4 Good Reasons for Writing Fanfic

Many people look down on fan fiction (or fanfic) as the scribblings of wanna-be writers, of those who don’t have the creativity to come up with their own ideas. Here are four reasons why writing fanfic is actually a good thing.

Four good reasons for writing fanfic1. Writing Fanfic is Less Overwhelming.

It’s a bit like having training wheels when you’re first learning how to write.

My neighbor’s daughter wants to be a writer. The other day I invited her over to talk for a bit about the writing process. It was with obvious embarrassment that she admitted, “I’m not that good; all I’ve really done is write fanfic.” To which I immediately answered, “That’s how I got started too; there’s no need to be ashamed.”
If you are a new writer, world-building and characterization can be daunting tasks. But with fanfic, the world and its characters already exist. This leaves you free to focus on such things as “what makes a good plot” or “how to write realistic dialog.” Writing fan fiction also provides a preexisting critique group. Fellow fans can offer canon-correct suggestions when you get stuck, and point out places where your story doesn’t work. Later, once you’re more comfortable with the writing process, you can take off those training wheels and strike out on your own.

2. Mary Sue/Gary Stu Doesn’t Need to Die.

She (or he) just needs to grow up.

Oftentimes a writer will start writing fanfic as a way to become a part of a beloved world. And that’s okay…to start with. But characters–like most living things–will fight to break free from the box they’re originally put in. Given half a chance, your characters will grow and mature and become real. All you have to do is let them.

Starla Anderson, the heroine of An Uncivilized Yankee, was originally an “author avatar”. I was only nine or ten when I first created her. She found herself repeatedly dumped into various and sundry worlds. From Star Trek (a true Mary Sue!) to Middle Earth, 21 Jump Street to Sherlock Holmes (yes, I wrote Sherlock Holmes fanfic way back in the 80s)–any movie or TV show or book that caught my fancy soon had Star running loose in it. But as I tried to make her more realistic, she began to change. Eventually, she outgrew those fanfic stories and demanded a story of her own, in a world of her own. That’s how my own books, the world of Legacies and Legends, started.

3. All Stories (and Characters) are Derivative.

As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.

I once read that there are only two stories in the world: Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. If you think about it, there’s a lot of truth in that statement. There are only so many story elements out there–it’s how they’re mixed and matched and mashed together that makes each story unique. The same thing goes for characters. That’s why knowing the different character archetypes is such a useful thing.

Fan fiction may seem like mere imitation, but if you cut apart a story and sew it back together in a totally different way, is your story still an imitation? Or has it become something new and different? I’d say the latter is true.

For example, a while back a reader contacted me for more information about a minor character. She wanted to write a story about her. I was beyond tickled to receive such a request, and I gave the reader as much information as I could (without revealing too many spoilers). The reader later came back and admitted she’d changed the story to her own characters instead. That pleased me too. What started as a story in my world was now something new and different and entirely her own. And that was A Very Good Thing.

4. Writing Fanfic is Fun.

Plain and simple.

Even if you’re already a successful writer, the creator of worlds and characters all your own, writing fanfic stretches your brain, forcing you to think on completely different characters and scenarios for a while. It also immerses you in a world you love, without the stress of making sure everything is perfect for your readers.

In fact, I need to go to write some fanfic myself. My daughter and I watched the The Secret of NIMH last week. I pointed out a major plot hole I’d never noticed as a kid. Instead of ruining the movie, it made me go, “But…how?” Ideas immediately started popping around in my head. Now I desperately want to write the story of how a super-intelligent lab mouse named Jonathan Brisby got his paws on such a powerful magic amulet in the first place…

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Music for writing: My top ten playlists

For me, silence isn’t golden. I need music for writing.

Music for writing playlistsI need music to distract that part of my brain that wants to ping everywhere but on my writing. But I’ve found over the years that only some types are music for writing.

No words allowed

A song’s lyrics usually distract me from the words I need to be putting down on paper. For that reason, I steer clear of music with lyrics, unless those lyrics happen to support what I’m writing, which does happen, though very, very rarely. The Civil Wars and Clannad fall into that rare category.

The best music for writing? Soundtracks!

Composers for movies and TV (and video games!) use music to support the story being told. The best soundtracks follow the same rhythms and flows of a book. BUT…I’ve found that if I know the source show too well, my brain starts to “watch” it in my head. Therefore, I tend to listen to soundtracks of things I’m relatively unfamiliar with. Gettysburg (which I saw 8 1/2 times in the theater. Yeah, I’m a total Civil War geek.) was a total anomaly. I used that soundtrack over and over while writing An Uncivilized Yankee, for obvious reasons. However, I haven’t been able to use it for any other stories since then.

Driving rhythms drive writing

I can’t write to consistently slow or mellow music. Just can’t. I like Enya, I like Secret Garden, but that type of music does not work for writing. Much of A Great Wide Nowhere was written to the angry cellos of Apocalyptica, the epic music of Globus and E.S. Posthumus, or the sweeping themes of Dances with Wolves and Twister.

What works may change

The music that worked for one book may not work for the next. For me, it usually doesn’t. I’ve found only one soundtrack that I can use consistently across all my writings, and that is Last of the Mohicans.

So here–in no particular order–are my Top Ten albums that got The Slow Trail Home written.

  1. Dr. Who (Series 2-6). I strung all five albums together on Spotify, which gave me nearly 11 hours worth of uninterrupted music (I pay for the commercial-free version). Oddly enough, I have over 1500 followers of this list, so I have to assume others find it useful background music as well.
  2. Firefly. I’ve read about the show, but never watched it. However, the Wild West feel fit my writing needs.
  3. Copper. I had never even heard of this show, but again, the music suited my story well.
  4. Hunger GamesThis one came courtesy of my daughter, as I had little interest in the movie. But I loved the songs they played at the end of the movie (“Kingdom Come” and “Safe and Sound”), and in listening to those, I realized the rest of the soundtrack was pretty good as well.
  5. Ender’s Game Another album my daughter suggested. She was watching the movie and pointed out it had a most excellent soundtrack. At the time, I was struggling to finish up my manuscript, and it provided just the right amount of tension and drive.
  6. Halo. Yes, the video game. But video games tell stories too, and music is a vital part of those stories. Someone else had already put all the soundtracks together in one playlist on Spotify, which made it very easy for me.
  7. Holy Ghost. So, this one is weird. I heard some music on a commercial being played on the TV displays at Walmart. I have SoundHound on my phone (I love that app!), and it identified the snippet as a song from a tiny little indie movie called Holy Ghost, which just happened to also be available on Spotify.
  8. North and South. Not the BBC show, but the old 1980s miniseries. It was near impossible to find the full soundtrack, but last year Varese Sarabande released most of the music on CD, and I snapped it up.
  9. Legends of the Fall. Another movie I’ve never seen, probably never will. But James Horner was an incredible composer (I also own the Titanic and Braveheart soundtracks)
  10. Last of the Mohicans. Still my go-to soundtrack. Added bonus of Clannad singing the main theme (the longer version on their Banba album is incredibly haunting).

Writers:  What is your favorite music for writing?

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Farewell and Goodbye: A Novella

One of the most exciting–and terrifying–things an author gets to do is announce the arrival of a new work.
farewell and goodbye kindle image

So, I am pleased to announce (drum-roll, please!) that Farewell and Goodbye is now available for Kindle purchase! This is the “bridge” story that connects A Great Wide Nowhere with The Slow Trail Home (due out Winter 2015-16).

A print edition is in the works as well. I will likely be selling that directly, instead of making it available through Amazon (mainly because it is more cost effective for everyone involved to do it that way).


From the description:

Spring 1873
Fort Ellis, near Bozeman, Montana Territory . . .

Unlike most of the men he serves with, Lieutenant James Steele doesn’t consider Fort Ellis a hardship posting at all. His position in the cavalry is a good one. His son, Jonathan, is with him and maturing into a smart, steady, and responsible young man. And with the Blacks—Rob, Danica, and little Katja—he has found a place to belong and people who believe in him, accept him, and love him, despite his flaws and failings. He has everything he needs here.

For the first time in his life, he has a place that
his heart calls home.

But for generations, the Steeles have been known for several things: their uncanny eyesight; their charm, good nature, and loyalty; their bravery that defies common sense . . . and their inability to attain a happy ending. Just when he thought he might escape that fate, Jim finds himself facing the most painful choice he could imagine: to give up the very things that have made his life worth living, or risk destroying them all.

How much would you sacrifice for the sake
of those you love?



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Research Rant

what if I told you
I pride myself on making my novels as factually accurate as possible (though sometimes I know the facts but end up switching them around a bit to better suit the story).

Towards that end, I recently read Empire of Shadows, which covers the early exploration of Yellowstone (before it became a National Park). Not because I’m interested in Yellowstone, per se (though it is a fascinating place, and I’d love to go back there), but rather because a big chunk of the book dealt with the 2nd Cavalry and Fort Ellis, MT, in the 1870s. That’s why I was reading the book in the first place: finding good information on those two topics is very difficult and I’ve learned how to glean info from sources that are only tangential to my own story. 560 some-odd pages and tons of endnotes later, I had some nice, useful chunks of facts.

But then I found an error his editor should have caught. The only reason I recognized it as an error was that one of the specific pieces of info I was looking for was who was the post commander of Fort Ellis in 1873.

The book said this:

  • Col. Albert Brackett was the first commander of Fort Ellis (at least, when the 2nd Cav was there). He was in charge from July-December 1869. (p. 189-213)
  • Col. Eugene Baker took his place, and was transferred in January 1873 (p. 213-373)
  • His immediate replacement was Col. Nelson Sweitzer (p. 388).
  • Sweitzer was followed by Major James Brisbin in February of 1876 (also p. 388)

HOWEVER, in the back of the book is the Dramatis Personae section, which consists of short bios of “major” characters in the the book.
Here it says:

  • Eugene Baker was commanding officer of Fort Ellis 1869-1872. December 1872/January 1873–close enough.
  • James Brisbin’s entry states: “Third commanding officer of Fort Ellis (from 1872 to 1876)…” Hold on a minute. Sweitzer was the third commanding officer, and those were (roughly) his years in command, not Brisbin’s.

When I found this contradiction, I couldn’t double check Sweitzer’s entry because 1. I didn’t photocopy it and 2. I had already returned the book to the library. I did, however, check his entry in Cullum’s Register (an index of all the graduates of West Point), which confirmed that he was in charge of Fort Ellis from March 27, 1873 through September 12, 1875. A bit later I did a search on Google Books and managed to find the Dramatis Personae section online. Not that it did any good–Sweitzer isn’t even listed. Not important enough, I guess.


The bottom line is, this supposedly highly researched, professionally edited book of non-fiction had a glaring error in the facts it presented.

It really, really irritates me when this happens. Why? Because if this piece of information was incorrect, what other information is also incorrect? How can I trust what the author has stated as fact? Usually I don’t have access to the same primary sources that the author used, so I can’t double-check the information.

This same scenario happened in a book on Fort D.A. Russell (Cheyenne, WY) that I was using for research on my previous novel (A Great Wide Nowhere). Here the author stated that the post commander died while in charge of the fort. Cool, I thought. That’s something that would greatly impact my characters. I wonder if his wife and children were with him at the time? So I went digging for more info (again, Cullum’s Register came to the rescue). I found out that not only did he not die at Fort Russell, he’d died 20 years later on the other side of the country. That’s a pretty big factual error there. (Side note: Turned out that I couldn’t use Fort Russell as the setting at all–too many other issues with it. Fort Sanders was a much better choice.)

Yes, I know it is highly unlikely that any of my readers would ever know (or care) if I got the post commander wrong.

Still, I would know, and I care.

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Funny how things come together from vastly different sources when God is trying to get a point across to you.

This morning, in response to a friend’s post on Facebook, I went looking for the “Make Good Art” comic I’d seen a while back. Which of course led me to Neil Gaiman’s amazing 2012 keynote address. I’d read parts of it before, but never the whole thing.


I think every artist should read/watch this at least once or twice a year. So much wisdom. Actually, I think parts of it apply to everyone, no matter what your calling may be. Especially Stephen King’s advice:

“This is really great. You should enjoy it.”

That jumped off the page and whacked me right between the eyes.

See, my DH decided a few weeks ago to do this online goal-setting program, and I said, “Sure! I’ll do it too. Might as well.” Not that I thought it would work, but it might help a little. Anyway, before setting goals for the coming year, the program has you look back over the past year and note what was missing.

First thing that jumped out at me was “Joy.”

Despite everything I’d accomplished, there was very little joy in any of it. And after contemplating that for a while, I realized I really don’t enjoy life, period. Neither while I’m in the middle of creating, nor even afterwards. I push and push and stress to get something done, and then it’s marked off my to-do list and I’m on to the next project without taking time to lean back and appreciate what I’ve made.

Nope. No real joy anywhere. Maybe a few minutes of “Hey! Lookie what I did!”, but nothing more than that.

So what am I left with? Duty (“I have to do this–my family is depending on me”) and guilt (“I promised, so I have to do it now.”). However, anyone who has found themselves in that situation knows that accomplishing anything of worth with only duty and guilt as muses is doomed to failure.

A lack of joy not only makes living with me a drag (for friends and family), it also produces a downward spiral of self-limitation. A ginormous black hole of anti-creativeness. It sucks away my energy, and poisons the well of creativity I’m trying to access.

It was just a week or so ago that I learned 2015’s Major Life Lesson #1, which was:

“While I may be able to get something done faster/better/more efficiently by working by myself rather than accepting help from others, faster/better/more efficient is not nearly as important as my relationship with the people trying to help me.”

I guess 2015’s Major Life Lesson #2 is:

“This [creating something, and life in general] is really great. [I] should enjoy it.”

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Thoughts on Costuming (or The Writer Also Sews)

I’ve recently gotten very involved in costuming. I’ve always enjoyed making costumes, but now I’m actually being paid for my work. Yay!

So, being the research addict that I am, I’ve been bouncing about the Internet reading costuming blogs and whatnot. I was over at Historical Sewing and read an article on the biggest mistakes a costumer can make. I also read all the comments people had added. Some were quite discouraged by the article; in trying to point out that I thought the author was just trying to show areas where small changes could make a difference, I started writing this long involved reply … and then decided to just turn it into a blog post instead (I seem to be doing that rather often).

Silhouette, Seamlines, Fit, Fabric, Trim, Proportions, Dressmaking Skills, Accessories, Attitude and Deportment, and lastly Giving Up–according to the author, these were the biggest mistakes Costumers make.

I’m going to give some of my thoughts on those areas, using the dress I created for A Great Wide Nowhere as an example. This one, being modeled here by the entirely too beautiful Callie, who brought my character Danica to life. dani1

Silhouette. Undergarments, that is. A proper corset and petticoats or hoops make a world of difference in how accurate your costume looks. I didn’t do so well at that. A corset of some sort would have made a big difference in how this bodice fit. You can definitely tell that from the picture.  The petticoats/hoops I did have a good excuse for: when I first made this dress, I was taking it to Wyoming with me and I couldn’t fit hoops or tons of petticoats in my airline luggage. However, I managed to come up with a backstory to cover the missing hoops–out West women often skipped the hoops because the wind made them dangerous to wear. So if anybody had asked, I had a response that managed to teach a little more about the time period while not making me feel like it had to be perfect. By the time of the photoshoot, I had access to petticoats, but I still haven’t gotten a set of hoops that are historically accurate for this dress.

Seamlines and Fit. I’m combining these two because the pattern you use accounts for both of these. A good pattern can make up for a lot of other problems. When I made my 1867-68 dress, I had to start with a Civil War-era pattern. I’m not experienced enough to draft my own yet and there aren’t any patterns out there for this short period of post-war fashion. The dresses differ from the round-skirted previous style by having a flatter skirt front with most of the fabric being pulled towards the back, but without the bustle that would develop in the 1870s. Using photographs from those years, I managed to adapt the pattern. Having the lines of a dress accurately followed the lines of the time period in question can make a world of difference.

Along with that, I can’t stress enough the importance of making a muslin mock-up of your project first, to work out all the kinks/make sure the pattern fits before cutting into your nice fabric.

Fabric and Trims. When most people think of the Civil War and the Frontier, they think calico. But I read in my research that middle to upper class women of that time refused to wear calico–that was the fabric of slaves and poor people. So when I decided to make this dress, I splurged on a linen-blend (couldn’t afford straight linen or wool). Not only would it be more historically accurate, but also how the linen draped would effect the way the dress flowed. And I knew I would need a ton of fabric: I ended up buying the entire bolt of fabric, which is where Jo-Ann’s 50% off coupons on a single cut of fabric is a wallet-saver. I think I ended up using somewhere around 6 yards of fabric (usually I cheat and cut cross-grain for my skirts, because I’m short and can get away with that, but I didn’t this time).  I probably should have used more trimming, but I got very tired of hand-stitching all that velvet ribbon on. I did, however, use historical photographs to make sure my placement was reasonable, which is a good thing, because otherwise I would have likely placed my trim in totally different (and inaccurate) places.

Proportions. This is knowing how to balance historical accuracy with your body type to make sure the end result looks right. My original pattern called for bust padding and long boning in the front of the bodice, and a very large bum roll in the back. Wanting to be accurate, I made the pads and put in the boning. I also added little caps above the sleeves, a design feature I saw on some of the photos I was using for reference (or as seen here). These features would have been fine, except I’m rather … curvy … to begin with and broad-shouldered to boot. By the time I was done, I looked like a giant football-playing beet. Not cool. I put away the dress in embarrassment. A year later, I’d lost almost 30 pounds and decided to remake the bodice of my dress. Out came the pads, the boning was all shortened tremendously, off came the cap sleeves. Everything was simplified and slimmed down. Now, while technically not accurate in construction , it looks right for the time period.

Dressmaking Skills. Unfortunately, many historical patterns don’t make much sense to people who’ve only worked on modern clothes. And the only way to finally make sense of them is to keep working and practicing and learning new ways (old ways?) of stitching and fitting. For this dress, I had to learn how to make cartridge pleats and how to bone a bodice properly (I also researched and attempted to build a set of hoops for this time period, but ended up abandoning that effort. I should go back and try again). Jean Hunisett’s book has a wealth of construction information. I also called on a veteran seamstress (my mother) to help me figure out how to adapt/redraft large portions of the pattern I was using. She’d never made a dress like this either, but she’s been sewing since she was a child and knew how clothes went together. Finally, most modern costume makers fall into the trap of only using their machine. I too would have done that in my younger days. But now,  after quilting by hand for so many years, I’ve found hand-work not only looks better, it also is often easier to do (trying to manhandle some of these seams under a presser foot would have been an exercise in frustration).

trim small


I am, however, guilty of doing a machine-stitched hem. Mainly because you can’t actually see the hem, so I could get away with it.  But once around for the hem, twice around for the large velvet ribbon, and twice around for the smaller velvet ribbon/gimp trim = 60 feet of hand-stitching, and that was more than I could handle. I did, however, do all the bodice trim by hand.


Accessories and Attitude/Deportment. I can’t say much about these, since I’ve not really worn the dress anywhere (I’m too chicken, and there’s a dearth of places to wear it to. I almost wore it to the reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg last December, but since it was technically not the right time period, I didn’t.). Beyond that, the only accessory I have is a small brooch on the lace neckline, and when we did the photoshoot, I had Callie wear her hair down, since my character Dani often does. No earrings. A simple wedding band. Oh yes, and Dani’s beloved green ribbon….

Finally, there is Giving Up, which I’m proud to say I didn’t do. There were times when I wanted to wad all that lovely plum linen into a ginormous wad and set fire to it. I’m glad I stuck to it, and eventually got it looking nice. I’d also like to think I’ve become a better dressmaker in the time since I first tackled that dress. In fact, I’m looking forward to trying another historical period. Maybe American Colonial or a real Civil War dress–here in Virginia there are plenty of places to wear that kind of costume to. Or maybe I’ll try something really different. Like this one:

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Books I Was Forced to Read.

I was reading over at The Bookwyrm’s Hoard and she mentioned skipping this coming week’s Top Ten Tuesday, with the topic of Books I Was Forced to Read. My mind immediately began to make a list: I laughingly commented that I would do it for her and quickly wrote down my Top Ten. Then I started giving explanations before finally realizing I had basically written a full blog post in her comment section. So I moved it over here instead.

Therefore, while it is not yet Tuesday, here is my list of the Top Ten Books I Was Forced to Read.  Though maybe this should be more accurately titled Books I Was Forced to Finish Reading, since I usually start reading books willingly enough. While I’m sure there were others I was forced to read through, these are the ones that stick out in my memory.

1. Ethan Frome. If there’s something redeeming about this story, I didn’t find it.
2. Wuthering Heights. I have a real problem with brooding anti-heroes. If the hero wants to brood from time to time, fine. But he better get over it and do something heroic. Otherwise he’s just another villain. And Cathy wasn’t worth it. About the only thing good about the book is Kate Bush’s song “Wuthering Heights”.
3. A Separate Peace. I didn’t get the reason we were supposed to read this one. It dragged. I couldn’t empathize with any of the characters. It ended abruptly and poorly. Maybe 10th grade girls just don’t think the way prep school boys do. However, Parker Stevenson (in the film version) was something this 10th grade girl definitely appreciated 🙂
4. The Red Pony/The Pearl/Of Mice and Men. aka, anything by Steinbeck. Everybody is miserable and dies. The end. I think there’s one Steinbeck book that I’ve enjoyed and actually read more than once, and that is Travels with Charley, about Steinbeck’s transcontinental road trip with his standard poodle.
5. Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Poor Tess. She just can’t get a break, can she? Though I did have a friend who wrote a duet sung by Tess and Angel called “Beneath the Cows” as his end of the year English project….
6. The Red Badge of Courage. I was at the start of a decades-long Civil War obsession when I had to read this for school. My excitement (“Oooooo! Civil War book!”) quickly faded and by the last chapter I actively hated it. Looking back, it’s likely that I was expecting an action-packed story about the Civil War, not an internally-focused psychological drama, and that’s why I disliked it so.
7. A Whack on the Side of the Head. Okay, so most people think this is one of the best books out there on creativity. I found it next to useless. Most of the things von Oech suggested I a) already knew and did, b) already knew, had tried, and discovered they didn’t work for me, c) didn’t know, contemplated, and decided they were a waste of time, or d) were just plain dumb. Didn’t help that the professor assigning it (for Exercises in Creativity) seemed to think that creativity consisted only of breaking rules. I happen to consider myself a very creative person, but I’m not a rule-breaker. At least, not the kind of rules he thought should be broken (social and moral). I’ll put my punctuation outside the quotation marks (makes a lot more sense, you know?), but I’m not going to fill up my shopping cart with groceries, stand in line, let the the cashier ring me up, and then run away laughing without paying (yes, that was what my assigned group decided to do to “break the rules”). I left the group when they first made plans, told the prof I wouldn’t do that, and went back to my dorm. If I remember correctly, I was docked in grading for it too.
8. The Left Hand of Darkness. I enjoyed LeGuin’s Earthsea books, so I was happy to find this one on my Fantasy in Lit class. But all the political and socioeconomic layers buried what could have been a good read. At least for me. Some people like that kind of thing. Different strokes and all that.
9. Riddley Walker. Another from my Fantasy in Lit class, and an absolute mental pain to read. The story involves a devolved English language, and is written phonetically. For a purely visual reader (I don’t hear the words in my head when I read), it was a near impossibility to get through. I was forced to read sections aloud, trying to sound out the words. Another “huh?” moment for me was that the only other place I knew Russell Hoban from was the Frances the Badger books. Quite a switch it was.
10. Heart of Darkness. The only one of this bunch that I found myself enjoying despite being forced to read it. I didn’t enjoy it because it was a good story (terribly depressing actually, especially once I found out it was based on historical fact), but because my Senior AP English class had to teach it to each other. I dreaded that, but once we started analyzing Conrad’s writing style and diction and word pictures, it became startlingly clear what an incredible writer he was.


So what books are on your “Hate” list, and why?

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She Writes … And Plays with Dolls Too (Part 2)

In my previous post I said I’d go through a doll-making from beginning to end.

Here’s how I do it 🙂

blog1First I start with a simple one-piece doll pattern. I drafted it myself (as I’d like to sell these someday, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t using anybody else’s pattern) and cut it from plain muslin. I usually use my sewing machine to make the body, although I have also done the body completely by hand. While I sew the clothes by hand, I dislike doing the doll that way. It takes forever because I can’t use a simple running stitch as I do with the clothing–I don’t want to risk the stuffing coming out from between the seams.

You can also see my eye and mouth placement marked on the pattern. It’s easier to mark it now, because figuring out where the eyes go while the head is half-stuffed is annoying (the buttons slide all over the face).blog2This is my portable doll-making kit. Needles, thread, buttons for eyes, scraps for clothing, yarn and felt (when I’m working on the hair), beads for buttons, scissors, tamping stick, pins, etc., all contained in an old quilt block box. The stuffing is the only thing that doesn’t fit in the kit itself, but I usually only need that for one night’s worth of work.

Making this set-up portable was one of my best ideas recently. My daughter is on a year-round swim team. So 4 nights a week, for over an hour at a time, I’m sitting in the bleachers at the local YMCA. It used to be that I just surfed the Web for that time or attempted to write (it’s very loud and distracting there, so that usually didn’t work). However I can now sit and sew and feel ever so much more creative and productive. Not to mention I get to chat up my books every time somebody comes by and wants to know what I’m doing.blog3

Here’s Rob partially stuffed. I’ve been stuffing my dolls from the head down, figuring it was best to hide the closing stitches under the hairline. But stuffing this way has proved to be a time-consuming task. I have to take very small amounts of batting and tamp each piece down through the narrow neck, slowly working my way up from the toes to the head. Then I have to sew the entire head by hand while keeping the seams on the inside and stuffing it as I go along. It’s a royal pain, and makes for some lopsided heads.

I think for my next set of dolls (I stitched together my first four all at the same time) I will leave a side-seam open for stuffing. That will allow a better shaping of the head, and easier access to the limbs.blog4

And here’s the doll with the bottom layer (iris) of the eyes sewn on. As I finish stuffing each limb, I sew a seam across the body where the limb meets it. This allows the arms and legs to bend somewhat, keeps the stuffing from shluffing about, and just plain looks better. I also sew a seam where the head meets the body. Though now I’m wondering if I should leave that one open and stuffed very tightly. Perhaps their heads wouldn’t be quite so bobble-y if that seam were not there. Hmmmm…

Now that I have a finished doll body, the fun part of customizing begins. In my next post I’ll discuss how I make hair, mouth issues, and why you should know ahead of time whether your character has a moustache or not.

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She Writes … and Plays with Dolls Too (Part 1)

So I’ve been taking a semi-forced break from writing recently. Not because I wanted to, but because my characters haven’t been talking to me, the plot has several holes large enough to run a herd of cattle through, and I need to sit down and read several books for research purposes, but haven’t had the focus to do so. Homeschooling also started in full swing. I decided to give my brain something else creative to chew on for a while instead.arwen

It seems everybody is making plushies nowadays. I’ve seen some awfully cute ones of hobbits and Time Lords and consulting detectives. I’ve always been good at making things, so I thought I’d try my hand at making plushies. I drafted my own pattern and stitched away, and in a couple of hours I had succeeded in making an Arwen (to keep my daughter’s Bilbo plushie company).

Jill loves her Arwen plushie (and is now begging for an Aragorn), but making it just didn’t float my boat. Guess I’m not a plushie kind of girl. But the idea of doll-making stuck with me. I’d seen a couple of patterns for rag dolls that looked like fun, so again I drafted a pattern and started in. This time I decided to use my own characters.

First up was Starla Anderson, the heroine of An Uncivilized Yankee. She turned out so well that I immediately made her little sister Danica, who is the main character in A Great Wide Nowhere.

sisters1Here are the two sisters. Star is wearing her “uniform”: a Confederate shell jacket with a standing collar, a shortened gray skirt worn over loose trousers (when you spend all day in the saddle, long skirts don’t work too well), and the green sash of a surgeon/Healer.

I got even fancier with Dani’s outfit. Since I had made the plum linen gown featured on the front cover of her story, I had scraps left to make a doll-sized version. Turns out I’m pretty picky about historical accuracy even with dolls, so this dress has the flattened front with all the fullness in the back that an 1867 skirt would have had.

I was having entirely too much fun making these, and I told myself, “Well, if I have the two sisters, I have to make the two brothers.”


Lieutenant Travis Black came first. I was determined to make his outfit accurate too. I spent a long time researching the proper colors for a cavalry officer’s trousers but only after sewing on a nice wide yellow stripe down each of the legs did I discover that only the NCOs had the wide stripe. Commissioned officers had a narrow welting sewn into their trousers seam. Sigh. Oh well. The first pair of pants looked like low-rise jogging pants anyway.travis1

And here’s Travis! Isn’t he just the cutest thing?!  He’s got the single bars of a 1st lieutenant on his shoulder straps (which took FOREVER to make) and is wearing the short, practical shell jacket that so many cavalrymen preferred. Beneath that is a plain linen shirt, and rust-colored braces. Even though you can’t really see them, I put suspenders underneath the jacket. I also finally figured out a way to make decent-looking boots. Here Travis is following Army regulations by wearing his trousers “unbloused”, or outside the boots. And you can just barely see the yellow welting along the seam of his sky blue trousers.

Captain Robert Black will obviously be next. However, I’ve decided to fully document his creation from beginning to end. My next few posts will cover the actual doll making, adding the distinguishing characteristics (brown hair, brown eyes, sober mouth), and then making the clothing.

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On the Pecos Trail, Part III (Maybe?)

It’s taken me a while to get to writing this portion of the trail because I keep hoping for a breakthrough, but as yet have not had one.

One of the problems with following the Pecos/Goodnight/Goodnight-Loving Trail through Colorado is that there were several trails used over the years. In 1867, when Oliver Loving pushed ahead from Fort Sumner to Denver while Charles Goodnight returned to Texas to buy another herd, that year the trail came up through Raton Pass and basically followed I-25 to Denver. The next year Goodnight himself came through Raton Pass and pushed north from there, perhaps following the trail I mention below. The following drive was when he discovered the new way through Trinchera Pass and laid yet another trail through Colorado. Later on, the trail moved again and again, making it ever more difficult to pinpoint any one of the trails.

When I started mapping this section of the trail, these were the directions I had (as noted by J. Evetts Haley):

“Down the North Trinchera the trail emerged from the mountains, pointed northwest to the Cola del Burro, Frijoles Arroyo, the Picketwire, Hole in the Rock, and on to the Apishapa.”

I use Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlases, and they are marvelous for this kind of research work. However, due to copyright issues, I can’t just scan and share my scribbled-over pages with you, so the best I can give you is a hand-drawn sketch (and I do apologize for its roughness–there will be a better map included in the book once it’s completed).


  • Trinchera Creek is easy to find. It flows out of the Raton Mountains in New Mexico into Las Animas County, CO. It’s in the lower right of my sketch.

south at trincheraI’m pretty certain that’s Trinchera Pass there to the south, but since all the property between US 160 and the Raton Mountains were owned by gas and oil companies, I wasn’t about to go off-roading to find out for sure.


  • Heading to the northwest, Frijole Creek is still on modern maps, but I’m unsure where the trail crossed it because I can’t find Cola del Burro anywhere. I’ve checked old maps on-line, tried to find other mentions in older documents, even asked some locals. My only guess is that Cola del Burro can be roughly translated to “Tail of the Donkey”, and that San Francisco Creek looks somewhat like a donkey’s tail from the air. But that’s a total straw-grasping guess.
  • Then the trail crosses the Purgatoire River (a.k.a. the Picketwire) somewhere between Frijole Creek and Trinidad. I did find record of Loving’s trail to Denver crossing near the city, but no records of where Goodnight crossed. There are two modern-day crossings marked on my map. These are Patterson and Fishers. Unfortunately, both are on private property and completely inaccessible to random researchers such as I.

picketwireThis is the Purgatoire River as it flows through Trinidad. The city has a beautiful riverwalk along it, and all the cottonwoods were in full bloom. However, the Purgatoire too has been dammed further upstream, so it’s likely the river was much larger and more dangerous a crossing than it seems today.

  • Hole in the Rock is a rather famous watering hole on the Santa Fe Trail. It’s about 25 miles north of Patterson Crossing and a couple miles north of modern-day Thatcher on US 350. Timpas Creek crossed the trail there, and both emigrants on the Santa Fe and cattle on the Goodnight Trail would stop to rest. Unfortunately, the railroad also used it as a watering stop, and destroyed the hole permanently.

near hole in the rock This picture is looking towards where Hole in the Rock would be today, were it still there.




The only other landmarks mentioned are The Hogback–which some sources list it as coming before Hole in the Rock and others after–and the Apishapa River, which is where Goodnight established a “swing station” for his cattle. He’d bring them up there from Texas and then send the herds out from there to the different buyers.

All of my sources agreed on the landmarks as far as the Apishapa River. However, my cattle drive does not end at the Apishapa, it continues on to Cheyenne, and I have had an even more difficult time mapping a trail for this final leg than I did the southern sections.

Early on I found a source that had the trail crossing the Arkansas River outside of Pueblo, then following Fountain Creek to Colorado Springs. North of Colorado Springs, it followed Cherry Creek (approximately CO 83) to Denver, then to the South Platte to where Crow Creek joined it. From there, Crow Creek brings you directly into Cheyenne. This sounds very like the route taken by Loving up to Denver in 1867. Goodnight may have also used it a few times after the death of his partner. This was the route I was looking at when I went out West. But I realized that by the 1880s (the time period of my book), this area would have been fairly settled, and likely the locals would not want Texas longhorns (and their dreaded Texas fever) traveling so close to them: I decided not use this particular version of the trail.

However, here’s a picture of the scenery off of CO 83, just because it’s pretty 🙂83 to denver

Still another source said only that the trail used in later years was 50-60 miles east of the original trail. As that is far too vague to be of much use, and I did need some access to cities by my characters, this route wouldn’t work either.

Finally, a month after returning home, I found a new source, one that didn’t just cut and paste from the Haley text (which is what most books and sites on the Goodnight-Loving Trail do). This one said that the trail ran from Hole in the Rock to:

“the Apishapa River, then to the Huerfano River, then crossed the Arkansas River below Pueblo, then took Chico Creek north to Wild Horse Springs, crossed the Arkansas-Platte divide to Bijou Creek, and crossed the South Platte River to the mouth of Crow Creek.”

This already sounds much more promising, and will likely be the route I will have my poor drovers follow. Part of me wishes I had had the chance to look over the area while out there. I keep telling myself it’s not that big a deal. Firstly, there are few to no roads through that section of the state. So even if I had found this particular source previously, I doubt I could have traveled much of it. Secondly, the plot line shifts away from the cattle drive shortly after Hole in the Rock, so having my locations exactly correct will not be as important to the story.

Still, it does irk me a bit.

Well, I think that’s about all I have on mapping the Pecos Trail. I hope you’ve found my little research project as fascinating as I have. If you have question or comments or more information to add (oh please! Let there be someone out there who knows where/what Cola del Burro is! It’s driving me nuts!), I welcome your input!

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