Entries in Sticks and Strings (27)



I just finished this sweater for Hope.  When she tried it on for the first time, Tess immediately asked when I would make her a new hoodie.  Daniel chimed in, claiming that it should be his turn soon.  My big boys have both grown out of their latest pullovers, and I haven't made even one for Anne yet. 

When I was pregnant with James, I worried that I wouldn't have the capacity to love this new baby with the intensity and devotion I felt for Christian.  I shouldn't have; my heart expanded so that there was plenty of room for both boys, and it has done so every time we've had a child.

But my time has not expanded.  I have six children who are ages 16 years to 20 months.  I manage both acne breakouts and toxic diapers.  I field requests for Prom tickets and Pokemon.  I chauffeur people to toddler dance classes and SAT prep sessions.  After school on any given day, I may be reading board books aloud, coaching on phonics, drilling the multiplication tables, and quizzing on the Pythagorean theorem or the causes of the Crimean War--all while baking bread from flour I grind myself and cooking dinner for eight.  (And let's not even mention my writing, my church work, and my very deserving husband.)  Giving each of my children the time, attention, and concrete expressions of love they need is an Olympic-class balancing act.

And many days, I feel less than Olympian.  I work hard to reject feelings of inadequacy, but sometimes they overwhelm me.  I'm not asking for answers or advice; my life is great, and mostly I make it all work.  I do so by taking things one step at a time, and sometimes the steps are tiny, indeed.

Here's the beginning of Tess's new sweater.  We picked the colors out of my stash, and this pattern should go pretty quickly.  Then I'll move onto Daniel and Anne, and hopefully by summer, I'll be making some big boy pullovers for Christian and James as well.  It's one eternal round, and I wouldn't have it any other way.



In the spring of 2007, back when I was a fresh, young blogger, I dug into the latest issue of the delicious ezine Knitty, as I do every quarter. Doing so, I found this lovely article. Go read it; I'll wait.

As I'm sure you noticed, Annette's bio for the piece reads as follows:

Annette Lyon’s three greatest addictions are knitting, writing, and chocolate. Her life has been run by all three for most of her life, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

In addition to her freelance writing and editing work, she writes novels and couldn’t resist working a character knitting socks into one of them.

Ooh, she's a writer! I thought, and immediately clicked on the link to her website. To my great delight, I then realized that not only was she a fanatical knitter, a novelist, and a chocoholic, she was also LDS. We had everything important in common; I overcame my habitual shyness and wrote her a fannish email at once.

Annette graciously replied, and a friendship was born. We met for lunch that summer when I was out in Utah; we had as good a time in person as we did via e-correspondence. Since then, she has provided constructive critiques on my writing, helpful advice regarding manuscript submission, and a listening ear during my ongoing search for an agent. So when she asked whether I'd like to be a stop on the blog tour for her new book, Tower of Strength, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I did, since it meant I got my hands on a copy before most of the rest of the world.

Annette is a gifted writer and a meticulous researcher; reading her endnotes is almost as satisfying as reading the story itself. Her characters feel like people you meet every day, natural and approachable. Annette makes her settings accessible; the reader can easily picture herself in the shoes of the main character. The main story is a classic tale of overcoming loss to find new love, and suspenseful subplots add spice and depth to the narrative.

I never give spoilers, but I'll warn you: sit close to a tissue box once you get to the last chapter. For everyone who likes a little romance with their history (or vice versa), I highly recommend Tower of Strength as well as the earlier volumes in Annette's "Temple" series.

(Knitters, a hand-knit cabled pullover makes a cameo appearance in this book; maybe one day Annette will publish a book of patterns as a companion to her novels. Pretty please, Annette?)

After reading the book, I had a few questions for the author. Here they are, along with her replies:

1) In Tower of Strength, your two main characters don't meet one another for several chapters. This is unusual, at least in my experience of reading romantic stories, and serves to build quite a bit of suspense for the reader. Was this a conscious plot device, or did the story evolve organically in this way?

The irony is that I've always seen myself as someone who writes historical books that happen to have a romantic thread in them, not that I write romances in the typical sense. Because of that, I've never tried to model my stories after the traditional romance formula.

That's probably the long way of saying that the story unfolded that way organically. I personally had a great time getting to know the main characters before they met.

2) What, for you, is the biggest challenge in writing historical novels?

It really depends on the book. Since my historicals are all based on specific landmarks, I rarely go into the research with a story idea already in hand; I have to get to know the place first. At times it's unnerving to wait for the plot and characters to show up. Other times it's a challenge to make sure the history doesn't overshadow the story.

For this book, the biggest challenge was doing horse research and getting the horse scenes right. Those were rewritten over and over again. I think I might have shaved a few years off my life from banging my head against the keyboard so many times over them!

3) Your characters and settings are vivid, easily brought to life in the reader's mind. Would you like to see your Temple series produced as films someday?

First off, thanks! The places and people are clear in MY head, but as a writer, you never know if you've put enough on the page for the reader to see what you do.

It would be really neat to have a book made into a movie, but I doubt it will ever happen. Few book ever reach that point. I imagine the cost alone for a historical movie (sets, costumes, etc.) would be prohibitive.

On the other hand, there's always the worry of what the movie makers would do with the story--whether they'd be true to it, how they'd change it (because of course, stories have to change at bit in adaptation), and so on, and the original writer doesn't usually have much say.

But that's probably not an issue I'll have to face. (Although now I'm going to have to mentally cast Tabitha and Samuel . . .)

4) There are now well over 100 LDS Temples. How far do you see your series going?

My original thought was to just write the ones I could do as historicals--Mesa, Alberta, Hawaii, and so forth. About as modern as I wanted to get is London (1958).

That said, this will be the last temple book for awhile. Whether I do another will depend entirely on my publisher.

5) You've let your fans know that you have a variety of projects in various stages of production: another contemporary novel, a YA fantasy, and a chocolate cookbook, to name a few. How will you handle the cross-genre transitions?

I'll take a big gulp and do my best not to totally confuse my readership. :)

I'm not too concerned about my upcoming contemporary women's novel being a huge genre shift. My readership is largely women, so making that genre leap (historical romance to women's fiction) isn't as big a jump as other genres could be, and the topic (deployment) is so timely that I hope readers will pick it up regardless.

The cookbook should be an interesting experience, but I have a suspicion that people will buy that more for the chocolate recipes than for who wrote it, so again, I don't think fiction fans will have a problem. The YA fantasy--well, that IS different. But I'm so far away from publication on that one that I'm not thinking that far yet.

6) What's your best piece of advice for a writer hoping to break into the LDS fiction market?

Much of it would apply to almost anyone hoping to break into any market: Write. Rewrite. Rewrite some more. Read a lot. (And read as a writer.) Get solid feedback (joining a critique group was the best thing I ever did for my writing). Attend conferences. Network.

Also, make your own luck by meeting other writers and editors--whether that means virtually (such as through blogs) or in person at conferences. Find out what's been done, what hasn't been (and WHY on both counts). Figure out your market and its target audience. And then write what you love that will also fit into those requirements.

I'd never tell someone to sell out by putting aside what they love to write solely for the expectations of a market. But I'd also say that if you hope to sell your work, you will have to take the market you're shooting for into consideration.

I think there's usually a way to write what's in your heart AND make it fit the market.

Thank you, Annette! It has been an honor!


Been There, Done That

Before we get started: above is Christian in full lacrosse regalia. It's not that he's consciously trying to look grim and foreboding; his newly-braced teeth are just pretty achy still.

So, here's my problem. Blog geniuses like Jane Brocket can make each day and each season seem fresh, new, and gorgeous, despite the fact that they have been posting for several years.

I'm just not that good. (Don't argue with me; Jane got a fabulous multi-book contract purely on the strength of her blog. Me? No such offers are coming in. I rest my case.)

It's spring, but I blogged last year about seed starting and crocuses. You've seen most of my best recipes, and I haven't come up with much that's new and kitcheny lately. Last year I was writing; this year I'm writing. You've endured me rambling about great restaurants, great books, great music, and my great family. Last winter I knit hats, scarves, and socks; this winter I knit hats, scarves, and socks. Here are the latest:
This hat was made after Sarah Lilly's "Bloody Stupid Johnson" pattern from the Winter '08 issue of Knitty. It's for a certain Pratchett-loving, near-Arctic-Circle-living blogpal o' mine; my goal is to MAIL IT TO HER before winter has entirely left her region (don't worry, Kim; though Daniel is the model here, the hat fits my head perfectly, and thus should be just right for yours).

Cable enthusiasts, this is the hat for you; it was challenging, but great fun to make (see the pattern link for how the cables 'unravel' on the back part of the hat), and a nice little clinic on short rows, to boot.

Here's what's on the needles now: a scarf after Vyvyan Neel's Argosy in Knitty's Winter '06 edition. It's made with some Lorna's Laces sock yarn Mom sent me recently.

This pattern is a bear. I've started this scarf at least five times, and even now that I have the repetitions basically memorized, I still find myself doing a ton of tinking and frogging. But I think it will be worth it; once I finish it and block it, the cool square lace pattern will be much more apparent.

Anyway, today I'm feeling like there's not much going on in my life that's very blogworthy. I had thought that in my two weeks off, I'd come up with a bunch of exciting new post ideas; instead, I came up with a bunch of weird short story ideas that are fun, but aren't really shareable at the moment.

So, there it is. Life is good, but when reduced to a few lines on a screen, not so interesting. Anyone have a good meme out there?


Will Blog for Books

On my recent trip Out West, I entered a fabulous little independent bookstore in Spanish Fork, Utah armed with recommendations from a trusted friend. I've been making my way through the resulting pile o' books ever since. (It's a hard life I have, I tell you.) What have I learned? 1) The quality of fiction produced by people of my faith has increased dramatically in the past 15 years. 2) I really can trust this friend; she has unerring taste.

One book in the pile I have not yet read is A Door in the Woods, by James Dashner. It looks terrific; I'm just not there yet. Coincidentally, Mr. Dashner has started his own blog; I happened upon it today. At first glance, I was thrilled; it appeared as though his site's wallpaper were a photograph of some loosely spun alpaca yarn in various earthtoned colorways. Could it be that this new fantasy author is also a knitter devoted enough to his craft to adorn his blog with a photo of soft and lovely yarn from the Andes?

At second glance, I calmed down a bit. No, it's actually an (admittedly cool) image of one of his book covers. I just have knitting on the brain, since the fall issue of Knitty came out today. Yarn or no, I'm looking forward to getting to know Mr. Dashner a bit better. You should, too.


Mandy's Candy Bag

I 'met' the lovely NHKnittingMama almost immediately after starting this blog. She's a cheerful, very talented gal; I hope to meet her in person someday. Back in July, she posted a pattern she'd created herself for Mandy's Candy Bag, along with a contest challenge. Love it! I had to participate. I used Sugar'n Cream yarn in the Rainbow colorway. Just by the by, if I were the folks at Lily Yarn, I'd rename the colorway "Fruit Mentos."

I finished my candy bag weeks ago, but haven't posted a photo of it until today because I haven't had any candy in the house to put in it. I know; it's shocking.

Of course there has been chocolate in the house, but my loyal readers know that I don't consider chocolate to be candy. "Why?" ask the newbies up front. Because it's just not fair to all the other candies. That's why.

Today I realized that NHKM's contest deadline is coming right up, so I filled the candy bag with other stuff: the cool flowers Hope made for me last Mother's Day and some special treats for my dear friend Kara. Now that I've digitally captured my candy bag for all time, I'll put the flowers back in their vase and take the bag to Kara's house. It is part of her fabulous, yet long overdue prize for winning this contest.

Thanks, NHKM! I plan to make more candy bags for holiday gifts this year!