Weather Forecast: Summer Followed by Autumn

Autumn leaf in June

I found this leaf on the ground when I walked along the river yesterday. Looks like fall, doesn’t it?

For those not fortunate enough to live in New England in autumn, you might not be aware that our leaves-turning-color event can actually happen—at least to individual trees—at any time.

I suspect we’ll see a bit more of this early-fall phenomenon than usual during 2012, and for a number of years to follow. To understand why, you have to understand the mechanism behind the appearance of fall foliage.

Actually, the beautiful yellow and orange in this leaf have been there since it emerged back in April. But when a leaf—or tree—is healthy, these wondrous colors are masked by the chlorophyll that’s doing its part to feed the tree.

Our autumn foliage is made possible by the die back of this amazing chemical, the one responsible for the green trees of spring and summer.

This little leaf was, unfortunately, not alone on my river walk. A glance up from the ground revealed a tree struggling from the damage inflicted by Irene—loss of bark, a partial uprooting, silt-covered roots.

We’ve learned from some of the tree experts around here that this situation will be replicated along our rivers for a number of years to come as the trees damaged by the unforgiving flood waters begin to die back.

This is the reason why we took the time to plant 125 trees here last month. In the years to come, they will serve as a succession planting.

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.

Carding Quilt Company

Treehouse steps—design by Edie Wolfe of Carding, Vermont

With only three months to go, the folks at the Carding Quilt Company in Carding, Vermont are cranking up their quilting expertise, and their book publishing schedule.

Carding, Vermont is the star of my novel, The Road Unsalted, the first in a series about this hill town among the Green Mountains. Carding is home to an interesting school, the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts. The Academy, as everyone in Carding calls it, functions as both conservator of traditional crafts and the incubator for highly skilled artists who push the boundaries of these traditions.

Carding Quilt Company is the book publishing arm of the Academy. Many of the Academy’s teachers, such as Chloe Willis and Edie Wolfe, have published their work through the Quilt Company.

The quilt pictured here, Treehouse Steps, was designed by Edie Wolfe. The pattern for it will be available this fall.

A Reading Jag

Death at LaFenice by Donna Leon

Every so often, I trip across a new-to-me author that hits that sweet spot of providing well-written entertainment right when the majority of my neurons are otherwise occupied.

We have been scurrying around to empty three spaces of accumulated whatevers (you know how that goes) because two of them have to be removed (Irene damage) and the third, a quonset hut full of my husband’s wood stash, was in the way of the new building that’s going up to replace these spaces.

On Monday (OMG, that’s just a week from today), we have to have all in readiness for the arrival of 15 volunteers who are going to help us raise the skeleton of the building.

This in on top of my designing two books for clients, and continuing to work on The Road Unsalted so it will be ready to fly in September.

All this is to say that Donna Leon’s Venice-based mysteries could not have crossed my path at a better time. Her writing is smooth, I totally like her main character (and his family). I’m entertained, I’m learning about another culture, and opinions expressed by her characters make me entertain new ideas in a very pleasant way.

I’ve been clipping through Leon’s novels at a rapid pace. Totally recommend.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

A corner of my autumn nights quilt pattern

Judith Viorst wrote a children’s book with one of my favorite titles ever: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

I’m having one of those kinds of days.

Right now, the pressure is on to have all in readiness for a squad of volunteers we have coming to raise a building for us, part of our Irene recovery. There’s an excavator digging up my lawn.

The quonset hut, which is usually tucked away under some trees holding my husband’s wood stash, is in the middle of my yard—can’t mow the lawn, hard to get into my gardens (the ones that haven’t been bulldozed), and there’s nothing pretty about a dark gray tarp stretched over a metal skeleton.

The beautiful porch my husband built is being torn off the back of our house because the land it rests on was destabilized by Irene. There are muddy tracks all over the carpet in my makeshift office because folks have been in and out all day.

My file cabinets have been pushed around to make way for a wire that will bring electricity to the building site.

I need to find time to redo this website because I want more out of it.

I’m at that stage in rewriting when I’m grumpy because my first draft is far from perfect. (This is a normal state at this point, and one that I can usually ignore but with everything else…)

And after making four modified house blocks for a quilt to put on the cover of my new novel, The Road Unsalted, I am so not happy with them.

OK, enough grumping.

I do like the quilt top pictured up above. The heck with the house blocks—I’m going to finish this because it does fit the character of The Road Unsalted.

I will get to the website. Watch this space.

You can edit anything to make it better, and a first draft is just that—a first draft.

And then there’s vacuuming. Maybe some ice cream.

Yeah, chocolate chip.

A Novel’s Quilt

Brainstorms are the best storms to have, especially when they’re with other creative people.

A couple of days ago, I posted a few cover design ideas here, and asked some designer-type friends what they thought.

A lot of great ideas came back with the neap tide, among them one from my friend Chris who focused
on a different facet of the cover of Scandinavian Stitches. Here’s the cover:

While I was focused on the little quilt of the house,
Chris took a look at the whole piece.

Hey, she said, if The Road Unsalted is the first in a series (which it is) then why not use the shelf
as a place to put things that are important to one character or another with a quilt to match?

So last night, I sewed up this test block for a quilt made by Elizabeth Weston Brown, grandmother of Gideon Brown,
one of the driving forces in The Road Unsalted. Elizabeth was a traditional quilter, and her grandson adored her. Which is why his grandmother’s quilt is draped over the arm of his favorite chair.

Test block for quilt on cover of The Road Unsalted

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?

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.