Friday, January 11, 2013
Please welcome Author/Knitter Meg Wolfe
How/why did you start to write?
My first stories were picture ones, usually done on a chalkboard and involved a house or several houses on a hill, a couple of kids, cats, dogs, and birds, and amid flowers and trees, all of which talked. This was before I was school age. I never wrote them down, but I still remember a couple of them. I think I considered myself more of an artist back then.
I was a bit lonely and awkward as a mainstreamed deaf child, and was inspired to start keeping “notebooks” at the age of 11, after reading Harriet the Spy. This was in 1966. Because I didn’t want to risk Harriet’s fate if my notebooks of observations were discovered, I wrote them in the codes I learned from a gadget in my beloved James Bond briefcase. (And, yes, I wanted to grow up to be sleek and cool like Mrs. Peel in The Avengers). Slow going at first, but it got faster after practice, and I would rotate three different codes for extra security. The notebooks were full of observations, some utterly scathing and likely unfair, about classmates, family, teachers, and life in general, but writing them helped me to feel more real, more validated. After writing these for nearly two years, some classmates did get hold of them and threw them into the school incinerator. They didn’t decode them, but they just knew those notebooks were very important to me and likely unflattering about them. It wasn’t all bad, though—the principal had an inkling of what I was up to and he encouraged me to start the school’s first newspaper. I staffed it with fellow 6th, 7th, and 8th grade misfits and we had a blast.
After that came high school, where I mostly wrote poetry until my senior year, when a new young teacher had us spend a semester writing short stories. I fell in love with it and ended up majoring in English instead of Math in college.
What was your first published piece?
A poem and a short story in the same issue of the campus literary magazine in my freshman year, I think 1974.
After that I continued to write poetry and short stories, and wrote and produced three plays. After getting my graduate degree, I expanded into a few articles and wrote several drafts of a novel, which I never did finish. After writing for ten years and getting very little published, I stopped. It was like I couldn’t tell what good writing was anymore. My confidence was also shattered due to some unfortunate personal circumstances that I wasn’t equipped to deal with.
I later wrote a few trade journal articles, garden club newsletter material, unpublished short stories, and participated in NaNoWriMo, but did not write with any serious intent to publish again until 2010, when I started my current blog.
What did you do before embarking on your current writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?
The previously-mentioned personal circumstances included a divorce and subsequent single motherhood, requiring me to come up with a living. Since I also had an art degree and design skills, I combined that knowledge with remodeling and garden experience, and started my own landscape design company, relying on others to help with phone calls. It was one of the very few such companies in the area at that time, and eventually had an excellent clientele list.
Geographically, I went from rural isolation to small college town to the exurbs and inner city. Workwise, I went from academia to small business ownership, from a protected, privileged environment into being a contractor and often in charge of a team of laborers. If one is supposed to “write what you know,” my “know” grew exponentially. Later, after remarrying, I retired from the physically-demanding landscape work and we opened an art gallery and I also did well as an artist. Then came the recent economic upheaval, which hit the local art world very hard. We moved to a less-expensive area (back to the small college town, in fact, where my son and his wife lived), but the only job I could find was as a cook in a coffee shop. This led to starting my own commercial cookery when the coffee shop closed, and I supplied other coffee shops and private clients with baked goods and soups, casseroles, and quiches for a couple of years. It was harder than landscaping, though, and I ended up flat on my back.
My son, who is an online entrepreneur, then encouraged me to collect my recipes and write a cookbook, and publish it as an ebook. So I did. I had started my blog a few months before this, as an outlet for getting a handle on the financial and emotional challenges we were facing, and the connections I made through that blog helped the ebook, and subsequent ebooks, to do quite well.
Blogging was also enabling me to find my long-subdued writing chops again, and with the strain of being at the mercy of print publishers removed, my confidence returned. So I’m back on track, nearly twenty-five years after I “stopped” writing. My first collection of flash fiction, Spirits of Place, is the realization of a dream I’ve had for fifty years, ever since I was a little kid making up stories in front of the chalkboard.
What inspires you?
I don’t know that I actually get inspired. Instead, I’m a constant extrapolator, a what-iffer. Like a lot of deaf people, I’m extremely visual. My eyes will land on objects or compositions in the world around me, and then memory or a chain of thoughts start, and sometimes snowball into an essay or a character’s back story. Oftentimes my husband’s photography triggers a mood or point of view about something, and I use those photos at the top of my blog posts. A lot of times, though, I just plain set myself a writing task—and do it.
Please share one of your successful author platform building techniques
The best author platform I have so far is my blog, The Minimalist Woman, which quickly acquired a lot of followers who were also in search of simplicity, downsizing, and a way out of the buy-buy-buy culture. It’s more writerly than the usual “10 ways to declutter” blogs, as I’m more interested in the shift in mindset and the counter-culture perspective that happens when one embraces minimalism. It didn’t start out as an author’s blog, but rather one on a topic that concerned me. Since many of my readers tend to be, well, readers, I’m able to connect with people who are potential readers of my other writing, especially the fiction. It certainly has helped me to connect with other writers.
Apart from that, though, I don’t yet have anything else that works well as a platform, but I’m open to trying things out and seeing what sticks. Twitter and Facebook take too much time, and Google+ so far lacks a certain energy, but that might be because I’m not using it right. There are also networks of readers and writers that I’ve recently become aware of, and hope to find a few that are a good fit.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing my first cozy mystery novel, and taking time to properly learn the craft—and learning to use Scrivener. I’m also allowing 80,000 words written over the summer to simmer for a while before whittling them down into more collections of flash fiction.
Digital publishing has made all the difference in the world for a lot of writers. It’s less mysterious and feels less at the mercy of some faceless manuscript reader at a publishing house. It also isn’t as expensive—or fraught with folly—as vanity presses used to be. Ebooks can also be updated. If I want to rewrite something or format it better at a later date, it’s no big deal, and the existing customer can redownload it without repurchasing. Writers can now learn as they go, without feeling like one amateur mistake or bad review will kill their careers before they’re barely off the ground. And a print contract is still possible once you have a blog and a few ebooks out—it’s happened to several writers I know, including my husband.
This also makes it possible to write the book you want to write, in addition to writing for a particular market. I’m just getting started, but I know that even if I don’t get picked up by a legacy publisher, I can still have a market for my writing—and that’s a feeling I would have killed for twenty-five years ago!
Who taught you to knit?
I taught myself with the help of a very skinny pair of needles, a ball of twine, and an ancient book of knitting stitches and patterns that I found in a box in the attic when I was a kid. Later, my great-aunt, the original owner of that book of patterns, helped me to refine my technique.
What knitting method do you use? Continental? English? Or...??
Primarily English, but will use Continental with two-color knitting
What is your favourite stitch pattern?
It depends on the yarn. The best stitch is one that brings out the quality or color or texture of the yarn, and vice-versa. That being said, I’m fascinated by cables and Aran patterns.
What is your favourite yarn?
Any yarn that handles well and co-operates with me. My latest sweater was made with Berocco Comfort DK, totally synthetic, and it is so soft, consistent, and washes well. It was much less frustrating than the beautiful cotton/linen DK yarn I used for a previous lightweight sweater. But I have had great projects with wools and bulkier yarns, too.
Is there a needle size that you prefer? Bamboo, plastic or steel needles?
Again, that depends on the project and the yarn. Years ago I would have said size 11, as I had no patience back then, and I actually had broom-handle needles, too. Recently, though, I’ve used size 3 and enjoyed it. I’m fond of enamel-coated steel needles for their smoothness and balance, which makes it easier to knit without looking at the work or making a mistake.
What is your favourite item to knit?
Very simple no-pattern drop-sleeved sweaters, and free-form crazy quilts that combine all sorts of yarns and fibers in various knit and crochet stitches.
Where is your favourite place to knit?
On the sofa in the living room while watching favorite programs on t.v. My knitting basket is stored inside the ottoman, there’s a task light next to me, and a small table for a cuppa tea—or spot of brandy on cold nights.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished a tunic-length sweater and matching moebius scarf. Now I’ve got some blue yarn to recycle from an old unraveled project, and am trying to decide what to make with it.
Set in the near past and present, this collection of seven short-short stories and four paintings evokes the deep relationship between each narrator’s identity and the places in which they live, to show—or imply—its effect upon the choices they make in their lives. In some stories, the choice is clear: the young narrator of Cathy Robinson chooses not to drown her playmate, and in Walpurgisnacht, the young-middle-aged narrator tries to help her best friend from college heal with a bonfire. The narrator of Macy grows aware of a garden’s spirit of place, its genius loci, and in time becomes a real gardener, a “maker of Edens.” The problematic relationships between fathers and daughters and husbands and wives weave through all the stories. Young narrators tell the funny/frightening Halloween tale in At the Crossroads, and the traumatic loss of a sacred space in The Firmament. Older narrators confront their bitterness at a loss of identity in Post-Op, and at the heartbreaking release from denial in Lease on Life.
From the Prologue through the stories and paintings, this small, 7,000-word debut collection of fiction can be experienced as a single narrative of different, yet shared, points of view.
From reader reviews:
“They all manage to say something profound about the human condition in such a short amount of words. But beautiful words!”
“The quality of writing in Spirits of Place is superb. Clear and evocative, with each character's voice, as varied as they are, ringing true.”