Tag Archives: writing

Organization Is More Than Half a Book

Thieves of Fire, the second novel about Carding, Vermont, just got back from an initial reading by my editor.
Index cards for TOF 2 for web
I knew it needed more work but I wanted to bounce it off of someone else to get another perspective on my choice of voice for the additional writing before I plunged in.

The feedback was good and the insights very helpful.

But along with the additional writing comes some additional organization. Or reorganization, to be specific in this case.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to edit the work of a number of writers at all levels of experience. It’s always a challenge to walk the fine line between pushing for one’s personal standard of excellence and an author’s personal needs.

I’m talking about writing style here.

Walking this line is a lot like trying to figure out how hard you need to weed a garden. I have a friend who’s a zealot on weed control and will spend hours digging out every root cell of creeping Charlie or crabgrass. I don’t profess any particular love of weeds but part of me knows that no matter how zealous I go after them, they’ll be back.

So a little live-and-let-live is not out of order in my garden or in the books I edit.

But to me, the one place where you have to strive as hard as you can for perfection in a book is its internal organization. All of us know the sensation of letting our eyes glaze over during the gush of an ill-prepared speaker. The same is true of a disorganized book.

Cover for Thieves of Fire
Cover for Thieves of Fire

Strangely enough, this is the hardest lesson to teach a new writer, and part of me has come to believe that one either has an internal sense of organization or does not. I mean, how does one teach a memoir writer how to put their life in chronological order? Wouldn’t you already know that? (I tried to edit a book like that once. The memory still makes me shake my head.)

This is where the index cards come in. (You were wondering what they were doing in the picture, weren’t you?)

I find these little gems indispensable at this point in editing because I’ve already established my characters and over-arching plot. But it’s keeping track of the fine detail that’s critical at this point.

So for those who have been asking about Thieves of Fire, it’s back on my hard drive for the final run-through, a little later than I wished as far as publication is concerned. But it will be a whole better when I’m done.

With a Block, Block Here and a Block, Block There

My latest orphan block quilt in a state of becoming
Teach Yourself Visually Quilting by Sonja Hakala

Four years later, I still have a drawer full of blocks created when I sewed and wrote Teach Yourself Visually Quilting.

And truth to tell, I’ve added to them in the intervening years.

For the uninitiated, quilt blocks that don’t have a home are referred to as “orphan blocks.” Strictly speaking, these aren’t scraps because a scrap, by definition, is a single piece of fabric that you don’t need at the moment for anything in particular.

Nope, these babies were destined for a life with others like them but along the way, they weren’t needed or didn’t fit in or the project was abandoned, etc.

They can be a real challenge to fashion into a quilt that makes sense to the eye. You’d think that all you had to do was pick out blocks at random, sew them together, and you’d end up with a quilt.

Not true. In some respects, orphan block quilts can be more of a challenge than starting off with all-new fabric because the blocks don’t work with one another very well or their differing sizes call for additions or subtractions in order to fit.

I hadn’t made an orphan block quilt for quite some time when a member of my guild started talking about them. Inspiration struck, as in “I haven’t made one of those in a while. I think I’ll do that as an in-between-other-projects project.”

Like I need another project.

Anyway, I dove into the odd-block drawer, and the quilt pictured at the top came out. Right now, it’s in the process of being quilted in a way I want to share with you as the week progresses.

And now we have a theme for this week—orphan block quilts and some fun utility quilting tips.

Re-reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy


The first time I read John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I have to admit to feelings of frustration. The maze he created in his book left me feeling lost. What in the heck was going on? Who was that guy named Jim and why was he shot? And is that Control person onto something or is he just crazy?

I hadn’t thought about the book in many years when a new movie came out in 2011 to such rave reviews. I had to watch.

And then I had to re-read.

This time, because I knew how the book ended, I could savor Le Carré’s twisty plot, and his tight, neat phrasing. I turned over the rocks laid down by his characters to check out the grubby little details underneath. And my appreciation for his mighty tour-de-force was rewarded with a lingering horror at the depths of the mole’s betrayal.

I often flip to the end of a book, especially if it’s a mystery, when I reach its halfway point. Some friends express disbelief over this practice but for me, it serves several purposes. If I don’t like its ending, I can abandon a mediocre read without qualm. But if a book promises to be worthwhile all the way through, I get to savor my reader’s journey.

And to me, reading has become all about savoring. It’s why I no longer have any patience with ill-written books or the so-called “page turners” that sacrifice any meaningful explorations of character in favor of plot, plot, plot, and nothing but plot.

Boring.

Le Carré is a master at weaving plot lines together while rounding out his characters like a master potter molds clay. Doing this well is a difficult technique that I enjoy as a reader, and also practice in my own writing. So I guess that’s a third reason to re-read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—continuing education.

The Most Dangerous Book in my House

Paper, pens, markers, OH MY!

My husband will attest to the fact that I am a paper monger. And I love pens, pencils, markers, anything that I can hold in my hand and make a mark on paper.

In fact, I buy only certain notebooks and pens for writing, and both my guys respect the fact that they may not use these or touch them or move them.

Yep, I jealously guard my favorite tools of the trade.

So imagine my joy when the latest Blick art supply catalog showed up in my mailbox this morning. For this self-annointed paper-and-pen queen, this is bliss. Add that to the fact that my birthday is next month, and that I firmly believe in buying oneself at least one present, and…well…this is dangerous territory.

Ooooh, but the bliss!

The Road Unsalted

A quilt top from the Carding Quilt collection

Last November, I started penning a novel. Nothing unusual about that, per se, because most writers (whether they are published or not) are penning a novel.

The story arc for this one—its main plot thread—is one that I’ve carried around in my head for a number of years, and I’ve started at least four or five books based on this idea. But each time, I abandoned the effort because there was something about it I did not like.

Sometimes it was the tone. Sometimes it just grew like topsy in a way that did not suit. Whatever the reason, I have shards of this book scattered through my writing life.

Then last November, without any visible planning on my part, I opened up a notebook and started writing the first Carding Chronicle, The Road Unsalted.

Without any effort, apparently, the characters and the town and the accoutrements necessary to the plot showed up, almost as if I’d called a meeting that they’d been waiting for. I found myself happily anticipating getting up in the morning to write (it’s the second thing I do, right after making a cup of tea with milk and honey) as well as thinking about what and who would appear in the next chapter as I fell asleep.

I’m almost done with the first draft, and expect to start the rewriting process later this month. From there, it will be on track to be published in early September.

The Carding Chronicles are contemporary novels, each one taking place in the town of Carding, Vermont, population 5,000, located in the Corvus River valley on the shores of Half Moon Pond, a great swimming place between the tumble of Great Carding Falls, and the marshy drop off to Little Carding Falls.

Carding’s claim to fame in the outside world is a remarkable school founded in the late 19th century, The Carding Academy of Traditional Arts. Carding Academy was founded by two women, Emily Willis and Kitty Wolfe. Emily came to Carding from New York City with her husband, the writer Hanson Willis. Kitty was married to the founder of the town newspaper, the Carding Chronicle. The goal of the school is the preservation and expansion of what most people would call folk arts such as quilting, wood carving, furniture and instrument making, knitting, printing and book making as well as painting and sculpture.

The academy has had its ups and downs financially. But it’s been on an even keel since the 1970s when Kitty’s grand-daughter, Edith, took over as the school’s director.

Edie, as everyone calls her, pushes the boundaries of folk traditions, welcoming everyone who has a vision they want to express. She also has this uncanny knack of sensing the swirl of emotions as they move through Carding, and using this knowledge to nudge events. It’s not a quality that everyone in town appreciates.

The quilt top pictured here was the first one made by Carding’s most famous designer, Chloe Willis Brown, when she was just seventeen. At that time, Chloe was about to leave Carding for college, an adventure she viewed with trepidation. That summer, she cut up a number of dresses, skirts and shirts that she’d collected since she was a young girl, fashioning their cloth into a quilt to bring with her.