Saturday, May 15, 2010


*Ladies and gentlemen, aliens and dragons, please extend a warm Mad Genius Club welcome to the were-slushreader, Pam Uphoff.*


We hit the Houston International Quilt Festival a few months ago. It was, as always, terrific.

Quilting is a pretty good metaphor for writing as well. All those little scraps in coordinating _and_ contrasting colors, carefully pieced together to show the larger picture, then padded and stitched over for depth and continuity. Not to mention keeping all that padding in place.

Check out the winner's page. The pictures don't do them justice.

Of course modern quilters go out and buy shiny, brand new cloth and cut it up, just like most of what I write is made up on the spot, at need.

But some of it's been kicking around for years.

Have you ever looked over all those little scraps in your head? You know what I mean. The idea that won't leave you alone until you jotted it down, and then you can get back to what you were supposed to be writing. I've brought together some amazing contrasts, but once you've pieced them together in a pattern, it works.

Especially in a "What's the worst thing I can do to this character" way.

What odd scraps do you have laying around? Can you sew them together and come up with a story?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

It is 12.45 am on Sunday morning in Australia. I've been up all night doing the page proofs of book two. Only another 300 pages to go.

Oooh, we writers lead exciting lives.

Quilting? I find there are ideas or events, that just won't let me forget them. I know that somehow, somewhere, someday I find a way to incorporate them into a story.

Can't help myself.

Brain melting. Must go to bed. errrgh ...

Amanda Green said...

Pam, thanks for a great post. Your analogy with quilting is absolutely right. I have a novel simmering on the back burner right now that really is a scrap from one old work, a scrap from another and a lot of hope I can somehow sew them together. Of course, sewing has never been my strong suit, so the "stitches" might be a bit uneven at first, but that's what rewrites and first readers are for. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I have problems sometimes deciding what's the main story and what's a subplot. Other times they fit together as designed for just that spot.

And ideas, unlike cloth, can be used multiple times. I have one "horseback swords and magic battle" that I've rewritten three times and slotted in appropriately. Each time it just fires up the fingers, doubles or triples in size and fits itself into the new spot.

Kate said...

What a neat metaphor. All my odd bits and pieces eventually find their way into a story somewhere, although sometimes working out where is... interesting.

Often I find that pieces I thought were their own story turn out to belong to something else, and once I realize that and slot them in, a whole bunch of things fall into place.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

when I'm ill and can't write, but feel I still must be productive, I go over the stuff I wrote years ago and that I've put aside for so long that I've forgotten what it was all about.
Unfortunately, everytime I do I get in trouble. This is how I got COMPELLED to write Darkship Thieves, now that I knew how to find a story with two hands and a seeing eye dog. (This was not helped by those people -- Kate, Amanda, to name the guilty -- who looked at it and said "oooh, there's something in this.") And this is why and how I'm now writing The Brave And The Free. Shiny scraps that had got stuck in an entirely inappropriate garment which I'm now cutting out and arranging in an -- hopefully -- pleasing pattern. And maybe one that will keep someone warm through a long winter's night. Uh... not that way. Mind out of gutter now.

Anonymous said...


Quilts are an excellent metaphor for writing, and even individual quilts . . .

Take a good look at "Protection." in the fifth row down. It was awesome, up close. All black cloth. Every bit of color is thread stitched across the dark and dangerous world . . .

Some have depth, some are just luminous.

Some you wish the quilter had left out this or that piece.

The winning picture of the leaping woman is overstitched with with a flying crane. Interesting idea, but the quilt itself didn't do anything for me.

A lot like a lot of books I read.

Dave Freer said...

An iteresting and apt comparison, Pam. I find it's often like that with bits of whole cloth ideas and concept written by others. By the time it is cut and re-shaped and re-sewn into a new object there is barely a hint of the original about it.

Mike said...

Interesting analogy -- and it provides an answer when someone points and says, "That's Robin Hood and Big John fighting on the bridge" (or whatever old plot piece they happen to notice) and gripe about originality. Yep, that's exactly the piece I reused -- what do you think of the new setting and arrangements?

The other thing it makes me think of -- my grandmother had the big quilting frame in the community, and a group of women who came over and worked on it. That community of joint effort (and a lot of talk and gossip) produced some amazing results. Kind of like some writing groups I know?

Anonymous said...


I sympathize. And I'm green with envy.

Hope you've caught up with your sleep!

Kate said...


Good point - the best writing groups do work rather like those quilt circles where all the women get together and gossip and stitch things together and offer advice about problems.

The worst ones are more like the quilt circles where someone rules the whole thing and nothing, but nothing gets done without her approval - which inevitably devolve into a cluster of slavish admirers of the leader, who are left bereft when/if she can't be there anymore.

Bill said...

This is a great analogy for what inspires most of my original writing.

I like the 'what if' game in my head, and using those pieces of ideas or sometimes cliche'd storylines and adding/changing elements that reflect my style as a writer.

Alas, WIP, but one day soon I'll show you what I mean. ;-)