Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Plots and Quilt Blocks

Design for Sophie Ann's Quilt
 I just finished my third novella in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series. I think this was my all-time hardest story to write. It took me far longer to finish than I had hoped or anticipated. One reason was because life happens. But, the other reasons are far more subtle. They can probably best be described by comparing my writing to my quilting experiences.

This third book titled Her Independent Spirit starts with Beth Dodd giving a quilt she made to Sophie Ann, the two week old daughter of a prostitute whom Beth helped deliver. We first read about this quilt in the second book, A Resurrected Spirit.

Unlike some of the artistic quilt masterpieces we see today, this quilt was made from white flannel that Beth had originally bought to sew into a new nightgown, red flannel from some of her late husband's long-handle underwear, and blue and white striped cotton from one of her late husband's shirts that had been torn and stained. It was far from being a work of art. But stitched together neatly, it was serviceable. 


Primarily Blue
 Sometimes putting together story plots reminds me of what it is like trying to design and assemble a patchwork quilt top. 


I can keep it simple and serviceable. But, to be pleasing to the eye, it is necessary to have a good blend of color, dark, medium and light shades, compatible fabric design and piece shapes. It is also important that the fabric chosen be compatible with the overall theme of the quilt.

Some like Primarily Blue made mostly of the primary colors on the color wheel have a basic, straightforward plot.
Nascar Spin





 Fortunately for me, my first quilt with three basic colors turned out quite well in spite of my combining all cotton and cotton-polyester blend fabrics--a big no-no in the quilting world. The colors and designs balanced well. Likewise, my first completed novel turned out well even though it was not my most skillfully crafted writing effort.



Rock Star


Pugs In a Garden


Other quilt tops have a plethora of colors from all over the pallette. Some block pieces are bold and eye-catching and others are muted and restful to the eye.

I love writing parallel or entwined novel plots, sort of like the climbing rows of bold alternating orange and blue-green blocks in Rock Star. 

But, just like colorful quilts such as Rock Star require a lot of balance of all elements of the quilt design, it takes skill and often a lot of rewrites to piece entwining plots together so that the overall story moves forward smoothly. That was my challenge in writing Her Independent Spirit.

Some novel plots like Pugs In a Garden are soft and sweet. They provide a relaxing read, a get-away break for a few hours. I picked this floral fabric up in another quilter's yard sale. The design and color pallet was 10-15 years old--old-fashioned in the world of quilting fabric--but it suited my sister to a tee, so I snatched it up. Soft and sweet in an old-fashioned way is one reason many readers snatch up the historical romances we write.

Other quilts are gripping, intense and, like my veteran's quilt, Gung-Ho!, keep your mind moving hours after the reader has finished the book.
Gung-Ho!
If I'm not careful, I can find that my writing gets too chopped up, or too dark like this star-studded black sashing. To add balance and to lighten up this veteran's quilt, I added the red binding to draw out the red in the scrappy strip blocks. 

In my writing I find I sometimes have to change elements of my story or surround it with a coordinating, but uplifting theme, to add balance and not allow it to sink into darkness or distraction.

Like the colors in these scrappy blocks, it is important to keep them from becoming too choppy. Although each block is unique, there is balance. I did this by scattering the lesser colors of orange and white throughout the entire design. Same with parallel or entwined plot lines.

There is also the issue of being cautious about research sources in order to keep plots believable. The themed fabric to the left was purchased online. In the online images, the primary sea color appeared to be more turquoise than aqua, and the main design appeared to be more vibrant and well-defined. The actual fabric I received appeared much greener and washed out when sewn into the quilt.

That is why I try to balance my online browsing with other forms of research. Just as the color strips separating the blocks ended up providing the most vibrant, eye-catching color in this quilt, so can the book research and onsite locality research make the difference between my writing being ho-hum okay or a more accurate, believable story to be remembered long after the reader reaches "The End."
Floral Medley

Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts to blend compatible colors, balance the contrast of lights and darks and have a good mix of small, medium and large coordinating fabric designs, once it is all put together, I just don't like the overall effect. 

This floral large block quilt I intended from the start to donate to charity had all my favorite colors in it. But, when I was finished, I sincerely hoped whoever received it liked it better than I do. Novel plots are like that sometimes. They start out as a good idea. But, by a couple of chapters into the work, I'd just as soon abandon the project so I can move forward writing something else that excites and pleases me.

So, what made Her Independent Spirit so time-consuming? Unlike the first two books in this series, the storyline follows two women and their romances, not just one.

Beth, still engaged to Val, pursues her goal of getting her own house on her own land so she has a place to which she can bring her sister who is still back east. To do that she must get her late husband's estate settled and navigate the land laws and legal issues that applied to women in her day.

At the same time, Louisa Parmley, known at the Blue Feather as Lulu, decides to leave the brothel and start a new life for her and her baby, but needs Beth's help to do so. Both women realize as long as Louisa lives in the mining regions of the West, she will always be at risk of encountering people who recognize her and know her past. Louisa agrees with Beth that her best option for a decent life for her and her baby is to move back east and settle in a new city. She plans to travel with Beth when Beth goes for her sister. 


Noah's Arky-Arky
 But, a complication arises neither anticipated at the beginning. Of course, it involves a man. What man, you ask? To find out, you will just have to read the book and piece it together yourself.

Writing Her Independent Spirit was like designing this Noah's Arky-Arky quilt.

I started with the main blocks and several color coordinating fabrics that set off the colors in the blocks beautifully. Unfortunately, most of the patterns were just not right for a baby quilt. I needed fabrics that would complement each color in the main design AND each of the little animals in the two repeating baby themed blocks. And, bright colors for a baby quilt--yes. A lot of dark colors like navy and maroon? No.

In the novella Her Independent Spirit, the time frame starts in mid-April, touches on the the Independence Day holiday, and includes an actual event that took place in Lundy on August 21, 1884, an event that changes the course of both Beth's and Louisa's plans.

For the quilt, some of the fabrics I considered had designs that were too large or contained colors that were garish enough that they detracted from the Noah's Ark blocks in the quilt. 

Likewise, in Her Independent Spirit I couldn't afford to have a lot of extra fluff that did not move the plot forward through the months of April to September. In both cases, I had to stay focused. That meant, like a quilt top, I cut out the pieces, stitched them together, ripped them back out, shopped around for something that worked better and tried again. More than once.

For both this quilt and this book I felt forced to design each element connecting one section to the next scene only after I finished the one before. I could not picture the overall effect in advance.

For the quilt, it took me two trips to the fabric store and three fabric purchases just to come up with the right fabric design and the right shade of light blue with polka-dots for the outside latticework. For the plot, once I got the primary scenes written, I had to review my research, plus write and rewrite in order to connect each scene to the next and and keep the events in the proper order--calendar-wise and development of relationships-wise--so the action flowed.

Was it worth it? Yes. In spite of the extra time, aggravation and effort, I love how Noah's Arky-Arky turned out. 

Likewise, I'm pleased with the end result of Her Independent Spirit. It is almost ten thousand words longer than each of the first two novellas in the series. But, I was finally able to put it to bed as a story I enjoyed telling. To me, it was worth the effort.

I just hope my publishers agree.













3 comments:

  1. What beautiful quilts and stories behind them! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You amaze me more all the time, Zina. I never realized you were so analytical about your fiction. Your analogy makes perfect sense. Wish I'd thought of that.

    Now I'm way too curious about what's up with the "man interrupts plans" plot.

    You make lovely quilts, BTW. I have several quilts one of my grandmothers made, and they're priceless to me. I'm sure yours are priceless to someone, too. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cindy Jones, thank you for reading the post and commenting. I enjoy quilting -- it gives my mind a different kind of creative outlet from writing. Often a few hours or days of quilting or needlework will help my subconscious work through a plot or character difficulty in my writing.

    Kathleen, thank you for commenting. Yes, I tend to be analytical at times. It helps me plot things out, but sometimes I have to be careful to not let it interfere with the spontaneous, creative part of writing. I work for that balance. Maybe that is why I enjoy a quilting break at times. I think the reason I enjoy quilting more than clothing construction-type sewing is because of the math involved -- shapes, balance, angles, the measurements to make the parts turn out write--er, right (Freudian slip?) when you stitch it all together.

    ReplyDelete