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Unique Tokens Connect Me With My Characters

Whenever I embark on a new writing project, I look for ways to connect with my characters and the time and location in which the story is set. I collect things that I can keep on my desk while writing and later display at book events. Here are some of my favorite tokens:

Careen’s Vial Necklace

In Counteract, Careen purchased a vial necklace so she could keep the life-sustaining antidote she was taking close at hand. As she cradled the silver and glass vial in her hand, she felt safe.

Careen wears her necklace in this drawing.

Unbeknownst to Careen—and the whole country—that antidote was never intended to keep her safe. The posed situation—a widespread poison gas-strike—was a ruse to frighten everyone into taking the antidote, which would then subdue them into doing the totalitarian government’s bidding.

Even though I believed I was writing fiction when I started Counteract and the Resistance Series about a decade ago, the story remains frighteningly relevant. In fact, it hits a little too close to home.

Learn more about Counteract and the Resistance Series books here.

Fips, Shinplasters, and Coins

In my great-great-great grandfather Henry Rogers’s 1838 journal, he records how he got into a disagreement with a tollgate keeper–over the value of a coin. When the matter was settled, Henry wrote, “she gave me my fip” and he continued on his way.

In my initial reading of Henry’s journal, I encountered a number of unfamiliar words and situations. I assumed “fip” was simply another term for change. I later discovered a fip (or fippenny) is a coin, one-sixteenth of a dollar—or a quarter of a quarter.

The United States standardized its currency in the 1850s. Before that, persons making an exchange might use English, German, or Mexican coins, and had only to agree on the value of those coins for a transaction to occur.

I found this Mexican fip, dated 1830, for sale in an online store—and I paid a LOT more than 6 ¼ cents for it! I love to wear it to book events and talks that focus on my nonfiction books.

Cash was scarce on the frontier. Henry mentioned exchanging shinplasters, small-denomination coupons issued by banks or individuals. Shinplasters helped people transact business in Ohio in the early nineteenth century.

The other coins are a mix of English and German coins. They predate Henry’s 1838 journey. I like to imagine he and his family touched them.

Learn more about Henry’s travels and Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More here.

National Road Mile Marker

While I was writing Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More, I followed the route Henry Rogers and his family traveled from Cincinnati to Philadelphia and Trenton. The family came on the National Road, the nation’s first federally funded highway, just west of Columbus, Ohio. They followed it to its terminus at Cumberland, Maryland.


Travelers followed mile markers like this one, which were placed along the National Road in Ohio. Commissioned by the Bexley Women’s Club, this is an 8” high replica of the marker on the grounds of Christ Lutheran Church on the north side of Main Street in Bexley, Ohio. Viewed from the road, the markers helped travelers anticipate the nearest towns to the west, to the east, and the distance to the road’s starting point in Cumberland.

Mira’s Necklace

In The Red Thread, written with Rebekah Pace, the Chinese folk tale about a red thread binding true lovers across time and space figures into the story.

Peter’s childhood sweetheart, Mira, received a heart-shaped locket for her seventh birthday. While playing outdoors, she broke the chain. Her father hung the locket on a red silk cord and promised he would replace the broken chain.

Sanctions against Jewish people grow increasingly harsh in 1930s Germany.

By 1944, they are teenagers interned at Theresienstadt Ghetto. Mira, who has managed to keep her necklace from being confiscated, gives it to Peter for safekeeping. But when Mira disappears shortly thereafter, Peter is left with nothing but her necklace—which he keeps all his life. The red thread that connects Peter and Mira may have stretched, but it has not broken. Now in his nineties, Peter becomes convinced Mira is still alive, and embarks on an epic journey to find her.

I found this 1930s vintage necklace for sale in an online shop. I chose it because the design looks like an embossed springerle cookie.

Learn more about The Red Thread here.

Linsey-Woolsey Fabric Swatch

The Rogers family raised the sheep and grew the flax that provided the raw materials for this coverlet, which we inherited from my paternal grandmother. Moths had gotten at the blanket, but I consider the swatches I have with me as “okay to touch” and love to display them at book events. On the back of one swatch my grandmother had framed, she had inscribed this message, dated 1977, “Grown, spun, dyed, and woven into this material on my grandfather Rogers’s farm near the old covered bridge in Mt. Healthy, Ohio over 100 years ago.”

As I learned more about my Rogers ancestors, this coverlet took on greater significance. I now know my 4x great grandfather, Henry Rogers, Sr. was a weaver by trade. He served in the First New Jersey Regiment under Lord Stirling early in the American Revolution. When his enlistment was up, he was told to return home to his loom, where he could do just as much good for the army.

Henry, Sr., may have taught his trade to at least some of his children. Henry Jr. handed down the skill yet again in his household.

I saw coverlets with similar patterns on display at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Learn more about Pride of the Valley here.

Benjamin Stone’s signature

After writing two nonfiction history books, I took on an historical fiction project which stars my 6x great grandparents on my paternal grandfather’s side. Answering Liberty’s Call required just as much research as the nonfiction books. Because I was retelling a family legend and incorporating real people as characters, I wanted to use as many factual details as possible.

Accordingly, I spent a lot of time getting to know my 6x-great grandfather, Benjamin Stone. He was a rebellious Baptist preacher in the pre-Revolutionary period, when Virginia colony refused to tolerate any religion other than the Church of England.

I’m sure Benjamin fought on the Continental side because he realized that religious freedom was tied to freedom from Crown rule.

I found his signature, and those of many of his neighbors, on a petition that had been sent to the Virginia Assembly in October 1776. Known as the 10,000 Name Petition, it demanded the cessation of persecution of religious “dissenters.”

 So of course, I had to find a way to wear his signature! I hired an artist friend, and then uploaded her design to https://magnabilities.com. The 1” medallion transfers to different pieces of jewelry.

Anna’s Stirrups

No, they’re not her actual stirrups, but what better way to remember my equestrienne 6x-great grandmother? She rode her mare Nelly on a daring overland journey from Virginia to Valley Forge in January 1778.

I went all out for Anna and created something really special to celebrate the book release. I’ve already dropped a few hints, and I’ll be sharing that project with you as we get closer to Answering Liberty’s Call’s release in January 2021!

Learn more about Anna and Benjamin here.

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