Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

When Writing What You Know Works

December 9, 2019

The short story “SeeApp” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2019) is a brilliant illustration of why we are advised to write what we know. James Van Pelt taught for 36 years; he may have never been in a school like the one in his story, or met anyone like his characters, but everything feels right. The descriptions are in his bones, and the words flow off his fingers. This is why my co-author Ann Anastasio and I set our first book in a quilt store, and grounded all our books in the quilting world. We know those places like our own kitchens, and we know the people in them. It was easy to create the settings and characters when we had our combined lifetime experiences to draw upon. Once that was on paper, the stories took off on their own. I’m convinced everyone has at least one story to tell, so give it a try. Put the world you know best in words, and see where that takes you.

Luck and wisdom!

Titles and Where to Find Them

December 2, 2019

I have a file box of quilt, story, and title ideas. When inspiration strikes, I’ll write the idea on whatever scrap of paper is closest to hand. The trick is to keep an open mind for the odd turn of phrase, have something to make notes at all times, and be prepared to give your conversation partners fair warning when you intend to steal something they said.

If I don’t use the idea immediately, I’ll keep the scrap in a pile. After a few months or years, if the idea still appeals to me, I’ll write it on a 3×5 card and put it in the box. I’ve actually used those cards, although there are more ideas than I’ll ever have time to use. Nevertheless, it is comforting to know if a good title doesn’t reveal itself immediately, I have a resource. Even if none of my backup titles fit the project, they will often lead me to the proper one.

Luck and wisdom!

Thankful for Brevity

November 25, 2019

In this holiday season, I am thankful for brevity. I appreciate journalists who know how to write a proper lead, websites that get me where I want to be in three clicks or less, and bloggers who get to the point.

Luck and wisdom!

The Sewing Guide to Character Development

November 18, 2019

As a fiber artist – whether for art quilts or garments – I let the fabric tell me what pattern to use. I realized I also use the same technique when I’m creating characters. Like the titles of my two favorite sewing books suggest, I repurpose people and mix and match traits to create the characters I need. Treating the plot as if it were fabric, I adapt the material at hand (ie, my friends and family) to suit the needs of my art. There are a couple of advantages to this, the first being if I blend traits well enough no character of mine will be recognizable as a real person. Just because I think I am using the best parts of folks I know in my characters doesn’t mean the actual people will agree, or like the way I’ve portrayed them. I love all the people in my life, and wouldn’t hurt their feelings for anything, not even the possibility of being on The New York Times best-seller list. The second advantage is no one I know has ever fought shape-shifting aliens invading Earth disguised as bolts of beige fabric, or gone to another planet to stop a civil war, or tried to lure a renegade alien soldier with spumoni ice cream. Using bits and pieces of the life stories of people around me turns out to be the ideal way for me to begin developing my characters. Then, like my quilts, the piece takes over and tells me where it wants to go. What is your ideal method of character development?

Luck and wisdom!

Sharing and Self-Promotion

November 11, 2019

Forgot to take a picture of us at the boutique, so here’s one of my book covers

I rented a booth at a holiday boutique to sell my books. Knowing that I can promote other people’s products much better than I can my own, I invited two friends who write in basically the same genre to share my table. To my great delight, the scheme worked. We all sold books, and we all had a great time. To me, the moving target that is self-promotion is easier to vector in on with friends. It seemed that even the shoppers who didn’t buy our books spent more time listening to our pitch when there were three of us at the table. You might think bringing in competition would hurt my chances of making a sale, but it didn’t work out that way. Next time you’re planning a book event, consider helping another author and see how it helps you.

Luck and wisdom!

PS – Shameless self-promotion alert, you can buy The Chenille Ultimatum here.

What Is Forward?

November 4, 2019

Although I write fiction, I mostly read nonfiction. The latest book – that I found at the library, the best invention ever – is Joseph LeDoux‘s The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains. Without weighing in on LeDoux’s theory, I will share one tidbit that may inspire a poem, a quilt, and/or a character. LeDoux writes, “What is forward? Forward is a direction that emerges from the shape of a bilateral body.”

So, forward is where I’m looking.

Okay, that’s simplistic to the point of inaccuracy, but still there are creative possibilities in those two sentences. Quilters who make double-sided pieces know what I mean. When both sides are beautiful, which is the front? I’m not sure where my pondering will take me, but I have given myself permission to explore. After all, if I don’t like the view I can always change direction and still be going forward.

Luck and wisdom!

Watching the World Change

October 28, 2019

When I was a kid, I would watch for gray winter skies and wonder if school would be closed for a snow day. The kids in my part of the world watch for gray autumn skies and wonder if school will be closed for a fire day. Even if the fire spares your town here, your area might be under mandatory evacuation, the power may be cut off or the air quality may be too hazardous to go outside. I’m watching the world change in real time and in ways I never imagined.

Since there is nothing I can do about the fires, I’m spending my non-worrying time figuring out how to use these changes to expand my writing. Perhaps I’ll try a bit of historical fiction, as I think I have a better grasp of the dread an ancient Kievan peasant might have felt looking at the growing cloud on the eastern horizon, wondering if it were a storm or the khan’s cavalry invading the land.

Luck and wisdom!

My Vision, My Opinion, My Fiction

October 21, 2019

I ran across two notions about vision and opinion this week – “no self-respecting animal moves before it looks” (Kay Hogan) and “whenever you go someplace, you not only see the environment, but you develop an opinion about it” (Camille Minichino). The first comes from a teacher of The Alexander Technique, a method to retrain the body into healthier posture and movement. The second is from a prolific writer and teacher who was explaining how to give the reader more information while building suspense. Since I’m not the kind of writer who wants to explore dysfunctional characters, I am delighted to have these comments in my toolbox. I like both my heroines and villains to be rational, sensible, and ultimately concerned with the common good. The idea of moving from what you think you see to what actually exists is more interesting to me than trying to fight ultimate evil. Either/or situations usually lead to never-ending conflict, while trying to be of the most benefit to the most people holds the promise of cooperation. While I tell my friends it is a very good thing indeed that I am not Queen of the Universe because the bloodbath would be appalling, I don’t really want to wreak havoc. Violence only produces resentment, resistance, and another round of purges. Cooperation requires hard work to find common ground, which promotes understanding, which can lead to compassion. That’s where hope lies. So, while I will use the first impressions of my protagonist to give the reader information, I’m think in order to make the character change, learn, and grow I will focus on expanding her vision and modifying her opinion.

Luck and wisdom!

A Turning Point That Wasn’t

October 16, 2019

Last year at a memoir-writing workshop I wrote an outline of turning points in my life. This past week I was reminded of a career path I didn’t take and how grateful I am for that. When I graduated from college, I considered applying to the State Department. My father – a long-time civil servant – sorta kinda maybe talked me out of it. I found a different job, didn’t like it, moved to another city, married, moved across country, and discovered quilting. The brilliant career I dreamed of never materialized, but I’ve made art, contributed to my community, and even co-authored a series of sci fi novels (shameless self-promotion, you can buy the latest one here). Not too shabby, all things considered.

Whenever I wonder about the life I might have had, I remember 1979 and the hostage crisis in Tehran. Bruce Laingen (pictured above) was stationed there, the highest-ranking diplomat among the 52 U.S. Embassy workers held in Iran for 444 days. He was also a graduate of my alma mater, Saint Olaf College. In my imagination, I could see myself getting sent to Iran for my first posting, maybe even meeting Laingen at an embassy function and mentioning that I too was an Ole grad. Then the revolution would come, and I would be running for my life. That’s when I breathe a prayer of thankfulness for my (relatively) calm and peaceful existence.

Laingen died recently at age 96. He grew up on a Minnesota farm, interrupted his education to serve his country in World War II, then returned to complete his degree before continuing his service in government. The Iranian hostage crisis brought him to the world’s attention, and he responded with dignity, calm, and presence. He earned every bit of respect due him. I am very grateful to Laingen for showing America at its best.

Luck and wisdom!

Eve’s Requiem and Me

October 14, 2019

 

A few years ago, Spider Road Press published one of my short stories in Eve’s Requiem: Tales of Women, Mystery, and Horror. I made an art quilt to commemorate the event (my story is called “The Family Tree”). The anthology must still be doing well, because on October 10 Spider Road Press offered an Instagram giveaway for those submitting their favorite quote or image from the book. Given that it is Halloween month, if you want to indulge in some spooky stories check out Eve’s Requiem (now with a new cover).

Luck and wisdom!