The Slow Trail Home is now available!

I am thrilled to announce that The Slow Trail Home is (finally) available
in Kindle and paperback formats!

This particular set of stories now has a name: The War and the West.  An Uncivilized Yankee begins the sequence, followed by Bittersweet Days and A Great Wide Nowhere. After Nowhere comes Farewell and Goodbye. The Slow Trail Home picks up ten years after the events in Farewell.

From the back cover:

“You come back, ’kay? Promise?”

“I promise.”

Katja Black was just five when she waved farewell to the Steeles as they left Fort Ellis. That was a decade ago. Kat has since matured into a lovely flame-haired Fire-Caller like her mother, while remaining as logical and self-controlled as her father. But despite her practical, rational view of life and her cool exterior, Kat still holds on to the secret hope that someday Jonathan Steele will return for her.

Then, while visiting family in Texas, Kat’s orderly life becomes a nightmare when a madman bent on revenge abducts her from the train carrying her home. She manages to escape and flees into the deadly Pecos River valley, only to find refuge in the strangest place imaginable—a cattle drive heading up the Pecos Trail.

*********

Jon Steele doesn’t hate his life as a cowboy. He just wishes it weren’t so dang lonely. Between his occupation, his Fae blood, and a family curse, he’s spent most of the past ten years with nothing but the wind and the sky and thousands of stinkin’ cows for company. He misses the Blacks something fierce, especially the gap-toothed little girl who used to follow him everywhere. The last thing he expected was to stumble across her down here in Texas, fleeing the very same ghost who still haunts his own dreams.

*********

Trailing cattle is a dangerous job to begin with, but it soon becomes all too clear that most of the trouble the herd encounters is man-made: Kat is still being hunted. And when their shared nightmare becomes reality, Kat and Jon must tap their hidden strengths, and the strength they draw from being together, in order to survive.

Although Fire comes at her call and Water obeys his command,
it is the strength of their bond that must sustain them
if they are to find their way safely home again.

But will it be enough?

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Back Cover Copy for The Slow Trail Home!

“You come back, ’kay? Promise?”
“I promise.”

Katja Black was just five when she waved farewell to the Steeles as they left Fort Ellis. That was a decade ago. Kat has since matured into a lovely flame-haired Fire-Caller like her mother, while remaining as logical and self-controlled as her father. But despite her practical, rational view of life and her cool exterior, Kat still holds on to the secret hope that someday Jonathan Steele will return for her.

Then, while visiting family in Texas, Kat’s orderly life becomes a nightmare when a madman bent on revenge abducts her from the train carrying her home. She manages to escape and flees into the deadly Pecos River valley, only to find refuge in the strangest place imaginable—a cattle drive heading up the Pecos Trail.

Jon Steele doesn’t hate his life as a cowboy. He just wishes it weren’t so dang lonely. Between his occupation, his Fae blood, and a family curse, he’s spent most of the past ten years with nothing but the wind and the sky and thousands of stinkin’ cows for company. He misses the Blacks something fierce, especially the gap-toothed little girl who used to follow him everywhere. The last thing he expected was to stumble across her down here in Texas, fleeing the very same ghost who still haunts his own dreams.

Trailing cattle is a dangerous job to begin with, but it soon becomes all too clear that most of the trouble the herd encounters is man-made: Kat is still being hunted. And when their shared nightmare becomes reality, Kat and Jon must tap their hidden strengths, and the strength they draw from being together, in order to survive.

Although Fire comes at her call and Water obeys his command, it is the strength of their bond that
must sustain them if they are to find their way safely home again.
But will it be enough?

Available very, very soon!

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Mapmaking for The Slow Trail Home

I’ve been busy mapmaking.

When I first decided to use the Pecos Trail (aka, the Goodnight-Loving Trail) for my book, I had no clue how few detailed maps there were of the route. After spending several years (including one very long road trip) piecing the route together, I’ve put that research into map form, so when the next book comes out in a couple weeks, my readers will have a visual to follow along with.

While I’ve found myself somewhat hamstrung by the fact that my only tools are a scanner and MS Paint, I think I’m doing a decent job. Thank goodness for my Bamboo pen.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share a sample of what I’ve managed to put together. (the dpi is very low only for posting here–the original image is ginormous). And as a (very small) bonus, I included part of the scene that this map supports.

From The Slow Trail Home, Chapter 8: Just Like the Old Days

“Okay, so this is roughly the Pecos. We started way down here, just north of Horsehead Crossing. That’s where the Katie is.”

“Where would Fort Stockton be in relation to that?” she interrupted. “I need a better frame of reference.”

Unfortunately, Jon knew exactly where the fort was in relation to the ranch, having wasted entirely too many hours making the trip between the two. He made a dot a few inches down from his squiggly river line. “About here.” Shifting upstream he made another, smaller line and then an X. “That should be about where that draw Sand brought you down comes into the Pecos, and there’s Adobe Walls, where we were camped that night. Here’s Pecos City and the rail line.” Slowly he sketched out their trip so far. “Pope’s Crossing is about there; that’s where we had that first stampede. Here’s the Delaware. This is where we swam the Black River. That there’s Loving’s Bend, and then this would be Patterson’s Crossing, which is where we re-crossed the Pecos, after I—” He broke off.  …

The Faelight had left her palm and was now hovering over his impromptu map. She had out a small, battered notebook and was copying the map into it even as they spoke. Pointing with her pencil stub to just above the bend in the river, she asked, “So would this be Seven Rivers? That was the name of the town you visited on your birthday, was it not?”

“Yeah.”

“By the way, happy belated birthday.”

“Um . . . thanks.” … He gave himself a mental shake and pulled himself back to the map. “Anyway, we’re camped tonight near Bosque Grande.”  …

Maps were something that had always fascinated him. That last winter they’d been together, he and Kat had tried to map out the post and surrounding areas. After watching them for a while—Jon drawing, Kat pointing out where things weren’t the right size or were in the wrong place, and both arguing over who was correct—Captain Black had taken the time to show the two children some of the basics of cartography and of drawing to scale. So Jon’s map, while rough drawn in dirt, was still relatively accurate. “And then there’s a whole lot of nothing until we get to Fort Sumner.”

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Slogging Through the Slough of Editing

Editing all the punctuationThe Slow Trail Home is nearly at the end of its editing journey. My editor returned the final manuscript to me last Sunday and I’ve spent the past week drowning in (virtual) red ink as I work my way slowly through her edits.

What exactly is copy editing?

Copy editing is the final step of the editing process. We’re long past plugging big plot holes or fixing characterization issues. This is the point where the editor goes through and catches all those punctuation and grammar errors that most writers just don’t have the training to deal with. I have a solid background in English. I was even an editor myself once upon a time. But there is no way I have the grasp of how these things go together that my editor–the awesome Amber at Et Al. Editing–has.

By now my editor knows my story and my characters nearly as well as I do. So she also looked for those little things that could trip up a reader and pull them out of the story. I’m talking about things like anachronisms, grammatically correct but convoluted sentences, unusual vocabulary, point of view errors, and the like.

Why is it taking so long?

I really shouldn’t complain about the amount of time I am spending on going through my editor’s comments and insertions and deletions. Amber is incredibly detail-oriented and has spent weeks poring over all 351 pages of my manuscript. That’s 164,000+ words. There is very little that has escaped her eagle eye. She’s even caught little things like the extra spaces between words and the fact that I named two horses and two dogs Buck and Mo (I’ll fix that). My work is a hundred times better because of her skill set. No, the honest truth is, a lot of the mess I’m currently pushing through is my own darn fault.

Time-saving Hint: Don’t get impatient and do a bunch of tweaking and formatting while waiting for your manuscript to be returned to you, otherwise you’ll have to transfer all those edits one at a time from the edited document to your updated and nicely formatted document, instead of just accepting or deleting the edits directly in the original document and then formatting the blasted thing (growl, grumble, gripe).

What comes next?

When I finish this step, I’ll add in internal matter (maps, glossary, table of contents). Then my editor will read through the manuscript one last time. She calls this a “cleanup pass.” After that comes the final push to publication. This includes book cover design and the final formatting for Kindle and paperback publishing. I’m hoping to have the Kindle version ready by the end of March, followed by the paperback in the first half of April. (Lord willin’ and the crik don’t rise.)

Now it’s back to editing I go. . .

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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.

Anyway…

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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Joy

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.

Wow.

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

danibodice
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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