Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Strange leads from Indonesia...

I don't want to know why my blog got three hits from a site called "whoresex" today. There's nothing on this blog that would indicate I'm offering anything for sale that might interest someone interested in finding what I would guess they were seeking...unless they plan to read a good fantasy novel to someone they're paying. If that's the case, I don't want to know that either.

In fact, I think I'm probably better off if I just keep doing what it was I was doing before I decided to take a break and see if anyone has looked at this blog today. I'll go back to work on Sexton Retribution and let those happy seekers read to those they're paying.

Pardon me if I snicker a bit while I do it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Long range goals, and the making of a quilt.

Each square is 1" x 1" finished size
It started on a lark, the quilt I call Pegasus. My wife likes to cross-stitch and I like some of the patterns. I saw one of a knight riding a Pegasus and I liked the pattern. I'm a quilter. I like long projects. I'm also a novelist, and there are similarities between quilting and writing a novel. Both are big projects, and both require commitment.

A cross-stitch pattern, as you probably know, is made up of symbols on squares. Each symbol represents a color of floss (thick thread used in cross-stitch projects), and tells the person specifically which color floss to use.

Two pink squares, out of 7,544 total squares
I wanted to turn the pattern into a quilt. There aren't any directions for that sort of thing that I could find, so I had to wing it. I took the pattern to the local JoAnn's Fabric store along with a floss sample thingy (a highly technical term for a card that had little pieces of floss of every kind the manufacturer made) and went up and down the aisles of bolts of fabrics looking for shades and patterns for my quilt.
 The cross-stitch pattern had a lot of shades of gray, but I only used four or five in the quilt. After an hour or so in the fabric store, and having to use a shopping cart to carry all the bolts of cloth, I made my way to the cutting table. I'm used to getting strange looks in fabric stores, as I've explained elsewhere on this blog. They looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them to cut different sizes from each fabric. I don't think I told them what I was planning. Keeping them guessing was half the fun, and I didn't want to prove I was nuts by explaining my plan.
     The next step was cutting the fabric into squares 1.5" on a side. I needed the extra quarter inch around each square for seam allowances--that bit of fabric on either side of the seam (explaining for those who don't sew.) I used a rotary cutter, which is a device that looks like a pizza cutter but with a razor sharp blade that will cut through several layers of fabric at once. I cut thousands of squares, and held them together in little piles by running a strand of thread through the stack of squares, like stringing popcorn.
     I made a grid of 10 squares by 10 squares on a piece of paper and made a hundred photo copies. Using the pattern and having translated the symbols for floss colors to my own shorthand, I made my own pattern.
     It was finally time to start sewing the squares. I took my 10x10 square paper pattern and sewed squares to match. My big project became a series, a long series, of one hundred square blocks. Many of those blocks were 100 black squares, or black squares with a few gray squares, or...well, you get the idea. 
Variations of light make the quilt pop.
     When I finished enough 100 square blocks to make a row of the quilt top, I stitched the blocks together to make a row.
     You might be wondering by now how long the quilt took me to make. Three years is the answer. It was a pleasure watching the squares grow into rows and the rows start (slowly!) to reveal the larger pattern. I had started at the bottom, so over time I was able to see the long stretches of black squares become black squares with legs, then a massive white-gray-white-gray body, then the head build. I looked forward to the gold of the rider's armor. The quilt top became my quiet obsession.
The fabric in the armor looks like chain mail.
     Finally the top was done! I went back to JoAnn's and bought a dark batt--the innards of the quilt. Most quilt batts are white, but I was using dark fabrics, and didn't want the white of the quilt batt to shine through the dark fabrics. I couldn't find black fabric wide enough to make the quilt back from one piece, so I bought a couple of yards of magenta fabric and made a wide stripe of magenta down the middle of the black back.
   Then...how to quilt it? Quilting is what makes a quilt a quilt. It's the stitching, sometimes decorative, that holds the three layers together.
     I didn't want the quilting to be obvious. After all that work, I wanted the overall design to be the highlight of the project. I used black thread and stitched inside the seams on every square that made up the Pegasus's body, the wings, the knight, the lance, the head, etc. I quilted black X's across the black squares.
I'm pretty sure this quilt is a one of a kind. That's one of the many things I like about it. It's warm too, as you might guess. We use it sometimes.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thank you Reader, for making my day! (It was better than giving my first autograph.)

I dreamed about having books out there in the wide-world for people to buy and read a long time before I published Sexton a couple of years ago. In one of those many, many daydreams (okay, more than one, but who's counting?), I wondered how it would feel to hear someone talk about my books when they didn't know I was listening.

Yesterday I found out. It was great!

I loaned a copy of Sexton to a friend of mine at work, and she put it on a table on the other side of the room. The table she put the book on is next to another room, a room I couldn't see in from where I was standing.

A female voice I didn't recognize came from the other room. She said, "Are you reading Sexton?"
My friend looked at me, then back into the room at the person I couldn't see. "Have you heard of it?"
"Yes. I've read all of them!"

My eyebrows shot up. I'll confess I got a little suspicious. I thought I knew all of the people at work who have read my books, but I didn't know the person in the room. I was sure of it. I'm good at recognizing voices, and hers was new to me.

"All of them?" my friend asked.
"It's a series."
"Oh! I didn't know that. They're sci-fi, right?"
"Fantasy. ...Good adventure, and they're funny too."

I walked toward the room. I wanted to see who my unknown fan was. My friend introduced us, and I was delighted. If you're an author and this hasn't happened to you yet, I hope it happens soon. It's terrific to hear someone talk about your work, and then getting to meet them. I suppose it's a different kind of terrific if they hate your work and bash it when you're in earshot, but even that ain't all bad. You might learn something you wouldn't learn otherwise.

Still, I'm glad she likes Sexton Chronicles.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Lone Man at a Quilt Shop...Spooks the Natives

I walked into a fabric store this afternoon. I was by myself. The place was quiet when I walked in, and suddenly got quieter when the owner and three older ladies spied a man by himself in the doorway.

Usually, when a man darkens the doorway of a fabric store, he's being towed by his wife. He is expected to stand around with his hands in his pockets, inspecting the top of his shoes, and replaying a Lakers game in his head while he prays for the ceiling to collapse around him so he'll have an excuse to go out to the car and stick his head in the glove compartment. The natives of a quilt store expect this behavior of a man in their natural habitat and, although they might feel his pain, they also feel it makes up for the looks they get when they have to sit around a car dealership waiting to have their oil changed.

Not me. I'm quite comfortable in fabric stores. I go in alone to freak out the natives.

They eyeball you, those denizens of Ye Olde Quilt Shoppe. They eyeball the man the way one might eyeball a confused pink elephant that wanders into one's living room.

I wandered up and down the aisles of fabric on the bolt, pulling one or two and comparing them to each other in the natural light from the windows. One of the ladies came up and asked if she could help me. I smiled and said, "No thanks." I heard her whisper to the two ladies at the cutting counter when she walked away.

I pulled a couple of bolts from the shelf and held them under one arm. Walked to a different aisle to look at the brown fabrics. Looked at the ends of the bolts to see fabric content--which was a bit of a show, really. I can feel fabric content with my fingertips. Amateurs read labels to see if there's polyester in the fabric.

I took my sweet time choosing the fabrics I want to work with. It's a bit of a different color scheme I'm working on. I'm making this quilt as a gift for a friend of mine who just became a Dad. He has a little girl, and they decorated the baby's room in a combination of pink, brown, and white. The room is beautiful, and the colors play well together. I was enjoying putting fabrics together in that color scheme...but it wasn't easy. There aren't a lot of pink and brown prints out there.

By the time I wandered up to the cutting table, after taking my sweet time (all 8 minutes of it), the ladies stepped back except for the one who was going to cut the fabric. I have noticed over the years I've spent buying fabric that employees put men in fabric shops in two categories: a) lost, bored, pitiable husband, or b) crafting expert who knows-his-stuff-better-than-most or he wouldn't be there at all.

The polite smiles and offers of assistance changed when I put the bolts on the table and waited my turn. Tentative, almost timid questions and comments came:
"What are you making?"
"My...what wonderful colors those are together!"
"I wouldn't have thought to do that...but wow, that looks great!"
"How many quilts have you made?"

I'll confess I love those moments. I'll post photos when I'm done.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thoughts about this new year

Some people like to make new year's resolutions. I'm not one of them. Resolution is a strong word. It's something that someone resolves. I like goals. I've lived with goals most of my life, and I'm happy to say I've achieved many of them over the course of the years.

I haven't decided what my personal goals are for 2012, and I think that's okay. The year isn't very old yet. It's just begun. I can tell you my personal goals include finishing Sexton Retribution and publishing it. One goal is to write at least the first novel in a new series.

That new series will be about an American by the name of Nick Galizzi. If you've read Sexton Sand, you know who Nick is. He's an American, and he's a wizard. The new series will be fantasy, but it'll be set in this world. Nick can move around in time in ways most men can't, and I think he's going to have dealings with the most prolific serial killer in the history of this country, and evil man by the name of Herman Mudget who used the alias H. H. Holmes.

I also intend to do more to try to increase awareness of Wernicke-Korsakoff disease. The more I learn about it, the more I believe that recovery is possible. It's not easy to recover from that one, but it can be done. Read Green Goblin or Blackout: a Look Inside Wernickes (linked on this page) to find out more about that.

I'm sure other things to do and try will come up during this new year. I don't know what they are yet, of course, but I'm comfortable in my ability to face them without hiding under the bed too much.

Happy new year, my friends!