Behind the Scenes

The rhythm of writing isn’t always that of actual writing; occasionally it’s taking stock of what has been written, what I did last week.  Then I went away for the weekend, and while I considered immediately returning to fashioning the story, other tasks have jumped the queue.  Behind the scenes, or chapters perhaps, life constantly percolates, nudging aside the words for a day, or two…

But these lulls are good for pondering the plot, of which The Hawk has plenty.  In reading over what I had crafted since the early part of August, I was pleasantly surprised by how cohesive it all was, well, mostly cohesive.  Pretty darn cohesive, actually, for all that I know that the reader doesn’t know.   And then there was what was being revealed, in bits and pieces, which somehow I managed to leak out without giving too much away.

Upon a second glance, I shocked myself, that it wasn’t a big mess of mumbo jumbo.  Sometimes (*sometimes*) a writer does know what they are doing (even if they think they have not one single clue).

It’s a lot like Buttercup; my daughter and son-in-law claim she’s not the smartest dog in the world, and at times, I agree.  At other times…  Well, she never goes hungry, gets lots of belly rubs, and spent much of Saturday being admired by my dad, who called her a pot likker in a voice I have heard since I knew better.  She was a good pot likker, he crooned, while scratching her ears, then rubbing that belly.  And later, Buttercup found a perfect spot on a mat, as if instead of pumpkins, it had her name on it.

Last week I was Buttercup, reminded that while I might not show it, I do know what’s going on.

When that happens, my goodness, it makes this whole writing gig worth it.  No, I’m not writing today, maybe not tomorrow either.  And no, I’m nowhere near being done.  But (*but*) I do have a clue.  Perhaps just one clue, but it’s better than no clues, and as long as I keep scribbling notes at the end of the manuscript, and not put too many days between when I next get around to Chapter 91, it’s all gonna be okay.

I firmly believe that; The Hawk will work itself out, one way or another.

In the meantime, some quilts are calling my name, a walk needs to be taken, a new rice cooker aches to be investigated.  But behind the scenes, that novel is bubbling, much like a big pot of spaghetti bolognese, tomorrow’s fare.  I’m always thinking, whether I realize it or not, as all the hoo-haa that accompanied chapters 75-90 has paid off, in ways I still have yet to understand.  Sometimes the reader isn’t always the one in the dark, but as long as the writer keeps the faith, the person behind the curtain continues to spin the dials, making sure the whole kettle of fish doesn’t boil over.

Buttercup isn’t worried.  Why should I be?

More Quilt and Novel Nonsense

Not quite a third done.

Not quite a third done.

For the last few days I’ve been sewing together the rows for the dad quilt, which yes, looks suspiciously like the Brother-In-Law quilt, sans the camo and the heavier flannel fabrics that were a royal pain to sew.  This quilt has solids that are shared with the toddler quilt, tying together those father-son blankets.  I’ll ‘quilt’ the dad comforter in the same manner as I did the toddler blanket, sometime next week.

Sometime next week I’ll finish this family project!  And yes, I’m ready to move to the next quilting extravaganza, which waits patiently.  Thank goodness fabric can’t talk back; I’d be up to my ears in blah blah blah…

But as I cropped today’s photos, I was struck by how much sewing a quilt top mirrors the writing process.  An author starts out with a stack of ideas (quilt squares), then has to plot them out (arranging on the quilt wall).  Then comes more plotting or considering the plot (time behind the machine, sewing those squares into rows), which morphs into that first rough draft (rows sewn together).

About halfway completed.

About halfway completed.

Here is where the comparison ends, for once a quilt top is finished, all that remains is making the quilt sandwich, quilting said sandwich, then binding the quilt.  I suppose I could equate that with revisions, but truthfully, they’re not the same animal.  Revising means sometimes taking the entire novel apart.  That’s the last thing a quilter wants to do, once the basting begins.

Yet, a seam ripper comes into play; you cannot sew without one.  But after all that sewing blocks into rows into a quilt top, the emphasis falls toward putting those fabrics into a cohesive whole.  And while the same result is hoped for during the writing process, it takes far more work, in my opinion.

Maybe other noveling quilters would argue, however, this is how I see it.  The processes are very similar, metaphorically, up to the finished quilt top.  Then, paths diverge.

Nearly three-quarters of the way there.

Nearly three-quarters of the way there.

Now you might ask, with fair reason, why is this woman so obsessed with novels and quilts, or more precisely, the process of turning words into stories and scraps into blankets (but not novels into quilts, or vice versa)?  Well, it’s better than indulging in other, perhaps more harmful, vices.  But I think the reason I beat this dead horse with as many sticks as I can grasp is that occasionally I encounter would-be writers/quilters.  And having managed to write a few books and sew a few quilts, I itch for like-minded others to do the same.  In this rather techie world, aged pastimes are slipping from our consciousnesses.  It’s easier to virtually do so much else, but what else is actually being accomplished?

I don’t want to bash technology, goodness knows it’s how I publish novels.  But while my PC makes writing so much easier, I still have to park my keister in the chair and write.  Or sit in front of the sewing machine and guide fabric under the presser foot.  And the results from those actions are…sometimes beautiful, sometimes meh.  But they aren’t virtual; they are books for others to read, and quilts to warm their feet.

As autumn slowly approaches, even here in Silicon Valley, tootsies need a toasty quilt under which to wiggle.

Completed quilt top!

Completed quilt top!

While I never envisioned becoming a quilter, for ages I harbored authorial dreams.  It took years for the latter to be achieved, but the blissful sense of accomplishment was well worth the wait.  I simply want others who ache to write to know it’s possible, if not without a lot of butt-in-chair time invested.  Making a quilt is the same.  And in one manner, books and quilts are much alike; better if they are given away.

Which is truly what the whole kettle of fish is all about; giving up something for another project waiting in the wings…

I Kind of Like Not Writing

Today's breakfast on the newly quilted place mat. (Cream of rice cereal with banana and almond milk...)

Today’s breakfast on the newly quilted place mat. (Cream of rice cereal with banana and almond milk…)

There is a time for everything, be it noveling, quilting, blogging even.  And while before I never stopped mid-first draft to read through what had been accumulated, The Hawk is a unique project.  The Hawk has broken the 300K barrier, and has arrived at that 40-60K marker where I read through those words, what I’ve been doing since the first 40,000 words were written.

Since those initial chapters, I’ve been doing something previously unthinkable; reading and revising the book as I go along.

But, The Hawk isn’t an ordinary novel; dude, it’s epic!  Um, well, at the very least it’s very large.  And oddly enough, it didn’t begin with such a grandiose vision; it was going to be a short story. (Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha…)  Ahem, well it was, but now it’s not, and I don’t even know if when I finish it, how I might publish it: as the grand tome it seems to be veering towards, or broken in more manageable parts.  However, that’s ages away; right now it’s in that lull stage, where once I complete this blog, and make another cuppa, I’ll dive into where I started back up last month, at Chapter 74, I think.  No, Chapter 75.  And when I pick back up the writing part of crafting this novel, Chapter 91 awaits.

Part of the quilt for a special little girl; I put this on the quilt wall just last night (as the Giants were losing to the Tigers, grrrr....).

Part of the quilt for a special little girl; I put this on the quilt wall just last night (as the Giants were losing to the Tigers, grrrr….).

Sometimes, this is just how a book gets written.

But that’s perfectly fine; no two books are alike, much like quilts.  And children, ahem.  Or anything else that falls under the same heading, but their manner of creation differs from project to project.  I’d like to base the future of this novel on something I’ve already completed, but even that falls way short; my Alvin’s Farm series also started out as a short story notion, but quickly blossomed into three novels, then another three.  However, each of those books was a separate story, cliffhangers aside.  I churned out those first drafts in a month apiece, my previous manner of producing books.  But never before have I written a novel where the story just flows as it will, no visible end in sight.  Nor have I revised a novel as I write it, but it sure makes writing this behemoth a whole lot easier.

The upper right hand corner of the same quilt; I adore the whales and the little animal print; baby quilts are quite a thrill to design!

The upper right hand corner of the same quilt; I adore the whales and the little animal print; baby quilts are quite a thrill to design!

And it allows this novelist time to catch my breath, sewing around the edges, while reveling in the start of football season.

It also permits early morning blog entries, which is fortuitous, as sometimes I like to spill my guts early in the day.  There is much to writing that cannot be shared with one’s partner, offspring, or besties.  It’s more fully appreciated by those who understand the process, even if my process is yards away from your process.  For, as no two books (or quilts or children) are the same, neither are the manners in which those books (and quilts and children) are created.  Still a common thread ties all writers (and quilters and parents) together, and the bliss in sharing with a like-minded soul one of the deepest joys of my life is, well, a pretty big thrill.  That’s why I blog about writing (and quilting, although I skip much about the children, substituting Buttercup the grand-basset instead).

Ahh, Buttercup.  She has little to do with writing, although I do suspect one day a very special beagle-basset hound will muscle her way into one of my stories.  I don’t see her nosing her way into The Hawk (Where would I put her?), but I’ve also learned to never say never when it comes to much of anything.  A new US Open men’s champion will be crowned today in Flushing Meadows, the big four nowhere to be seen.  Because I’m not writing this morning, I will have ample time this afternoon to watch Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic battle for that crown, while I hand-sew the big sister quilt’s binding.  And tonight, during two NFL games, I’ll start to sew together the dad quilt’s rows, which have been waiting patiently for their moment in the sun.  Or under the sewing machine, whatever.

There is a time for everything; it’s only a matter of acknowledging that truism, and not getting one’s knickers into a twist.  I’m sure Buttercup wholly agrees.

Under Wide Blue Skies

Not from today, mind you.  From July 2009, but California looks about the same today (although no hot air balloons decorating this morning's skies).

Not from today, mind you. From July 2009, but California looks about the same today (although no hot air balloons were decorating this morning’s skies).

Just returned from the first road trip of autumn; Dad is feeling better, watering the garden where before Mom did the duties.  His voice is still somewhat raspy, his legs weak.  However he’s eating like a horse, although ice cream remains off the menu.  Mom’s chocolate pie however suffices, with enough whipped topping to make one question if he has the pie simply to imbibe in said whipped topping.

The day my father gives up Cool Whip is the day I shall worry.

I spent an extra day away, only in that when I was going to leave, the hour had grown late, it was hot out, and I was already weary.  Better to drive home on a decent night’s sleep, or the best night’s rest I could manage away from my husband.  It was good enough, buffered by a well-savored cup of java, the real stuff even.  Sometimes I need a cup of coffee, not like a hole in the head, only as a treat.  Starts off a road trip in the best way.

As I drove south, I considered who else I saw there; my BFF from high school, who always makes me smile, who is as big of a sports fan as I am, although our teams of choice differ.  She’s A’s, I’m Giants.  She’s Steelers, I’m…  Um, well, I’m a Packers fan this year, but we shan’t speak any more of football for a few days, although my hubby is the TRUE Packer Backer, and last night’s game, well…  Yeah.  Moving right along…  So I was thinking of my bestie as I drove under wide blue skies, an endless Californian blue, hazy at the edges, cloudless and vast and bright.  Bright light blue that speaks of (relatively) early mornings, lorries on the motorway, coffee in the cup holder.  Miles collecting as I steer in fairly straight lines, with a strap on my left arm, to ward off the silliest bout of tendinitis I have ever encountered.  I’ve weathered it with cross stitching and crocheting, but never road trips.

But then, I’m not getting any younger.

I realized that, speaking with my bestie yesterday at lunch, chatting about varsity football players from our high school days; I wanted to know if they still wore shirts and ties on game day, while the JV players donned their jerseys.  Indeed they do, she noted, her youngest a senior at our alma mater.  Then we spoke about the chaps we recalled from those days, and how dapper they appeared so well dressed.  To my shock, I learned that one of those no-longer-young-men had died of brain cancer five years ago.  That brought our chat down a level, but then we’d already discussed my dad’s neighbor, who is about five years my senior, and in the early stages of ALS.  Yes, time marches on, and not everyone stays in step, a sobering consideration.

But I wasn’t thinking about that while I zoomed far under those bright blue skies.  I was thinking how blessed I am for that woman’s friendship, for my husband, who I will see in a few hours, after he visits the dentist, to have a crown reattached.  (Hopefully the dentist can simply reattach it.)  And how tremendous are these beautiful autumnal days, where the sunshine covers this state like a permanent blanket.  Yes, it’s a little boring, I’ll admit.  But it is amazing for the continuity, for how blue are those skies, and how precious are all who dwell underneath them.

I’m fortunate that driving only causes a little tendinitis, well, long-haul driving.  Maybe I’m too aged to pull off a late-nighter, but so what?  Now I’m home, where words and quilts await.  I was thinking about The Hawk as the tunes ricocheted inside my vehicle, pondering Jane’s first birthday and Stanford’s visit with his psychiatrist.  Not sure if I will get to that tomorrow, we’ll see what that day brings.

Not sure when I’ll return to the sewing machine either; I’d planned to do that today, assuming I woke this morning in my own bed.  But sometimes assuming, well, it’s not always the best path to take.

But occasionally a break is necessary; absence does make the heart grow fonder.  It makes one appreciative of what is often taken for granted, home and hearth, also those with whom visits are sporadic.  I love chatting with my dad; on Wednesday afternoon we were rooting hard for the Washington Nationals to overtake the LA Dodgers.  I said my goodbyes in the eighth inning, just as the Nats had gone ahead 3-2.  Six innings later….  Good grief, but at least LA lost, keeping SF within two games.  My father is as vociferous of a fan as I am, where I got my enthusiasm for sport.  However his voice was subdued, so I cheered for him.  And I’ll see him again soon enough, a bone scan upcoming, as well as another visit with his doc concerning those results and the post-chemo treatment.  I’m very thankful to be somewhat close to home, just a few hours in the car.  It’s not like I live in England anymore, several hours away by plane.

Merely a little trek under wide blue skies, with music and musings to pass the time.

I will just sit. And write…

When I sit down in the morning, ready for a day’s writing work, the first thing I do is read over what I wrote yesterday, ostensibly to know what I’m going to write that day.  After reading, and doing a wee bit of revising, then I take some deep breaths.  And what the page looks like is this:

Well, it’s not quite a vacant quilt wall, but man, that’s how it feels.   Even though I have *plenty* to write, it’s a small wonder that I get it done, when the story is more than a little overwhelming.  Now the notes at the end of my document have grown; I think I’ve decided to not write them in longhand, although familial details are being scrawled in a notebook to my left, things like names of Stanford’s sisters, Sam and Renee’s siblings, Laurie’s too.  Most of those are being made up on the fly, the consequence of pantsing a novel, well, mostly pantsing it.  Does knowing how it ends make a story planned or pantsed?

I’m not sure.  But at this point, it matters very little.  Every day, or most of them, I sit.  And I write.  Yesterday and Sunday were big word days, 11K between them.  Today’s output was a more sedate 3,7 something-something, which was also fortuitous as I had errands to run, not all morning to write.  I love it when the writing happens to facilitate my life.

Because sometimes it doesn’t.

Yet, I don’t avoid the chair.  I plop my keister right into it, opening that document, reading over the previous chapter, then inhaling deeply, exhaling afterward.  Somehow, some way, those pages fill up, looking much like this:

Dude!  How in the world did that happen?  Now, it doesn’t always end up so, well, filled.  Occasionally the quilt wall, and the chapter, is more like so:


But either way, the sense of accomplishment is the same; again, I managed to further the story.  And with this novel, furthering the plot is about all I can consider.  It’s a square by square sort of wall being built, yet the cool part is while I know the end, I’m not sure how it’s going to look.

Now, that’s not very quilt-like at all, but novels aren’t always like quilts.  Novels aren’t visual, in the presentation.  They are word by word, which at times feels like brick by brick, falling on my toes, and I can’t jump away fast enough, ouch!  But yesterday I pounded out over 6,000 of those words, and not all of them were bad.  In fact, many of them were pretty nice.  Sometimes that happens in a first draft.  They’re not cruddy all the way through.

But then that makes the new day’s work a little more daunting; if yesterday’s was that, well, not bad, how can I manage to top it?  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s another part of just sitting in the chair; accepting that not every day is going to be stellar.  Sometimes, ahem, it’s gonna suck.

Yet, the chair beckons.  I need to sit, no, I must sit.  I must sit.  And write.  And when I’m done, I’ll do something else.  Like quilt, hehehe.  Or watch tennis or baseball, or clean, yuck.  But yeah, there is life beyond the written word.

Still, I will just sit.  And write.  (And clean when I’m bored…)

Daleks, Blue Boxes, Quilts, and Blue Barns

Still trying to decide what I think about the new Doctor Who, as in the show, The Doctor as in the character, the…  Well, maybe that’s all.  I still have yet to see the premiere episode, but today’s was okay.  I’m still vacillating overall however…

In the meantime, there’s baseball, Giants and Brewers.  There’s quilts on the line, for photographs.  There was ice cream with just enough milk to make ice crystals, until I ate it all.  And there’s The Hawk and the blue barn.

Now that I think about it, Eric’s painting of that blue barn is sort of a two-dimensional Tardis, which I did not at all, under any circumstance, plot out at the time.  It was just a canvas Eric painted after he…  Well, after he came home.  And he gave that painting to Sam and Renee, and anyone who looks at it, of course, has their own idea about what’s inside it.

And no two ideas are exactly the same.

Much like how no two quilts are identical.  These on the clothesline are four of five, well, three of five and a quilt top.  And a placemat.  The placemat is mine.  The quilts are for others.  Just about all the quilts I make are for someone else.

Although, last night as San Francisco creamed Milwaukee, I sorted out squares that will become a quilt for me.  Now, just to find the time to sew it.

Time is a funny notion, and it has nothing to do with a man from Gallifrey.  It has to do with writing and sewing and eating ice cream and snapping pictures of quilts and doing the dishes and writing a blog entry.  It’s like is there enough time to do all that?

Well, today there was.  And I even realized why suddenly Renee is so depressed that she has to talk to Eric and Lynne’s Polish pastor, Marek Jagucki.  Because Marek knows why Eric painted the blue barn, and what he’ll tell Renee about his own past will begin to help her heal.

And, for a time, Renee will be the only one with whom Marek has spoken about what he sees inside the barn.  Even though Eric has a very good idea what that man keeps inside that structure, which can be bigger on the inside than what it looks like from the outside.

Just depends on what one puts inside it.

A Paperback Writer

I’m currently listening to that Beatles’ tune, which, ahem, inspired today’s title.  As I typed it out in the title slot, I wondered if in ten, twenty, fifty years if the term paperback will be forgotten.  Not sure why that popped into my head; right now my head’s pretty filled with ideas about The Hawk.  Well, that and the slim possibility my baseball team might squeak into a playoff spot.  Oh and the last week of preseason football, a few quilts swirling, laundry on the line, plus assorted odds and ends.  But I must admit that since I started writing again, that task has taken its usual first off the bat position, once I’ve downed some breakfast and had a shower.  Although today, I did get the clothes sorted and started before I sat to write.

If I hadn’t, laundry would just now be getting on the line.

But that wouldn’t have been so terrible; it’s another hot sunny day in Silicon Valley.  The sort of day that you’d like to be “Dancing Barefoot”, Patti Smith pouring from the speakers at the moment.  But the heat’s not why I start writing in the early morning.  That’s because I still have all my wits about me, and in writing this very long story, I need all the brain power I can harness.

Quilting doesn’t require the moxie that writing does; writing asks a person to slip from their own skin, taking on various personas, but still somehow keeping one’s own soul tethered to the mess.  Novels in this stage are a mess, but a lovely untidiness, full of creative power, even if the whole thing is a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

But a novel wouldn’t get to the theoretical paperback stage if not for this one, where plot is loose and wild, characters here and over there and five miles apart.  Where’s the setting today, whose gonna say what, and when in the heck is Eric going to start a painting with Sam Ahern as the subject?  I just remembered that last night, and scribbled it on the manuscript, which is how I’ve been keeping track of things that still need to happen.  Because now this novel is so huge that while I KNOW the important bits, the way there is murky, but only because I don’t know it yet.

A novel, regardless of the length, is a journey.  A long novel is, well, a long trek upon a landscape where the writer can’t see much other than the great big skyscrapers in the distance.  So as I go be-bopping along, I remember bits here and there, and I type them at the beginning of the next chapter.  Today’s work started off looking like this:

Chapter 86  Seth and Laurie…  And when does Eric start to paint Sam?

Well, as these things go, the whole chapter was from Laurie’s POV, as he sat across from his cousin Seth.  The reader learned much about the Abrams and Gordon clans in today’s installment, so tomorrow I’ll write about Eric and Sam.  The other thing about writing a big fat novel is balancing all the varied story lines.  Eric and Sam are more important characters than Laurie and Seth, but everyone needs their moment in the sun.

Meanwhile the tunes keep rolling; Yo La Tengo’s “From A Motel 6 #2″ crunches its guitar-like way out of my computer’s speakers, as I let the morning’s happenings wind out of my soul.  That was the gist today, as Laurie had to let go of a man he loves, while recovering the soul of the love of his life.  Faith is at the core of this book, but it’s not only Christian.  Laurie’s Jewish, while his lover Stanford has no inkling toward religion of any kind.  Stanford doesn’t even wish to consider something so ethereal, but that’s Stan’s problem at the moment, the status of his soul.  And let me tell you, it’s a lot for this author to mull over, even early in the morning when I still have all the words.

I don’t write at night; by then I’ve used up all the good words.

Nighttime is for baseball, unless it’s a day game, like today (2-1 Giants over the Rockies in the bottom of the third).  Nighttime is also for hand-sewing quilt bindings, which I did last night as the Giants played well against a divisional foe.  I feel like the Giants are flirting with me right now, well, they’re batting their eyelashes at all of us fans, enticing us to watch, because they *might* earn a playoff spot.  I’m a sucker for a good story, so I watch, and while I couldn’t stay up for the end, because I was up so early that morning writing this darn novel, I was rewarded for my faithfulness by a 4-2 walk-off victory courtesy of Buster Posey’s two-run homer.  Maybe that win spurred on my 4K-plus chapter today, maybe.  Maybe “For The Moments I Feel Faint”, I dig not through Relient K, but my own belief, that no matter what, if the words are supposed to be written, they’ll be written.

By hook and by crook and a song or three, the words will come.

Quilts are made in the same manner, laundry is hung by a similar mantra.  It’s a Git ‘er done sort of thing, bless my dad’s heart.  If he can undergo nine grueling rounds of Taxotere and goodness knows what’s next, I can sit at this machine and figure out something to say.

And tomorrow morning, God willing, I’ll sit down and do it again.


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