So Much Beauty Along the Way

Five years ago this week I independently published The War On Emily Dickinson.  2011 seems a long ways in the past considering all that’s happened in my life since, but sometimes it feels like yesterday for how brief has been this foray into indie publishing.  I’ve been wanting to highlight that event, and not only in regards to my authorial existence.  By releasing books in this manner, I discovered many personal truths as well as realizing a long-held dream.

A selfie from our recent holiday; more vacation pics to come....

A selfie from our recent holiday; more vacation pics to come….

The family joke is that I’m not the ‘techie sort’.  However, ask any indie writer, and you’ll find our talents go beyond penning good stories.  There’s the formatting and uploading of manuscripts, which for me also includes slapping drafts onto various gadgets for editing purposes.  Cover design falls into this category, although a few of my covers have been produced by outside sources.  These are elements that traditionally authors have left to their publishing houses, but formatting a manuscript, either for an online distributor or one’s own smartphone, isn’t any more difficult than following a recipe.  Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can.

While the nuts and bolts are vital parts of the process, it’s the stories that matter most, not only the yarns spun, but the spinning.  Indie publishing brokered a new world for me; that I could release my novels spurred on more first drafts, most of which I’ll leave safely in flash drives.  Julie K. Rose, who has designed some of my covers, eloquently speaks about the democratization of art; what a blessing to have this outlet, not only for ourselves, but for how others are affected.

But first comes the storyteller; I can’t honestly say what I’d be writing now if not for taking the horse by the reins, yet the words have only increased since The War On Emily Dickinson was published.  I had lunch with Julie recently, and we celebrated how empowering were our decisions to go indie, even for all the work involved.  Our artistic souls aren’t bound by a marketer’s choice of genre, our methods aren’t scrutinized by anxious agents, our individual paths uncluttered by the fickle winds of finance.  To many writing is a business.  But it’s not that way for me.

Writing is liberation and creation.  It is messages of hope and love and joy amid drama and cliffhangers.  It’s reaching out far past where I can see as tales are extended to any and all.  Indie publishing has afforded me fantastic freedom, albeit with some rules to follow, also the pleasure of forging new vistas.  Five years along this road, I’m nearing the end of a most magnificent tale, releasing it in beta-form as I continue to write, what an adventure that has been.  What a gift to share all these stories, as well as realize a long-held dream.

Okay, one more shot, indicative to the nature of this post.

Okay, one more shot; the California coastline along Highway 1 just north of Fort Bragg.

I always wanted to be a writer; imagine how it feels to experience that goal on my own terms.  I am grateful beyond words, and there are many folks to thank; Julie Rose for inspiring and assisting, Mark Coker and Smashwords for facilitating, my family for putting up with this not-so-small obsession, readers for completing the circle.  Lastly my beloved husband for his endless support and patience, and my Savior for guidance in both the prose and purpose.  None of this has been by chance, much faith is involved.  But in any endeavor, conviction is essential.  Self-expression starts with courage, and bravery is independent publishing’s unspoken middle name.

Took a little break today….

A table runner in progress....

A table runner in progress….

I had planned on writing this morning, even though Andy Murray was playing in the Wimbledon Gentleman’s Final.  But last night I had second thoughts; I’ve been working many days, checking on tennis without watching much of it.  I’ve been a Wimbledon fan for a long time; I remember when Boris Becker won the title at the age of seventeen.  Living in the UK was heaven when it came to the grandest of the slams, but if I had that much access to the matches now, hardly any writing would be accomplished, ha ha.  As it is, I’ve made some big headway in The Hawk, and perhaps today was the perfect time to take a little breather.  I spent this morning hand-quilting the Big Bright Quilt while paying a fair amount of attention to the McEnroe Brothers and Chris Fowler commenting on the contest, considering not too much else.

That’s what happens when tennis starts at 6 o’clock in the morning!

Yesterday afternoon and evening I wrapped up another little project, a table runner for my eldest to match some place mats I made for her family.  I never posted about those, but the runner I did want to share, in part that I took several shots of it with my phone, although please don’t ask which setting goes with what photo.  Which of course is the reason I took these shots, sort of silly not to have paid attention to how they were snapped.

Currently the runner is basted and waiting for me to sit at my machine; I won’t hand-quilt this because I didn’t hand-quilt the place mats.  And because I have enough hand-quilting to do already, lol.  I took photos of that work while trying out camera settings and I was pleased with those shots as well.

I did consider, as Murray and Milos Raonic traded amazing ground strokes and very fine volleys, how hand-quilting provides time to appreciate the fabrics.  As I sewed, memories of making this quilt top were fresh in my mind.  I won’t get that experience when I machine-quilt the table runner, but I shall enjoy viewing it every time I visit Little Miss and her folks.

Watching Wimbledon is sort of like that; I recall the fantastic players of the past, like Britain’s Tim Henman, oh goodness I so wanted him to reach the Final!  Martina Navratilova is one of my all times faves, while the Roger Federer/Marin Cilic match offered a glimpse of Cilic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, who won in 2001 as a wildcard entry!  (He’s the only wildcard to have ever taken the title, by the way….)  I was so pleased to see Juan Martin Del Potro back on the grass, maybe he’ll go further in New York at the US Open.  A small part of my love for Wimbledon is the rekindling of the past, the game as well as life in Yorkshire.  Most of it however is my affection for sports.  Yes I love to write and sew, but first came an appreciation for athletes, and it’s not just baseball players to make me smile.

However, the fortnight at the All England Club is over for another year.  I’m going on a brief holiday next week, then the work resumes on The Hawk when I return.  I am taking the Big Bright Quilt with me, something to do in the evenings.  I wonder in the future, while snuggled under this quilt, if I’ll consider Wimbledon and/or books.  Maybe Eric, Lynne, and the rest will be like those tennis players who stir happy recollections.  How the mind retains, then reflects memories is a curious, sometimes precarious notion.  I bet next month’s US Open will figure into that quilt too, but I’ll think about that in late August.  Right now Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon is plenty to celebrate.

Chapter 203….

It’s taken several days for the rust to be shaken, but as today’s title suggests, I’ve just kept chugging along with The Hawk.  Sort of startling to think I’ve brought this story along this far, but even when chapters were being written as if pulled out through my nostrils, somehow the plot continues to bubble.

If I said the last ten days or so were painful, I’d be hitting the mark.  Sometimes writing happens as if by magic, but not always.

A coaster waiting to be bound.

A coaster waiting to be bound.

However, in addition to furthering this tale, I’ve learned something about myself, both as a writer and a person of faith; keep going regardless of the confusion or the pain.  The words may not seem to make sense, the purpose elusive.  But maybe more than we’d like to think about our lives, our reasons for being here are at times to simply BE.

Two completed place mats....

Two completed place mats….

That’s not glamorous or even personally satisfying.  It’s a quiet, often obscured path, but right now it’s where I’m being led to investigate, through words and scattershot paragraphs that upon further inspection actually seem to make sense.

Obedience does lead to cohesiveness, if one is willing to set aside presumptions.

Amid the random musings of my writerly mind, I finished up the place mats and coasters.  That was a fun project, which was supplemented by hand-quilting on the Big Bright Quilt.  Now I wonder what I got myself into, choosing to hand-quilt that behemoth, but the same could be said for continuing a novel-in-progress that has chalked up over two hundred chapters.  There’s a lot going on in Part 11, so I’m being careful to not overlook plot points.  I know a few will escape my eyes, but that’s what revisions are for.  Yet, I don’t wish this story to get too convoluted, so it’s important to go slowly as not to miss anything.

Binding ready for attachment....

Binding ready for attachment….

That’s what I told myself last week as my fingers plodded along the keyboard like the last thing I wanted was to be seated in front of my computer still telling this tale.  My goodness, isn’t this novel ever going to end?

And now it needs a little hand-sewing to finish it properly.

And now it needs a little hand-sewing to finish it properly.

But as most writers will say, often it’s not up to us.  We’re at the whim of our creative natures which ebb and flow, and when the tide is low, there’s not much to be done other than wait for it to roll back onto the shore.  Sunday and today were good examples of my digits and brain working together.  That was reassuring, not only in recognizing that yes, the tide had come back in, but that when darkness falls, daylight is only hours away.

Clumped in the corner of the sofa, the Big Bright Quilt awaits my attention....

Clumped in the corner of the sofa, the Big Bright Quilt awaits its turn….

Yet it’s more than that; it’s accepting that while the dawn has already risen for some, perhaps for me it’s still invisible.  I need to be patient, I need to just BE.  My previous writing style was ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, here’s a rough draft!  This effort is nothing like that in method or scope of the project.  It’s like comparing place mats to a nearly king-sized comforter, which I can’t fairly do.  Not that one is less important than the other, they merely have different uses.  All I wrote in the past prepped me for this day, but to wring my hands over a still unfinished novel is silly.  Just keep writing is the key, just keep the faith.  Chapter 203 is waiting for tomorrow.  What an amazing chapter I imagine it’s going to be!

Exciting Times

I have a lot to note, but first off, a good friend of mine has started a weekly series on You Tube about creativity and courage.  Julie K. Rose is a fantastic writer and a terrific video blogger; check out the first episode below….

Watching these clips I was thrilled for Julie’s insights, as well as her bravery, of which she discusses so eloquently in Episode #2.  In Episode #3, I was taken aback at how true are her words, in how being vulnerable opens us to compassion.  That theme goes hand in hand with what I’ve been reading; Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas.  I’ve been working on it for the last couple of weeks, although as I move further into it, I find myself going outside to read, even in the heat.  Hard to digest all that the Nazis did unless out in bright sunshine.

Julie speaks about moving beyond where we feel safe; our inner critics are looking out for our best interests, or that’s what they want us to assume.  But in facing one of the most evil regimes in history, Bonhoeffer notes how peace isn’t equated to security; in Bonhoeffer’s words, to demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself.  In the creative life, there are no absolutes, only the urge to step out of the comfort zone into a realm filled with….  Aha, there’s the spark, the magic, the limitless reach of what could be!  Possibilities are rife if only we choose to unfetter ourselves from what is familiar.

In Bonhoeffer’s time, the stakes were so different; freedom from tyranny is hard to conjure, and I certainly didn’t mean to delve into these sorts of waters when I started reading this book.  Yet, the same can be said for when I began writing The Hawk.  I wasn’t thinking much past a love story with some intangible odds attached.  Yet instead of shirking from that idea, I marched on ahead; peace wasn’t on my agenda, but to tell a truth bound in a small bit of fantasy.  I’d never written in the genre of magical realism, nor is historical fiction my strength.  Again, I needed to forge past misgivings, following my heart.  To me, being creative is an action of faith; instead of dwelling in my own shoes, I’ll interpret how another might live.

I’m so pleased to share Julie’s web blog, not only for her valuable insights; I applaud her courage!  When the heart’s dictates are followed, great tasks are accomplished, the least not being moving past fear.  When fear is demolished, wonderful occurrences take shape, maybe in the guise of stories, perhaps in artwork, but mostly in a peace that encourages the better angels of our natures to flourish.

And finally the words emerge….

Silicon Valley under magnificent skies; photo taken by my better half.

Silicon Valley under magnificent skies; outdoor photos taken by my better half.

Maybe this coincides with my husband reaching the top of the mountain; he’s been working hard to get back into his hiking routine, and with a cool morning, the conditions were ripe for him to make that big push, freeing up the morning for me to, ahem, get some writing accomplished.  Both of our dreams were realized, with some pain involved along the way.

No getting around how much a six-mile trek takes from him, whilst I was struggling to return to fictional form.  Rust accumulates and simply has to be slogged through….

But that’s okay; I spent this week near the sewing machine, turning out the Christmas quilt top, as well as the beginnings of an Advent wall hanging for my nieces.

I also started some place mats that are a wedding present for college friends of my eldest and her hubby.  A couple of coasters will accompany, once I have lots of small scraps with which to play, hehehe.

Coffee, science, and bicycles are the theme for this couple.

Coffee, science, and bicycles are the theme for this twosome.

Yet all week I considered The Hawk; I might not have done any active work on it, but plenty of subconscious (and not so subconscious) meanderings occurred.  Amid those pondering were items I’ll need to address in the next round of revisions, as well as the biggie; what happens next!  Maybe that’s why I dithered all week, or sewed rather.  Part 11 starts to tie up what has been the focus since the end of Part 8, oh my goodness.  And Part 11 actually kick starts what I sincerely hope is the last plot line of this novel, although I know better than to actually assume anything, lol.  Basically, as I very slowly started typing this morning, I acknowledged how out of my hands is this whole dang story.  Thankfully that frees up my digits to simply type what pops into my head.

So much of writing is solitary, very much like my husband’s hikes.  He can send me photos, but takes each step by himself.  Yet how handy are these pastimes we enjoy, for his walks give me time to write, and he can gladly spend a few hours without feeling I’m home alone with nothing to do.  Yet these tasks, for all their pleasures, need to be repeated in order to attain the maximum benefit.  His results are health-related, and maybe mine are too, mental and emotional food for my soul.  While I love to sew, and certainly find plenty of it to do, writing is my creative life-blood.

During this week of prose down-time, I wondered just when the mood would strike.  It’s nothing I can conjure, it’s about being patient.  Yesterday I felt the nudge, like drops of water for a thirsty person.  And while laundry intruded, texts from my hubby answered, this morning I started to draw out sentences and paragraphs, leading into one completed scene, which was slowly followed by one more.  My husband had returned by then, and while he ate lunch, I pounded out a few last words, wrapping up chapter….  Oh my, 195 chapters of this saga, from where have they arisen?  I won’t dare answer that, nor shall I mull over how many remain.  Instead I’ll be thankful the words continue, even if that process is at times difficult, and somewhat lonely.  Yet, I’m surrounded by characters, just like my spouse is inundated along the trail by nature.  A single bench marks the peak, but my what a view.  Maybe I’ll feel similar when the last words of The Hawk are written.  One hell of an effort, but what beauty has been revealed….

At the top....

At the top.

This is actually about the writing….

Last week I went to Oregon to visit my youngest sister.  My eldest and Little Miss tagged along, and it was a merry week of familial togetherness, with sport on the side.  My brother-in-law is as devoted as I to various team games, so while girly chit-chat ruled during the day, basketball and hockey battled little ladies (and three mums) while my granddaughter fell in love with their dog Butter as well being mesmerized by their chickens.

Amid all the activities, in the back of my head was The Hawk.  We even saw one on a walk, as if signaling what I’d be up to upon my return to California.  I don’t know if the chickens were the impetus, or that it was merely time to return to prose.  During the weekend, wondering if Draymond Green was going to be suspended for tonight’s Warriors/Cavaliers game, I finished reading over Part Ten, becoming even more eager to dive back into this tale.  But this morning….

Spent most of this morning cutting fabric....

Spent most of this morning cutting fabric….

I didn’t feel like writing.  I was mulling over other ideas, like yesterday’s shooting in Orlando, last night’s Tony Awards, how the Giants took two games from the Dodgers, and of course how might Golden State fare without the only member of their team who has played in every game this season.

Not quite halfway designed....

Not quite halfway designed….

Or had played; tonight Draymond won’t even be in Oracle Arena, and I won’t speculate about whether or not the Warriors will beat Cleveland minus one of their best players.  In the big picture, Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals is somewhat diminished by another event.  Which brings me back to what this post is truly about, doing what I love.  Last week it was celebrating relatives.  This week it’s….

More than halfway done.

More than halfway done.

Okay, so today the writing tanked.  I sat down with the best of intentions, but I didn’t feel exceptionally well, my mind was elsewhere, and….  And I know myself enough to say, “Right.  Today I’ll do something unplanned.”  This quilt, for someone very dear to me, wasn’t at all in my head.  But now it’s on the wall, and I’m not sure exactly how it got there, other than to say sometimes the words land on the document as if by magic.  Tunes were rollicking; I was up to my ears in the Hamilton Soundtrack (thank you so much Julie Rose!) which morphed into a dance playlist that kept my feet tapping as squares decorated the quilt wall, still playing as I type this entry.  I can say I did some writing today, but it wasn’t what I assumed would be written.

The completed design, simply awaiting its turn under the needle.

The completed design, simply awaiting its turn under the needle.

But life can’t be lived according to schedules; it’s precarious, often far too brief.  Sometimes it seems endless, like how The Hawk is taking ages to write, how Lin-Manuel Miranda spent seven years composing Hamilton, how over two hundred years after the Revolutionary War the awful sense of helplessness and horror attempts to again stifle our freedoms.  Yet in the face of such evil, good does triumph, although it’s tinged with deeper considerations.  What does freedom mean, what does love overcome?  What is the state of our nation, a nation of states, a collection of people, ideas, hopes, dreams….

I didn’t watch the Tony Awards live, but I listened to the backstage chatter while watching the Giants and Dodgers.  When the game was over, I returned to my computer just as Miranda was giving his post-win remarks, noting how long it had taken him to write Hamilton.  Good things don’t often occur overnight; some treasures are lengthy in their gestation, and patience is required.  But it’s hard to wait, although as I age, waiting has gotten easier.  Or maybe my perception has altered, a longer view permissible.  That wisdom, for lack of a better word, doesn’t make massacres more acceptable, but terrible things have happened all through history, and they won’t cease in my lifetime.  Yet, I can do my very small part via prayer, and of course, the work.  I write about love, hope, and perseverance in the face of long odds.  I write about the nature of healing, even if healing seems impossible.  And today I started a Christmas quilt, which perhaps is the best sort of quilt to design even in the middle of June.

Random pre-cut squares drew me to this project, at least consciously.  But perhaps buried in the gray matter was a need to seek a deeper peace that not even writing could provide.  Not that I understand any better what happened in Orlando, or who Steve Kerr will start in place of Draymond Green.  I don’t even know why I didn’t feel like writing this morning, other than instead I began another quilt.  A colourful Christmas quilt that hearkens to the future, which sits ahead of us like a gift.  It’s our task to unwrap it with hopeful hearts, then find a place for it within our lives, even if we can’t imagine how or where.  And if we allow grace to lead us, we don’t have to think too hard about the how or the where.  We just do, or be, or….  Watch some sport on TV when the game starts.  And if writing is on the docket too, okay!  I’ll open my arms and mind to whatever is slated.

These squares remain; I think I'll sew them into a row, then fit them into the back of the quilt....

These squares remain; I think I’ll sew them into a row, then fit them into the back of the quilt.

It’s how I get anything done anyways; ignore the uncertainties, embrace the now.  Embrace all gifts, for you never know where a miracle is lurking.

Baby quilt amid the heat….

It’s been hot here in Silicon Valley, but we have A/C, for which I am so thankful.  I haven’t done any work on the Big Bright Quilt, bunched up on the end of the sofa.  Might tackle it tonight while the Warriors play the Cavaliers, but even with air conditioning, that seems a somewhat toasty task.  Hard to work up the gumption to sit under a blanket when it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

It was cooler when I hand quilted this little project.  Summer has roared into June, not just here, but all over western America.  I’ll be spending time with relatives over the next few months, my youngest sister and her crew this coming week, grandkids of course, then a family visit to the Midwest, culminating in a long weekend with friends we met in the UK who now call the East Coast home.  By the time I return from that sojourn, I hope to have completed another section of The Hawk, as well as sewing much of the Big Bright Quilt into a cohesive whole.

Yet smaller pleasures are sprinkled amid the bigger plans, and most of those are unknown to me.  I didn’t expect to make this quilt, but it came together with ease, and not only for its diminutive size.  I had the squares, the backing was one piece, and patchwork requires little concentration once the design is sorted.  It was the perfect project and soon will be in a new home awaiting its owner, due in September, by which time autumn will be knocking on the door.

Quilting is like writing, for how it ebbs and flows; getting the Big Bright Quilt to where it now lays over one end of our couch was like starting the last third of my novel, heaving a sigh of relief even if work remains.  The bulk is in the proverbial can, and now with only two parts left, I can see the end, although I’ve been envisioning it for….  Well, more than a year, two years perhaps; it has been a long journey for me, who previously burned through a manuscript in a matter of weeks.  But The Hawk is no ordinary book, nor is this baby quilt dull.  It’s as bright as a much larger comforter, a sea-theme with elephants, namely Babar, as the compliment.  I quilted it diagonally, and the only warm part was the flannel backing.

The Big Bright Quilt is not backed with flannel, but it’s a heavy beast, again similar to The Hawk.  But in bits and pieces, it will be turned into a solidly fixed blanket, just as that lengthy story is closer to reaching The End.   For now, I’ll concentrate on quilts, while Eric, Lynne, Marek, Laurie, Stan, and the rest simmer in my gray matter.  But hopefully in about a week’s time, the writing will be on the wall while basketball winds its way to a season’s conclusion.  Go Warriors!