People often ask me about specific characters in a book or the writing process, but seldom do people ask me about the research involved in developing a story. And this may very well be one of the aspects of the process that I love the most. For The Funeral Dress (the book I’m currently writing), I have already taken sewing lessons, interviewed several Sequatchie County residents, talked to local social workers and visited an area funeral home.

OK, I admit that when I walked into the embalming room, I felt anxious, very anxious. The smell, the tools, the stainless steel tables all contributed to a certain amount of sensory overload. But to tell the truth, the hardest thing I’ve done to date were the sewing lessons.

I’ve hemmed a skirt or two and sewn on a few buttons here or there in the past, but to make a dress, one that I could actually wear, well, that was an accomplishment. And the process was surprisingly emotional as I began to translate what I was learning to what my characters do. Two of the women in The Funeral Dress work at a shirt factory (based one that really did exist in Dunlap, TN).

The seamstresses in my book are all women, and all are assigned one specific task – sewing a collar, hemming a dress, etc. These women do the same task, day after day, year after year. In fact, a woman who makes collars is simply called a collar maker. A woman who hems a dress is called a bottom hemmer. All of this is rooted in truth, in the true stories of the women who tirelessly worked at the Dunlap Shirt Factory.

The remains of the Dunlap Shirt Factory

It’s so often in the research that my characters become people, so real that there are moments in the day when I forget they are not. I feel their pain and their joy, and it’s that part of the writing process that feels the most vulnerable and the most intimate for me. It is that perfect moment when I loose myself in the story.

Posted February 21, 2011 at 9:54 am · 11 comments · Leave a Comment


  1. bermudaonion (Kathy), February 21st, 2011, 10:49 am

    I would struggle with touring the funeral home and with sewing. I'm really excited about your book!
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  3. Rich Wiltfang, January 19th, 2013, 11:23 am

    It has been a long wait since SALVATION and BEZELLIA! How much longer before THE FUNERAL DRESS?
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  5. Betsy, September 6th, 2013, 7:48 pm

    Looking forward to reading The Funeral Dress, My mother worked at Spartan Ind.(shirt factory) several years.
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