The vital importance of laundry

While visiting a historic fort in the middle of Texas (or somewhere in the middle, it’s a big state!), I of course perused the site’s book selection. (As an aside, these are almost always worth checking into because they’ll feature books that can be difficult to find on purpose and thus almost have to be stumbled over by accident.) And what did I find?

Soap Suds Row: The Bold Lives of Army Laundresses, 1802-1876. Jennifer J. Lawrence. Glendo, WY: High Plains Press, 2016.

Usually main and/or point-of-view characters come into mind (through various ways, some are really sneaky about this) and then I go off and do research to ensure I’ve got details about times and places and cultures done as right as I am able (on the understanding that I will get things wrong, hard though I try to avoid it).

In this case, I already had a crew of main and/or pov characters for the Twisting short story sequences. No more were needed. Except . . . the instant the cover caught my eye, I realized that there had to be another main and/or pov character — a military laundress. I haven’t reached the point where she’ll appear on the scene (she’s in San Antonio right now, and the key characters gathering for the expedition are in New Orelans, preparing to leave and head west) — but I already know which story she’ll show up in first and the pov of that character would have a hard time without her!

That’s the thing about research. Sometimes it follows stories, sometimes it leads, and sometimes it goes wherever the heck it wants.

Cliff Dwellings: Bandelier

Mesa Verde is, insofar as I’m aware, the most famous of the cliff dwellings (I’ve not visited it)–but there are lots of them throughout the southwest. This was a major civilization, after all. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the preserved cliff dwelling sites — in particular the Gila and Bandelier. Today’s post is about Bandelier.

The first photos offers a view from above the valley — and of the creek which runs through it (one of my works-in-progress is connected to a fictional tributary of the creek).

From what I understand (and I am not an expert in this!) Bandelier was occupied particularly during the western calendar centuries of 13-15 BCE. Most of the peoples dwelling there had begun to move down to live near the river generally known as the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo — before Europeans arrived in the area. They’re now known collectively to non-indigenous Americans as the Pueblo, although they are a number of separate, related nations.

These three images show some of the remains of a village built between the cliff and the creek. The last photo is of the village from not-very high up on the cliff. Its my understanding there are many of these villages scattered throughout the park–most unexcavated and likely to remain so (particularly since excavation is inherently destructive).

This last set of images is of the main cliff dwellings and/or evidence of them (one shows part of the cliff from the village). They don’t properly present the scale, but this is a very impressive site which reflects the complexity and ingenuity of the people who built it and lived there. I’m not particularly fond of heights, so I wouldn’t have done well (and admit to not having climbed up any of the ladders)


Other Hats

I’m off wearing different hats this weekend. Therefore, in lieu of a post about books or a list of links, here are a few photos of sites which I’ll discuss later this year. If you’re so-moved, feel free to guess at the where of them (note: this is not a requirement!). Or just sit back, and visit here again to see when the sites show up.

Hill surrounded by ridges (part of a caldera)
Bushes in the foreground and rocky hills containing caves in the background
a vista of sea with San Diego in the distance

Fort Craig

Maybe 2/3 of the way up I-25 from the southern end of New Mexico, there’s a turn off. Take it and drive 10+ miles of dusty road, and one reaches the remains of Fort Craig. It’s a national historic site, operated by the Bureau of Land Management. The kind of place where retirees can park a trailer and live free/cheap in return for keeping it open

View of mountains

The fort itself is mostly a matter of crumbling walls, though some still stand higher. It was part of a chain along the Royal Road (El Camino Real) leading to Santa Fe. The United States Army spent time there during campaigns against the Apache in particular (Apache no doubt have very different names for it!) Some Buffalo Soldiers were stationed there. I picked up a book in the shop containing papers delivered at a Fort Craig conference. (I confess, I haven’t read them in depth yet — my historical fantasy/magical realism writings are currently taking a more southerly route from El Paso to San Diego.

Ruined walls with path leading around them

I took a lot of pictures — but there’s only so many ruined walls one can post. So here’s a log playing the role of a cannon, placed atop a crumbling perimeter barrier

Log in the shape of a cannon lying on remains of fort wall

Numbers Games

How many national or national historic parks does the US have? How many state, local, or private historical sites? What about other countries? And how many millions of historic sites are known only to a few (sometimes very deliberately to keep them safe from despoilment).

A lot of questions, not necessarily easy to answer. Perhaps of more import — how many has any given individual visited?

I can’t count the number I’ve visited in my life. I didn’t keep track until recently. But in the past couple of years, I’ve been more proactive about noting and tracking those places I’ve visited — and identifying others I want to someday. Having a good digital camera built into my smart phone helps, but it’s not the only reason.

Indeed, part of this interest in historical parts arises because a few years ago, I had a dream which contained the germs of a large, long, continent-wide speculative fiction tale. I didn’t appreciate just how ambitious my characters were at the time–I’m starting to figure this out, but too late! I’m caught and need to write to know how everything ends (I know some elements in the middle, but the ending is still pretty mysterious).

In service to that dream-born tale, I visited a number of historical parks and sites. I lived close enough to trace a route close to that my characters took in their version of our world.

I plan to publish the first stories in that long sequence in June. In advance, however, I’m going to retrace some of my steps here on this blog by posting shots and sharing some memories/experiences of visiting assorted sites. Enjoy vicariously–and perhaps identify some places to visit yourself!

In Honor of Spring

Lorain County, Ohio, owns and operates a number of parks. One, Schoefple Garden, is just over the county line, in Vermillion, because the previous owner evidently had a high respect for the Lorain parks manager and bequeathed his estate to the county. It’s got a number of interesting features — such as a garden incorporating music and plants . . .

And also the more traditional walks through woods where once an interurban train line ran, along with walks along the river.

It never hurts to check out stray parks around a corner. One never knows what one might find!

“It Happened Here”

A decade or so ago, I recall hearing historian David Blight give a talk during which he recounted an anecdote about a New-York Historical Society exhibit. The market poster–plastered around the city, including in subway stations–had “It Happened Here” in big letters. People wondering what happened had to get up close to find out: slavery.

Slavery in the United States is often (not always!) presented in terms of the Civil War — and as being practiced in the South with the North being free territory. Sad but true, this wasn’t always the case. One of the many history books in my possession is a companion book to the New-York Historical Society exhibit: Slavery in New York.

It’s a comparatively short book — vertically-speaking, not length-wise for it runs just over 400 pages and contains an introduction plus several chapter essays along with a number of illustrations. In point-of-fact, it doesn’t have as many illustrations as other exhibition books I’ve seen (there may have been a second, separate and more visual book for sale, I don’t know as I picked up my copy at a used book sale).

I picked it to write about today because the jacket cover includes the image from a daguerreotype taken circa 1850 of Caesar, supposedly the last enslaved person in New York to be manumitted. In the last 24-48 hours, I’ve read several articles about the Connecticut woman who is filing suit against Harvard for two other daguerreotypes of enslaved peoples from whom she traces her descent.

It’s important, in my mind, to remember the extent to which peoples enslaved others–in this country and without. The amount of time it took for number to recognize the wrongness and act upon it. The delays built in to manumission. The extent to which property rights trumped human rights.

We’ve got the materials for stories right at hand, all around us — fiction or non-fiction?

Tortoise and Feathers

Now available for purchase in electronic format!

Yera lives alone in a dusty, crumbling temple, the only priestess remaining to carry out her family’s pledge to care for a giant tortoise.


In a drought-stricken land, she prays for rain to satisfy the tortoise’s ever-growing thirst.


She’ll trade anything–goods, services, morals–for water.


In fine fairy-tale tradition, a down-and-out girl must venture into the wilderness.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The weather where I live is bouncing back and forth between almost-spring and still-winter. So for today’s site, here’s something a bit warmer — the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a zoo! it’s a botanical garden! it’s a natural history museum! and much more. (It’s also just down the road from one section of the Saguaro National Park but the latter will have to wait for another post.)

The bookstore alone is one good reason to visit — lots of wonderful, interesting texts about the region’s history, natural history, and more.

The museum is, of course, mostly outside and occasionally underground. Here are two attractions, one dead and one living.

I took a lot of photos during one of my visits (I spent a number of years close enough to visit Tucson and the museum on several occasions). I’m restraining myself rather than overwhelm visitors with images, but here are three showcasing vistas (those are not merely mountains but sky islands in the distance), cacti, and flowers.

The raptor free flights are one of the museum’s many attractions. They’re seasonal–the birds aren’t flown free during the hottest months–and definitely make for a fine show. Here are two samples from my visits.

Owl perched atop a long, thin cacti
Owl landed
Raptor flying with mountains in the distance
Raptor in flight


Links of the Week

Illustrated Pretties – some lovely covers here!

What Tools does a Professional Writer Use? – my list would vary quite a bit, although some of the differences are likely due to the matter that Buckell is a full-time writer while I work a day job

In Praise of Backstory – which I found interesting, particularly inasmuch as I’m working on a lengthy series of related short stories where I am always weighing how much to include in any given work

How to Find Inspiration: Fiction Therapy – some tips for writing from life

What Does Amazon’s “Project Zero” Anti-Counterfeiting Plan Mean for You? – this is mostly geared towards non-textual items (as I read the article at least), but will be interesting to see if/how it extends (anti-piracy anyone?)

What’s in a Name? Naming Characters in Historical Fantasy – for “a name is a significant part of a character” and names set up differing expectations. There’s a lot of possibilities—and places one can (un)wittingly trip

Good Parts and Bad Parts – about the different tasks involved in being a professional writer, which I where I’m headed (not a full-time writer, as I actually like my day job quite a bit, but professional)

Trope-tastic Musicals – in which a romance writer organizes musicals (theatrical and film) by the romantic tropes they fall into, with very interesting results (plus ample commentary on which elements have weathered time and which are cringe-worthy)

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