Monday, April 25, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Granny Pants

I had a conversation with my friend Anna, who is a pretty spectacular bike racer, about how hard it can be for female cyclists to find jeans that fit. There is no magic pair of jeans, like in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, for ladies who have built the leg muscles and reduced their waist sizes. I thought the only solution was a trip to the tailor.

Anna let me in on a secret she had discovered: granny jeans. Like many great discoveries, hers was an accident in a department store a few weeks ago. I went to investigate it myself and it was definitely true – granny jeans are cut curvier. And there are many pairs of stylish granny jeans out there that don’t have elastic waistbands. I may even be wearing some as I write this.

That got me thinking about a scene in my book during which Sarah, my narrator, realizes that her body has changed after a year of racing her bike. Her jeans fit differently and, when she looks at her legs in the mirror, she realizes that the muscles in her calves and quadriceps are more defined. The change thrills her! She sees thinks her toned muscles are a visual representation of months of hard work and sacrifice.

Although I haven’t written this part yet, I think Sarah will learn how to tailor her own pants because that’s the kind of thing that a girl who is trying to live her life according to Little Women would do. Or she’ll discover the granny pants secret and tell all of her cycling friends about it. Call it the Sisterhood of the Granny Pants.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Thread A Day

As some of you know, I'm an avid quilter. I've made more than 30. This weekend I had a talk with my quilt teacher about a new project that I’m about to start - a replica of the Jane Stickle quilt, a Civil War era quilt that has 225 different blocks. I made my first replica of the Jane Stickle quilt a few years ago. It took me one full year.

Why do I want to make another Jane Stickle quilt? Quite simply, I love it. I love the patterns of each of the blocks, I love its symmetry, I love how the colors work together and I love being able to recreate it in my own vision. Also, while I'll always treasure my first Jane Stickle quilt, it was only the second quilt I made and I am now critical of my color choices and my less than stellar skills on some of the blocks. Think first draft.

I’m going to do things differently this time. I’m going to pick what we quilters call a “focus fabric,” which is a single piece of fabric, usually with a vivid pattern or set of colors. The idea is that you use the focus fabric as a color palette and pick other fabrics that coordinate or match the colors in the focus fabric. I’m also going to make an outline, planning what color will go where so that I can create a pattern of color symmetry within the quilt. The other big difference is the amount of time I’ll have to devote to it – after my family, career and my book, it’ll probably only be a few minutes a night. It could take years to finish.

So will my book. Quilting and writing have a lot more in common than you might think. Both are arduous. Both require dedication and inspiration. And, the raw materials are similar. Looking at fabric gives me lots of ideas, so does reading great books.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lines To Die For

If there’s one thing I love to read, it’s a great phrase. My favorites are the ones that mark a turning point, capture a major theme or crystallize a character’s purpose in a book. Some of the best ones are short and carry a big message. My husband and I use some of them as running jokes. When he gets upset with me, he sometimes shouts, “Do it to Julia!” This is from George Orwell’s classic 1984. In that scene the main character gives up on his true love and any hope of independent thought.

YA books have some great ones.

Even people who haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books know that “Expecto patronum!” is a lot more than a way to invoke a spell. Harry says it when he simultaneously grows his confidence, relieves himself of some grief for his parents and saves the life of one of his best supporters. It’s a signpost on Harry’s path that points, “This way to adult land and herodom.”

In The Secret Garden, Colin Craven is a peevish, spoiled and high irritable invalid who is convinced that he won’t live to grow up or, if he does, that he’ll be a hunchback like his father. When he meets his cousin Mary, he takes much more of an interest in life, which leads to an improvement in his health and his disposition. It’s a beautiful moment and a real turning point in the story and in Colin’s character when he goes into his mother’s garden – the secret garden – and sees spring unfolding around him. Colin exclaims, “I shall live forever and ever. I am well!

What are your favorite moments or phrases? Let me know in the comment box below!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Princess Store

On my regular Monday walk to The Donut Pub, which sells the best donuts in the world, my husband and I passed by an empty storefront. It was a beautiful space—large, light and airy and a whole wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. There were no partitions inside, just a wide open floor.

“Look at that space!” I exclaimed. “I could open a princess store!” He’s used to my whimsy so he said, “What’s a princess store?” I replied, “It’s a store when you can buy or rent princess-style gowns, tiaras, glass slippers and buy books about princesses, like A Little Princess, Princess Academy, The Princess Bride, A Princess in Tatters and The Princess of the Chalet School. And then you could put your princess dress on and spin around in the middle of the store so that you can see your skirt float around you.”

To his credit, my husband didn’t snicker. He just said, “But do you think you can pay the rent with that? It doesn’t seem like a good business plan. And your product line would be limited.” I said, “We can sell princess cupcakes and other baked goods. I already have a princess cookie cutter! It’ll help boost the bottom line. And this space looks like it’s been vacant for a while. I could probably get it for cheap.”

I have other ideas, like action figures of Sara Crewe and Miss Minchin from A Little Princess and Miri from Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy. Heck, we’d have an entire Shannon Hale section due to the number of books she’s written about strong, smart princesses-types like Isi from The Goose Girl and Dashti from Book of a Thousand Days. We’d also have a section on fairy princesses, princesses from ballets, Princess Leia and a nook on Disney princesses just to be completely inclusive.

Imagine taking your lunch hour to curl up with a princess book in a velvet chair and eat a cupcake with pastel-covered flowers? Or taking a break from work to cast off your business suit for a long gown of tulle and lace? It would be better than meeting Prince Charming!