Requiem for a Plan

July 10, 2019

So, I had this idea of what I wanted to do with my kangaroo block. Go ahead and laugh, the universe certainly did. I thought I would surround the block with strips, then a checkerboard, then a single outer border. This is what happened.

The good news is I like the result. I am also looking forward to donating it to a shelter for someone else’s child to enjoy. And, I’m more convinced than ever that patterns were made for people who do not think like me – or at least, who have fabric that tells them other things than my fabric tells me.

Luck and wisdom!

History and Your Story

July 8, 2019

We are all connected by history, whether or not those connections show up in our family stories. While reading The Great Influenza (by John M. Barry), my husband realized that his grandfather (pictured above) brought the family from Canada through New York in late 1918, when thousands of people in that region were dying every day from the flu. My husband wondered what his grandparents might have known about the epidemic, since wartime censorship and bureaucratic panic kept some newspapers from reporting the full extent of the crisis. If they knew, how worried were they about bringing their young children into the area? Could this also be the reason why all records of that crossing disappeared – perhaps the clerk who processed them died before he had a chance to file the paperwork?

When you are creating the world your characters inhabit, consider the way history will affect their lives. Even if you aren’t writing a historical novel, the past has a way of intruding on the present. If nothing else, a random connection with some great historical event could explain an odd behavior in a parent or grandparent that shapes your character’s choices.

Luck and wisdom!

The Story of the Kangaroo

July 3, 2019

I am unearthing the projects I couldn’t figure out how to finish or how to let go. Not all of them are obviously special, except to me. Here is an example.

The reasons I made this kangaroo block are lost in the mists of time. I recall that I drew the pattern myself, and that I hand embroidered the blanket stitch around the edge. Beyond that, I’ve got nothing. Even so, as I took this block out of the bag, part of me wanted to keep it.

“Self,” I said, “don’t even think about saving this block. Yes, it’s cute. Yes, you spent a lot of time on it. However, you don’t have a purpose for it, and someone else could enjoy it.”

I pulled some blues from my scrap pile and am in the middle of auditioning them for a log cabin-ish border around the kangaroo. I’ll probably surround that with a checkerboard. If I’m lucky, I’ll have enough of something within easy reach that is appropriate for a final border. It will be a quilt for a small child, so I won’t need much. The backing will be more of the fabric I used as a background for the kangaroo block. Once I put on that final border, I’ll have talked myself into happily letting it go for a charity quilt. After all, by then it will be one more project off the piles!

Luck and wisdom!

Motivation and Your Characters

July 1, 2019

If the reader doesn’t understand why your characters do what they do, chances are she’ll close the book at a convenient stopping place – usually after your protagonist has behaved in a way that just doesn’t make sense. I am clearly not the target audience for a book I am reading now, and it has taken me a long time to figure out the main character’s motivation. Rather than being pleased with myself for being clever, I am angry with the character for feeling bound to a tradition that does nothing for her. I suspect that at the end – when I expect our heroine will finally be granted a place in her community – I will be hoping for a massive wildfire to burn the town to the ground. This, I am sure, is not what the author intended the reader to feel.

Since I write for a targeted audience, I am analyzing this book carefully. I’m trying to identify one or two places early in the story where I wish the author had shown me a time when the heroine was rewarded for her loyalty. I will use that insight to add a line or two in my novels so the non-quilter reading any book in the Chenille series will understand what motivates the characters. More important, I want that reader to believe this is a rational motivation, and bonds with the character. This will keep the reader invested in the book, and (one can always hope) happy with the ending.

Luck and wisdom!

Incremental Progress Is Better Than Nothing

June 26, 2019

I’m in the middle of projects just now. It’s great that I’m still working on the PIPs (Projects In Piles), but it doesn’t lead to stunning photographs. Still, I am making incremental progress and can prove it.

This is the first time in ages that I’ve done machine quilting without worrying that I’ll knock a thousand piles from the table to the floor. Now there are only a few hundred piles on the table. This is progress.

I no longer have to do the Sewing Room Shuffle to get from the door to the sewing machine. There is a clear path for my feet, despite the fact that I brought in a large plastic zippered bag of fabric that I had been storing in the garage for a lo-o-o-ng time (on floor, far left, top photo).

Best of all, I have maintained a clear space around the outlet. It’s not a lot of progress, but it’s better than nothing.

Luck and wisdom!

What I Missed and How I Found It

June 24, 2019

 

How did I miss Good Omens? Okay, so I often have to ask myself a similar question when I come across something that everyone else knew about (the young Gary Cooper comes to mind). My husband and I watched the Amazon miniseries made from the novel after our son recommended it, then our daughter reminded us she owned a copy of the book and had left it when she went to graduate school. Even if you see the miniseries first, it is well worth your time to read the book. Aside from being darn good entertainment, the writing is fabulous. It’s the kind of book you read and say, “Self, this is what you should be doing with your story.” I was particularly impressed with how Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wove in physical details about their characters throughout the story. I thought I had a good grasp of that technique, but I was wrong. This is the way it should be done. Read it for yourself and see.

Luck and wisdom!

Crowd Sourcing Good Luck

June 19, 2019

A friend asked me to look after her plant while she is out of town, which is a real hoot as I have the blackest thumbs on either side of the Mississippi. She knows this, but either doesn’t believe me or wants to give the universe a chance to perform a miracle. I’m going with the second option, which is why I am going to ask any and all to send out cosmic hugs to this little creature.

Week 1 – still alive

Yes, I am trying to crowd source good luck, but not for me. I will take no credit whatsoever if the plant thrives. I am barely able to keep my own plants living. This one is hanging on out of sheer force of will.

The little plant that could

Don’t tell me about your never-fail plant food, or the wisdom of repotting. My mother and husband are fabulous plant whisperers, so perhaps that’s all one family gets. I won’t ask for a green thumb. All I’m asking is you hold a happy thought for the innocent plant entrusted to me.

Luck and wisdom!

Practice Good Critique Technique

June 17, 2019

In the last week I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of mistakes, which means I was asking and being asked for forgiveness simultaneously, which got me thinking about good critique technique. First, don’t make excuses. When hearing that your piece didn’t work for your critique partners, listen first, then ask questions. What you intended the reader (or viewer, if you are critiquing art quilts) to perceive doesn’t matter nearly as much as understanding why someone else didn’t see what you thought was already there.

When telling a writer that the piece didn’t work for you, accept that the story may never be the one you want your critique partner to write. State how you expected the characters to behave – which gives the writer valuable information – rather than give orders for how they should be rewritten.

Finally, always remember to be kind. Well-considered words spoken with a friendly tone will encourage your critique partners to keep trying. And isn’t that what you want from them?

Luck and wisdom!

Scrap Happy(ish)

June 12, 2019

Perhaps because we’ve had three days in a row of triple digit heat, I feel like having a moan. When I heard my friend Jeanne Brophy needed some random 2 1/2” squares, I gladly volunteered to cut some from my overflowing scrap bin.

Save the gasps and tsk-tsking, this is what is left of the pile. Here is what I removed.

And this is the pile of cut squares:

On the one hand, I’m delighted that I could help a friend and get rid of some scraps. On the other hand, I’m dismayed at the amount of scraps that remain. On yet another hand (or perhaps a foot), I’m dumbfounded at the tiny pile of cut squares in relation to the size of the pile of scraps! And yes, I do understand this is the fate of all quilters. Here ends the moan for the day.

Luck and wisdom!

Can Your Characters Save Your Plot?

June 10, 2019

Author, instructor, and former agent Nathan Bransford suggests journaling about your plot from your characters’ points of view when the words stop flowing (read his blog post here). When I read this, my first thought was, “Brilliant!” When my second thought was equally positive, I knew this was advice I could use.

That isn’t always the case – not in writing, quilting, or home decorating. I watched too many home improvement shows where my first reaction was, “Who the heck is going to clean a [room of your choice] with all that stuff in it?” I even worked up an idea for an anti-improvement show called “Like You’re Really Going To Do That.”

I’ve nodded appreciatively when writing friends share their spreadsheets for character development, or their flip charts for braiding plot lines. That’s not for me. I can’t even manage to keep a simple filing system going, so how am I supposed to keep programs and charts in order? For me, the best solution is one I can keep on scraps of paper, because I can always find a scrap of paper and a pen.

Luck and wisdom!