When I was in elementary school, my favorite color was orange. That changed, especially during the harvest gold-avocado green-pumpkin orange color scheme years. However – at least with quilting fabrics – orange is creeping back into my life. I’m not sure I understand orange, because I am still using it with caution. I doubt that I will ever be so exuberant with orange as to carry an orange plastic purse (as I did when I was ten), but just this week I found myself working on two predominantly orange quilts. Who knows, I may even revisit the gold-green-orange scheme.
I’m not much of a gardener. Okay, I’m not a gardener at all. My husband can persuade the plants to grow, so he got the job. One thing I do know, however, is that even the tidiest of gardens gets the odd volunteer now and again. Most of the time the people in charge of plant maintenance call them weeds and remove them. As a novelist, I think we need to reconsider that strategy. Just as we decided to plant a few California poppies after a couple of volunteers appeared in the backyard, I think I’m going to let some of my volunteer characters and plot twists stick around for a bit. More than once I’ve discovered a character I intended to be expendable turned out to be essential. A couple of times a red herring (aka loose thread) turned out to be a detour to a much better story. Your patience might not be rewarded every time – sometimes a throw-away character deserves to be tossed out at the first opportunity – but isn’t it better to wait and see if something wonderful will happen?
There are times when I struggle with basic arithmetic. It gets worse with planned quilting projects, especially large ones. Usually I estimate that I need four yards of fabric and I really need five. This is the first time that I have overestimated how much teal fabric (pictured above) I needed. Since it is for my daughter’s quilt, I’m quite delighted to have a little more room for error. It’s also a fabric that I really like, so that’s a bonus.
Being less capable at addition than I would like is one of the reasons I prefer to work on small art quilts. It’s also why my contributions to the guild’s charity quilts are usually of the scrap variety. I console myself that my difficulty estimating the yardage I might need is a huge boon to my local quilt shop. We want to keep these places in business, after all. Still, I’m celebrating the win of buying more than I needed rather than scrambling to find the same dye lot of this fabric.
My husband bought a new piece of equipment, and thought he might just have the right cable for it. I’m not sure whether he does or not, but the collection itself helped me understand something about worldbuilding. When my husband commented on how we were looking at our own history, I realized I could use the stuff stuck in the corners of my characters’ homes to explain who they are and how they came to be that way. I’ve used small items that a character treasures for worldbuilding and character development, but I’ve never thought about the detritus of life. This is the stuff that only gets dragged out when you move, or redecorate, or are absolutely convinced that you still have that perfect whatsit hiding in a box somewhere. Very likely the items themselves will not have a role to play in the plot, but will be invaluable for backstory. Who knows, I might even start clearing out the corners of the house to find good examples to use.
So, my tools turned against me this week. It’s a sad state of affairs when the very things you treasure become homicidal. My cutter is my constant companion, and this is how it treated me. If I were willing to accept that any of this was my fault I would probably admit that I was distracted when I went in to the studio, and that it wasn’t a day to be handling anything more lethal than a wet noodle. But I’m not. I will forgive my tools as soon as the wound is healed enough to start cutting fabric again. In the meantime, I’m going to do some major league blaming.
One of my writer friends passed away suddenly last month. Dan Hobbs published under the pen name Ben Leiter. He was an emerging writer who had published four books and was working on a couple of others (click here for his books on Amazon). I was a beta reader for two and an editor for another. He didn’t always take my advice, but I was okay with that because he was determined to stay true to his vision. He never forgot that his project gave him the final edit. I know that he was happy as a writer, and with the decisions he had made. Sure, he would have liked more commercial success, but sometimes that’s not what fate has in store for us. Given the number of new titles published every month, perhaps the best any of us can hope for is a fragile immortality and the knowledge that we’ve been true to the stories within us.
I made frog quilts for quite some time. Don’t ask me why. There always seemed to be another cute frog fabric at the shop. Then the manufacturers went on to another motif and I thought my frog days were over. Hah. Along comes Karen Brow-Meier of Java House Quilts and her adorable frog pattern. I took the workshop through Amador Valley Quilters simply to learn Karen’s technique for angled lines without paper piecing. Turns out those frogs are so cute that I made two blocks, and found the perfect buttons for eyes just sitting at the top of my embellishment collection (well, one of the collections). Then I found some fabric that would go nicely with the blocks. I may just need to revisit the frog quilt series.
The past has a past. Writers call it backstory – the stuff that we know about our characters and plot but maybe don’t even hint at in the novel itself. Sometimes the fact that our protagonist likes peanut butter sandwiches because it reminds him of the best summer of his life is a plot point, sometimes it only informs the way we write him. But what happens when you write yourself into a corner and need a new piece of information to get out? I say just invent the backstory and fill in the holes later.
Seriously, even if you’ve published 17 novels in the series and you are only now realizing that peanut butter sandwiches will save your plot, what’s the harm? People are always learning new stuff about themselves and their families. I’m going through some rediscovered family letters from 1917 that put a completely different spin on one of my ancestors. They also gave me the idea of using a piece of information that wasn’t in earlier novels if I need it now. Revealing bits of information along the way is what readers expect from us, after all. They don’t need to know that we only just thought of it.
My two art quilt groups are working on themes that I can address with one project, and I got to use fabric I bought just because it was pretty. If I didn’t have to go in for my annual check-up and blood tests I would celebrate with the most decadent ice cream cake available. The top pictured above began with the orange ombre and starburst print. I stacked two rectangles, cut a gentle curve, swapped out one piece and sewed. I repeated the process so the resulting rectangles had two gentle curves. Then I added two dark brown rectangles and cut gentle curves, resulting in four rectangles. I expected to add borders, but when I put the pale green sashing between the blocks the piece suggested I stop sewing. I may let it have its way. If it’s happy, I’m happy.
Once again, my love of nonfiction is going to help me become a better science fiction writer. Neil Price admits that the Viking culture he teaches now is not precisely the culture he taught years ago. As he has explored more digs and re-evaluated the artifacts, he has come to different conclusions about them and the people who used them. Not only is this exciting to me – there is still more to learn! – it is a valuable tool when I create the worlds my characters inhabit. One single artifact could upend everything I’ve thought about my characters, opening up new plot lines (or possibly cleaning up old ones). I don’t have to create a detailed economic system for my alien worlds, but I can hint at it with the tools and market places I describe. My readers are likely to be interested in other government or religious systems only as they explain who my characters are. You can learn a lot about describing alien societies by reading how archaeologists and anthropologists describe human societies so far removed from our culture that they may as well have come from another planet.