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?

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.

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