Quilt Stories (or Quilters’ Obsessions with Anything Related to Quilts)

After I started quilting, I discovered quilt fiction.  I had no idea until I started reading a few books with a quilt focus, but this is almost a genre unto itself and it actually has been since the mid-1800’s.  Apparently quilters’ obsessions with anything at all having to do with “quilting” has existed for centuries.  The first two quilt stories were published in periodicals in 1844 and 1845.  They were both called “The Patchwork Quilt,” and they both idealize the quilt as a symbol of domesticity.  The second story is by an author who is unidentified other than “Annette.”  It’s a sad little story about a woman who spends her teen years making her masterpiece of a quilt for her wedding.  Sadly, she ends up as a spinster and finishes the quilt for her younger sister who does find a beau to wed.   The quilt in this story represents love, marriage, and security, and the sister who achieves these goals gets the quilt.  These were highly valued for women in the 19th century who existed in the world of the “domestic sphere.”

It is interesting that contemporary quilt fiction also often uses the quilt as a symbol of domesticity, safety, and comfort though in these more modern stories, quilts perhaps don’t represent love and marriage so much anymore as they represent female solidarity and relationships.  In any case, the quilt is still a prevalent symbol in fiction.

We quilters are an interesting group.  We are not only obsessed with building fabric stashes and stitching, but when we take a break from sewing, many of us pick up books novels about our favorite pastime.  There are an amazing number of novels and stories all about quilts which I find fascinating.  There is even an index of quilt fiction on the web though it looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2002.  You can find it here.   In a general search of “quilt fiction” on Amazon, I hit 572 books.  That’s a lot for a pretty specific topic like quilts!  In a quick preview of these novels, it appears they can be broken into several sub-genres of quilt fiction (though this is based on a quick review, not any study):  contemporary fiction, historical, Christian, and murder mysteries.  The last two crack me up – they are so very different but both of them frequently use a quilt as a relevant symbol in the story.

My novel will definitely land in the first two categories; though I realize that contemporary and historical might not mesh, in my case they do.  We’ll see how it actually turns out.  In any case, they are the categories I am the most familiar with and the ones I enjoy reading, so it seems that’s what I’m drawn to write.  It’s also fun to combine two of my favorite pastimes: quilting and words (reading or writing) in this story.

I have no idea if publishers consider quilt fiction as a genre unto itself, but I do, and judging from the searches on Amazon and the shelves of fiction books available for sale in my favorite quilt shops, quilters do too.  If anyone who happens to read this blog is interested in reviews on quilt fiction, let me know, and I can add that as a monthly or weekly feature.

What’s in a blog (or should be)?

In my last post, I concluded that I am a sucker for books on writing, so yesterday I lived up to my label, got up early, poured myself a cup of coffee and read We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb.  Her blog is in my blog roll, just to the right of this post if you want to check it out.  I like it.  In her book, she argues that in the current competitive publishing market, anyone interested in writing and actually publishing a book must create a platform to help achieve success.   Even unpublished authors like me, from the get go, should focus on establishing relationships with future readers to help ensure success and sales.  Having worked in sales, this makes sense, and of course, the way to create these relationships is through social media.

As I read, I felt pretty good.  So far I’m on track for just beginning this whole journey in the past few months.  Except for Twitter.  It still scares me a bit, and I reside in the land of the “tweetless.”

I also don’t link all my blogs to my Facebook page or even post on Facebook much, mostly because I’m a mom with two teenagers.  Many of my “friends” are actually my kids’ friends, so I can keep an eye on the lot of them.  (I guess that makes me either a creepy stalker mom or an aware parent – I’ll choose the latter but that’s another blog).  At this point it is more of a parenting tool, not a tool to build my author’s platform, but that will change, eventually . . . hopefully.

For now, my author building platform is this blog, and I’m comfortable with that – one step at a time here.

One of the most interesting arguments Lamb makes is that authors should use their blogs to establish themselves as someone with expertise in their area or genre, even if they’re writing fiction.  To do this, I should blog on topics that relate not just to writing, or the craft of writing, but to whatever my novel or genre is about.  This idea resonated with me.  For example, this blog, so far, has been about writing and my creative process.  This appeals to writers, judging from the comments and traffic I’ve had, but not necessarily to my future readers.  My novel is not about writing; it’s a story, but my posts have been about me and my creative process.  I don’t want to sell me (that’s a whole different business that my husband would probably object to); someday I want to sell books!  I can use this blog to not only talk about the writing of the books, but also about what’s in them.  That makes sense.

In my novel, I use a quilt as a strong thread (no pun intended) between two intertwined narratives, one contemporary and one historical.  I also quilt and have learned it’s an essential piece of my own creativity.  Every time I’ve posted references to my own quilting or quilts in general, traffic on this blog increases.  Interesting!

With that said, I’ll be experimenting with this strategy and writing a little bit more to my future readers on this blog by including a greater focus on quilts, quilt history, quilt fiction – both contemporary and historical, historical fiction and even historical tidbits about mid-19th century America I discover as I research.  I’ll still be writing about writing, my creative process, or anything else that seems relevant because, well, I just like to (even if it may not be strategic).  I enjoy reading blog entries that are just good essays/writing like this one I read this morning, “The Corn Lady of Hillbilly Road,” and I may start writing some of those too.

Obviously, this blog is a work in progress on this writing journey.  I’ll keep you posted on how this new strategy is working out, or you keep me posted!  Thanks for reading.

Target Audience for a Book on Writing: Me

When I started this whole writing journey, I knew there were books on how to write.  I’m a book junkie, so I’d seen them.  I’d even occasionally picked up a copy of “Writer’s Digest” or “Poets and Writers Magazine” to peruse.  I was obviously aware there is a publishing industry since that’s where my beloved books come from; I had no idea, however, that an entire world exists that pertains to every possible aspect of writing and publishing.

To a newbie like me, this has been a little overwhelming.  I can find not just one helpful piece but numerous articles and even entire books devoted to:  why write, how to write, what not to write, why blog, what to blog, the ins and outs of publishing, pitching, querying (what the hell’s a query anyway? I obviously haven’t gotten that far), self-publishing, writer’s effective use of social networks, plot, sub-plots, plot layers, characters, internal conflict, external conflict, scene, structure, setting, story world, theme, dialogue, point of view, action, pacing, the beginning of a story, the middle, the end, how to write short stories, how to write novels, editing, revision, punctuation, the sentence, the paragraph, grammar, and even, the proper use of active/passive voice.  And this is just a sampling of topics writers can read about.

This has become a big problem for me.  After much midlife self reflection over the past few years, I now know that I like to have all my ducks in a row and know as much as I can before starting any project, and as a writer, I definitely fall into the “outliner” category, not to be confused with the amazing “just write” folks who can sit down, start writing, and see where it takes them.  I would not have known that those two disparate categories even existed had I not gotten sucked into reading all about how to write!  (Thank God, I found out that there’s a whole group out there like me.  I am not alone in my writing OCD-ishness.)

With all this information, all these well meaning authors really want to help others learn to write, and they are sincere in their efforts.  The problem is that I am their ideal target market because I feel like I need to learn all this stuff, so I buy it and read it because they convince me that without it, I will fail.  Just read some Amazon reviews on them.  Any successful writer must have some of these books.  Then, I spend all my time learning how to write by reading, researching, and studying about it rather than actually doing it.

But all the master-published-writing teachers out there also say I must write to improve.  I just need to read their book first.  It’s a vicious cycle.  I use my precious writing time reading about how to learn to write when all the teachers say I should really be writing as that’s the best way to improve.  So why am I reading all this stuff?  And why am I compelled to write about my writing here?  What is it about writing that makes one want to write about it?  Ah, I think those questions are for another day (and blog).

Generally in these blogs, I reach some sort of conclusion.  Not so much in this one.  Unless the idea that one must actually write to improve at writing, instead of reading about writing, is a conclusion.  But I don’t think so.  Even though it keeps me from writing, I still really like to read about how to write.

The only profound conclusion I can reach?  I am a sucker.  So, if you are thinking of writing a book on any aspect of writing whatsoever, and you are struggling to identify your target market or audience, email me.  I can fill you in.

What does one do with a short story?

I wrote a story.  What now?  I am clearly new at this game and writing short fiction is not something I thought I would ever really be interested in as I have taught them for years and recognize that a tight, good story would be, for me, much harder to write than a novel.  I also took a lone creative writing class in college in which I was required to produce a story; I hated it, both the story and the writing of it.  I remember it being really hard, and as a nineteen year old English major, really hard work was not at the top of my priority list.

I wrote a god-awful piece that still makes me cringe.  We were supposed to write about something we knew, and it also had to say something.  Perfect.  Having grown up in a relatively small town, with a relatively uneventful childhood, I had neither the maturity nor the experience to look at my life and understand that virtually any event could fit these requirements.  So I wrote an unfocused piece about a backpacking trip though I did manage to include a not so subtle statement on the environment in it; it failed miserably (which I knew) but my professor still gleefully (to me) let me know all its faults.  I decided at the ripe old age of nineteen that fiction was far too hard and not for me.  I probably should have written a story on how much pressure I put on myself to do everything well, including writing fiction.  But you know what they say about hindsight . . .

Following that experience, any aspirations I had to write short stories went on a shelf.  But then the muses struck again, and by the time I got out of bed this past Saturday morning, I had a whole little story plotted in my head.  I jotted half of it down in my notebook while my daughter was warming up for her soccer game.  And then I jotted the second half down after we got home from the game. I completed a short story . . . and even better, I like it!

It was fun to actually complete a piece of writing.  I think I’ll probably write more of them, especially if they come to me complete and lovely as this one did.  Now I just need to figure out what to do with it.  Do I submit it to a contest?  To a magazine?  A publisher?  What does one do with a 2300 word story?  Do I need to write five more before I do anything?  I guess I’ll have to research that to find out.  Or if anyone out there has any grand ideas, let me know.  But even if nothing comes of this story, it’s nice to have a completed piece in my “writing portfolio.”