Hand Sewn/Sown

When I was a kid, my mother taught me to sew by hand. Though we didn’t own a sewing machine, she said I needed to learn the basics, like sewing on a button or sewing a hem on pants or a skirt. So I learned two basic stitches—the running stitch and the whip stitch. Later I bought this book, which lists other stitches. (This article lists some of the stitches I learned.)

Sewing anything by hand takes time and patience, especially if the goal for whatever you’re working on is that it be neat and durable. One day, however, I’d like to learn to use a sewing machine. (My sister-in-law has one.) That would certainly save time.

  

Stitches on felt

As I pen this post about hand sewing, I can’t help thinking of how I used to write everything—stories, poems, and even novel drafts—on legal pads or notebook paper. But when I acquired one computer after another, I stopped writing most things by hand, with the exception of some letters and some journal entries. (Yes, I still write letters. Not a ton, but a few in a month.)

The thing is, I type faster than I write by hand, which is why I turned to the keyboard many years ago. I reasoned, why not cut out the middle man by writing on the computer, rather than writing on paper and then having to type my handwritten text. But the words I’ve sown by hand on paper seem to have more depth. When I take time to physically write, I wind up writing more.

At first I thought that was just my perception. But an online article “Your First Book: Handwriting vs. Typing. How to Write It?” by Zoe Nixon states

Depending on the individual, some people confess that writing by hand allows their creative minds to work easier than when they type.

Here is yet another article on the subject: https://www.simonandschuster.com/getliterary/benefits-writing-longhand-versus-computer/

And another: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/03/creative-writing-better-pen-longhand

While I doubt that I’ll return to writing a whole novel by hand, I know the value of writing tricky scenes by hand. As one of the above articles suggested, I often doodle as I write. If I have multiple characters to maneuver in a scene, drawing their positions on paper (standing or sitting? punching first or dodging?) helps me write about them more effectively. This tactic also helps me discern if a scene is too overcrowded and in need of adjustment.

What about you? Do you first write by hand or do you enter your text on a computer first? Let me know in the comments!

Though her chicken is excited at having written her first novel, Pinkie Pie thinks it needs a revision. All of the dialogue consists of only one word, “Cluck.”

Computer from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.Pinkie Pie, computer, and chicken are from the My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set by My Little Pony.

Nostalgia

Happy Martin Luther King Day! He had a dream. What’s yours? As you think about that, I’ll move on.

Lately, characters from past television series have been making the news because of their return to the silver screen. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, below). Lizzie McGuire. The cast of Saved by the Bell and Full House. Not to mention MacGuyver, in a show rebooted awhile ago. I’m just waiting for an announcement about a Columbo reboot, though I can’t imagine the show without the late, great Peter Falk.

Nostalgia has been the catalyst for the return of many film franchises, shows, toys, and candy. This is probably why you can see so many old favorites from the past (toys, candy, TV shows on DVD) at the gift shops of restaurants like Cracker Barrel or specialty shops.

As I read Shari Swanson’s picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), which we discuss here, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching young Abe exploring the woods near his home. He had a lot more freedom than most kids his age do nowadays. So did I. When I was eight (a year older than Abe is in the story) and was given my first bike, I would tell Mom, “I’m off,” and would be gone for hours, riding around the neighborhood. Even with T-Rexes still roaming the earth back then (totally dating myself), I had the freedom to go off with just a friend who was my age.

    

Lest you think, What awful parents, this was the norm back then. Starting in kindergarten, my best friend and I walked to school without hovering parents. And I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago!

My parents had taught my brothers and me to always look both ways while crossing the street, as well as teaching us “Stranger Danger” stuff, like never talk to strangers or accept anything from them. Even with all of that freedom, I survived childhood. (Spoiler alert in case you wondered.)

Nowadays parents would probably be arrested for the amount of freedom my parents and Abe’s parents allowed kids. Sadly, we live in a world where many parents have to go the extra mile to keep their children safe. I hardly ever see kids out by themselves, with the exception of my neighbors’ kids. But I know their parents are just a shout away.

So I’m nostalgic for the times when I was free to roam without fear. If I had a dream, in the vein of Martin Luther King, Jr., my dream would be for a world in which children could do the same.

The winner of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is Lyn!

Lyn, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented on the interview post.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

Patrick Stewart photo from The Daily Telegraph. Dream image from clipart-library.com. Martin Luther King, Jr. image from wallpapersin4k.org. Candy from 4imprint.com.

Check This Out: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Shari Swanson (another great Secret Gardener classmate; for others, click here and here), who is here to talk about her picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins and debuts today, people! Woot!

     

Shari is represented by John Rudolph. After Shari and I chat, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway of this very book. Now, let’s talk to Shari!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Shari: My favorite color is periwinkle. Actually, periwinkle is a favorite word, too. Perhaps I’ll write a book about Mr. Perry Winkle and his Phantasmagoric Adventures Through Color. (Dibs. 😀)


• I love games, all sorts—puzzles, mysteries, board games, sports, hiding pictures, and treasure hunting.
• I have a beloved dog named Honey, not, surprisingly, named after Abraham Lincoln’s dog.
• I love words—etymologies, derivations, roots, cadence, sound, rhyme—everything about words. When I was in high school, I read All About Words by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum while suntanning on the beach. One of my favorite courses in college was linguistics.

El Space: How did you come to write this picture book about a dog and Abraham Lincoln? How long was the process of writing the book?
Shari: When I was teaching middle school literature early this millennia, we read about Abraham Lincoln’s early years from an excerpt of Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln. It was fascinating. I hadn’t ever heard about Lincoln’s Kentucky years and wanted to know more. I thought perhaps children would like to read about Lincoln when he was their age. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Russell Freedman at an SCBWI conference in 2006 and told him how much I wanted to write a picture book expanding on those details from his book. With tears in his eyes, he encouraged me and told me what a wonderful picture book that would be. When I was deep in that research, I discovered Honey. Honey had saved Lincoln’s life! What would the world be like if we hadn’t had Abraham Lincoln? Honey was an unknown hero. Honey, I thought, would make a wonderful picture book. And then I set off to write that story. The first draft of my book was written when I was doing the picture book semester at VCFA, back in 2011. I sold it in 2016, and now it is finally in the world!

El Space: How did you get started writing picture books?
Shari: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I’ve always loved picture books. But I didn’t always understand that I could write them. Somewhere along the line, I realized that you don’t have to be a master artist to write a picture book, and that made me think maybe I could try it. I took a course in picture books at UCLA Extension way back in the early 1990s, I think, so it’s been a lifelong dream. I enrolled in the picture book semester when I was at VCFA with Julie Larios, and a workshop just prior to that with Julie and Uma Krishnaswami. That six months was maybe my favorite in my entire education as it was so filled with play and words and sheer delight.

El Space: How much input did you have with the illustrator? What was your reaction to seeing the illustrations?
Shari: Every picture book author/illustrator interaction is probably different. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen books, was wonderful at taking my thoughts and opinions into account at each stage of the process. First, she asked me if I had an illustrator in mind to suggest. That inquiry sent me on a delightful tour through bookstores and libraries, trying to find artists that had the right feel for Honey. When she suggested Chuck Groenink, she sent me links to his portfolio. [Click here for a post about Chuck and his process on another picture book.] We both loved his work, especially his use of light in dark scenes, a skill that would be important for the cavern scenes in Honey. Seeing Chuck’s first drafts for Honey was a highlight of my life. Right there in my hands was this charming beautifully-realized art bringing my words to life. As we moved forward, I had the ability at every stage to offer my thoughts. One suggestion that I am thrilled Chuck incorporated was adding more detail to the forest scenes. I wanted the readers to feel just how distracting the woods were, with all the sounds and animals, and have the reader be literally distracted by the detail on the page just as young Abe was distracted on his journey.

El Space: What picture books have inspired you as a kid? As an adult?
Shari: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Are You My Mother, by P. D. Eastman, and all things Dr. Seuss. As an adult, I love picture books that are poetic and musical; those that have wildly creative art, perhaps looking at things from unusual perspectives, and those that celebrate characters who are not stereotypic.

     

El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book?
Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Shari: I have several more works in progress, but the one getting my immediate attention is a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story of an animal/human interaction, this one from WWII.

Thanks, Shari, for being my guest!

Looking for Shari? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Looking for Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed January 20, 2020.

The first meeting of the picture book club almost ended in a fistfight. While Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal agreed that Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, is a great book, they disagreed on the refreshments, or the lack thereof. “It was your job to bring tea with honey for us to share!” the Squeezamal grumbled, Lazy Buns having only remembered to bring herself a cup of coffee.

Author photo by Christie Lane Photography. Book covers, with the exception of Shari’s book, are from Goodreads. Periwinkle flower from Wikipedia. Book storyboard from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

Why Textures Matter

You don’t have to be a fabric designer or a naturally tactile person to have an affinity for certain textures. You know when you like the feel of something and when you don’t. Which is why you probably wouldn’t choose to wear a sweater made out of burlap but would choose a cotton or cashmere one. (Or you might not, according to this article or this one.)

As a crafter, I work with a lot of yarn. Since many projects take hours and sometimes days to complete, I would rather work with softer yarns. Easier on the hands. I love alpaca yarn [photo at the right], because it is very soft. But it is expensive, so polyester is often the go-to.

     

Take a look at the photos below. You can just about tell, even without touching the yarn, which one(s) might be the softest. What is your guess?

1.


2.


3.


4.


5.

In case you’re wondering, the softest ones are 1, 3, and 5. Yarns like this are used to make blankets and clothes for babies, because they are suitably soft for their delicate skin. Think about a blanket you had as a child and how it felt.

Last week, I had a conversation in Target with a husband and wife who shopped for pillows. I couldn’t help asking them what made them choose a pillow with the jaw-dropping price of $85. (The last pillow I’d purchased was $3.99.)

The wife said the pillow’s memory foam was what sold them. They loved its smooth as well as soft/firm combination.

The husband said, “Go on and touch it! You know you want to!”

So I did. It felt incredible. “Sweet dreams are made of this,” as Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics sang.

He pointed down the aisle. “The mattress is great too.” It was almost $600!

“Get back, foul tempter!” I wanted to scream, knowing I could not afford either. Rather than touch it and set myself to longing after it, I bid a hasty retreat.

Textures! They have a huge impact on clothing and home interiors and our moods. Think about the fabrics or textures throughout your home—why they were chosen, and how they make you feel. According to this article,

[W]e turn to certain types of fabrics when we have different emotional requirements.
People turn to smooth and soft textures when they are in need of some emotional reassurance.

There’s probably a link to childhood and the way some textures made us feel. Whenever I was sick as a child, I wanted a soft blanket to curl up in and fuzzy slippers on my feet. I still do. But when I’m driving a car, I want a firm, no-nonsense fabric on my steering wheel, because it gives me a sense of stability. (My mother, however, prefers a soft covering for her steering wheel.) I’m not quite sure of the childhood tie-in to the steering wheel however. The closest I can think of is a rubber duck I used to have when I was a toddler. No matter what I did to that thing, I couldn’t tear a hole in it. It made me feel I would have that duck forever. Though I don’t know where it is at present, surely that duck is still around somewhere.

Any thoughts on fabric textures and how they make you feel? Feel free to comment below.

Alpaca yarn from contoocookalpaca.com. Classic rubber duck from Amazon. Other photos by L. Marie.

End of an Era—2019 and the Decade

By the time you read this, 2020 will be here. But today being New Year’s Eve, I asked Henry what he was looking forward to in 2020. You know, the kind of question everyone asks on the eve of a new year.

“Grapes,” he said. Not quite what I’d expected to hear, but to each his own.

Um, those are not grapes, Henry.

Though they weren’t asked, Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal chimed in with, “Catching some Zzzs” and “Tacos” respectively.

And Malik added, “Continuing to be awesome.” Perhaps having low expectations is the way some cope with the changing year.

Henry’s new BFF, the Bunny Cupcake (who sadly will be moving away soon), had very little to say other than bidding Henry a tearful good-bye.

And so, we bid good-bye to 2019 and the decade. I’m hardly tearful however. I’m glad to see you go, 2019! Thanks to the polar vortex, various family illnesses, manuscript rejections, pet deaths, and job losses, you will not be missed.

But as I consider those challenges, I can’t help seeing what they shaped in me, my family, and friends. Resilience is formed not in ease but in hard times. So 2019, your peaks and valleys left a residue of resilience that we can all carry into 2020—a year of endless possibilities.

I’m not one for making resolutions. And if you follow this blog at all, you know that I hardly ever post goals. (Some might say I never post goals.) But I’m writing three books that I’m looking forward to finishing in 2020.

What are you looking forward to in 2020? Comment below!

Happy New Year!

Photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.