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Missouri author jelly jars

I’ve gotten started on a rather unusual collection.


These are jars of jelly purchased during visits to the homes of Missouri writers. On the left is plum jelly from the Laura Ingalls Wilder gift shop in Mansfield, Mo. That’s a nod to her book On the Banks of Plum Creek.

On the right is a jar of huckleberry preserves from Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal, Mo. This is in honor of Twain’s unforgettable Huckleberry Finn character. The preserves are absolutely delicious.

My mom loved to make jelly from the wild elderberries, plums and grapes that grew on our farm in Nodaway County. As I look at this collection, I dream just a bit to wonder if someday I’ll be a writer with my own line of jelly.


~ Susie

Mystery Quilt

Cleaning out a closet a few months ago unearthed a mystery. A beautiful one.

I have no idea where this quilt top came from.

I’m not one to forget handmade heirlooms, but this is a mystery I can’t solve. It is made from gorgeous Depression Era fabrics in a Dresden Plate pattern. The plates are appliqued by hand to the squares, then the squares are sewn together by machine. It is a small size, just two blocks wide and five blocks long. Did the mystery quilter plan to make it bigger but something happened?

I suspect this little quilt came to me via my Dad who would have bought it at a farm auction, likely mixed in with some worthless junk.

I’m thinking about finishing this piece with an old pink cotton sheet as the backing so this long-neglected quilt can be complete.

What do you think – should this be quilted or left as is?

~ Susan

Researching the Story

They say, when you’re writing a book, write what you know. The only problem with that is what I know isn’t always very exciting. If I were to write a book completely on what I know, you probably wouldn’t be very interested in reading more than a few chapters. I’m guessing it would be somewhat disjointed as I jumped from one area of expertise to the next. Possible, you would be a better expert in many of the areas and the flaws would shout out to you.

The first 80,000 word story I wrote was pretty much from my mind. It took place in Seacrest, Florida, a place we love to vacation. Even though I didn’t research it, experience had taught me something of the area.

The second story takes place at a pumpkin patch. For that one I visited a local one that has thousands of visitors each fall. I asked questions, found out how they plant and grow the pumpkins, and took lots of pictures. When I drive by the real pumpkin patch, I have a strong sense of ownership because that farm became my pumpkin patch. My hero worked in Washington D.C., so an aunt who had lived there helped me with the Metro Transportation System, what his job was, how he’d act, and a basic layout of the area.

Now I’m working on a historical and the research time has increased. I’ve spent hours in the town where part of the story takes place. Driving the streets looking for the perfect home, reading old newspapers on microfiche, and visiting the museums. The treasures I’ve found in the newspapers are stories no one would think of on their own!

But the best part of research happened a few weeks ago. My heroine is an aviatrix (female pilot) from the 1920’s. I found a local business man who flew and started asking questions. He offered to take me up in his biplane from the ’30’s. There was no way I was going to refuse that! Words cannot describe what it was like to fly in an old plane like this. It took me less that two minutes to know exactly why my heroine chose to fly.


Wooden prop and fabric covered wings. The paint makes the fabric stiff, but you can only step and the part right next to the fuselage or you'll break through.

Wooden prop and fabric covered wings. The paint makes the fabric stiff, but you can only step and the part right next to the fuselage or you’ll break through.


My beautiful ride for a few moments!

My beautiful ride for a few moments!













What a view.

What a view.

Flying low over the lake.

Flying low over the lake.













It was an experience I’ll never forget. I’m so excited that my heroine chose to be a pilot and can expertly fly this type of plane. I may never get to fly my own, but I’ll live through her as I finish writing this story. Hopefully someday, you’ll get to live through her too!

Research really does make a story more exciting and real. Fortunately, when it involves something like flying in a biplane, it’s pretty painless!

photo (8)



The mail comes through


Pony Express rider delivers the mail mochilla

The mail arrived in St. Joseph from Sacramento on Saturday. The annual re-ride of the Pony Express route left California on June11. Riders carried the mochilla filed with 65 pounds of mail around the clock, retracing the route the riders took in 1860.

The last riders galloped over the Missouri River on U.S. Highway 36 with a police escort on Saturday. Those of us waiting at the Patee House Museum cheered as they rode up the hill. It really was something to imagine that mail bag traveling on horseback all the way across the country. For that first trip 154 years ago, I can understand why the people were amazed.

Gary Chilcote, right, the curator of the Patee House Musuem.

Gary Chilcote, right, the curator of the Patee House Musuem, with the riders after they arrived in St. Joseph.

Just about everyone had a camera on Saturday. Fans young and old crowded around the riders, asking about their trip and petting the horses.


Opening the mail.





Last year, I got to see the send off from St. Joseph headed West. This year, I got to see the opening of the mail pouch. Actual letters were carried on the route, wrapped in duct tape to keep dry. I met one woman who saw the sendoff in Sacramento, then discovered she would be visiting a friend in Kansas when the re-ride would reach St. Joseph, so she came to see the ceremony.

The annual reSusie head shot-ride has lasted a lot longer than the original Pony Express. I don’t think we’ll ever get tired seeing the mail come through.

~ Susan


Catching a movie: The Long Riders

Classic films are the theme this week. Last weekend, I decided for a special treat I’d watch a streaming movie off the Internet and decided to try a Western I’d heard about but never seen: The Long Riders.

long riders

Check out those dusters.

The movie is about the famous James-Younger gang. Always good material for someone who lives in St. Joe within spitting distance of where Jesse James was killed.

The story line itself was quite accurate, but since it covered several years, it didn’t flow really well and the dialog was stilted. Like a good many Westerns, The Long Riders was violent and glamorized wrongdoing.

The scenery and cinematography, however, were breathtaking. The shootout and escape from the botched bank robbery in Northfield, Minn., felt like the real thing. It was so well done, I was surprised it was filmed in 1980. The soundtrack is a beautiful blend of Civil War-era songs with Western themes.

Only when the credits started rolling did I discover this movie starred FOUR sets of real life brothers. David, Keith and Robert Carradine portrayed the Younger brothers. James and Stacy Keach starred as Frank and Jesse James; Dennis and Randy Quaid portrayed the Miller brothers in the gang and Christopher and Nicholas Guest depicted Bob and Charlie Ford, who shot Jesse James.

Can you imagine what it was like to have that many brothers on the set? I’m sure it added a lot to make this movie the powerful film that it remains today.

Susie-4022-EditPSWhat’s your favorite Western?


Cows Become Plane Minded

While researching my current story, I’ve spent quite a few hours at a museum in the town my heroine is from looking at microfiche files of old newspapers. While this may sound dull and boring, nothing could be farther from the truth and the things I’ve found are proof that so many things really happen that a writer would never dream up! To me, these articles are golden nuggets because they add life and quirkiness to your story. The following is a small article I found on one of my trips.


Devour part of Airplane at Port

Not only Abilene folks but the cows of the vicinity are becoming air minded is the evidence presented by the experience at the municipal airport of the “Spirit of Service.” Harold McCrary, pilot, landed his plane at the airport Monday and placed a fence around it to protect it from invasion. But the port is also a pasture and the cows inhabiting it evidently wanted to see what the strange visitor was. Anyhow it was found this morning that they had in their in ordinate curiosity broken down the fence and gone on an inspection tour. Besides looking over the plane they made a meal off the wings. What this will do to the butter and cream is not certain but it may produce a most airy quality.

What it did to the plane was to damage it to the extent of $1000 and Mr. McCrary will patch it up and take it to Wichita tomorrow for permanent repairs. Then it goes to Jewell City to carry passengers for a few days.

Abilene probably cannot expect its airport to be over popular unless it insures visiting planes immunity from air-minded cows.

See what I mean? You’d never believe this if I made it up. I love the humor the author shows–the butter and cream being an airy quality? That’s priceless!

So someday, perhaps you’ll be reading my story and will come across a scene in which this happens. Then you’ll be able to say that you know the rest of the story!

Have a WONDERFUL weekend!



The Feather


This wonderful stone house is the setting for the series I am writing..Brides of the Feather. While it has undergone many changes over the years, it still has the charm and romance that you would imagine. It is located on a gravel road, which I’m sure didn’t exist at the time this picture was taken, roughly four miles north of a small town. I call the town Cedar Bluff.

At one time there was a stone building nearby that had portholes so the occupants of the home could take refuge and look to see if Indians were going to attack. And there is still a wonderful cave-like building that has, not so long ago, been an ‘extra’ room. In fact–I would LOVE to sit and write there.

Even today it is surrounded by the rolling Flint Hills that hold my stories. And it is a working ranch. A creek runs  to the south, and in my books this is Pigeon Creek.  One of my characters is named after the father and son who now live there,  Sam Mason.  Local readers will identify them easily.

There is a story told that the symmetrical stones that form the front of the house were laid by the original builder of the home. When he was called to the War (civil war) the sons finished the home, and the stones on the south side of the home are much  more haphazard. I would imagine haste was the builder, and papa not there to scold for perfection.

These Flint Hills where I live are dotted with stone houses and old stone buildings. Some are still beautifully maintained and are home and shelter for many of the ranchers in the area. Others are missing roofs, windows, and often lie in heaps of the flint rocks which denote their birth. All hold a story. I want to write those stories–I long to rebuild them, put families back in them, and create a love for these hills that will change the way people look at Kansas.

road 2 we like!

Scandalous Stringed Instruments

Violin playing - 'Victorian Man's Territory'

Violin playing – ‘Victorian Man’s Territory’

The manuscript I am currently working on is about musically talented young woman living in the mid-1800’s. If you are like me, you would imagine lovely females playing the piano (à la Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice). But you would also assume Victorian women were taught other ‘femine’ instruments like the violin and flute. However, that was not necessarily the case.

Most early formal instructions to young ladies was on piano, harp and guitar. Women were discouraged to play any instrument that could distort their facial appearance. Sticking a violin under one’s chin or blowing into a woodwind instrument, like the flute, would alter the appearance of a pretty face.

After all, a Victorian lady would learn to play instruments to add to her list of fine accomplishments in order to attract a husband. And we couldn’t have her looking “ugly and indecent” while playing an instrument, could we?

While some women did learn the violin, books written as late as 1870 through to the 1900’s still indicated that the violin carried the stigma of being the devil’s instrument. Shall I even dare to be so crude as to mention how a cello is held? Women who played string instruments were considered dangerous and sexually alluring. (Oh my! If my parents only knew they would’ve never have paid for years of violin lessons for me!!).

Despite the stigma, some seminaries did provide lessons on orchestral instruments that were thought only appropriate for men. This was quite forward-thinking for the time and shocking to many. In a letter to a newspaper after reviewing a concert put on by a female seminary in 1853, one reviewer said:

“If being in favor of a lady learning to play the violin, viola, violincello, or contra-basso is bing a Woman’s Rights man then I am one, most emphatically.”*

Who knew that the Women’s Movement first had to achieve the violin before the vote?

Cherie Gagnon– Cherie

*(Tick, Judith. Female Composers before 1970. New York: UMI Research Press, 1983)

Technology ended the Pony Express


Iconic drawing depicting a Pony Express rider passing by workers setting telegraph poles.
Image courtesy of the University of Nebraska.

Progress is a good thing. But sometimes, an advance in technology also creates a little sadness.

This week, we are sharing interesting things we have learned during research.

The Pony Express originated from St. Joseph, Mo., in April 1860. It was, at the time, the fastest thing going and connected the nation at a critical time in its history. Though hoofbeats still echo here in St. Joe, the pony ran for just 18 months before technology put it out of business.

Edward Creighton, a successful and generous businessman in Omaha, Neb., commissioned the surveying of a telegraph line between the Missouri River and the West Coast. On Oct. 24, 1861, the Transcontinental Telegraph was completed. On Oct. 26, 1861, the Pony Express ended. It just so happens that Oct. 26 is also my birthday.

And now, 153 years later, I live in St. Joseph and found this intriguing little tidbit while writing a historical novel set in the early days of the Pony Express. (Could I even say “Telegraph killed the Pony Express star?)

Telegraph communication was much more effective than the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Co. The telephone even better,  only to be topped by video chat or Skype. Still, there’s something romantic about a lone rider carrying the mail across the plains. Thank goodness he can live on through stories!


What advance in technology do you have mixed feelings about?

~ Susan

The prettiest town – Abilene

saddlesThis weekend was a special treat. I got to visit fellow blogger Sara Meisinger. As part of our fun-filled stay, she took me to Abilene, Kan., a little town abounding in history and character.

I was especially interested in the town’s shoot-’em-up days of the cattle drives, when former Pony Express wrangler Wild Bill Hickock served as town marshall. We walked around downtown and these saddles were displayed in one shop window.

ikeWe visited a great local museum and took a walk around the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, where his boyhood home stands. After we got home, we stayed up late talking about the novels we’re writing and dreaming up ways to add some of this setting to the stories.

The song is right; Abilene is a pretty little town.

But my two favorite things about Kansas are my friends who live there.

And the sunsets.

kansas sunset2