Fiction Research

Why my research is here

My print historical novels contain research notes and acknowledgments in the back-matter. When converting my historical novels to audio and imagining how tedious it would be for listeners to hear complex web addresses, I decided to share my research here, for those who are interested. In terms of organization, it makes sense to put research for a given novel under its title and cover art. I would love to hear from you if you have reactions or shares.

Universal acknowledgements for my historical novels

I would like to thank my close friend and colleague Dr. Debra Holland for inspiration, for making my novels better by her suggestions, and for the opportunity to write a book set in the world she established through her best-selling Montana Sky series. The main setting for my novels, the mining town of Morgan’s Crossing, Montana Territory, was first invented by Debra. In the fall of 2015 and winter of 2016, we spent many hours at my dining table writing together and encouraging one another on our separate projects, hers set mostly in Sweetwater Springs and mine set in Morgan’s Crossing.

For more on her book titles and background visit her Amazon Author Page at:

Thanks also go to the wonderful authors who write books in her Montana Sky world. We share historical research, encouragement, and character exchanges so readers can enjoy seeing their favorite characters in other books. To learn about the authors who launched books in Debra’s world along with Rye’s Reprieve, go to her website.

I must thank my copy editor, Adeli Brito of, my formatter, Amy Atwell of, both of whom often come through for me at the eleventh hour; and my cover artists, Erin Dameron-Hill of EDH Graphics (for Rye’s Reprieve) and author and cover artist Delle Jacobs (for the other historicals).

Finally, I would like to thank my cheerleaders: my daughter Stacee Nelson, my sister Grace MacMillan, my nephew and niece Ken and Debbie Rear and niece Shannon Rear, my current students, my former students, close friends now published—Alexis Lusonne Montgomery, Francis Amati, and Janis Thereault—and my dear friend Carl Baggett, Jr.

Historical Notes for Rye’s Reprieve

book coverChristine Ford, Integrated Resource Program Manager of the Grant-Khor’s Ranch in Southwest Montana, now a national park, sent photos upon which I based the fictional Harper Ranch. Thanks also go to Brian Geiger, PhD, MILS, Director, CBSR, University of California, Riverside; Lori Cassidy and John Dale of Orange Coast College Library; Erin Eldermire of Vet Library Reference, Cornell University; and Randy Thompson, Senior Archivist, The National Archives at Riverside, California.

The lyrics from “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” that open this novel are attributed in several sources to the Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876).

The snap fasteners you see on the clothing of the cover model were apparently not in common use for American clothing in 1886 but were patented approximately that year by a German inventor.  Other sources suggest the snap was used in stage clothing for quick changes.

“Thou art in Rome” is a quote by Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) that appears in the skating party chapter.

The origins of lyrics from “Blow the Man Down,” an English sea shanty, are obscure. The title may refer to the act of knocking a man down. “Contemporary publications and the memories of individuals, in later publications, put the existence of this shanty by the 1860s. The Syracuse Daily Courier, July 1867, quoted a lyric from the song, which was said to be used for hauling halyards on a steamship bound from New York to Glasgow.” More can be read at

The most helpful sources for weather conditions and the ravages of the worst winter in Montana history, 1886-1887, can be found at:;  for a vivid depiction at:; and at:

For sources on the American land grants of the 1880s—most of which conflict as to acreage—which nonetheless are interesting reading, go to:;;  and to pour through the various codes of the Desert Land Act of 1877, which modified the Homestead Act to allow more land to homesteaders in the west, go to Cornell Law and with great patience consult their archives. Here is a start to your investigation:

A non-medical technique for lowering heart rate by massage is found here:

For early veterinarian practices, see Vets in 1880s:; although I’ve owned horses, I needed to  reacquaint myself with the parts of a horse and used this site:

A truly excellent source for lists of items pioneers often brought with them in wagons crossing the territories is here:

I took Rye’s middle name from a Civil War hero and claimed the man as his uncle:

John Aaron Rawlins (February 13, 1831 – September 6, 1869) was an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. A confidant of Ulysses S. Grant, Rawlins served on Grant’s staff throughout the war, rising to the rank of brevet major general, and was Grant’s chief defender against allegations of insobriety. After the war, he was appointed Secretary of War when Grant was elected President of the United States, but died of advanced tuberculosis five months into his term.   See Chpter 3.

Books I consulted from my library are listed here by title and author and are available currently online:

Days on the Road: Crossing the Plains in 1865, the diary of Sarah Raymond Herndon
Bright Star in the Big Sky by Mary Barmeyer O’Brien
Doc Susie: The True Story of a Country Physician in the Colorado Rockies by Virginia Cornell
Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work by Mari Graña
Doctors of the Old West by Robert F. Karolevitz
Medicine: A History of Healing, Ancient Traditions to Modern Practice, consulting editor Roy Porter (lent to me by Colleen Fliedner, a member of my plot group).

Historical Notes for Rebel Love Song (Book Two)

Music (to come)

Historical Notes for Redemption Rose (Book Three)


Steamship tonnage, crews (, coal- versus oil-driven, routes for American merchant steamships, historic ship names; how to spell forecastle and boatswain; routes by sea versus the new railroad system (, all played into the development of the manuscript. One source on types of lumber and construction materials shipped I found fascinating: For passenger steamship capacities, see


The common name of the rose that Adelaida sent to Susan is fictional: The Redemption Rose (capitalized for impact) served the purpose of the plot and reflects Susan’s inner wound. I lived on a farm as a child and I grow roses in my garden, so I knew how to till-in seasoned manure, trim, collect rose hips, etc. Still, I looked up mulching practices for extreme temperatures; Montana has deep winters, whereas where I live in Coastal Southern California, the weather is generally temperate.

Likewise, I have canned fruit and jellies in glass jars, like Susan, and during the time I was completing this novel, my uncooperative peach tree dropped fruit day after day while I was too pressed for time to collect much of it to enjoy—in contrast to the birds. I did end up freezing a few baggies of pared peaches, and Debra Holland and I, writing at my dining room table for many days, enjoyed a few peaches, including this morning.

I also researched the history of growing pineapples and other fruit and nuts in Panama and the felling of redwoods in California for, in the case of this book, railroad ties.

St. Louis

Maps and history for St. Louis in the mid-1880s are plentiful. I ended up making up a town name, Dentonville, from the well-known local name Dent. I decided the town was located close to Grantwood Village, Missouri (,_Missouri), and I seated there the original Harper Horse Farm and a small community and church.

New York

I selected Hoffman House as the hotel where Joseph stayed during a storm and from which he wrote to Susan, a fine hotel on or near Madison Square.


I’ve never been to Panama, but because of the construction of the canal in the 1880’s (, research was plentiful. I also researched the Isla de Taboga, 12 miles offshore Panama City, for the time period. For more on the railroad that crossed the Isthmus, see

 President Cleveland

Stephen Grover Cleveland was an American politician and lawyer who was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Wikipedia

Grover Cleveland was serving as president in 1887, and research was plentiful. I studied photographs of him at various ages and in several styles of dress. I focused on reports of his personality and his political views, particularly that he was not in favor of helping farmers or veterans of the Civil War. It’s interesting to note that the Senate had a Republican majority, and the House had a Democratic majority. I represented the president as accurately as observation and lay research allowed.


Submarine Telegraphs: Their History, Construction, and Working by Sir Charles Bright, C. Lockwood and son, 1898

Yellow Fever

Carlos Finlay, a Cuban doctor and scientist, proposed in 1881 that yellow fever might be transmitted by mosquitoes rather than direct human contact.

For a more complete list of topics and sources, please contact the author at


Many thanks to Dr. Debra Holland, the publisher of Montana Sky Publishing. I thoroughly enjoyed the two of us sitting at my dining table for many days, each writing on respective projects, sharing meals on the patio and discussing a challenge in one of the manuscripts—Debra shamelessly spoiling my kitties Mamba Joe and Papa Joe with treats—and generally, our companionship easing the loneliness of writing a long project.

Thanks, also, to my close friend Carl Baggett, Jr., who understood the severity of my deadline and held back from calling as often as is usual, always ending his calls with, “Keep going. You can do this,” or “Grind out the words. You’re almost there” or, once, “I’m proud of you.”

My daughter Stacee Nelson always encourages me to strive for more and better. She, too, expresses pride in my accomplishments, as I do in hers. We are complex, we humans; we have many facets to draw from. Stacee is a tapestry of inspiration for the young heroines I write.

Many of my writing students offer encouragement or comments such as, “You’re a great role model” or “I don’t know how you do it.” I answer, “Thank you” and “Keep butt in chair.”

Support and friendship like this makes all the difference when the writer has had, for weeks, scant sleep, little proper food, or a dearth of wandering in the garden. The one thing I don’t go without is nightly cuddles with Mamba and Papa. There’s nothing like loving cat-energy to take the stress out of stressful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s