"I love this part of a quilt - when all of the fabric selections, pattern decisions, cutting, making of blocks, laying out of the top, the borders, all of it, starts to come together as you begin to sew the blocks into a TOP. For me, it's one of the best parts.....seeing everything that you've thought about, and worked on, coming together..."
Natalie Barnes, Beyond the Reef


So began a recent email from a dear friend and quilt designer, Natalie Barnes. Over twenty years ago, Nat inspired me to begin quilting again and I like to think I inspired her to start a fledgling quilt pattern company, Beyond the Reef, which has grown by leaps and bounds ever since.

As I read her email, I noticed that her thoughts on how a quilt comes together are not unlike the experience of writing a novel. A writer's initial ideas about characters deciding who will people the pages of a book and finding just the right setting for them is much like choosing the pattern and fabrics for a quilt.

In the case of historical novels, choosing the right time period is like deciding on a quilt's background fabric. Background fabric, borders, and the individual pieces for the patchwork blocks each play an integral part.

So it is with writing. Designing, cutting and fitting patchwork pieces together is like weaving a plot by fitting together scenes and chapters. In writing, the real magic takes place after the rough draft is finished and inspiration continues during the editing process. Somehow the story comes together the way a quilt does during the final stitching and binding until, at long last, it's finally whole.

Just as a quilter will often pause to rummage through her stash of fabric hunting for just the right piece to compliment her quilt, so too does a writer search through her reference library until just the right snippet of information catches her eye.

While I was working on HEART OF STONE, my 2Xth novel, (Zondervan, March, 2010) that special, inspirational piece of information came in the form of two words: Irish Channel.

HEART OF STONE is the first book of the Irish Angels series. It's about a fallen woman named Laura Foster and is set in the fictional town of Glory, Texas, in 1874. The historical romance follows Laura through her trials and tribulations as she seeks redemption from a life of shame and finds love along the way.

Though primarily set in Texas, I opened the book in New Orleans in 1853 to give the readers a glimpse into Laura's childhood. Before I started hunting for the perfect details to texture the setting, I had preconceived notions of the characteristics of New Orleans that most people share. I pictured the French Quarter with its brick buildings and balconies sporting decorative iron grille work. I saw secret gardens behind stucco walls, could almost smell the café ´a lait, taste the Creole cooking, picture duels under the oaks at dawn.

I planned for Laura to have been orphaned when both her parents died. She was from an impoverished family living with their aunt and uncle in a run down house somewhere in New Orleans. While searching for an exact location, I came across the history of the Irish Channel neighborhood where emigrants escaping the famine settled near the docks. Most were so poor they had no money to go any farther. Many sought work at the wharf.

Before that time I was completely unaware that New Orleans had, from it's very beginning, a large Irish population. In fact, in the mid-1800's, there were more people of Irish ancestry than any other group, even French, in the city. I later learned that Irish brigades fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and that a wealthy Irishman donated the land for City Park where those duels under the oaks were fought.

From mostly rural backgrounds, impoverished Irish newcomers farmed themselves out as day laborers hired to dig canals around the city. It was work many slave owners refused to risk having their valuable "property" engage in. Too poor to escape the city when yellow fever hit in 1835, thousands of Irish died.

History and research provided the plot element that orphaned Laura Foster. When I added three sisters to her back story, HEART OF STONE suddenly became more than a tale of a fallen woman starting over in Texas. It was about a former Irish orphan from Louisiana searching for her long lost sisters.

I pictured where the girls had lived and the conditions they survived. Each of my Irish Angels would grow up to become determined, independent women who triumph over their very different upbringings and each definitely deserved a book of her own.

For me, that one small detail, the name of a neighborhood called the Irish Channel, stood out like a vibrant swatch of patchwork that repeats itself in a quilt. It was an unexpected find that echoes through four stories about four resilient women, the thread that ties the series together.

Jill Marie Landis is not only a quilter, but in her "spare time" she dances the hula, plays ukulele, raises orchids and tropical flowers in her Hawaiian garden and loves to read through research at the beach.