When the Quilting Universe Gives You Scraps

Within the quilting universe, the term scrappy has at least two meanings.
Black, white and red coasters 2014 for web
The first is the most obvious—making new cloth by sewing together little bits of old cloth.

But there’s another meaning which goes something like this: Using lots of different fabrics to create something new that’s very colorful and very magical.

It’s my favorite kind of quilting because it makes color selection so much easier. You simply choose a theme (autumnal colors, for example) or a print type (anything dotted) or a color family (such as the black, white and red combination you see here) and start sewing.

Well, no, it’s not quite that easy. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Like most quilters, I don’t throw away very much fabric. Odd triangles and very thin strips are the usual contributions to my wastebasket. Everything else gets sorted by color family and stored in large plastic bags.
Scraps of black, white and red for coasters for web
And then in fits of “I really need to use this stuff up someday,” I start sewing it into some project or another.

Right now, these little scraps are becoming crazy quilt-type squares that are, in turn, becoming coasters for Christmas gifts. I’m working on a tutorial for them that should be done this weekend.

But I thought you might like a sneak preview.

How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

I was recently contacted by a potential client who’s looking for someone to produce a book for him. In addition to book production, he asked me about ghost writing.
Spiral clock
Generally speaking, I turn down this type of work because I find it difficult to fit in someone else’s writing parameters. But I put in a bid because he asked and we’ll see.

During our discussion, he asked THE question—how long does it take to write a book?

The short answer is: It depends.

It depends on the type of book.

It depends on the amount of research needed and where those resources are located.

It depends on how much information the client provides.

It depends on how clear the client is about her or his ultimate goals.

It depends…it depends…it depends.

Let me share an example with you so you can see why “It depends” is the shortest answer to this question.

Years ago, I was approached to ghost write a book by a man who claimed he had discovered the answer to life’s most persistent question. (It’s gravity, in case you were wondering.)

It was the first time I had considered ghost writing, and it was quite the lesson in the difference between perception and reality.

First of all, the gentleman had absolutely no clue how a book is created. (This is not unusual. We’re surrounded by books but unless you’ve done this kind of work, there’s no way to know what’s involved. Same goes for building a house or learning brain surgery or figuring out how to engineer a car or sculpt in stone.)

It took a while but I finally figured out that this man just wanted someone to listen to him talk. (He once threw out the tidbit that his wife had had to listen to a number of his theories, and I got the distinct impression that she’d grown quite weary of doing that.)

But here’s the kicker—he claimed to have done all sorts of research and to have accumulated all sorts of notes for me to use. When I pressed to see the material, he literally produced three napkins, a few scraps of paper, and a matchbook cover covered in scrawl.

Then he pressed me for an estimate to create a book based on “these materials.”


In general, it’s not out of line to expect to spend a year researching and writing a book. How much is a year of your work life worth?

Same with me.

Let’s just say he was shocked—SHOCKED—to discover that creating a book that was readable (not even good, just readable) was going to cost more than the $1,000 he was willing to spend.

It depends.

Books That Enchant: A Christmas Carol

I love Charles Dickens. I am an unabashed fan of The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities.
A Christmas Carol
In my opinion, no author toiling in the fields of the English language has ever had a better hand at the naming of characters (Uriah Heep, The Artful Dodger, Pip, and the wonderfully named Wackford Squeers). And believe me, that is far, far more difficult that it looks.

His better known tales are so familiar to us, it’s as if we’ve read them—even when we haven’t.

Exhibit A of these circumstances is A Christmas Carol which Dickens published in 1843.

Think about that—this is a story that’s more than 170 years old, that probably most folks have never read, and yet the phrase “Bah, humbug” is a figurative coin of the realm.

And if you call someone a “Scrooge,” we all know what you mean.

I chose this book (novella, really) as my first Book That Enchants because I want to encourage all of you to read the original (which you can do online for free right here.)

I pull this copy off my shelf (wonderfully illustrated by the late Trina Schart Hyman of Lyme, NH) every year about this time so that I can join Ebenezer Scrooge on his voyage of redemption because I like to believe that people can be transformed by the joy of kindness.

This powerful story is full of the imagery that has become our traditional view of Christmas with its evergreen trees and feasting and presents and families together. Some literary observers have said that in A Christmas Carol, Dickens invented the holiday.

This also being the season of food, allow me to share a short passage from the moment when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge into the streets of London just as the stores are closing. Read this out loud and I’ll almost guarantee your mouth with water.

“It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress: but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day…”

Several people have chimed in with their favorite Books That Enchant and it’s going to be a long and lovely list. Want to join in? Please add your favorite Books Than Enchant in the comments and if you want to do the blog post about it, I’ll be more than happy to put it right here.


Sooner or Later, You Just Gotta Commit

Years ago, my husband and I went to see Taj Mahal in concert at the Lebanon Opera House.
TRU and TOF covers with quilts
It was October and before the LOH was equipped with air conditioning so you would have expected it to be comfortable inside. But it was one of those freak October evenings way up in 70s and we were sweltering.

But no one was moving (or breathing) too much.

The stage was bare except for a keyboard and a spotlight when the big man walked out on stage. (If you’ve never seen him, Taj Mahal is a very tall man.)

He sat down at the keyboard, ran his fingers over the keys to test the tuning, pushed buttons, flipped switches, ran his fingers over the keys again, and then repeated the whole process a second time.

Finally he looked up and grinned at the audience. “Sometimes,” he said, “you just gotta commit.”

I think I’m about ready to do that with the covers of the Carding novels. My friend and fellow quilter, Nancy Graham of Newport, NH, made quilts for both The Road Unsalted and Thieves of Fire. I love them but in these days of thumbprint-sized covers online, I know that I have to keep images simple and the wording LARGE so they can be seen by folks skimming from one book choice to another.

At one point, I was considering photographs for the covers and put together some samples.

But I love Nancy’s quilts.

With Thieves of Fire about to debut, I decided I wanted to put a new cover on The Road Unsalted as well. So over the past two days, I’ve been (metaphorically) running my hands over my keyboard and working on new images that incorporate Nancy’s quilts with simpler graphics.

I’m very close to the printing stage of the publishing process so I think I’ve just gotta commit.

“Author in Aisle Two”

I’ve been in the book biz for a long time. I got my start in 1992 by marketing books for The Countryman Press in Woodstock, Vermont (now a part of W.W. Norton in NYC).

Dan & Whit's in Norwich, Vermont, the inspiration for Cooper's General Store in Carding, Vermont
Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, Vermont, the inspiration for Cooper’s General Store in my novels of Carding, Vermont

It was a good perch from which to watch the incoming and outgoing tides of the industry at the time. (And believe me, not too much has changed on the marketing side of the agenda.)

That’s how I learned that most book signings—the stuff of which new authors’ dreams are made of—are not what they are cracked up to be. In other words, unless you’re Stephen King or Louise Penny or J.K. Rowling, you shouldn’t expect too much when you stand next to a table full of your works-in-print waiting for the hordes to arrive.

Hordes are hard to come by.

So why am I grinning from ear to ear about a book signing I’ve got coming up this Friday? Because it’s in a general store, a very unusual spot for a book signing. And that general store is one of the inspirations for my novels set in the fictional town of Carding, Vermont.

If you’ve read The Road Unsalted, you’ve visited Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, Vermont. It rambles. You can get lost among the nooks and crannies if you’re a newbie. The floors are uneven. It’s heated by a wood-burning furnace in the basement. There’s a small coffee corner toward the front of the store, and it is THE spot for local news of the live-and-in-person variety.

It’s also the fundraising hub for the 19 Days of Norwich effort to stock the food pantry shelves of the Upper Valley Haven.

So I’ll be there on Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with copies of The Road Unsalted, pre-order forms for Thieves of Fire (the next Carding novel), and the wonderful seasonal gift of American Patchwork: True Stories from Quilters. And in the spirit of the event, 10 percent of all book sales on Friday night will be donated to the Haven effort.

If you’re inclined to stop by, please come find me in aisle 2 and say hi. I would sure love to see you.

It’s sort of like life inspiring art inspiring life.

Books That Enchant

A few years ago, when I was grieving my mother’s death, a friend sent me a link to an article on the fine art of re-reading.
Emma cover
The gist of the article was this—re-reading a favorite book in a time of stress is another way of providing comfort to ourselves while we’re deep in the healing process.

My husband often jokes that he knows when something’s really bothering me because I reach for my Jane Austen. I’m not sure if I can explain why I love those books so much but I readily admit that they are my idea of the ultimate comfort food.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup for my head, I guess.

I’m sure that part of this is the peace I feel when I’m immersed in something familiar when everything around me is stormy and painful. But another part of this pleasure is the sensation of enchantment that accompanies opening the covers of certain books.

I think this enchantment is the kick—the high—that readers experience when they connect deeply with another human being through the written word. To me, it’s a sensation like no other—which probably explains the large number of full book shelves in my house and the number of library cards in my wallet.

Part of this reader’s high is a desire to share these special books with others so I’ve decided to launch a weekly series called “Books That Enchant” and I’m asking everyone who would like to participate to plunge right in and share your close-to-the-heart-enchanted specials.

The definition of enchantment is up to you. It could be a book you read as a child that still makes you smile when you think about it. It could be a full-immersion piece of non-fiction with prose so juicy, you want to ingest it slowly. It could be something philosophical that made you think and change your way of seeing the world. It could be something that conjured up such a powerful emotion (Old Yeller comes to mind here), that just hearing the title squeezes your heart. Or it could be a story so fascinating, the first paragraph grabs you by the collar and won’t let go.

Books that enchant. Let’s make a list and share it with one another, shall we?

Hey Nineteen

Dan Fraser over at Dan & Whit’s general store in Norwich, Vermont (the inspiration for Cooper’s General Store in Carding, Vermont) started something big last year.

Raffle quilt made for the Upper Valley Haven
Raffle quilt made for the Upper Valley Haven

It all began when he spotted a regular customer filling a box with canned and packaged foods and went over to say hi. During their ensuing conversation, Dan discovered that the customer volunteered at our area’s local homeless shelter and food pantry, the Upper Valley Haven.

He also learned there wasn’t any food on the pantry’s shelves.

Now Dan’s a goodhearted soul and a pretty smart business man. He combined the Haven’s need with the Vermont penchant for buying and giving locally and the fact that Christmas was only a month away in an event called the 19 Days of Norwich, 1% for the Haven.

The idea is to encourage local businesses to band together to dedicate 1% of their proceeds for the first 19 days of December to stocking the Haven’s food shelf.

I thought it was brilliant and told him so. Then I told him about the Haven Hats pattern that I developed and about the hats I’ve made for the shelter for several years.

Before I knew it, that effort became part of Dan’s outreach and Dan & Whit’s was stocking my books on their shelves.

This year, the Haven Hats are displayed in 8 locations around town on an octet of plexiglass snowmen. (Two of them were made by my friend Marsha Biggs of Norwich.)

I’m going to be signing books on December 5 in aisle 2 at Dan & Whit’s with a portion of sales to the Haven. And I just finished the quilt you can see up above, nicknamed “Hey Nineteen,” as an item to be raffled off over the coming 19 Days of Norwich.

(It’s my first raffle quilt! I hope it suits.)

This year, the idea has spread among other locally owned stores here in the Upper Valley, the Dorothy Byrne Foundation has made a matching grant for the effort, and according to a story in our local newspaper this morning the businesses that participated last year experienced a rise in sales for that period of time in 2013.

I love win-win-wins, don’t you?