Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why My Personal History Is Like A Patchwork Quilt Plus Snippets from recent novels


Although I’m not native to these rugged old hills and deep hollows, I live in the Ozark Mountains.  Like some of my own ancestors, the early settlers came from Appalachia and before that, they traveled across the water from Ireland, Scotland, and England.  My family tree is a diverse one and it combines many different ethnic, national, and cultural ingredients into an American family.   On both sides of my family, I have ancestors who arrived in time to fight in the Revolutionary War and those who came as immigrants with their worldly possessions tucked into a knapsack.  I grew up eating knaidels and sauerkraut but I slept beneath a hand-stitched quilt and learned traditional folk songs so old they came across the sea with earlier generations.

            Today, most people, including my mother-in-law who is a serious quilter, quilts are made for beauty and not necessity but in the earliest days, a patchwork quilts were for necessity.  Although most families owned a loom and wove, quilts evolved from patching worn blankets into an art form.  Early settlers, especially in the Appalachians and Ozarks where survival wasn’t always easy, wasted nothing.  When clothing wore out, the material became rags and then used to piece together quilts.  Drab blankets might be warm but quilts were colorful and pretty.  I can easily imagine women hungering for a splash of brightness and something lovely to dress up bare cabins.

            Writing a novel is much like putting together a patchwork quilt.  A good quilt has layers, the top which is the pieces stitched together into a pattern, the middle which consists of filler to provide both softness and warmth, and the backing which completes the quilt.  Stitching holds it all together.  My stories, long or short, are something I work to put together.  My great-grandmother’s mother, a Missouri farm wife, had a loom and wove her own cloth.  Long ago, I wrote a poem about working my words the way Amanda worked her loom.  I still like that analogy but I think the concept of a patchwork quilt is closer to the reality.

            A quilter begins with scraps and some kind of plan.  When I start a new story, I begin with scraps of ideas.  Sometimes it’s a hero or heroine, a person who springs to life in my mind as a character.  I can imagine how they look, even hear their voice.  I trim them into something manageable and then connect them to a setting, to other characters, and put them into a situation.  I surround them with other bits and pieces to create something which stands alone.

Like anyone who sews by hand knows, there are times I have to pick it apart and put it back together.  Some stitching – or plotting – is tight and holds but sometimes it’s weak or doesn’t work so it has to be taken apart and redone.  I’ve never pieced an entire quilt myself but I have worked on putting together the last quilt top my great-grandmother, also a quilter, left behind.  She had pieced the blocks when she died and I put them together.  I also worked on a baby quilt top and I often sew by hand, something my grandmother taught me as a young child.  I’m well aware of the hours of work, the painstaking effort, and the creativity required to make a quilt.  The same elements are necessary for fiction, too.

            Some quilters today use brand new material and pick it out based on a color scheme or a theme.  A few still use scraps from old garments and those quilts are often the most interesting.  It’s neat to sit down with a quilt and have the maker reveal the facts.  Perhaps this bit of silk came from a wedding dress, the cotton plaid from an old shirt, the floral print from a house dress or blouse.  In a traditional quilt each piece has a story because the cloth has been repurposed.  Bits of worn Easter dresses, aprons, pajamas, and more go into the overall effect.

            My stories bring together many different elements.  I write various sub-genres of romance, contemporary, a little paranormal, and historical.  I’ve had excellent reviews on all the different types of romance and the one thing my varied backlist has in common is me.  I provide the thread which binds it all together, all the bits and pieces from my life, my experience, and my imagination.

As an example, here’s a few short snippets from a few of my works.  In Urban Renewal (Champagne Books, March 2013) my heroine returns to her hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri.  Since it’s my hometown too, there’s a lot of me in this novel.  Somewhere along the way my facts blur into fiction so everything in the book is NOT from my life and the heroine, Marie, certainly isn’t me.  But in this excerpt, I describe not just Marie’s return but my own in the past.

 


She turned the corner onto Lincoln and headed uphill one block to turn right onto Tenth Street. Marie stared at the wide green lot where the former Sisters Hospital, where she’d been born, had stood. Although it vanished decades earlier, she missed the landmark. Despite the general air of decline, however, her home street hadn’t changed as much as she feared. The aged frame houses, most of them two-story, still lined the narrow pavement like weary soldiers. Most of the huge old trees she recalled remained but a few gaps yawned where houses were gone. Although it was just April, the trees were in full leaf and brilliant green.

Midway down the block, the street jogged and she was almost home. Her stomach clenched tight and threatened to reject the sausage biscuit. Marie’s heart pounded and she didn’t breathe as the home where she grew up appeared on the right. She never remembered until she arrived that the old black-on-gray siding of her childhood was gone, removed long ago because of asbestos. The white aluminum siding she paid to replace the original seemed odd, foreign at first, but the lines of the old house hadn’t changed. She parked in front of the short front steps and dug into the pocketbook for her keys. She picked up her minimal luggage from the back seat as she stepped from the car.

With the surreal feeling of a dream Marie walked up the steps, passed the old lamp post with the black horse cast in iron, and crossed the tiny sidewalk. She marched up the rounded steps of the concrete porch, still painted battleship gray, and to the front door. Her key fit into the lock and she turned it. Without a single groan the heavy storm door yielded and for the first time in more than five years Marie came home.

 

This describes my route “home” and those who know me well caught that.  For everyone else, this piece of my world is a slice of my main character’s life.   The following snippet comes from my best selling contemporary romance, Pink Neon.   Long before I lived in the Ozarks, I visited Branson and Cecily’s arrival in the popular tourist destination captures it.


 

Her sleek 1971 GTO coupe, red as lifeblood, hugged the tight curves and skimmed over the rugged Ozark Mountains, graceful as a soaring hawk.  Cecily drove like a demon possessed but she held the road and savored the thrill.  Everything important she wanted or needed fit into the two big suitcases and one smaller bag crammed into the trunk.  Her new life would begin when she hit Branson, the tourist destination tucked into the southern edge of Missouri, a place she’d heard a lot about but never visited.  The curving roads widened as the billboards increased along the narrow shoulders but the drop-offs remained sheer and deadly. 

 

And one more, this from my April Rebel Ink Press release, The Sin Eater’s Redemption, April 2013.  I love sitting on the front porch in the evening and have a long history dating back to when I did with my grandparents. 

 


They ended up out in the antique porch swing, side by side.  As dusk gathered shadows into darkness, Lucas put his arm around her shoulders so she scooted closer.  The sweet, rich smell of honeysuckle floated on the wind.  Far off in the distance Tessa heard the whine of tires as they sped over pavement and down the road somewhere coon hounds barked.  Tiny brilliant lightning bugs flickered across the pasture and she marveled at their quiet beauty.  She hadn’t seen a single firefly since she left home but her nights were spent beneath city lights.  Peace settled around her like a shawl and she sighed with contentment.

“It’s so beautiful here. Quiet and so tranquil.”

“I like it,” Lucas said. “Always have, always will.”

They rocked and the gentle sway soothed something in Tessa’s soul  Silence stretched between them, comfortable as well worn shoes. 

 

            I hope this demonstrates how I take scraps from my experience and put them together into something whole and complete.  Each story builds one piece at a time and into each work I bring something of myself, my experiences, my dreams, and emotions.  The next time you admire the handiwork of a patchwork quilt, I hope you see each piece of cloth, each block as something with a backstory.

            If you’d like to find more about me or my works, please use my links to find me. I have an author page on Facebook as well as a personal page.  I’m on Twitter, I have multiple blogs, and you can always check out my Amazon.com author page.  My works are sold on Amazon, at All Romance Ebooks, Bookstrand.com, and on Barnes and Noble.com.  Some are also found on the Champagne Books and Evernight Publishing websites, on Smashwords, and coming soon to Kobo.

MY LINKS

Twitter: leeannwriter

From Sweet to Heat: The Romance of Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy



Blog: Rebel Writer: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy



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