Bound by Nature

A quilt back amid the wind; I snapped this on Friday as a few drops fell, but that was all we got until Sunday.

A quilt back amid the wind; I snapped this on Friday as a few drops fell, but that was all we got until Sunday.

We finally received rain this past weekend, a lovely storm providing Silicon Valley with much needed precipitation.  Other parts of the Bay Area were pounded, but I was happy for our soggy Sunday, as my cold abated, hand-sewing keeping me busy.  I didn’t get much writing done, half a chapter that morning, but two other projects are coming along nicely.

The above quilt back goes with this little comforter, a birthday present for someone born in December.

The above quilt back goes with this little comforter, a birthday present for someone born in December.

I’m undergoing a rethink of this last section of The Hawk, both in plot and scope.  The first few chapters I wrote tried to move the story along more rapidly than how it had been meandering, and while I’m not going to change those, I’ve come to realize that this last part is going to be whatever it is meant to be.  It’s like the weather, over which we have no control.  Professionals can forecast to the best of their abilities.  However, the big rain that was supposed to hit us on Friday scooted right over the valley, dumping on the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We got our half an inch or so on Sunday, and now we wait for the next storm.

Gusty winds....

How does that relate to my writing?  I have this last part planned out, give or take a few rumbles of thunder.  And to my pleasant surprise, not only did I come up with an answer to the chocolate cake recipe, but a fine manner in which to explain why Wilma Gordon shares that closely guarded secret.  However, in doing so, more words will be necessary and….  And for as much as I wanted to keep this last section concise, that’s not gonna happen.

For all the rain that didn’t fall our way, it’s coming down as prose in buckets within my novel.

On Sunday morning, the words streamed forth until snot overwhelmed my authorial efforts.  But it was the first writing in several days, and I was happy with it.  Yesterday was the same, minus the mucous, as well as accepting that just as I have been doing for the last three years, I will write and let the rest sort itself out later.  I can’t do anything else and feel comfortable with this story.

It's not a Christmas Quilt, but it is for Christmas nearly halfway hand-quilted.

It’s not a Christmas Quilt, but it is for Christmas nearly halfway hand-quilted.

Whew, I feel better making that confession.  For me, the only answer is to follow one’s heart within the art, regardless of good intentions.  The creative spark is as fickle as rain, no way to harness it.  My husband bought a thirty-gallon trash can to use as a rain barrel, so while I was sewing on Sunday, he popped outside every so often, hauling out a bucket of water, then dousing plants just beyond where rain landed.  My writing is like that, how many paragraphs and scenes waiting to be allocated to either remaining within the manuscript, or destined for another home, ahem.  They won’t do our geraniums any good, but if nothing else, I won’t feel frustrated trying to hold them back.

Nearly snapped this back without any breeze.

Nearly snapped this back without any breeze.

Part of successful writing is striving to improve one’s ability with language through practice.  But another part is less tangible, much like the changing weather.  Writers need to be mindful of the muse which brings them to this craft, fully aware edits can and will sort the wheat from the chaff.  But first, allow those unwieldy elements to blow through, much like Friday’s useless cloudy day.  For on Sunday, water fell from the heavens, filling not only my husband’s makeshift rain barrel, but replenishing dry ground.  I can’t control my writing anymore than I can order the offshore flow.  But when the words are ready, I can be like my hubby, prepared to catch as many of them as fall.  He chooses what to water, while later I can hammer this draft into shape.  Now, if there was just some way to equate all I write into rainfall totals.  But that’s a dream for another day….

The Need to Communicate

A head cold has kept me from The Hawk, and while at first I felt too lousy to care, now I’m getting antsy.  I did manage to read over the last chapter, written on Tuesday just as post-nasal drip was starting to trickle down my throat.  Yesterday I was sneezy, snotty mess, and today my right eyelid is still puffy, although it has nothing to do with the San Fransisco Giants blowing a lead in the top of the ninth or the Los Angeles Dodgers going onto the NLCS.  Really, I’m not bothered by those events at all….

Ahem.  What I am finding is that for as difficult as it’s been getting back into the swing of my writing rhythm, having been knocked completely out of it is making me a bit crazy.  Not like sewing fabric squares into rows nuts; this taps into my need to communicate, even if right now it’s merely for me, myself, and I.  Perhaps it’s exacerbated by the fact that I feel relatively close to the end of this story, but I am dying to return to writing, hoping tomorrow will be the day.

Maybe it sounds strange to place such an emphasis on this element of writing, but for me, it’s a vital piece of the puzzle.  Yes, I write to free myself of a plethora of ideas and characters, but it’s combined with an equal need to reach out, to speak my thoughts, to….  Make myself be heard, which could be viewed as egotistical, but I prefer to think of it as proffering hope and joy as well as other virtuous elements that uplift and inspire.  In an increasingly negative sphere, rays of light are sorely needed.

Two little ones for whom I am exceedingly thankful!

From April, before neither could say Hi, yet they still found ways to get their points across.

Recently my grandchildren have mastered how to say Hi.  It’s absolutely adorable, also an innate instinct.  Humans require companionship, we need contact with our fellow man.  Storytellers have been around forever, both for society’s entertainment as well as to preserve history.  But I imagine what also drove those ancient yarn-spinners was a basic desire to share their viewpoint with others.  My grandkids know very little, well, they’re smarter than I realize, but they say Hi merely for the accompanying reaction.  It’s a new trick to master, one that brings an immediate pleasure when another says Hi back to them.  I’ve played this game with both of them for minutes at a time, greetings exchanged until they grow bored and find something new to study.  Often I’m blessed to have day after day of chapters in the can, and now, with yet one more day passing and no writing happening, I’m feeling trapped.  Or rather, a sinus headache holds the words hostage, oi!  I know this is a short-lived kidnapping; probably tomorrow I’ll sit at this very desk, wondering how to extricate this or that character from this or that drama.  But today all I can manage is this blog post, which perhaps is enough.  I’m saying something, I suppose.

But what I hope I’m communicating is that writing isn’t merely to tell a story.  The layers of why I do this are many, the pleasures just as varied.  And the pitfalls when it falls short, due to illness or writer’s block, can be agonizing.  Maybe this is just so that tomorrow, or whenever I get back to The Hawk, I will better appreciate the process.  It’s not as mundane as sewing squares into rows for a patchwork quilt, but at times it feels difficult.  I think it’s harder not being able to write, for whatever reason.  Something for me to keep in mind as this tale continues to unfold.

Bittersweet Patchwork

I have a confession; to me, few things in this life are more mundane and maddening than sewing squares of fabric into rows.  I’d been quilting for over a year when I realized this, but fortunately I was already considering improv quilting, so instead of losing my mind, I breathed new life into my sewing and lived happily ever after.

Okay, not ever-after, but in the last fifteen months, my adventures in quilting have become less bound by patchwork and far more satisfying.  Having said that, here’s a finished quilt top, basted no less, and yup, it’s patchwork.

Squares that are a Christmas Gift not a Christmas Quilt have been hanging on the wall for a while, then on Sunday I sewed together those fifteen rows, which ironically I love doing.  If someone would sew the squares into rows, I’d gladly do the rest.

I thought about this as I built those rows into a cohesive quilt top; there’s the magic of it coming together of course.  But I love nesting the seams, I like ironing, then observing how many corners are spot-on.  Those that aren’t add their own unique mark, for nothing in this life is perfect, not sewing improv or traditionally.  Both have their merits and niggles.

The back is just half-yard cuts of Kona fabrics with small pieces filling the gaps.  I wanted a contrast to the front, and I plan to hand-quilt diagonally in gray thread.

The back is just half-yard cuts of Kona fabrics with small pieces filling the gaps. I wanted a contrast to the front, and plan to hand-quilt diagonally in gray thread.

I chose patchwork for this gift because it was a simple way to go, and it’s for a child.  My nephew isn’t going to admire fancy techniques; hopefully he’ll like the fabrics, a camping theme roughly explored amid the cottons.  What I learned is how valuable are a variety of skills, even if some drive me a bit batty.

Waiting for me to finish this post....

Waiting for me to finish this post….

The best part about prepping this project for the hand-quilting is that I’ve come down with a slight cold, and there’s little brain power required to sit on the sofa and run a needle through a quilt sandwich.  I didn’t even write today, no intellect to fashion more than letters to loved ones and this post.  However, I’ll spend much of this afternoon on the couch pondering the Snyders and Aherns, Marek, Laurie, and Stanford, giving thanks that I finally figured out what to do with Wilma Gordon’s chocolate cake recipe.  There’s a time for all things, from patchwork to plot twists.  All of matter of appreciating how life shakes out.

Quilting (and other) Ironies

Yesterday might have been the last of the warm days.  It probably was, but let’s hedge it in a more ambiguous manner.  It might have been the last of the warm days.

Summer in much of California lasts nearly forever.  Winter is a blip, autumn and spring slightly longer.  I grew up without summer rain, so I assumed it never rained anywhere in June and July, August and September….  Living for a few years in Colorado was a pleasant surprise, for summer rain was abundant, as were summer hailstorms.  Then there was England and….  And now I’m back to where it doesn’t rain but every once in a while it pours.  Ironic that for eleven years I ached to see blue skies.  Now I’m itching for precipitation.

For a few months I’ve been hand-quilting the Big Bright Quilt.  But over the last two weeks, as cooler temperatures descended, I got busy with it, and last night, on an evening in no need of any sort of comforter, I sewed the final stitches of proper quilting.  Much remains, like fashioning the binding, like even cutting the strips for said binding.  I’m in the process of hand-sewing the perimeter, as the thought of running the edges in my machine makes me a tad dizzy.  I’ll attach the binding that way, but this is a big quilt and the less I have to maneuver it through my Janome the better.

As I made those final stitches, then inspected the quilt, confirming that yes, I’ve done all the necessary quilting, memories of making this piece were rife.  They intersect with the last sections of The Hawk, which is still a day-to-day process in itself, although not this day.  Today I’m trying to complete the quilt top that isn’t a Christmas Quilt but a Christmas Gift.  Too many irons in the fire perhaps, in a place where fires are everywhere and still we pray for rain.

One of the reasons hand-quilting took so long was that I used different colours of thread.  But I like how it looks.

One of the reasons hand-quilting took so long was that I used different colours of thread. But I like how it looks.

But irony isn’t bad, it’s just a different perspective.  Ironic that for three years while I have worked on The Hawk, the words have flown (ha ha) from my fingers with alarming speed, and now that I’m on the last part, it’s like pulling teeth.  Ironic that having lived in a place where weather permeates not only the landscape but conscious thought now I’m back where there is scant alterations in seasons.  Ironic that quilting has come into my life now that I’m a grandmother.  No, wait, that’s typical, except that I’m not making the sorts of quilts typically associated with abuelas.

As a writer, I straddle the line between plot and characters that think out of the box alongside cliches; stereotypes are such simply because in this life, they happen to often be what we see.  But it’s ironic that for how vibrant is the front of this quilt, the back is fairly staid.  And accepting, embracing even, these varying parts of the spectrum is acknowledging that sometimes the familiar reigns.  But sometimes it doesn’t.

Like rain; allegedly we’re supposed to receive some this weekend.  If we do, maybe I’ll feel inclined to sit under a quilt, either finished or in progress.  I’ll be very pleased for rain, but if none falls, that’s all right too.  It’s like how words emerge (or they don’t), how rows fall into line, how every day holds promise and mystery.  I don’t mind a bit of irony, reminding myself it takes all aspects to keep this planet on its axis.  Although I’ll tell you, if damp weather finds its way to Silicon Valley, I’ll be wondering if Earth’s axis took a left turn at Albuquerque….

Back on the horse one more time….

After a much needed break, today I started what will be the last section of my serialized WIP, The Hawk.  Not sure how long this part will end up, probably more than the 60-70K of previous entries.  And as I began this morning’s work, I had to wonder, was I even going to manage a full chapter?  Initiating another hunk of this project is never easy, but today felt especially laborious.  After the first scene, I sat back, staring around where I write, and sew.  I took two rows off the quilt wall, pinned them, then sat back down again.  Then I got up, made some tea, returned to my chair, read over what I’d written, drank my tea, considered sewing those pinned rows, then gritted my teeth ever so slightly and banged out a paragraph.

Then I saved my work, closed the document, and had a snack.  Recently I’ve been battling acid reflux, but if I eat every couple of hours, I feel okay.  And while it was almost lunchtime, that paragraph had the essence of another strong scene, or at least one that would culminate in enough words to say I’d written an entire chapter today.

Sometimes writing is merely an act of patience; if you’re willing to wait out the blockages, sure enough something ends up on the page.

By the time I’d finished that scene, I needed more than a few nibbles.  I also required a little downtime, for it has been a while since I last worked on this tale, and honestly, the thought of this being the last time I open the document in order to start up yet another part is….  Jeez, it’s more than a little terrifying, perhaps that’s why the words were so stubborn.  There’s a lot of ground to cover in the conclusion, and while I don’t want to miss anything, this novel is already so big, I don’t wish to overstay my welcome, if you know what I mean.  It’s not only readers I’m considering, but yours truly.  Three years I’ve been plugging away at this behemoth, and I am *SO READY* to be done with it.  But not in a hurry-up-and-fly sort of manner, pun intended.  The proper pacing is essential, and after all this time, I want to get it right.

Ha ha ha!  Maybe that’s as absurd as what this novel has become, but I can only do what I know is true.  The quote above has been a guiding force since nearly the start of this book, that index card living on my desk amid post-it notes, Carmex, dental floss, seam rippers, and pin cushions.  I don’t know if I’ll frame it when I’m done, but it needed to be showcased, not only for its depth.  That I haven’t lost it over time is amazing, just as I’ve kept the flame lit underneath this story.

But a different theme now reigns within The Hawk, that of keeping the faith.  Maybe it’s due to me trusting that eventually I was going to reach this stage, lol.  Mostly it’s that this novel isn’t merely about life after conflict, hawks, or familial drama.  It’s about trust, love, and brotherhood.  As I glance at GK Chesterton’s words, I’m reminded of various moments within The Hawk’s creation scattered amid my father’s final months, the arrival of two grandchildren, as well as other milestones too numerous to mention.  This book isn’t only three years in the making, but lifetimes in its humble creation.  And it’s not over yet.

However, for the last time I’ve started a new section, one item to check off.  And I’m willing to wager that not every writing day will be as rough as this one was, although they’re not going to be simple.  But the thrill is that they will be; I shall finish this book.  And when I do, hehehe, one helluva party is happening at my house!  In the meantime, there’s words to write, plots to twist, characters to torture, I mean, explore.  And a message to unveil, the likes of which I’m waiting to learn.  Tomorrow I’ll peel away another layer to find what treasure awaits.

Dido’s Crown, A Review

Action and intrigue meet head on in Julie K. Rose’s third novel, Dido’s Crown.  Set in 1935 Tunisia, this story cleverly blends adventure, history, and family drama, leaving this reader turning page after page to find out what happens next.  But like in any Julie Rose novel, there’s a desire to savor each paragraph for the extensive attention to detail.  Tunisia is vividly brought to life, sights and scents sending me back nearly one hundred years.  I was captured both by the plot’s mystery and where it took me, beyond Northern Africa to France, then back again.

Mary, Tom, and Will are longtime friends, but their histories are linked by sorrow as well as affection.  Reunited by a mysterious package which Mary is supposed to deliver to her husband, two more are drawn into their clique, altering the dynamics forever.  What I especially loved was the well-balanced tension between the action and the characters’ personal exploits.  This isn’t an ordinary spy thriller, nor is it typical historical fiction.  It’s a scintillating and at times searing view into pre-war Europe and Africa spiced by heroism and tragedy.

Taut and entertaining, Dido’s Crown sheds historical light on an often overlooked part of the world, but Julie K. Rose does Tunisia justice, as well as her characters.  I highly recommend this novel, which is available both in print and as an ebook.   If you’re looking for more information about Dido’s Crown, check out Julie’s You Tube channel.  While this story takes place in early spring, something about it feels ideal for autumnal enjoyment.  Pick up a copy and see where Julie K. Rose takes you.

A Dido’s Crown preview….

I’m blessed to be good friends with an amazingly gifted author; Julie K. Rose has published two novels, and her third, Dido’s Crown, is set for release next Thursday.  If historical fiction tickles your fancy, or a healthy dose of action and adventure figures in your fictional pleasures, this novel set in 1935 Tunisia will be the perfect start to autumn.

Mary Wilson MacPherson has always been adept at putting the past behind her: her father’s death, her sister’s disappearance, and her complicated relationship with childhood friends Tom and Will.

But that all changes when, traveling to North Africa on business for her husband, Mary meets a handsome French-Tunisian trader who holds a mysterious package her husband has purchased — a package which has drawn the interest not only of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but the Nazis as well.

When Tom and Will arrive in Tunisia, Mary suddenly finds herself on a race across the mesmerizing and ever-changing landscapes of the country, to the shores of southern France, and all across the wide blue Mediterranean. Despite her best efforts at distancing herself from her husband’s world, Mary has become embroiled in a mystery that could threaten not only Tunisian and British security in the dangerous political landscape of 1935, but Mary’s beliefs about her past and the security of her own future.

I’m itching to start this book, although I was graced to have read an early draft.  Yet, novels evolve during the revising process, so in a way a new version of Dido’s Crown awaits me.  You can pre-order Dido’s Crown, or go to Julie’s Goodreads page and enter in a drawing for one of five signed copies.  In the meantime, check out Julie’s other books, The Pilgrim Glass and Oleanna, both available in print as well as ebooks, or her You Tube channel, which includes fascinating insights about writing as well as details pertaining to Dido’s Crown.  My review of Dido’s Crown will be forthcoming, but probably not until next week.  My husband and I are hosting Little Miss for the weekend, so this abuela will be snatching as much free reading time as I can find.  And one day Little Miss and The Burrito can read Julie’s novels as well as their grandmother’s, hehehe….