action in these situations. But I wanted to explore how people learned about pollution as it related to logging and the process of pulping.”

We asked Stevenson about her writing:

“Most importantly, stop being shy of the computer or paper, just sit down and write.  In the late 1990s I attended a residential writing program at Vermont College, which I feel is a perfect way for an adult to learn to write.  Others in your group critique your work and you get share multiple ideas. I remember someone was talking about the writer’s viewpoint.  I didn’t even know that it meant you had to choose the I person, or the he/she/they person or the omniscient point of view.  For me, descriptions are what I most enjoy writing.  And I guess I find bits and pieces of myself in everything that I write.” In Long Reach, Nora her protagonist says that she “had had a passion for stories since childhood, reading, imagining and telling them,” much like Stevenson.

She currently is reading North Woods, the Daniel Mason 2023 novel about a house in New England over the course of several centuries. “It is filled with beautiful illusions which I find fascinating.  And I loved All the Light You Cannot See and what we learn about the French and German trying to survive during World War II.”

Stevenson, who is currently hard at work on a new book, begins each day with a 7:00 a.m. walk with two or three close friends.  “They are away for part of the summer and now first thing I have to get up and write.  I really love a long morning of writing.”