Ivy and Nellie

I haven’t been working this week because of a bad cold. Since Jeremy just changed jobs, our health insurance doesn’t kick in until the end of the month. I am very susceptible to bronchitis, so I’m being more cautious about exposing myself to germs than I would ordinarily be. Yesterday I started feeling better, so I started organizing my craft armoire, and then realized mid-job that making something with the craft supplies is a lot more fun than organizing them. Sometimes my life feels like an ongoing episode of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I started itching to make a doll version of Ivy, one of the protagonists in my just-completed novel Good Medicine. Jeremy and I went to the craft store for polymer clay. When I got home, I tried to sculpt it into my vision, and that didn’t go well at all. So I went online for help and discovered this handy mold here:

Yesterday I decided to try making a doll with the mold. I had mixed results. You have to fill these little cavities, which are silicone, and malleable, meaning that if you aren’t careful, you can squash the shape trying to pry the clay out of the hole.

Then you have to assemble the body parts. (Straight pins don’t work as well as paper clips for connections.) Bake the clay at 275F for 15 minutes, let cool, paint, and dress.

I did Ivy first.

She is a sixth-generation plant healer in Western North Carolina, who is none to pleased when John, a city doctor, arrives in town and doesn’t hold with her folk remedies.

John is also none to pleased that someone without formal medical training is brewing any old plant in boiling water and calling it a cure.

As you might imagine, this is not a love at first sight situation.

John describes Ivy like this:

“Out of the firelight and shadows, Ivy had lost much of her luster… Her sunburned face and thin frame hinted at the hard life she’d led. Her dress, so deep and green in the Whitaker’s cabin, was drab and wash worn. The fabric was threadbare at the elbows. The skirt was many times patched. Her hair, that had seemed so vibrant and alive in the firelight, was a dull ruddy chestnut in the daylight, and her eyes were now a flat and unremarkable green.”

This is Ivy.

Behind her is one of many images of the destruction wrought by the 1916 Flood.

I was stoked by how close the doll is to the one I imagined in my head. I’ve never tried making clay polymer dolls like this before, and for a first attempt, this is pretty awesome, even if I do say so myself.

I sent the image to Jeremy at work. His response was “That’s amazing! Are you going to do Nellie next?” This is one of nine bazillion reasons why I love that man. He always encourages more creativity. Always.

I figured, why not? So I repeated the process again. The second attempt went much more smoothly.

Nellie is Jeremy’s favorite character in Good Medicine, and many of my Beta readers have been surprisingly invested in her story. She is the nine year old daughter of Ivy’s best friend, and when the story begins, we learn that her mother, Eliza, recently passed away in childbirth.

Just as a side note, some of the characters in Good Medicine are completely fictional. Ivy and John, for example, were born in my head.

Nellie, however, is based on the life of my great-grandmother’s sister, Hattie. Hattie was much younger than my great-grandmother, Ida. Ida was married with kids of her own, living in a different community, when her mother died. Hattie was about nine at the time, with a baby sister to care for. She took over all the domestic chores–cooking, cleaning, etc. and the day-to-day care for her baby sister (who sadly passed away of illness some years later in childhood). Her appreciative father went to the cobbler and bought her a pair of sturdy shoes meant for adults because he said she worked as hard as any adult woman. When a new school was built in the area, Hattie wanted to go, but didn’t think she could because she had to care for her sister. The school teacher told her to bring her sister along, she wouldn’t bother anyone. That is how Aunt Hattie was able to get her education.

(Second side note, Hattie lived into her 90s and I knew her and visited her fairly often as a child. Some of her recollections are part of the research I did for this book.)

In my novel, John and Nellie develop a deep friendship.

This is John’s first description of her.

“He turned to find a little girl standing there watching him, every inch the queen of the wood. She wore a long muslin dress, and her long chestnut hair was unbound, falling around her shoulders like ermine. Around her head was a woven crown of red clover. In her hands, an empty wooden bucket. She looked like an illustration from a fairy tale.”

And Ivy says this about Nellie:

Maggie and Nellie had the look of the Wall women on them. Wide open, intelligent faces. Almond shaped eyes the color of crisp winter sky. The same sourwood honey-colored hair. The same wandering sideways part. The same tumble of unruly curls.”

I had a lot of fun with the details on her.

Nellie’s basket filled with creasy greens and a paper boat.
Her unbound hair and red clover crown.
Eyes like a crisp winter sky. Sourwood-honey colored hair. A wandering sideways part.

So, I said my life was like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, right? Well, now that I’ve made an Ivy doll, I feel like she needs a Hickory Nut to go with her. Hickory Nut is her little brown feist.

And then I need to make a John. But he comes with a dog and a horse.

And Nellie needs her sister, Mourning (which is a name I did not pull out of thin air. It’s actually a family name, passed through many generations of one line of my family).

And so on…and so on…

These characters feel like family to me now.

Don’t be surprised if by the time all is said and done, I end up with a doll for each character and a full scale mountain cabin for them to hang out in. 😉