An Interview with Becky Hepinstall Hilliker

Writing the MilspoFAN Artist Interview blog posts always tickles my “vicarious bone”. I love hearing the unique stories of each spouse and getting to put myself into her (we have had all women so far) shoes for a long, fascinating moment. Without fail, this process brings me a lovely and refreshing perspective, and a sense of wonder and possibility of what this unique lifestyle can be.
This month, our interviewee’s personality bounces off the page. I find myself giggling along with her in one moment and in the next I’m swept up in the verve with which she tells her story. Becky Hepinstall Hilliker is an historian, Navy wife, mother of four, and author. Sisters of Shiloh, which she co-wrote with her sister Kathy, is the story of two sisters who disguise themselves as men in order to join the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Becky’s effervescent enthusiasm for history and delightful sense of humor come alive in her interview and I am so pleased to share her story here on the blog.

After reading the interview, be sure to connect with Becky and the MilspoFAN community– ask a question, tell us your own related story, or pull your favorite quote from the interview and post it in the comments below, or over at our Facebook page or group.  Then grab a copy of Sisters of Shiloh  (here’s a link!

Itching to know more about the real women who inspired Sisters of Shiloh? Becky has included some links to a few more articles (which she wrote!) about the real women who fought in the Civil War  at the bottom of the interview.

But first, here’s Becky in her own words…
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.

Becky: I was raised outside of Houston, Texas and have been a lover of history my entire life. I had intended to write history textbooks after I graduated from the University of Texas, but ended up working in the Internet industry just as it began to boom. Yes, I’m that old. While working in Austin, I met my husband, Jesse, where every good Christian girl meets a boy…in a country-dance bar. He was up from flight training in Kingsville for the weekend visiting friends, and the rest, as they say, is history.


MilspoFAN: What are some of your favorite places to have lived?

Becky: I have to confess, I love moving. Not the stressful mechanics of it, of course, but the excitement of change. Both Jesse and I left for college from the homes in which we were born, so we had never experienced getting to alter your surroundings every few years. We’ve lived in Lemoore, England, China Lake, Virginia Beach twice and Newport, and now we’ve recently been stationed back in China Lake. I’ll admit that the desert isn’t my favorite place, but it has its own kind of unique beauty. Our family motto is that of many other military families – “bloom where you’re planted.” So we try to make the most of any duty station and see and do all there is to offer before we move again.

My very favorite place we lived was definitely England. As a history enthusiast, I was fascinated every second. The very ground there just feels…ancient. We lived less than 3 miles from Stonehenge. The night before the summer solstice, where the sunrise lines up exactly with the stones the same way it has for 5000 years, we actually hiked in the dark using old Roman paths until we joined a huge group of people in the stones to watch the sun come up. That was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I know I should probably mention the birth of my four children as another one of those moments…but really the whole Stonehenge thing was so much better than labor and delivery.

MilspoFAN: You co-wrote Sisters of Shiloh with your sister, Kathy. Tell us a little about that project.

Becky: Sisters of Shiloh is the story of two sisters who join the Stonewall Brigade during the Civil War and fight disguised as men. One sister, Libby, vows to avenge the death of her husband after he is killed at Antietam, and her older sister, Josephine, follows her, determined to keep her safe at all costs. Along the way, Libby begins to descend into madness, and Josephine finds love amidst the turmoil of war, but cannot reveal herself without betraying her sister.


In 2002, after her second novel, Absence of Nectar, was published, Kathy asked if I would like to write a book with her. Although she never shared my passion for the past, when I told her about some of the women who disguised themselves as men and fought in the Civil War, she was equally intrigued. That led to mountains of research and months of writing, but we couldn’t find a publisher at the time. Ten years went by as Kathy went on to write other novels and continue her work in advertising, and I had four children and seven moves to occupy my time. In late 2012 Kathy showed the first half of the novel to her agent and he ended up getting it into the hands of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. We rewrote the back half and it was finally published in hardcover in 2015 and paperback in 2016.

MilspoFAN: In 2015, Joe Holley wrote that you are a “history fanatic and “indefatigable researcher” (to read his article, click here). How did your passion and academic experience in history lead to co-writing Sisters of Shiloh?

Becky: Growing up Kathy was always a creative genius – you know, the kind that was writing poems at 3 and publishing short stories at 8 and annoying…I mean wonderful… stuff like that. I was obsessed with history and had my nose in a book most of the time. I tried to convince the neighborhood children that I was Queen Elizabeth I, reincarnated and transported to the Houston suburbs by a tornado. And I wonder why no one wanted to come to my birthday parties.

As I began to formally study history, I developed more of a non-fiction writing style and fell even more in love with the true stories of love and loss and triumph and tragedy. I wanted to pursue a career writing textbooks in the hopes that maybe I could write one that wouldn’t put students to sleep.

But, as I said, I stumbled into the world of Internet marketing.I continued to work in that field after Jesse and I were married, but moving overseas for a one-year assignment ended that. It was during  that year that we spent in England while Jesse attended the Empire Test Pilot School that Kathy suggested we write together. She was in Los Angeles at the time, so writing a book together (no FaceTime back then), was a challenge. We communicated by email and phone and faxed pages back and forth.  

When we began this process in the fall of 2002, there had been very little written about the subject of the women who fought disguised as men. There were few vetted historical sources available on the Internet, so it was really only used in the process of contacting local historians and experts. We researched this book for about a year and a half, and continued the process while we were writing (undoubtedly, some question would arise within the narrative – what kinds of objects might be in the scene, what flora and fauna would be nearby, etc.).


During trips back from England, I dragged Kathy to all of the battlefields and walked the fields with Park Rangers, trying to envision what it would be like for the characters. We spent a week at Antietam and were lucky to get to meet repeatedly with a National Park Service Archaeologist. We met with local experts in the Winchester and Sharpsburg areas. I also researched in the Handley Library in Winchester, and in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park Archives at Chatham Manor. We poured over scores of books we found about the period, including several first-hand accounts. We studied what people of the period wore, what they ate, how they spoke and how they acted.

I loved every second of the research. Kathy started drinking. Just kidding…not really.

MilspoFAN: Holley’s article also mentioned an upcoming project about Nachthexen. The description sounds completely fascinating. Can you tell us a little about this project and if this book still in the works?

Becky: I’ve developed an appreciation for aviation, having been with a pilot for nearly 20 years now. That’s a nice way of saying “I have been to 763 airshows, mostly against my will.” But I was really intrigued when I learned about the “Nightwitches,” Russian female bomber pilots who played a big role in Russia’s air combat during World War II. Much like with the women soldiers of the Civil War, there has been very little written about these incredibly fierce women. Kathy and I originally thought we’ d write another historical novel about them, and that may still happen, but right now I’m thinking that I might like to try my hand at a narrative non-fiction book about them first.

MilspoFAN: Many MilspoFANs and Military Spouses are interested in balancing creative work with family and the demands of their spouse’s career. What does your work-life balance look like on a typical day? What logistical advice can you share with readers about how to keep working passionately through PCS-ing, raising children, deployments, and all the rest of the excitement that comes with the Military Spouse lifestyle?

Becky: I certainly haven’t figured it all out. Right now I’m in a new town with four kids playing six sports and a husband who travels frequently (but, thank goodness, not currently deploying). I’m lucky if I manage to feed them all on a daily basis. I am trying to work on another book, but the days just slip by. But as my oldest just turned 13 (Lord, help me), and my husband passed the 20 year mark in the Navy, I see how very quickly it all goes by. Before I know it, I’ll have plenty of time to devote to writing.

My only advice to my fellow military spouses is this: GIVE YOURSELVES A BREAK. We are our own worst critics and it is so easy to get into a shame spiral. We feel guilty that we’re not giving enough attention to our careers, our kids, our spouses, our communities or our spouse’s groups. Our houses aren’t clean enough and the laundry is never done. It’s. Never. Enough. Carrying around all that guilt and frustration can really start to drag you down. And that’s not even touching the stress that comes with deployments and frequent moves.

I’ve really struggled with this habit of beating myself up, so I’ve been actively trying to create little victories for myself. And to carve out a few moments of time just for me every day. Just a few minutes where I sit with my notebook and jot down whatever I can. And then I tell myself “I have done something that matters to me today.” This makes me feel like I’m making progress and really helps me to build positive momentum and not obsess about all of the ways I feel like I’m failing. It’s amazing how one simple change like that can transform your whole outlook.

MilspoFAN: Where can I find more information about the women who inspired Sisters of Shiloh?

Becky: If anyone would like to know more about the real women who fought in the Civil War , below are links to some articles I wrote for -.

Thank you, Becky for sharing with us here on the MilspoFAN blog!

Want a little more from Becky? Check out her guest blog post on USAToday about what it was like to write Sisters of Shiloh as a Navy wife (yes, this piece also made me giggle!):

And remember, readers, we truly need your feedback to keep the community growing and vibrant. Please do comment, like, share, and spread the word about MilspoFAN and about our dear artists! Even the smallest acts can make a huge difference.

An Interview with Meghan Rowswell

Often times, I read the answers sent in by one of MilspoFAN’s Artist Interviewees , and my first thought is “Ahhh! I love you!”(yes, I do the interviews by email- sorry to disillusion you all, ha!) Meghan Rowswell , fiber sculptor and sensei of ikebana, falls squarely into my “Artist Crush” column. Her words demonstrate a refreshing candor, thoughtful approach to her art, and firm self-possession that will hearten you, dear readers, while her work is stunning and thought-provoking. As with most (all?) of these interviews, you will see yourself in Meghan’s words– things you’ve thought a thousand times- and you will also find a new, unique, informative perspective. It’s a magical, lovely web we are weaving here at MilspoFAN, and I’m so pleased to add Meghan’s thread!
Now in her own words, here is Meghan Rowswell (You can find on the web at


MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.

Meghan: Howdy! My name is Meghan Rowswell. My husband is Ammo (IYAAYAS!) in the Air Force. We’ve been in for six and liked it so much we’ve just decided to stay in for six more. Which probably means we are in this until he retires. I am a stay at home parent of a precocious four-year-old, though as she gets closer to being in school full time I’m really an artist that happens to work out of my home.

Both my husband and I grew up all over the place in families that weren’t military but had a history of military service. We met in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I started hanging out with his parents because they were both artists and trying to find an art community. I think they adopted me because they missed having kids around. Ian came to visit for the holidays and never left. We were married, he did basic and tech school, we moved to our first base in Misawa, Japan and I was pregnant all in one year. It has been a wild ride.  


MilspoFAN: How did you become an artist?Lines_websda

Meghan: I’ve wanted to be an artist since I won a blue ribbon for a finger painting of balloons at the county fair. I grew up in a rough neck family so art wasn’t appreciated or understood. I tried really hard to go to college for a “real job” and started out studying botany at Cornell University but because of the way that my scholarships worked I couldn’t afford art classes. I didn’t make it long before I dropped out to study art. I have a BA from Hastings college in Art History but I was in the studio more than a lot of the studio art kids. Art is my passion, obsession and saving grace. I’m not happy unless I’m making something. It’s the best way that I can process and make sense of the world around me. Do you know that feeling? The one where there’s no other way? I must make art, now I just need to figure out how to make a living from it.

MilspoFAN: How would you describe your artwork work and aesthetic? How has your work evolved over time?

Meghan: The work I’m making now is sculptures and installations made from textiles and found materials that incorporate fiber techniques. In college I started out as a painter and a collage artist. I’m just not in love with drawing it’s boring and tedious so me. Which is hilarious because I do a lot of hand sewing. Towards the end of college, I started making quilts and embroidering dolls to deal with the stress of writing my thesis. I never thought of sewing and embroidery as “Art”, it was crafting traditions that had been passed on to me from my mother and grandmother to “make do”. Patterns bore me so I’m not a great crafter. But working in fiber and in three dimensions clicked for me so I’ve been a fiber artist ever since. I love working with textile sculptures because it’s so unexplored and I’m always creating problems for myself. “Can I make this do that?”

Moral2_forwebRight now my work is based on plants and organic shapes because of my interest in gardening and my training as a sensei of ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. I’m trying to meld my interests in fiber and plants into something new. Plants are so integral to the history of textiles because our first fabrics were completely made from and dyed with plants.  I am trying to reimagine and reverse engineer that relationship with my current body of work that uses images of plants on textiles and creates three dimensional imaginings of them. It’s amazing how abstract flower patterns on polyester shirts are when looking at the living flower. I’ve also been reading a lot of sci fi so I like to think about the future, space, aliens. I am learning how to bring electronics and moving parts into my sculptures.Canoe_web

MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as an artist- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?

Meghan: The military has been a great opportunity for me. It allows my family to have enough income that I can stay home with my daughter and be an artist. I have a certain amount of freedom to pursue my passions without worrying about making too much money. But I wouldn’t be able to do this without my amazingly supportive spouse. He is my biggest fan. We work really hard as a team so that each of us can be our best at our careers and our hobbies. Being an artist allows me the flexibility to drop everything during TDYs or  he is playing in an exercise. At the same time, he knows that he’s going to be watching our daughter at night and on weekends while I’m at art events or planning meetings in the city.

And the travel! Our first base was in northern Japan. We had so many great experiences and got to see so many amazing things. Being an artist overseas does have its challenges. It’s really expensive to ship work back and because of the language barrier and the rural location I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do art. Our time in Japan allowed me to learn all kinds of traditional textile techniques and Japanese flower arranging. I taught crafting classes at the arts and crafts center and I made bags from kimono to sell to the American’s on base.

When we moved back stateside, just outside of Kansas City, I completely changed my art practice and business model to fit the location. Now I could do art and could show in galleries and be active with artist communities. Kansas City is such a great place to be an emerging artist, there’s a lot of help and acceptance of new artists. I still teach classes and make bags to sell but my real focus has been on doing work for shows in galleries.Seedpod1_forweb

I would say one of the draw backs for being in the military is that you don’t really have a choice of where you go and at each location there is going to be a different art community and set of challenges. Another downside is that it takes time to meet people and to build a community. It took me a year to find people and galleries to work with and by the second year things are really starting to happen and get interesting. The challenge of the art world is that it’s all about who you know. But the beauty of being a military spouse is that I know people all over the US, Europe and Asia that I can reach out to for help or guidance.

Fiber Sculpture titles Amputee
“Amputee” 2015 Rabbit fur coat, construction string, pearl headed pins, vinyl tubing and wire

MilspoFAN: I was so intrigued and drawn in by your 30 in 30 projects on the blog. I know at least a few of our other members have embarked on these popular 30-day challenges. Can you tell the readers what that process was like? How was it different than your expectations and what did you learn?

Meghan: Goodness, 30 in 30 challenges are hard. But very rewarding. I was listening to a podcast, Artists Helping Artists, and they were doing a piece of art daily for thirty days. I am working on a show about quantum entanglement and had been doing this research but I was having a very hard time coming up with ideas for sculptures. Sometimes I can get so deep in the research that I have a hard time making the work for fear of getting it wrong. I wanted the 30 in 30 to be a way that I could make concept sketches for the show but also try and break through my “art block”.

I only had an hour and a half a day, which is a very short time when you are hand sewing or creating, so I kept them small. Some days I wanted to make sculptures, somedays not. I tried not to control it too much. The achievement was that I was coming to the studio every day, making something, and thinking about the imagery that I’d gathered in my research. Most of it was trash but every few days some idea or material combination would speak to me.

I asked a coffee shop to hang them on the wall as I was making them. Every few days I would go hang new ones up and they would be numbered after the day they were created. I expected more greatness and that I would get more work done but to be honest there were days where I’d spend half an hour staring at my fabric pile unable to think of anything. But that’s ok too. The important thing was that I was in my studio and making work. It has taught me to regularly set time aside to make work or at least be in the studio.

MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?

Meghan: My advice is to join a group that does art, or connect to them on social media. It’s all about commenting on posts! I joined the Fiber Guild of KC and they have been an endless source of knowledge and supplies. They have given me scholarships to do art business classes that have led me to other artists.


When I first move to an area I like to start locally and then build out farther and farther. I think it’s really important to be involved in your base and local community before you start the mad dash to the city on the weekends. Small towns need art too! I go to the gallery openings, I talk to people about what I do, I write thank you letters and follow up emails. It’s scary to be the new kid but you’ve got to dive in and start networking. You never know who will lead you to the next project or the next job.

I also think that you must be flexible in your business model. What was working for you at the last base might be impractical at this one. As an artist you should be striving for a portfolio career where you are generating streams of income from multiple aspects of your art. To earn money, I teach classes, take commissions, apply for grants and scholarships, and make crafts for shows. You can focus on or dial back any of these different areas depending on what the area around your base is like.

You can find me at:
Instagram and Facebook @madmegh

Thank you, Meghan, for sharing your work and your words. Now, dear readers, are you inspired, engaged, or curious? Don’t be shy, post a comment below or on our facebook group or facebook page. MilspoFAN artists love to hear feedback (and adoring praise, or course!) from you.

An Interview with Mary A Chase Doll

Hello MilspoFANs!

Today I am happy to share our newest Artists Interview, with Mary A Chase Doll- modern dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Mary is an Army spouse and mother of two children. She now lives in Denver but will PCS to the Tampa area in July. If you’re nearby, you will have the opportunity to see some of her work live- a real treat! If not, you can follow some of the links below to view a few samples of her choreography and dance performance.

Some of Mary’s choreography and Performance…

So Grateful   Denver, CO

A Circle Has No Sides    choreography by Dr. Karl Schaffer, Santa Cruz, CA

Someday     Sunset Center, Carmel, CA

The Window    SpectorDance, Monterey, CA

Sister    Dance Repertory Theatre, Austin, TX

Silverstein Suite  Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS


Mary has some great advice for artists dealing with “it all” and more! I am reminded by her story that life, like dance, is dynamic and temporal- one moment is not a person’s entire story. Our life stories and identities are made up of widely varying moments that sometimes complement, sometimes contrast, and sometimes crash into one another. There are some years that you will be crazy productive artistically, some periods when family is your focus, some years for recovery and self-care, and some miraculous periods when you will actually find a gorgeous but probably temporary balance (like a moment of suspension in a movement sequence or leap).

Mary also reminds us of the importance of networking purposefully when you enter a new community (and even before you arrive).  Curate what you share first carefully, suggests Mary, “Show or do a small amount of your best.  Less is more in this case. Make a first impression with the work you are most proud of.”

After the interview, check out her website or connect with her by leaving a comment here on the blog or over at MilspoFAN on Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Chunyi McIver and Melisa Ackermann

MilspoFAN: You have a very thorough and impressive professional bio on your website,, where our readers can find an overview of your professional journey. Tell us a little about yourself and journey as a military spouse, including where you are today.

Mary: Our journey has been… well, let me start with this: My husband, Tim, and I have known each other since we were in elementary school. I have been dancing since I was 2, my career choice was determined, and then Tim was in the military. Tim saw my dance performances before one’s life partner ever should be allowed to. Though of course now his career determines where we live, pays most of the bills, and allows me to keep my career going.

Some people wonder about how a dancer and a soldier ever figure out how to make things work. I think in our case, the dedication, perseverance, exactitude, thankless long hours and the toll on our bodies are similar. I will never forget when after spending our first three months of marriage apart (sigh), Tim came home from training and said “reconnaissance is like the choreography of strategy”. So, we try to embrace the similarities and not dwell on the portion that sometimes feels at odds.

We now, after nearly fifteen years of marriage, have a nine year-old daughter born during a deployment in 2008 and a three year-old son who was born in Kuwait in 2014 during my husband’s year of IRT (In Region Training). By the time our son was six months old he had more stamps in his passport than most well traveled American adults.  Since 2002 we have PCSed 7 times, getting ready for our 8th this summer.  In 2014, after Kuwait, we moved to Denver, CO for Tim to do ACS (Advanced Civil School) at the University of Denver.

Here in Denver, I founded a dance program at a middle school with a newcomer center for immigrants and refugees, and I started getting more involved in the Denver dance community as time went on. However, in December of 2015 our then 20 month-old son was diagnosed with ALL-precursor B Leukemia. In April of 2016, four short months later, Tim left for training and then deployed (our fifth year apart).  This time being an artist was the best possible and worst possible career.  Though our son’s prognosis is good, this last year has been a mixture of making some of the best work of my career and dealing with some the saddest and hardest moments of a lifetime.

mary dancing floor work
Photos courtesy of Chunyi McIver and Melisa Ackermann

MilspoFAN: How did dance discover you and when did you know you would make it your life’s work?

Mary: I danced throughout my childhood. In 1994 I auditioned for a pre-professional Modern Dance company at Arts in Motion in St. Louis, MO. My two years dancing at Arts in Motion were when I transitioned from loving dance to taking dance seriously enough that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I did my undergrad at the University of Illinois (UIUC) and my master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin. I have enjoyed a career dancing all over the United States and Internationally.  Though military moves do have an impact, I always make the most of each move. Now twenty-three years since that audition I still feel excitement and the power dance has to enliven and inspire. Today after a long weekend of rehearsals for my upcoming show, dance continues to give me a sense of being myself that nothing else does.

MilspoFAN: Where can we see your work?

Mary: Unfortunately, unlike writers or painters you cannot pick up a book or go to a museum to see my work at your leisure. My work is temporal and depends on a cast of dancers, a performance venue and a producer. Though of course you can (and please do!) watch video or look at pictures, dance is best experienced live. I would bet that some musicians feel similarly.  However, there is no way to capture the true essence of movement in recording– unlike, I would argue, the advancements musicians enjoy.

I have had the immense pleasure of working with dance companies, Universities and Schools of Performing Arts everywhere the military has moved us here in the United States.  Currently in Denver at Merrill International Middle School immigrant and refugee students perform my work. Also, in my neighborhood at Park Hill Dance Academy (PHDA), I teach all of the contemporary classes and choreograph on the companies. Also in Denver I have danced professionally for Daughter Cells Dance and am currently working with Tara Rynders Dance.

Right now I am producing a new work for the 43rd time in my career. This time I am making a forty-minute, twenty-five dancer work titled Where You Hang Your Heart.  It is a pleasure to be busy doing what I love, but the toll of having Tim deployed does weigh heavier than when he is home. I am grateful to be working with people here in Denver who help make this possible. Unfortunately though, most arts organizations have little understanding of the obstacles that come with military family life.

MilspoFAN: Why did you decide to get your CMA (Certified Movement Analyst)? Explain to our readers what that is and how you apply the Laban and Bartenieff concepts in your choreography/dance work. (Dear readers, this is where Mary and I geek out over movement systems!)

Mary: Though my lens is dance, many physical therapists, actors, and professional athletes alike use Laban Movement Analysts and the Bartenieff Fundamentals to enrich their understanding and approach in analyzing movement. To earn my CMA certification, I attended the yearlong program at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS) in 2000 in New York City. Laban Movement Analysts and Bartenieff Fundamentals go hand in hand.  Laban Movement Analysis examines and interprets movement through four lenses: Body, Effort, Shape, and Space. Irmgard Bartenieff then brought the Laban systems to the United States and she deepened Rudolf von Laban’s work with her body awareness and movement patterning methodologies that tap into the origins of human movement development.

I have an analytical disposition. All of the work I do choreographing, teaching, and performing are colored by the time I spend thinking and writing about how the movement fits together. Though there are many fabulously successful dance artists who do not mull over things to such a painstaking extent.  Some might say I over-analyze.  Regardless, this system of looking at, talking about, and developing new movement was right for me from the beginning and still serves me everyday.

An example of this is the language I use as a CMA to talk about movement. Much of what I say to my dancers when it comes to performance quality and initiation of movement steers away from the codified language of the Ballet or historic Modern traditions. My favorite aspect of the Laban work that is well supported in Bartenieff Fundamentals is the analysis of the dancer’s use of Space. Much like in music there are scales to practice and perform to perfect our bodies use of Self Space, called the Kinesphere and the general or Group Space called the Dynamosphere.

MilspoFAN: You have danced and produced choreography all over the world. How much of that is by design versus as a result of your spouses’ career relocation?

Mary: It is a little of both. The sheer happenstance of moving as a military family has afforded me the opportunity to have my work produced in many more locations than I think I otherwise would have had. However, none of my international touring has been the result of a PCS.

Though we have lived abroad in Kuwait, I did not dance while we lived there. As I said earlier, I was pregnant with our son at the time and had just come off of a whirlwind year.  I needed a break. I had been dancing for three different companies, teaching at two different Performing Arts Schools and had my work produced at a few different venues… whew, I am tired just writing that!  Some years are just more productive than others.

MilspoFAN: Tell us about the process of establishing yourself in a new dance community after each move. How do you find dancers, producers, and collaborators in a new location?

Mary: As I just mentioned, all of the shows I have performed or choreographed abroad weren’t because we moved.  They came by being at the right place at the right time and talking with the right person.  I realize most people think that dance gets on stage through an audition process. Honestly, that has never happened in my case having danced on four continents. I have never, not in New York City, not in Seattle, not in the Bay Area, not in Kansas City, or Austin, or anywhere been to a proper “cattle call” audition.

So, maybe my experience might be some advice for Military Spouses looking to further their career in the arts.  Networking. Sometimes that means through the Internet. Usually though, it is YOU in the room talking with people, promoting your work. Cold calling. Making follow up calls and emails. Showing up to other people’s shows, readings, or performances. Talk about the work you do to anyone in any social setting. Someone might be interested in funding your project. Someone might be looking for exactly what you do but just hasn’t met you yet.  

Once you make contacts you become a potential candidate in the minds of the curators and producers. If they remember you and connected with you the work will come, and when the time is right, show or do a small amount of your best.  Less is more in this case. Make a first impression with the work you are most proud of. I had to learn this the hard way.  I now do not introduce my work to a new community of artists with an “in-progress, experimental avant garde work.” Save that for your community of fans.

I mentioned earlier that being in the arts and also being a Military family has struggles and obstacles. I think it is fair to say that these bumps in the road could be challenging enough to prevent an artist to continue in their career.  I hope that my perspective inspires you to get back at it, fiercely loving and creating your art form.

MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?

Mary: A PCS is coming up this summer. As my husband finishes his yearlong deployment he will be headed to MacDill AFB to work at CENTCOMM. The kids and I will move down to Tampa midsummer. Though the physical move happens in July I already have made several contacts to keep the momentum going. Over the years and the moves I have equally taught and had my work produced in Universities as I have in public schools and private institutions. Though I prefer to work in Higher Ed I always keep my eyes open to find the best fit for our military life. That is the reality. Family is first.  If you live in Florida and you are reading this, you might even hear from me!

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your story with us!  Now it’s your turn, dear readers. What part of Mary’s story moved you? Do you have your own questions for Mary? Tell us in the comments below or visit MilspoFAN’s Facebook Group to share your thoughts.

An Interview with Siobhan Fallon

Creative work can seem daunting at times- as if it’s reserved for the some miraculously talented group of superior beings. Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I to think that I can make art (or dance, music, etc.) worthy of an audience?” I sure have! My favorite thing about these Artist Interviews is meeting the talented, hard-working humans behind some very compelling artistic work. Just like you and me, they are dealing with deployments, PCS, kids, dinner, lost socks, you name it. And they still find a way to practice their craft and create stunning work! If they can do it, of course there is hope for the rest of us mere mortals. I hope that each month you channel their stories into your own creative energy. Now it’s time to soak up some motivation with author Siobhan Fallon….
When I got the chance to interview Siobhan, I was delighted to find that behind her striking writing (you can read two excerpts from her books at the bottom of the interview) is a very relatable woman with a great sense of humor and some valuable wisdom to share. Her insights about the difference between writing short stories and taking on a novel, for instance, are hilarious (we’ve all bitten off more than we can chew, thinking it would be a cinch, right?) and inspiring (because the proof of her tenacity is right here on Amazon, ready for a June 27 release!).
Siobhan tells us how her life as a military spouse has influenced her writing, shares some wisdom for keeping up with your art while on the move, and gives us a sneak peek into her upcoming book, Confusion of Languages. I just finished reading Siobhan’s first book, a collection a short stories called You Know When the Men are Gone about life at Ft. Hood in Texas. Her stories go far beyond simply providing a window into the world of military family life at a big Army base. Pick up this book and you will feel the contortions of each character as you follow their restrained dramas to their inevitable ends. And now, in her own words, here is Siobhan Fallon…

MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Siobhan: The journey has been a fairly scenic one. I met my husband in 2000, while I was bartending at my father’s Irish pub right outside the front gate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. My husband, KC, had just graduated and was staying on for a few months coaching soccer at the USMA prep school before heading to Fort Benning. I was working my way through getting an MFA in Creative Writing at the New School in NYC, and my future husband, hearing this, told me he loved to write. I’d met plenty of West Point cadets and soldiers and officers over the years, but this one won me over with talk of literature.
KC went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and then Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and we were married on the beach in Oahu just before he deployed for a year to Afghanistan in 2004. I’m going to list the other posts we went to after getting married, it’s too exhausting to give a description of each and I have a feeling your readers know the deal: Fort Benning, GA (again); Fort Hood, TX (my husband did two year long deployments to Iraq during our three year assignment at Hood); Monterey, CA; Amman, Jordan; Falls Church, VA; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a writer- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Siobhan: Well, creatively each post has been inspiring, and all of them are so vividly different from each other that I usually can’t help but write about them. I like to think that the settings of my work are as important as the characters themselves. All equally determine the story. Perhaps I take the adage “write what you know” a little too seriously? I enjoy examining the different ways people live, whether it be how people are on a military base vs. outside it, or how Western women living in the Middle East blend (or don’t) into a different culture. You Know When the Men Are Gone is set in Fort Hood, Texas, during a deployment of a brigade and I worked very hard to get the real Fort Hood, from the vast, scrubby firing ranges to the clever street names like Tank Destroyer or Hell-On-Wheels, into the stories. I’ve also written about Hawaii: one of the characters in You Know When the Men Are Gone met her husband when he was stationed at Schofield, and my story in the anthology Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, is also set in Oahu. The new novel, The Confusion of Languages, takes place in Amman, Jordan, where my family and I lived in 2011. Of course we were stationed at all of the above, so I feel like the writing that came out of these places were gifts from the United States Army. It’s also helpful that a writing career is portable; I can take it with me no matter what corner of the world the military throws us into.
On the downside I inevitably miss opportunities in America. It’s difficult to do a reading or book signing at an indie book store in Chicago when you live in Jordan or Abu Dhabi. And while planning the release of my new novel this summer, I know I have a very small window of time when I will be on U.S. soil during the school break of my small daughters. Combine that with the responsibilities of seeing family and friends, who I usually only get to see once a year, and my blood pressure starts to rise with thoughts of all the ground I have to cover in a such a short amount of time. I really have to be focused about what I can accomplish in advance, and get the word out as much as possible before I even get on a plane. Naturally, I also participate in fewer panels and conferences than I would like because of the tremendous distance. But every once in a while some generous writing program will send me a plane ticket, and of course there is social media, email, and Skype for staying in touch with readers or book clubs.
My husband is very supportive and there are times we can work in an extra trip stateside for me, as long as we can balance childcare and travel expenses with his long work hours. So yes, the distance and unpredictable nature of military life does make it more difficult. You do what you can. We military spouses know how to roll with the punches, and my family and I have been pretty darn blessed with some excellent locations. So like everything in life, it’s a trade off.

MilspoFAN: Of your 2011 work, You Know When the Men are Gone, the New York times wrote “This lean, hard-hitting short-story collection outshone some of the year’s most imposing doorstop-size novels.” How does your writing style and writing process for your first work of short stories compare to your upcoming full-length work, Confusion of Languages?

Siobhan: A novel is a pain in the ass. Honestly, I didn’t think I had any idea how hard it would be. I thought going from stories to novels was a natural progression, something that I’d be able to do without much effort, especially after I practiced so much by writing all those lousy novel drafts that are still lurking on my old hard drives. Right? And everyone was always telling me that my stories read like small novels, and that they wanted more. So I thought I’d just write, you know, more, as in a really, really long short story. HA!
You can read a short story in one sitting. Of course there are things that happen off the page, but the author can keep track of every detail in thirty pages, sometimes to the point where I remember whole snatches almost word for word. You can sit down and sip your coffee and read and say aha! I need to change this and this and then go get another cup of coffee and come back and make those changes. Thirty pages is a small town with a no name grocery store. But three hundred pages! I could never get my mind around the three hundred pages. Three hundred pages is New York City on New Year’s Eve. You can’t possibly keep track of what made it into the novel or not in one sitting, especially after all the editing and rewriting and gnashing of teeth. There are notebooks and index cards and piles of drafts taller than your four year old daughter of everything you deleted and reinserted and deleted again, how can you possibly remember everything?
But you do it. It takes time. Painstaking editing and screaming at your children not to come in and disturb Mommy again for another damn cup of apple juice! You feel like the worst writer (and mom) in the world and the biggest failure and no one will read you and those who do won’t ever be able to look you in the eye again because now they know you have absolutely no talent—and then you write the most beautiful paragraph you have ever written, or figure out why one of your characters behaves in a certain way, or how this one very important plot line can tie seamlessly into another. And that epiphany keeps you going. And when all those terrible thoughts seize your brain again, amazingly enough another epiphany will smile at you.
You need to remember that the things you want to say are there on the page, black and white and real, and it’s worth all the self doubt and agony and hangdog looks of your poor neglected children. Tomorrow you will take the kids to the park, you promise! Writing should be hard. Readers are going to dedicate hours and hours, days maybe, of their precious lives, reading what you have penned, letting your words fill their heads and linger in their thoughts. Those words better be your best.

MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Siobhan: The new novel, Confusion of Languages, will be out June 27, 2017. It started as a short story I wrote in Jordan in May of 2011. That means it’s taken me about six years. Dear God, that’s the first time I’ve done the math. SIX YEARS!! Plus more rewrites than I could even count at this point. I’d started each rewrite from scratch– I’m talking blinking cursor on a blank computer screen, five, six, seven times. I would work from a draft that I printed out (300 $%#@ pages!) next to my computer, but I would retype everything all over again because it felt like the only way to really be in the story, to allow myself to write new material and edit/ catch every nuance of the material I might want to reuse/retype. When I just cut and paste, I feel like I am less critical, I don’t get seized by words in the same way or see the story as something malleable that I can drastically change if need be.
That said, now I’m taking a little bit of a break. It feels good to let new ideas sort of well up in me again, rather than focusing so completely on The Confusion of Languages. I’m writing some non-fiction essays about life in Jordan, thinking about ideas for future projects, letting this incredibly weird and wonderful world of Abu Dhabi inspire me. But it’s nice to not be caught in the thrall of something as overwhelming as working on a novel, if at least for a little while.

MilspoFAN: Is there anything else that you would like to share with MilspoFAN readers?
Siobhan: Reach out to other Military spouses who are in the arts as much as possible. There are more of us than you think. And we are pretty freaking fantastic! Read Andria Williams most excellent blog Military Spouse Book Review (,every word that lady writes is brilliant (you should see her Lego creations) but Andria also shares the space with other mil spouse writers who chime in to review books or write blogs of their own on her page. It always feels good to know we’re not the only ones who worry about these insane mil lives of ours. For something a little more ‘highbrow’ but definitely worth being aware of, I recommend Peter Molin’s blog Time Now (, which reviews all military related arts, from photography to film to writing to dance to theater productions. Molin is incredibly supportive of mil spouses as well as female vets, so it’s not just a list of macho men war novels, if you know what I mean (I’m sure those of you who married to infantry men like me know exactly what I mean).
I want to thank you, Jessica, and I also want to thank all of you who are reading. We need to support each other, and this site is doing that beautifully. We are far flung, we don’t have the natural support system of the home town neighborhoods where we grew up, the libraries and churches and cafes and town halls where we could gather and spread the word about our different projects, so we have to improvise and create our forums online, in places like this. So let’s spread the word and support each other here, and show everyone how much mil spouses have to offer, how we’re not at all the way stereotypes paint us to be, how diverse and talented and amazing we can be.

Thank you so much, Siobhan! MilspoFANS, please join in the discussion over at the MilspoFAN Facebook group or right here in the comments below!
Where to find Siobhan Fallon:
Twitter @SiobhanMFallon
Time Now
Military Spouse Book Review


Excerpt from You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon

Three a.m. and breaking into the house on Cheyenne Trail was even easier than Chief Warrant Officer Nick Cash thought it would be. There were no sounds from above, no lights throwing shadows, no floorboards whining, no water running or the snicker of late-night TV laugh tracks. The basement window, his point of entry, was open. The screws were rusted, but Nick had come prepared with his Gerber knife and WD-40; got the screws and the window out in five minutes flat. He stretched onto his stomach in the dew-wet grass and inched his legs through the opening, then pushed his torso backward until his toes grazed the cardboard boxes in the basement below, full of old shoes and college textbooks, which held his weight.
He had planned this mission the way the army would expect him to, the way only a soldier or a hunter or a neurotic could, considering every detail that ordinary people didn’t even think about. He mapped out the route, calculating the minutes it would take for each task, considering the placement of streetlamps, the kind of vegetation in front, and how to avoid walking past houses with dogs. He figured out whether the moon would be new or full and what time the sprinkler system went off. He staged this as carefully as any other surveillance mission he had created and briefed to soldiers before.
Except this time the target was his own home.
. . .
He should have been relieved that he was inside, unseen, that all was going according to plan. But as he screwed the window back into place, he could feel his lungs clench with rage instead of adrenaline.
How many times had he warned his wife to lock the window? It didn’t matter how often he told her about Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who had gained access to his victims through open basement windows. Trish argued that the open window helped air out the basement. A theory that would have been sound if she actually closed the window every once in a while. Instead she left it open until a rare and thundering storm would remind her, then she’d jump up from the couch, run down the steps, and slam it shut after it had let in more water than a month of searing-weather-open-window-days could possibly dry.
Before he left for Iraq, Nick had wanted to install an alarm system but his wife said no.
“Christ, Trish,” he had replied. “You can leave the windows and all the doors open while I am home to protect you. But what about when I’m gone?”
She glanced up at him from chopping tomatoes, narrowed her eyes in a way he hadn’t seen before, and said flatly, “We’ve already survived two deployments. I think we can take care of ourselves.”
Take care of this, Nick thought now, twisting the screw so violently that the knife slipped and almost split open his palm, the scrape of metal on metal squealing like an assaulted chalkboard. He hesitated, waiting for the neighbor’s dog to start barking or a porch light to go on. Again nothing. Nick could be any lunatic loose in the night, close to his unprotected daughter in her room with the safari animals on her wall, close to his wife in their marital bed.
Trish should have listened to him.
. . .
This particular reconnaissance mission had started with a seemingly harmless e-mail. Six months ago, Nick had been deployed to an outlying suburb of Baghdad, in what his battalion commander jovially referred to as “a shitty little base in a shitty little town in a shitty little country.” One of his buddies back in Killeen had offered to check on Trish every month or so, to make sure she didn’t need anything hammered or lifted
or drilled while Nick was away.
His friend wrote:
Stopped by to see Trish. Mark Rodell was there. Just
thought you should know.
That was it. That hint, that whisper.
Mark Rodell.

Coming June 27, 2017:

Excerpt from The Confusion of Languages, Siobhan Fallon

We are close, so close, to Margaret’s apartment, and I feel myself sink deeper into the passenger seat, relieved that I have succeeded in my small mission of getting Margaret out of her home, if only for a few hours. The day is a success. Sure, I
had to let her drive, something I usually avoid. Margaret is always too nervous, too chatty, looking around at the pedestrians, forgetting to put on her signal, stomping on the brakes too late. But today I actually managed to snap her out of her sadness.
I have done everything a good friend ought to do.
It’s not until we reach the intersection at Horreyya and Hashimeyeen that I realize my mistake. I’ve misjudged the time, something I never do. Friday prayers have already let out. We’d stopped by the ceramics house to pick up a box of pottery I’d
ordered and Margaret, being Margaret, sat down for too long with the hijab-ed women at their worktable, letting them touch Mather, pinching his cheeks and thighs, rubbing silica dust all over his tender baby skin. Now the intersection ahead is congested, chaotic. I see men strolling from the mosques, climbing into the cars they triple-parked along the main road.
I sit up straight, the seatbelt pressing against my chest. The traffic light turns yellow as we approach and cars alongside us speed by. Margaret could step on the gas and easily make the light but both of us see a man on the sidewalk, waving his
entire arm in the air.
“Just go—” I urge, but Margaret shakes her head, slowing the car, the corner of her mouth turning up.
“It’s uncanny how he always spots me.” She says something like this every single time and I usually reply, The man’s livelihood depends on his ability to spot the softhearted suckers. But today I am silent. Mather shouts from his car seat but she ignores him too.
Her window is down before we’ve come to a complete stop. The man reaches into the cluster of dented white buckets at his corner-side stand, pulls free a few dripping-wet bouquets, then dodges traffic until he’s at Margaret’s side. He leans through the window, wearing a red and white checked kaffiyeh around his throat. Margaret’s wallet is on her lap, ready.
“Hello, baby!” the man shouts at Mather, avoiding looking at both of us women with our loose hair and bared elbows. His flowers are spread perfectly across his arm, inches from the very face he will not to peer into. The car fills with the scent of crushed rose petals, exhaust, and his sweat, a faint mix of onions and soil. I do not point out that most of his offerings are wilted, tinged with brown. I notice the cluster of pristine white blossoms at the same time Margaret does, fragile, lacy blooms on very green stems, and she nods toward them, holding up her money. It takes only seconds.
As he passes the chosen bouquet to Margaret through the window, Mather yells again from the backseat, wanting something; that child is always wanting something. The man turns to the baby but he doesn’t stop there; he lifts his face and stares behind our car, his brown eyes widening with fear as he stumbles backward. Before I can look around, there is a ripping scream of brakes and our car leaps forward with a thud of crushed metal. Our heads rock on our spines and there are flowers in flight across the dashboard, white blossoms spread open like tiny, reaching hands.


18 MilspoFAN gems from 2016


In 2016 I launched MilspoFAN with the MilspoFAN blog and on Facebook with the MilspoFAN Page and MilspoFAN Worldwide group.  My goal is to connect military spouses in the fine arts with each other and their communities, and to promote their work. Hopefully, our connections will help make it a little easier to maintain a career in the arts despite frequent relocation.

I’m so proud of what we have accomplished in less than a year and I’m really looking forward to 2017! It’s been a joy to reflect on our artist interviews and some of the initial dream statements from the early blog.

In case you missed it, here are 18 of my favorite highlights from the MilspoFAN blog in 2016. Click the links to for the full blog posts.

1)“I wished there was an easy way to connect with the lovely creative underbellies in the communities that I found myself landing in- a way to quickly find my artistic tribe without endless, searching cold calls and having to sell myself hard to people who already had amazing local circles and contacts locked down.”


2) “I realized [that]… my wish for a ready-made network of artists is a wish I am perfectly capable of granting for myself and others. And tra-la, MilspoFAN was born!”


3) “Tally-ho!” you cry with unflinching gusto- because you are a milspouse and THAT is how we roll: headlong into the unfamiliar.”


4) “The only way there’s going to be a network of artistic types waiting to welcome you when you PCS to Guam in two years is if we get this baby growing!”


5) “…we are a glorious and creative force, and we can make this network a reality.”


6) “What is the network meant to achieve?… What will this network actually look like in the near future?… What dreams do I dare dream for the network in the future?…” [this one was a beautiful doozey, find out the answers by following this link…]


7) ” … who is this “Jessica” character, anyway? And why did she call me a Squirrel?!”
8) “Help!”


9) “Let’s work together to build up the Military Spouse Fine Artists Network,so that we can meet each other more quickly and get to work (and play!).”


10) “Here are some ideas of how you can contribute to the cause: Spread the word! Participate in theFacebook group. Comment on the blog posts! Write a guest post for the blog. Donate some images, illustrations, or other media. Volunteer to help me out this summer. Host a meetup! Write an email. Collaborate with another MilspoFAN member. Send me chocolates or words of encouragement!”


11) “Yes, please, let me go ahead and sum up my entire being in a few paragraphs-sounds easy and fun and not at all intimidating and reductionistic*teenage eye roll*”



12) “The basics:My name is Jessica. I’m a freelance modern dancer choreographer and Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist (BC-DMT) who’s been on a multi-year journey trying to find a calling that is true to my values, needs, skills, and interests. MilspoFAN is the result of that voyage!”


13) “I had this post written mostly yesterday, but then I heard a kerfuffle which turned out to be my daughter giving her teddy bear a bath! One thing led to another and I got majorly derailed, ha!”



14) “I had the wonderful opportunity to commission some artwork for the site from Carly Dilday, the daughter of a military family this summer. Carly has headed off to art school this fall to pursue her passion for illustration. She  was gracious enough to create some lovely illustrations for MilspoFAN before she left.”


15) “I love when people thank military spouses for their service, but in all honesty I feel very fortunate. Having a husband in the military means, for me, that I don’t have to work a traditional job, because we can support ourselves on his income, and we have family health insurance. Instead, I split my time between being a mom of two girls, and writing. My husband has also always been supportive of me; he is constantly telling me that my writing is not about commercial success but about creating art.” – Victoria Kelly


16) “I know the military and I feel like I have a lot to say about military life…especially the journey of the military spouse.  It can often be a challenge to move frequently, survive deployments, long hours and deal with the uncertainty of what the future will bring.  I decided to do a series of military spouses during different stages of their lives.  Pregnancy, deployment, moves, and of course, the ultimate sacrifice, are all depicted in my Military Spouse Series.” – Maria Bennett Hock


17) “I love to sing musical theater music and I LOVE, LOVE to sing classical music/operas.  I am classically trained and love to sing arias when I have the opportunity.  But musical theater is a favorite.  I love playing a character and getting to put emotion in what I’m singing because it’s not just a song, it is a story.” – Nicole Dufield


18) “I probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to be an artist if it weren’t for being a military spouse.  I would most likely have a more traditional form of employment.  It can be a good thing and a bad thing.  I love that we move around a lot and I’m constantly meeting new art friends and getting to check out the art scene in a lot of different locations, it also gives me the opportunity to build my client base in a lot of locations.” –Carrie Waller






An Interview with Carrie Waller

My Dear MilspoFANs,

When I was first conceptualizing MilspoFAN, I spent some time randomly Googling the arts and military spouses. I remember coming across Carrie’s work and being blown away by the vivid beauty in her watercolor paintings of everyday objects. I put her name in a file, intending to write a cold email asking her if she was interested in participating in MilspoFAN. However, as is so often the case in our little interconnected military and military spouse web, I discovered that she is friends with one of our previous interviewees, painter Maria Bennett Hock (October 26, 2016).  Maria introduced Carrie to me and MilspoFAN and here we are with another splendid artist interview for you to take in!

I love how this works, it feels just like magic sometimes! I hope all of you are able to use the growing, interlacing network of MilspoFAN to connect with each other as well. Now let’s get to know Carrie…

Carrie Waller

You can find Carrie at:

First, because Carrie’s accomplishments deserve some truly mad props, I’d like to share Carrie’s formal bio…  

Carrie is an internationally recognized watercolor artist and workshop instructor.  She has won numerous awards and has been published in many publications including The Watercolor Artist Magazine, Southwest Art Magazine, The Art of Watercolour, Pratique des Arts (French publication), and The Artist’s Magazine as a finalist in the magazine’s 2014 Annual Competition.  Her painting “Banned” received the Dana Bartlett top award in the National Watercolor Society’s member show June, 2014.  Her painting “Celebration” received the Gold Medal award for Mid-Southern Watercolorists 44th Annual Juried Exhibition, February, 2014.  She was also runner up for Artist of the Year in the Artist and Illustrator’s Magazine which is a British publication.  Her work has been exhibited all over the United States including the prestigious Salmagundi Club in New York City and also abroad to include the Mall Galleries in London, England, the Shenzhen International Watercolor Biennial, in Shenzhen, China, the Salon de l’Aquarelle in Brussels, Belgium and has exhibited in Tokyo, Japan.  Her work has also been published in Splash 14, Light and Color; The Best of Watercolor and Splash 16: Exploring Texture, Splash 17, Inspiring Subjects  and has been selected for publication in Splash 18.

MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.

Carrie: I have been living in Japan for the last 2.5 years and have gained so much inspiration from living all over the world.  I have 2 sons (10 and 7) and am married to an active duty, air force husband.  Brian and I have been married for 15 years, we met in college and have lived in Bann, Germany, Charleston, SC, Dayton, OH, Montgomery, AL, Little Rock, AR and now here in Japan.  Marrying into the military wasn’t much of a change for me I spent my life moving and lived in Indianapolis, IN, Dallas, TX, Houston, TX, Alexandria, VA, Baltimore, MD, Carterville, IL, Los Angeles, CA, and Chicago, IL before getting married.

 MilspoFAN: Tell us how you got into the fine arts and watercolor in particular. When did you know you wanted to be an artist as a career?

 Carrie: I have always been creative and loved to draw and paint.  In college I studied Graphic Design and Interior Design.  I received a degree in Interior Design and had a job lined up working for an Architectural firm in Chicago but my life took a turn when I got engaged and married to my husband my senior year of college.  Brian was in ROTC and found out he was moving to Germany for his first assignment so we got married during finals week our senior year so I could be on his orders.  Moving to Germany put a kink in my plans to be an Interior Designer.  There was actually an Interior Design position open at Rammstein Air Base but it was for a GS 12.  They tried for a year to work out a position for me but they it never came to fruition so I started working for the Boys and Girls Club as a contract position running the Art program for Teen Center at Landstuhl.  I also went to the library and picked up every book on watercolor and taught myself enough techniques to begin teaching classes to children and adults.  This experience taught me that I would have to create my own path while my husband was in the military.  I also learned that we would only be in an area for a short amount of time so I needed to hit the ground running.  I have pretty much stuck with this philosophy with the exception of a couple of years when I had my kids and focused on taking care of my babies.  After I had my second son my husband deployed and I knew I needed to get back into creating again and that is when I started painting in watercolor full time.  I started a blog with the concept of painting a painting a week and have been painting since.

“5 o’clock Shadow”- 20″ x 24″ watercolor

 MilspoFAN: What role or purpose does painting play in your life today? 

 Carrie: Painting keeps me sane.  I really get in the zone when I paint and it is a kind of meditation for me.  I can tell when I am not painting because I am more stressed.

 MilspoFAN: Besides painting, do you have other interests?

 Carrie: I am very involved in my kid’s school.  I volunteer in their art class.  I am also currently the VP of Programs for the PWOC chapter on our base.  That has been fun and let me be creative in other ways.  We just had our Holiday Tea and it was very fun to work on every detail.  My husband is an AMXS Squadron Commander so I am heavily involved with the key spouse program as a mentor.

MilspoFAN: How do you choose your subjects?

 Carrie: I find inspiration everywhere.  Where I live is a big inspiration.  We have had the good fortune to live in some good locations, Europe and Asia come to mind and all of those experiences have shaped me as an artist.  I am really inspired by light and how it bounces off things and of course it does some dramatic things to glass so that is why glass has become a huge source of inspiration for many of my paintings.  But, I recently painted a vending machine and I would have never used a vending machine as a subject in the States but in Japan they are everywhere and such a part of society I had to paint one.

“Hot and Cold, Japanese Vending Machine”- 17″ x 20″ watercolor


I also have drawn inspiration from childhood which is where my Ball jar paintings came from.  My light bulb series came to light after reading in the paper that there was going to be a ban on incandescent bulbs.  So really anything can inspire a painting for me.

“Focus”- 14″ x 20″ watercolor



MilspoFAN: Describe your artistic process from idea to finished painting.

Carrie: Once I become inspired by something I cannot wait to set up still life props and photograph them.   I only use intense sunlight to light my objects so I have to work around the weather.  On a nice sunny day I set up my newest inspirations.  During photo shoot days I may be doing multiple photo shoots on the same day.  I often take 100 shots or more of a setup from all different angles and viewpoints.  I then download them onto my computer and I love seeing what I end up with.  Sometimes it is better than expected and other times it’s not so great so I’m back to the proverbial drawing board.  Once I find a few photos I like I edit them in Photoshop, cropping them and changing the coloring to a desirable composition.  Then it is time to get to work.  I draw my subject onto my watercolor paper (Arches 260lb cold pressed paper).  I tape my watercolor paper down to my board and start to paint using my Daniel Smith watercolors and size 4 kolinsky sable brush.  I paint from right to left in a puzzle like fashion.

MilspoFAN: Tell us about the Artists Helping Artists podcast that you co-host.

Carrie: I found Artist Helping Artist when I first started painting.  Leslie had just started the podcast and I started listening religiously and became a Facebook friend of hers and the shows.  We started talking because of comments I had made on her pages and blog.  By the time she was looking for co-hosts I had met her in person and she asked me if I would co-host.  The great thing about podcasts are that I can still co-host even from Japan.  We have made it work, isn’t technology great!  AHA is the most important thing that I did starting as an artist.  I listened to Leslie’s advice and did what she said to do and it was like having my own personal art coach.  AHA is the best thing going out there for artists and it’s free!!!

MilspoFAN: You have won many impressive awards for your work; tell us about some  that have special significance to you.

Carrie: It has been amazing to do so well in competitions.  I really have used them as a way to get my name out there in many different areas of the country and world.  The competitions that really stick out in my mind are my first blue ribbon.  The very first watercolor competition I entered was with the Louisiana Watercolor Society and I placed first.  I was shocked and thrilled and it gave me validation that I was on the right track and should keep pursuing watercolor.  Another monumental win was winning the Daniel Smith art competition.  The year I won there was a very large prize and I ended up winning $10,000 in art supplies and a trip to Seattle where they are located.  I am pretty much set for life on paint and I still have a ton of watercolor paper 3 years later.

“Sagaku”- 8″x 15″ watercolor


How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as an artist- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?

 Carrie: I probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to be an artist if it weren’t for being a military spouse.  I would most likely have a more traditional form of employment.  It can be a good thing and a bad thing.  I love that we move around a lot and I’m constantly meeting new art friends and getting to check out the art scene in a lot of different locations, it also gives me the opportunity to build my client base in a lot of locations.  It has been harder to teach workshops while living in Japan but the opportunity to live in a place like Japan is just fueling my soul for future paintings.

MilspoFAN: Where do you want to take your painting next?

 Carrie: I really want to create a body of work based on my time in Japan and have a cohesive show.

Very best wishes as you work toward that cohesive show, Carrie! It’s so inspiring to hear about how Carrie found her talent and worked hard to make the military lifestyle an asset to her artistic career, rather than a hindrance.  Thanks to Carrie and to all of the MilspoFAN members and readers for joining me in learning more about Carrie’s work and process. Enjoy the tail end of 2016 everyone! See you all in the new year.



An interview with Nicole Dufield

nicoled2Welcome, Dear MilspoFAN Readers!

I have a lovely treat of an interview for you today!
Nicole Dufield is an amazingly strong, spirited singer in the Hampton Roads, VA area.

I met her through a mutual friend when I lived there but had no idea that she had a musical background until I was about to move away. That’s a frustratingly familiar story! But this is exactly why MilspoFAN exists now- to quickly connect artsy milspo folks (and enthusiasts, organizations, other military family members, etc.) with each other so we have as much time as possible to build personal and professional relationships.

I’m very grateful that I did finally get a chance to hear all about Nicole’s work in this interview. You can feel the buzz of her passion and confidence come through as she shares with us about her singing.  I’m quite excited to introduce her to you all. So, without further ado…


MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.

Nicole: I am a mom of three girls, 5, 3 and 6 months!  I was born and raised on Long Island, NY.  I lived with my mom, grandma and aunt growing up.  I was raised to be a strong, independent woman!  I started playing piano at 5 years old and learned to read music before I could words. I started playing violin at the age of 8 and started singing at age 10.  I knew I wanted to pursue music by middle school age and never wavered.  I went to college in Rhode Island and a couple years after graduation met my sailor while he was stationed in Newport, RI.  We got married a year after we met and moved while I was pregnant with our oldest.  Doing a move while 9 months pregnant was quite the challenge.  My sailor checked into his new command on a Friday, he went underway that next Monday and I went into labor that Thursday evening.  I had to drive myself to the hospital while in labor and quickly learned how to be on my own in this Navy life.  I met sailor on shore duty, and sea duty was quite the shock.  Sailor has been in the Navy for 15 years, I have been with him for 8 of those 15 years and wouldn’t change a thing.  I have loved the friendships it has given me, and the new home it has blessed us with.

MilspoFAN: How and why did you get into music and start singing, and how has your music/singing evolved to where you are today?

Nicole: My aunt was taking piano lessons when I was still 4 and I would sit and “play” and not just bang like my cousins.  She taught me a couple things and it just clicked for me.  Music just made sense in my brain.  My piano teacher agreed to start teaching me once I was in Kindergarten.  But I could read music before words made any sense to me.  I started to sing in elementary school, and I was good at it.  I enjoyed singing much more than playing piano, so I started focusing on my voice and my gift just exploded.  I started taking lessons which led to wanting to be a voice teacher.  I started singing in church and it all just snowballed.  After college I started singing in churches more and now I sing weddings and funerals at my church and weekly services.

MilspoFAN: Besides singing do you have other artistic interests?

Nicole: I enjoy the theater.  I used to perform in musicals and loved to make my life a song!  Acting was another artistic passion of mine.

MilspoFAN: Do you prefer working creatively as a soloist or do you enjoy collaborating with other artists (either musical artists or artists of other disciplines such as dance, visual, film, etc.)?

Nicole: I enjoy being a soloist, who doesn’t love the limelight?  But I do miss being a part of a real choir.  I love being able to harmonize and listening to the different parts blend together and create this masterpiece.  After a while singing the melody gets boring, haha.  I love being able to harmonize with someone without even practicing.  When finding someone who is also so well trained that you can just feed off each other is the biggest high in my book!

MilspoFAN: What are a few of your favorite pieces of music to sing and why?
Nicole: I love to sing musical theater music and I LOVE, LOVE to sing classical music/operas.  I am classically trained and love to sing arias when I have the opportunity.  But musical theater is a favorite.  I love playing a character and getting to put emotion in what I’m singing because it’s not just a song, it is a story.

MilspoFAN: What role or purpose does singing play in your life today?

Nicole: Singing is who I am.  It is my outlet and my way to express myself.  It has been the way that I am Nicole, not just mommy.  It is the part of me that was me before I became a mom and that is not something that can be taken away.  I get to share my gift with my children and we sing together and I get to share my love of song with my girls now.

I’ve done music obviously my whole life. It’s who I am, no matter where our life takes us, no matter how old I am, or my children are, music will be in me. It’s in every fiber of my being. And it makes me ecstatic to have it that way, I wouldn’t want it any other way!


We wouldn’t want it any other way, either, Nicole! Thank you for taking a moment to get acquainted with Nicole and her work. Holy mackerel, did you catch where she said she drove herself to the hospital while in labor?! That’s some stone cold military spouse-ing! The way she speaks about her relationship to music is electrifying. As always, I encourage you to show your support for Nicole by adding a comment or question here on the blog or on our Facebook group at: