The Marks of Success

The last two days have proved fruitful, yesterday a little more than today, but writing ebbs and flows, following the nature of life.  The marks I’m talking about illustrate fully just how when the words are there, there is no better place for a writer to be.

I’m a horrible typist; well, let me qualify that.  I’m a fast typist, but extremely sloppy.  I earned a C+ in eighth grade for my mediocre skills, but they’ve sustained me thus far, and I can’t complain, or not very much.  At times red squiggles inundate my document, or at least dot the landscape.  Since I started working on The Hawk last Thursday, the red squiggles haven’t been an issue; regardless of how the words emerge, the red squiggles are always present.  It’s how I eliminate those squiggles that tells the story.

Until yesterday, my paragraphs were cleaned up as soon as I’d finished them.  I kept checking my word count, eager for a chapter-length to have been amassed.  As I plodded along, I tidied what had been accumulated, the whole thing looking neat as a pin.  However, that’s not my style.  My style is to bash out a chapter without too much consideration, aware the words will be what they will be at this point.  Then I take an additional twenty minutes at the end to clean up all the red (and green) squiggles.  I’ve been doing it this way for many years now, part of my process.  But the past several days have been odd; I poke about, right-clicking on this incorrect word, then on that one, feeling like I’m pulling these words, mistyped or not, from my entrails out through my nostrils.  Not exactly a pleasant image, I’ll admit, but exactly how these chapters were being crafted.

On Monday, the red squiggles were starting to add up, which pleased me, and which I expounded upon in the previous post.  I knew I was close, so close I could taste a whole morning’s worth of mistakes piling on each other.  Yesterday, I hit the jackpot, an entire chapter pounded out with little conscious thought, and the prose wasn’t half bad either.  By the end, I knew I was cooking with gas, feeling so good that I couldn’t wait to write again today.  In fact, I was so excited that when I woke at two a.m., ideas crowded out sleep.  How could I manage all of that in one little (or not so little) chapter?

Today’s work was a little more laborious, and much of what I wanted to write will be covered another day.  But I can’t discount the sensation of being back in the role of an active writer.  I’ve been aching for that all summer, pondering other ideas, but ultimately I returned to this story, man, what a tale!  It’s the longest novel I’ve written to date, with more plot than Carter’s got pills.  And that’s been my stumbling block, how to sort this story line with that one, and that one over there.  Oh, and don’t forget this one and…  And while I love how everything coalesces together, getting it to coalesce isn’t always easy.  In fact, it can be downright maddening, and more than a little frightening, maybe even a little writer’s block inspiring.  But I managed to fight my way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis, so hey, things are looking up.

And in the meantime, I’ve done some sewing; still procrastinating on putting together the rows for the mum quilt, so instead I spent yesterday quilting the toddler quilt.  Basting that project was a breeze; such a difference when it’s 10 X 12 rows opposed to 15 X 19 rows, hehehe.  This afternoon I’ll sew around the perimeter, then attach the front of the binding.  The back will be hand-sewn; I need a little sofa-time (preferably with the hubby snuggled relatively close).

I also need cake; the husband returns soon, and I’m in the mood for something sweet in addition to his lovely presence.  My life used to be usurped by writing, I’ll be the first to admit it.  But while it hasn’t taken a back seat, it certainly has been knocked down a few pegs in the queue.  I don’t fret this alteration; life is constantly evolving.  but I am grateful, perhaps more than I can convey, to have found my rhythm again, even if today was a little bumpy.  If nothing else, the squiggles are once again asserting themselves, and I’m happy to let them.  Pile up boys, because as you do, so shall the words.  And it’s much easier to sort out a plethora of squiggles, when compared to bulky plots piling in my gray matter.


How This Writer Is (slowly) Getting Back Her Groove

By hook and by crook the words are forthcoming.  These first chapters back aren’t overly long; today’s was 2,5 something something, two and a half K of this and that and roads less traveled.  Sometimes that’s all writing is, a little bit here, a little bit there, until suddenly I’m looking at enough sentences to call it a day.

Part of my lingering malaise is that the plot alteration that returned me to this story has been truncated.  Well, fine novel, have it your way.  Okay, maybe not altogether abridged, but altered, and that was the last way I wanted to get back into this story; there’s enough melodrama without me adding to it.  But then, that’s also part of this story’s issue; a lot of drama!  Well, a lot of plot, because I’m seventy-nine chapters into it, with no end in sight.  Although, thank the lord, I do *know* the end.  It’s the getting to the end that sits like a vast field of landmines in front of me.

If I step here, will that backfire there, or curtail that, or…  Or maybe I’ll just sabotage the whole thing myself by tweaking this part, forgetting about that bit….  It could do my head in, if I let it.  And that’s the other key to finding one’s writing groove: don’t let the story get away from you.

Now, that’s not to say don’t let the story evolve as it wants to, because there is a difference.  I wanted Sam and Renee to adopt well into 1963.  But no.  It looks like they will become parents perhaps before the end of 1962!  Okay, whatever.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t twist that change to my advantage.  Yup.  And as soon as I figure out what that advantage is, I’ll be in like Flynn.  And if you don’t know what that means, it’s okay.  Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m living in two time periods, one in which technology rules, and the other…  The other is five decades in the past, which has little to do with my writing groove, other than to note that if I’m that inundated in the early 1960s, well, I must be doing something right.

Right.  Write.  Uhhh….  Yeah, writing, I’m writing, and while it’s been taking its sweet little ole time getting going, maybe, I hope, finally, I’m back on the train.  It is like riding a bike, or maybe getting back behind a sewing machine, in that the process isn’t lost, only rusty.  Thankfully with a sewing machine, there’s a manual.  Riding a bike is an ability deeply implanted in one’s gray matter, just a matter of overcoming the initial wobbles.  And writing…

Well, it’s a little different, no manual, and it’s not quite physically ingrained into my memory.  Writing takes my memories and transforms them into prose, maybe not great prose, but prose nonetheless.  That’s all writing is, in a way, taking our experiences and tweaking them a little, or a lot.  Then a story is formed, here and there, bit by bit.  Landmine by tripped landmine at times, or sometimes I just manage to scuttle past, skipping about the landscape of the story by the skin of my teeth.  Then suddenly I find myself in a calm, wide clearing, as if no mines had ever existed.

I can see that vista, just ahead on the horizon.  It’s so close, cool streams of plot and prose flowing clear and swift.  All I want is to fall on my knees and drink deeply from those perfect, healing waters.  It’s nothing at all like quilting or riding a bike, it’s what every writer dreams of.

And it’s only a chapter, or two, away…


Novel Progress and Quilting Process

The first of two sister quilts; this one is for a four-year-old. It shares some of the fabrics with the other sister quilt, as well as fabrics from their mum’s patchwork quilt, pictured below in the stack waiting to be sewn together…

Nearly a week into the retreat, and I’m up to Chapter 77 of The Hawk, with another quilt top in the can.  Now, when I left off with The Hawk, I’d written seventy-four chapters, so yeah, this is already a long story, but to have managed three chapters in three days makes me feel like maybe I’m back on the noveling train.  It hasn’t been easy, let me also say.  It’s been…meandering.  It’s been bringing myself back into contact with a healthy cast of characters that all needed to give their two cents about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  What?  Well, without going on too much about it, I’d thrown that wrench into the story literally in the last paragraph I had written back in March.  So several months and three chapters later, I’ve touched on all that dra-ma while reiterating a plot point that ironically I had decided to set further into the timeline, which initially gave me the guts to finally get back to writing this darn novel.

But what do I know?  I’m only the author…

Thank goodness quilts aren’t so dang stubborn.  They’re happy to remain as a stack of squares until I plop them near my machine, then quietly they remain in that stack until I choose the next one, placing it within the row, sewing yet another patchwork piece of myself into a collection of fabrics.

Wait, that sounds suspiciously like writing a book…

Well, it sort of is, if you forget about bobbins and thread and seam rippers.  Or maybe the backspace key is a novel’s seam ripper.  Or cut and paste and…  And it’s funny, trying to get one’s noveling feet firmly established, when my quilting stance is fairly stable.  It is nice to have my mornings centered around words, which today came along more easily than the past two mornings, if not a little more like a surprise around every single sentence.  Sam and Renee can’t have kids, and while originally I plotted out they would adopt before the end of 1962, I changed my mind, thinking sometime in 1963 would be better, story-wise.  It would give them something to do when Eric once again flew the coop.  But now it seems that Kennedy and Khrushchev have moved adoption up within the story, jeez!  Who is in charge here, me or two dead former world leaders?

Um, two dead world leaders it seems.  Anyone who thinks a writer has control over their novel has no idea what’s really going on.

So now not only do I need to figure out just when Sam and Renee are going to adopt, I also question whether Lynne is going to take up quilting.  Maybe she’ll just continue to bake pies, leaving the quilting to me.  Which is fine; at this point, I really don’t care who adopts when and where or if they quilt or cook.  What matters most is that I am doing this writing, even if half the time the plot is beyond my control.

At least a quilt knows how to behave, most of the time.  And if it doesn’t, I know where my seam ripper is.  And I have an extra, just in case.


Chapter 75 and a quilt top….

Day # four of the retreat, and I’ve finally begun the writing.  Not a lot of writing, mind you, a short-ish chapter, but when one has painted oneself into a corner concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis, well…

And when this writer hasn’t written in nearly six months, today’s foray back into the world of words wasn’t going to be some 5K extravaganza.  But I think the 2K-plus I’ve added will be enough for one day, not only in getting the story back into gear, but myself returned onto a horse that I never actually forget how to ride.  It’s just a little bumpy, these first few outings sitting in the saddle.

I will say the last few days have been full of tasks related to writing, and to sewing; I fashioned the quilt top for a toddler, and my goodness, smaller quilts are a breeze to put together.  I sewed five rows on Monday night, the other seven on Tuesday evening, then attached them all last night.  And I am very pleased with it, the whale print a leftover from my daughter’s whale quilt.  The binding needs to be sewn; I’ll get to that this afternoon, once I’ve gone to the store for some groceries and sundries.  One thing about writing is that I am strictly a morning person.  A chapter once I’m fully awake, then the rest of the day is free for whatever else comes up.  I still need to get in a walk, before it gets too warm.  Reading all day for the last three days precluded much else, other than the little bit of sewing.  Now a different schedule rules.

But I would be amiss if I didn’t share this rather telling photo of Buttercup, who has her own way of living.  My youngest was keeping an eye on her last weekend, while my eldest and her hubby were away.  Buttercup needed a bath, and afterwards, wasn’t overly pleased.  I have never seen such animosity in any animal’s face, but you know what happens when a woman is scorned.  Or a Buttercup is bathed.  I’m feeling that quilts are going to pop up in future chapters of The Hawk, but I’m not sure about a rather peeved basset.  However, if one does, you’ll know exactly the inspiration for that hound’s inclusion.

The way her paw is curled into her body accentuates her anger; don't you come near me, she seems to be saying, or perhaps silently howling.

The way her paw is curled into her body accentuates her anger; don’t you come near me, she seems to be saying, or perhaps silently howling.  Although now her fur is so white and clean…


It’s curtains for the curtains…

A few months ago I went curtain-making crazy!  This was the only sewing, other than a pillowcase for my husband, that I had done outside of quilting, and I truly enjoyed it, even if the conditions were somewhat primitive, compared to my grotto.  I used a patio table as my straight edge, a wobbly ironing board for pressing, with no rotary cutter or mat in sight.  Yet I decorated several windows, happily even.  When we came home, the hubby suggested curtains for our son’s room, as those mini blinds are wonky.  Immediately I smiled, bought some fabric, then spent most of the summer on the road, making a few quilts in between.

Last week, hubby pressed me on this issue, and I replied that I needed the curtain rod installed, to properly size up said curtains.  He nodded, installed the hardware, and I got to work.  But it’s funny how a project changes, depending on the surroundings.  And the size; the biggest curtains I made previously were, granted for a sliding glass door, but they were unlined.  The ones for my son’s room were two panels each at eighty-three inches long, thirty-seven inches wide, and they are lined.  And now I’m ready to jump right back into quilting, leaving my curtain call behind.

Maybe it was the fabric; not 100% cotton, but a poly-cotton blend.  Maybe it was the size, plus the lining.  Maybe it’s the stacks of vibrant squares, aching for me to sew them together.  Or maybe it’s the reading; I’ve been trying to get through as much of The Hawk as possible, so I can start writing, but the weekend flew past, and out of 381 pages, I’m up to…number 132.  Yeah, I have a LOT of reading to accomplish before I can write, but the husband flies out today, and doesn’t return until next week.  I have groceries, clean clothes, and who cares about baseball when one’s team can’t manage to even take one game from Kansas City?  (Thank goodness the Dodgers found similar issues with Milwaukee, although Clayton Kershaw continues to mystifies batters no matter where he pitches.)

Anyways…  A lovely writer/(he)artist friend noted that the next several days are sort of a retreat for me, a much better manner in which to consider my husband’s impending absence.  Laura succinctly hit the nail on the head with that one, for I have reading (which leads to writing) and sewing up the wazoo lined up for the next week and a half.  Or the rest of summer, or all of autumn, depending on how long-ranging I want to look at things.  The days move so fast, that suddenly my husband will have returned, and August will be gone, football season upon us, baseball season…  Um, no, I don’t want to dwell on baseball season very much right now, thank you all the same.  But autumn is one of my favourite times of the year, because of sport, and weather, well, the possibility of weather here in California, and that finally (FINALLY!!!) it will seem like the proper season to sew quilts!  Ahem, well, sewing can happen all year round, but during what has been one of the hottest summers in recent memory, I’ve been pining for cooler days to savour the fruits of my fabric labours.  Or at least to not feel so weird in tacking flannel backings to batting when it’s pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

I will say my brother-in-law loves his quilt, noting that incredible softness.  One of these days he’ll reap the benefits of the warmth factor, although not quite yet.  And as for the curtains…

The curtains are hanging in their appropriated space, nicely doing their job.  I managed to eke out a little quilt back of the remnants, not sure when I’ll use it, probably sooner than later.  Even though the fabrics weren’t all cotton, the pieces went so well together, I couldn’t resist.  Friday was a day spent behind my sewing machine, long straight lines after more long straight lines, which was the best part of the curtain endeavor.  Making sure the lengths matched up properly was the dregs.

Which is sort of like watching one’s beloved team fall from grace in the standings, an eight and a half game lead a faded memory when San Francisco now sits four and a half games behind Los Angeles.  It’s not just curtains for my foray into curtains, let me tell you.

But from the ashes, new projects emerge.  I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get around to completing The Hawk, and while I won’t count chickens (or hawks) before they hatch, I’m closer than I’ve been in months.  And that alone feels fantastic, for if you know a writer, who isn’t writing, well, there you go.

It’s like a batter whose average has fallen from .312 to .192.  It’s like making curtains that feel like ripping one’s guts through one’s nostrils.  Well, not that bad, but the magic has been lost.  Yet, when that magic returns….

It’s like a cute little quilt back, waiting to be used.  It’s like a story, dying to be finished.  It’s like stacks of squares, screaming to be made into quilt tops.  Then fashioned into proper quilts for lovely people.

It’s like curtains for one thing, a new dawn for others.  It’s cyclical, it’s life.  It’s time for me to take the husband to the airport.  Let the artist’s retreat begin!


For My Brother-In-Law

On Monday afternoon, I finished this quilt.  It’s one of the softest, snuggliest quilts I have made, mostly due to the well-laundered nature of most of the fabrics.  The top is compiled of shirts from the BIL, with just a few added fat quarters.  The back is a flannel sheet I found ages ago, then set aside for…  I didn’t know why I kept it, until I started this quilting gig.  Then it became the backing for my brother-in-law’s quilt.

What I didn’t know at the time was just how fortuitous that sheet would be…

I’ve been inundated in this sewing gig for six months now; on 1 February, I took my daughter to Joanns, and the rest has been chronicled for most of the adventure.  I got back into blogging to denote this quilting saga, about as lengthy as my Alvin’s Farm series.  But in the long term, six months is a pretty brief period to be involved in a hobby, be it sewing, writing, or underwater basket weaving.  Six months is half a year, and I’ve lived ninety-five of those, so when considered in that manner, my sojourn into quilt-making has been not much more than a speck.

But from little specks, mighty things grow.

Babies have been on my mind lately; babies and novels (oh my goodness, novels…), and quilts.  Quilts start from a fabric or two (0r ten or fifteen or…), then morph into these big, or medium-sized, or small blankets (or wall-hangings).  They evolve in similar ways as babies and books, for it’s one square sewn to another, as cells converge into a skeleton and organ groups and sentences are built into paragraphs and scenes and chapters.  And just like babies and books, once a quilt reaches completion, it is given away, or I give mine away, or I’d not have the room, or the excuse, to make another.  Babies grow up, leave the nest, start their own (grandchildren are so appealing to me right now).  Books are published, then enjoyed by readers.  Well, some books.  Some books, like some quilts, hang around, their purpose more for my own comfort, growth, and practice.

But you get the picture.  As for this quilt, the fabrics were all from shirts my BIL once wore.  Some of those shirts were more loved than others, but he has a fondness for plaids, and he likes green.  Now, I did not have any inkling to those facts when I chose the flannel sheet, nor did I plan out if the camo remnant that serves as the binding would be a good match for that sheet.  However, in the process, it seems the greens are very compatible.  The front is…  Well, I think it’s busy.  My youngest loves it; I think if she didn’t have her whale quilt, she would try to find a way to snag this one.  What I love is how darn soft it is, which isn’t the case of my pre-washed quilt.  Those fabrics were only laundered once, for shrinkage.  These shirts have been worn over and over, and not just by my BIL.  He bought many of these at thrift stores; he loves shopping for bargains, especially plaid bargains.  When I took this quilt from the dryer, I marveled at how malleable it was, as if this was the 800th time I had pulled it out of that machine.  Now it’s waiting for my brother-in-law to get back from holiday.  He doesn’t even know it’s finished.

The dark blue and cream squares were fat quarters, along with the lighter blue underneath the camo.  This project could have used a few more solids, but I think it's all right this way.

The denim blue and cream squares were fat quarters, along with the lighter blue underneath the camo. This project could have used a few more solids, but I think it’s all right this way.

Hee hee!  Surprises are wonderful, especially when quilts are involved.  Plus I learned a great deal while making this quilt.  I learned that if I’m using a poly-cotton blend, to test that blend with a nice hot iron.  If the fabric shrinks, choose another fabric.  Thankfully I had shirts to spare, and leftover squares aplenty.  Cutting shirts into squares is tedious, but you would be astonished to find just how many squares of fabric remain.

This stack is waiting for me to get busy.  So, away I go!


Quilts and Mustaches and Books and Grandmother-hood…

Little mustaches on my tile...

Little mustaches on my tile…

The Brother-In-Law Quilt seems to be taking forever, although a baby shower did interrupt a few days’ worth of work.  My youngest daughter’s best friend is due in November, and that young woman is like a daughter to the hubby and myself.  So, in becoming de facto grandparents this autumn, we hosted her shower, with mustaches as the theme (the couple is expecting a boy).  Today, errant mustaches litter my floors, even though last night I scooped the bulk off tables and the buffet, and even swept the floors.  I feel like we’ll be finding ‘staches for ages to come.

While I don’t *quite* feel that way about this quilt, it does carry a lingering presence.  I’m halfway done with the back binding, but it seems like this particular project doesn’t wish to leave this house.  Oi!  Get on your way quilt, and if you sneak some ‘staches with you, I won’t be sad.

A pile of quilt.

A pile of quilt.

Maybe impending grandmother-hood is hampering my progress.  Cleaning my house for the shower certainly was an impediment; I’m the sort who keeps a relatively tidy home, but the big cleaning only happens when events are slated.  I’m not bothered with a layer of dust, neither (thank the Lord) is my husband.  But it is nice to sit in the cleanliness that now permeates the whole place.  We have a small house, and needed every inch to accommodate guests.  Even my grotto closet got a clear-out, and fabric still sits in bags in the garage.  No need to bring it inside until I finish this quilt!

Ahem.  So, today and tomorrow I’ll be hand-sewing, but also sneaking in a little reading of…The Hawk.  No, not Heaven Lies East of the Mississippi; that manuscript’s necessary sequel is once again being shoved to the back burner, not sure why, other than I took a little peek at a few Hawk chapters and felt drawn to read a few more.  And that led to some ideas for how the continuation could resume and…  And the next thing I knew I was getting excited to write!

(While still binding that BIL Quilt, but no longer using Lysol Wipes like they’re going out of business, whew…)

My husband is taking off next week for a ten-day business sojourn.  Without him around, my days will be long and a little lonely, especially when our son is away on his jaunts.  That’s the perfect time to buckle down with some literary work, not to mention sewing.  (Hopefully) I will write in the mornings, leaving the afternoons, and evenings, free to piece together a plethora of quilts, which sit in stacks here in the grotto.  Those have been returned, while the bulk remains out of sight.

If I can’t see all those fabrics, I might be more inclined to consider plots.

The stacks on the left are for a mother and her toddler.  The one on the right is mine, hehehe...

Even these stacks are out of my view, waiting on the other side of my monitor. Those on the left are for a mother and her toddler. The one on the right is mine, hehehe…

This has happened before, when the husband goes to his August conference, well, the writing-part.  The sewing will be new, but that’s good, because one thing I’ve found as a grandmother-to-be is that I can’t write like I used to, and I don’t mean a writer’s block-sort-of-hindrance.  I mean I’m forty-eight years old and my energy simply isn’t what it used to be.  Cleaning house wasn’t a three-day whirlwind; it was a two-week project of its own after my dad’s party.  Granted, there was a lot to clean, but no longer can I just bust out two or three rooms a day.  Plus there was sewing to do and…  Well, no writing, but some reading.  And reading is an integral part of writing, if one has a manuscript that they haven’t looked at in say, oh, six months.

About the time I set aside The Hawk, my de facto daughter was just starting her forty-week journey on the path to motherhood.

On the mats between where my husband and I sit, he at his PC, me at my Janome.

On the mats between where my husband and I sit, he at his PC, me at my Janome.

And now here we are, mustaches catching my eye in the living room and computer area.  She’s going to have a son, and I’d love to give birth to a completed manuscript, not to mention that BIL quilt.  But my tasks require less physical energy, far less physical pain too, thank goodness.  I’ll leave the pregnancy gig to the younger generation; I’d be happy to wrap my head around a novel and some fabrics (which do include those for the little man in utero), all the while enjoying my clean house.  And making potato salad and deviled eggs.  I got on the egg kick for Dad’s party, then came home with Mom’s potato salad recipe, and gave that a go.  I think I’m into making those traditional dishes because they are the sorts of foods grandmothers make.  Or at least this grandmother; comfort is a good thing, whether it stems from babies, quilts, books, or home cooking.  And sometimes it even comes from cleaning.

Or it does after the cleaning is all done…


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