All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

Novel Approaches

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

The Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear grabbed my attention late last year. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, about a young woman who’s a costermonger’s daughter in England. At 13, she goes into service for a well-to-do family with a heart

Maisie, it turns out, is very smart, and one thing leading to another in a book written for its entertainment value, she gets an education courtesy of the well-to-do family.

World War I intervenes, and Maisie goes off to be a nurse. Since I like my schlocky novels laced with reality, Maisie Dobbs fit the bill.

However, the book I just finished, Elegy for Eddie, is the fifth and probably last book I’ll read in the series.

Winspear’s writing, which has always been stilted at times (who cares what color Maisie’s skirt is), has become even more so. To my ear, her conversations have flattened out, and the main character’s interactions with others feel oh-so-staged.

The thrill is gone, in other words.

In book publishing, authors who write books with series potential get signed to multi-book contracts. This means that an author who starts off with three really good ideas for a character gets pushed to produce six or seven or eleven on the industry’s timetable. Which is why I think Maisie has become a stick in the mud.

Some authors escape this industrial molding. J.K. Rowling’s seven-book Harry Potter series is a good example of this. From the start, Rowling had an over-arching story line. There was always an end to Harry’s adventures. Is that the answer to series burnout?

Alexander McCall Smith’s series of 44 Scotland Street books still feels like it’s-the-very-first-time. But he works on several series simultaneously so he’s not stuck with the same characters and plot conventions book after book. Is this the answer to series burnout?

I think the answer to the staleness issue lies in both of these approaches. So as I continue editing The Road Unsalted while working on the next book in the Carding Chronicles series, this is good to bear in mind. There’s long been a second series in my mind’s eye. I don’t want to get bored now, do I?

Judging a Book by Its Cover

A Freddy House block made by Lynn Wheatley
From A Passion for Patchwork by Lise Bergene

I FINALLY got through the “pre-washing my whole stash” project when I ironed and folded the last piece of fabric on Saturday, a nice rainy day for that sort of activity.

Then I cleared my sewing table of the scraps still hanging out from my last couple of quilt tops.

I’ve learned to recognize this need to clean and organize as the meditation portion of my internal design process. So I try to savor it while it lasts.

The design project occupying my thoughts these days is the cover of my upcoming novel, The Road Unsalted, the first of my Carding Chronicles.

I’m accompanied on this journey, which is also a new phase in my business, by a wonderful consultant named Deb Eibner whom I met through the Vermont Small Business Development Center. Our collaboration has evolved into these inspirational business brainstorming sessions.

When we got together last week, Deb started off by asking me to describe the town of Carding, Vermont, the star of my novels. The words “beautiful,” and “outdoors” and “not of this world” came up first. How do I convey those ideas in a book cover—and then on the home page for the upcoming website?

And, of course, there’s the plot of the book itself. There should be a hint of that on the cover as well.

The Corvus River runs through Carding, and on its way through, it slows down in a sweet little place  called Half Moon Pond. Years before The Road Unsalted begins, a religious group built a retreat on the pond. The religious folks are now long gone, and the cabins they built are owned by local families.

Carding Campground plays a rather prominent role in my book which is why the cover image floating around in my head is a house or cabin created in fabric. Since I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do yet, I’m cleaning and organizing my quilt space waiting for my ideas to gel.

I’ve posted a few pictures here of ideas that have attracted my attention. At the top is a traditional quilt designed by Debbie Mumm for a book called Fast, Fun & Fabulous Quilts. Should my cover be a collection of repeating house blocks like the cabins in the Campground?

My second inspiration was made by a quilting friend of mine, Lynn Wheatley. It’s one of twelve blocks that I have in this style, fashioned after the quilt designer Freddy Moran, and part of a block exchange in my guild. I’ve long envisioned using these blocks on my website’s home page.

The third and fourth choices are from books by two Scandinavian designers, Lise Bergene (A Passion for Patchwork) and Kajsa Wikman (Scandinavian Stitches—note the little house on the cover). I love Scandinavian design, and Bergene’s book is probably my favorite quilt book of all time. Just looking at her free and easy style—even when she’s creating something in a traditional pattern—frees up my neurons.

Traditional? Ultra-colorful? Freeform? Hmmmmmmmmmmm. My design elves are busy!

Time for Our Midweek Garden Visit

The last of the lupins I planted so many years ago, crowded out by other flowers. Guess I’ve gotta plant more!
A pair of Phoebes are raising their 2012 brood right outside my office window.
You can see where the idea for trumpets came from.
I have a gardening friend who freaks out every time I introduce a “wild” flower into my gardens. But I love buttercups and dames rockets and Queen Anne’s lace. And don’t you think these buttercups make a great partner for Johnny Jump-ups?
A few years ago, a friend up the hill gave me root stock for three of the peonies in her yard. This red beauty is always the first to bloom. Isn’t that color magnificent?

Hoeing and Weeding and Composting, Oh My!

Dames rockets, also called dames violets, are in full bloom now
We watched swallowtail butterflies on the dames rockets in my gardens all weekend

I had a difficult time getting motivated for gardening this year. Part of it was Irene-us Interrupt-us. Part of it was uncertainty of what gardens and plants had to be moved because of the Irene construction that’s revving up around here.

And part of it is a growing (or maybe that should be groaning) reluctance to take on the body hurt that comes with gardening.

But by mid-May, the general weediness gets to me, and armed with trowels and shovels and a wheelbarrow, I get out there to dig, rip, and tear.

Every year, I use the three-day Memorial Day weekend to tackle my gardens with a full-court press. And every year, by the time Monday ends, I hurt everywhere that didn’t get used during the winter. And every year, I swear I will not do this to myself again.

And then, of course, I do.

So glad to be sitting at my desk today.

On Grafton Pond

One of two broods who welcomed us to Grafton Pond
Grafton Pond is serene early in the morning

Our kayaking season started today. We rose at five (yes, that’s in the a.m.) to get to Grafton Pond in Grafton, NH early in the morning.

This is a popular fishing and kayaking spot around here. The pond is festooned with lots of small islands around its perimeter, and it’s home to several pairs of loons. In fact, Grafton Pond is the place where we’ve had our best loon encounters yet.

But this morning, two broods of Canada geese greeted us, and mosquitoes masquerading as small hover craft accompanied us on our turn about the water. We spotted a flock of loons way off on the horizon, and heard their calls off in the distance. But there were no close encounters of the loon kind.

But kayaks, silence, the scent of pine, cool air.


The First Writer

I found this wee weaver along the path by our river yesterday. She’s a member of the Arachnida tribe, named for the mortal woman from Lydia, in Greek mythology, who challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest.

Arachna won the contest, with dire consequences. It does not do to challenge a goddess.

Spiders play many roles in the ancient tales of the world. They are, in many respects, an otherworldly creature, dropping from on high along invisible threads, enticing prey with intricate webs.

Who has not been attracted to a bedewed web dangling among twigs on an early morning? I know I’ve tried my best to take pictures of them, and have yet to be satisfied with my results.

My favorite Spider story comes from Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson. In this book, which accompanies a wonderful deck of cards suitable for meditation, Spider wove the primordial alphabet as “she wove the dream of the world to become manifest.”

So what tale is this riverside weaver creating for you?

Spring Gardens—Because It’s Wednesday

A bachelor button in paintbrush formation
Bachelor buttons and bleeding hearts
Dames rocket (sometimes called Dames violet) just before it blooms. One of my favorite wildflowers, I imported this into my garden a few years ago.
For such a dainty flower, lilies of the valley are amazing hardy. I dug the roots of these out of the area where earthen steps descend on the east side of our house. This spring, the lilies are back in the steps.
Snow in summer. This is one of my favorite ground covers. I think I’m going to pick up some more of this for spring planting.