February, 1990. I removed a back story about a fight between a bear and a backwoodsman from Treehouse Tales (Dutton, 1997), with an eye to turning the story into its own book. As a reminder I scribbled the words 'bear story' on a scrap of paper and stuck it on my bulletin board.
September, 1990. One day I awoke filled with an irresistible urge to read a dictionary of historical American words. Without questioning whether this was a useful or even a sane thing to do, I went to the library and began to read. Now, this dictionary has four thousand pages, the kind of book you can die reading and later use as a tombstone, but I dug in. By midmorning I was still on the A section. By late morning I had taken to reading only the boldface headings on the top of every page, and had made it as far as C. By noon I was skipping entire letters of the alphabet, and was still only at M.
But at three in the afternoon, lightening struck! I came upon the phrase 'Swamp Angel'.
Instantly I closed the book and headed home. I put a new note on my bulletin board with the words 'Swamp Angel'.
October, 1990. Amy, my second-grade daughter, burst into my studio one day after school. "I hate Pioneer Days!" she said.
"Oh?" I said, without glancing from my computer. "I thought you loved it."
"I hate it!" she said, more loudly. "Every year the girls have to make--" she snorted in disgust "--quilting squares, while the boys get to do something interesting, like dip candles or chop wood!" Amy, a placid and soft-spoken girl, was as indignant as I had ever seen her. "Why can't the girls do something interesting?" she demanded.
As soon as she had spoken these words, the room went black and the only thing I could see was a tiny woman in a dirty buckskin dress standing on the table next to my computer. It was like looking at her down the wrong end of a telescope. She was alive. She was real. She was Swamp Angel.
Hands on hips, she said, "Quiltin' is men's work!" in a Tennessee accent. Then she disappeared.
After that the story seemed to write itself.