Patience Rewarded

April 21, 2021
An aerial view of a city center surrounded by trees

I think the top I worked on last week must have read my blog, because my patience was rewarded this week. The top revealed what it wanted to be slowly – step by step, patch by patch. I’m going to take the win. Not only did I finish the top, but I made the backing and binding. I did hedge my bets a little on the binding by using a black tone-on-tone fabric that could easily be used for another quilt. The top is going on the to-be-quilted pile, and it may take some time before I get to it. Who knows what the little precious will want for a binding if I give it too much time to think?

Luck and wisdom!

Working Through Plot Headaches

April 19, 2021

After listening to Martha Alderson speak at Tri-Valley Writers, I realized my latest novel has plot holes that could double as train tunnels and I have no idea how to fix them. The answer is simple on the surface – keep going. Keep writing notes. Try approaching my muddle-in-the-middle by envisioning the end. Throw in more sensory detail until I really understand the scene and let logic take its course.

But what if I don’t wanna?

What if I woke up in a grouchy mood (for no good reason, mind you) and I can feel my heels start to kick against the floor and a long wail growing up from my toes? The Calvinist in me says get my hinder back in the chair and my pudgy fingertips on the keyboard and write anyway. The coward in me says I should just go back to bed because it’s hopeless, hopeless. The Labrador Retriever in me says the sun is shining, the air is sweet, and there are butterflies to chase (to which my knees say that boat done sailed, honey, so let’s forget all about this chasing nonsense).

In years past, I would grab a handful of carrot sticks and munch away until something popped into my head. After turning myself orange more than once, I gave up carrots and started fixing myself a nice cup of tea. Perhaps now I should listen to my inner Labrador and enjoy the sunshine with my tea until I can face the blank computer screen again. Because being a writer really isn’t hopeless, if you just give your story a chance to tell you what it wants.

Luck and wisdom!

Making A City

April 14, 2021

I enjoy making cityscapes, except for the project pictured above. It is supposed to be an aerial view of a small city, with parks and and tree-lined neighborhoods. It didn’t quite come together, and has been in my UFO pile for ages. I took class with Kellie Willey and thought I had the perfect theme for a border to finish the project, adapting one of her free-form miniblocks to show a tree from above. That didn’t quite work as I planned either. The Challenge Group assignment was announced – making striped fabric – and I thought this would be a way to connect my trees with a path. It’s not progressing as I expected. “Self,” I said, “you just aren’t cut out to be an urban planner.”

Then I started the section of Scale dealing with the growth of cities. West proposes that cities are more organic than we might think, and suggests urban planners consider this when making plans. Now I understand why my quilt isn’t making progress. It is more organic – more alive – than I gave it credit, and needs more time to grow. As with a late-blooming child, I just need to be patient. It will get there eventually.

Luck and wisdom!

Writing About What’s Missing

April 12, 2021

The death of Prince Phillip brought to mind my grandparents. They are all long gone, but parts of their lives remain with me. My grandfather Noah Longshore crocheted this coat for my aunt C. Kay, and she gave it to me a few years ago. Noah learned to crochet from my grandmother Georgia while he was recovering from brain surgery in the 1940s. There wasn’t much physical therapy available then, and he thought the rhythmic motion of crochet would help him recover function in his fingers. It worked, and the family has many of his pieces to remind us of him. The twist to this story is that Georgia didn’t use patterns, so Noah never did either. When he made this coat for C. Kay he measured out a length of yarn for the arm and went on from there. Noah’s ability to see a finished product was passed down to his son George, my late father.

When discussing the loss of a loved one, it’s hard enough to describe what’s missing in your life when talking with people who also knew that person. As a writer, whether it’s memoir or fiction, trying to anchor the reader in what’s missing while at the same time building the world that no longer exists is a challenge. The small details of a life, in this case a crocheted coat that was designed as the maker worked, can give the reader valuable information about the character. Seeing how the ability to visualize an end result was passed down to the next generation shows the reader the connections that families have. This grounds the reader in a real world, one that she too will mourn when you describe how it changed forever.

Luck and wisdom!

Pushing Against Resistance – Quilting

April 7, 2021

Pushing against resistance in my studio is a different process from pushing against resistance in my writing, or in my tai chi practice. The first bit of resistance is often the door to the room. If one of my piles has fallen, the door may need a bit of persuasion to open. Next comes the urge to flee when I see all the projects waiting for attention. It takes a lot of energy to resist that feeling. Finally, I have to resist the little voice in my head that begs me not to cut into the fabric – any fabric – because if the project isn’t beautiful I will have wasted it. I did come up with a coping mechanism, which is embellishment. You can disguise all mistakes, no matter how large, with enough embroidery and beads. Unfortunately, the little voice is now begging me not to waste my beautiful embroidery threads unless I know the project will be perfect. So, I bought tons of embroidery books to be able to find the ideal motif for any project. Now the books are another distraction, because many of those motifs deserve a project of their own.

And that is why I hide chocolate in my sewing room.

Luck and wisdom!

Pushing Against Resistance – Writing

April 5, 2021

There is a concept in tai chi of pushing against resistance. I like to imagine myself in an ocean, pushing against the water as I practice. Sometimes it feels like the little gray cells are pushing against resistance when I sit down to write. I’ve surrounded myself with books for inspiration, information, and guidance, but when those books turn into a distraction, what is one to do? There is so much to learn, and you’d be such a better writer if you knew more says the impish angel of my nature, and I’m off reading when I should be writing. Or I’m off to find more books, which I read by the page but buy by the pound. And where is the better angel of my nature, the one who will convince me to set fingers to keyboard until the words flow? Good question. If you find her, send her home.

Luck and wisdom!

Bindings

March 31, 2021

I know that lap quilts need between a third and a half of a yard of fabric for binding. I know that I have lots of fabrics in my stash that look like they would be large enough. What I didn’t know was how random my fabric choices must be, because a lot of those half-yard pieces don’t belong to what I’m currently making. I’m not sure they ever will. So, for the last quilt I made (which will go to my guild for our outreach donations) I had to give myself a little color lecture before I found something I liked in my stash. Under ordinary circumstances I would have gone with a blue that was a little darker than the blue batik border. These are not ordinary circumstances, and I didn’t have enough of any one blue for the binding. Even if I wanted to piece a scrappy binding, not all of my blues blend. So, I chose a green print that reads as a stripe. Now that it’s finished, I discover I really like it.

Just as I was finishing this quilt, my local quilt shop announced it is expanding its hours. Since I have used up most of the large pieces in my stash, I think I deserve a shopping trip. I have more tops that I want to give to the guild for the donation program, and they all need backs and binding. Yes, I had pledged not to buy more fabric until I used up what I had, but there’s no use in having all those tops taking up space when with a few careful purchases I could get them finished and out the door.

You’re still laughing at the idea that I will only make a few purchases, aren’t you?

Luck and wisdom!

Chapter Endings

March 29, 2021

One of the rewards of being part of a critique group or a beta reading group is seeing how other writers approach their writing problems. At the moment, I’m fussing about chapter endings. The goal is to write something so enticing the reader will turn to the next page regardless of how late the hour or how pressing the other commitments. My inner critic is never entirely pleased with my chapter endings. Reading the work of my peers gives me the courage to silence that inner critic. When their prose is no better than mine but I’m still looking forward to finding out what happens next, that’s when I breathe a sigh and tell myself I can keep on with this writing business. I encourage my critique buddies to trust their readers – I think I’m ready to start taking my own medicine.

Luck and wisdom!

Collaboration In The Time Of COVID

March 24, 2021

Before the pandemic, I had donated an offer to make a custom quilt for a fundraiser. The winner decided she wanted a small crazy quilt and said she had no time constraints. I started assembling supplies, and then came the lockdown. For the first few months, the project was just put on hold. Then I learned a bit about Zoom and suggested we have a virtual meeting to discuss fabric choices. We talked about what she wanted, and I showed her some of the fabrics I had collected. I told her I would make some sample blocks and we could go from there. Well, the lockdown continued, and even when some restrictions were lifted it never seemed the right time to look at the samples. After I had finished 26 blocks, I decided it was time for another virtual meeting. And it worked! She could see the blocks well enough to choose 20 for her quilt, and approve the backing fabric I found. I never would have suggested such a thing except that my friendship groups have been showing our projects virtually, so I knew I could position things properly on the screen and adjust the lighting in the room to show the true colors. It is true that this old dog prefers not to learn new tricks, but it’s nice to discover that – given enough incentive – I can.

Luck and wisdom!

Showing Resilience in Character

March 22, 2021

One thing the pandmeic has shown is that people can muddle through quite a lot and be fine at the end if they’ve been trained to be resilient. After a year of digging through my experience to solve the latest COVID-related problem, I finally realized I should consider how to show resilience in my characters. If you are writing a series, you can expect the reader to accept that your heroine will always find a way out of any clever plot twist, but how do you show that resilience in a stand-alone novel? No, seriously, I’m asking.

The standard answer is that you put it in the backstory and sprinkle that through the narrative. If you’ve been clever enough to establish that your character has some skills, such as botanist Mark Watney in The Martian, your reader will follow where you lead. If you begin your novel in the protagonist’s childhood, as Delia Owens does in Where The Crawdads Sing, you have established a foundation for her ability to do whatever she must. If you’ve done as I have, however – started writing and let the characters tell you what they want as you go along – then you need to put in something that will explain why Cecily is able to become an interstellar diplomat when she hasn’t got a credential to her name.

I have given her friends who can contribute their own skills. One of those friends is someone she has known for years, so they can reference a shared experience as they are exploring possible solutions to their dilemma. Since she was traveling in space, Cecily brought very little with her so I can’t drop in talismans or mementos that she might have accumulated at home. I’m tempted to have her find something on the planet (Rineta) that reminds her of another struggle in her past, even if it is just a budding plant. One can hope that eventually Cecily will tell me what sort of device would serve her – and the readers.

Luck and wisdom!