Not quite an epiphany, but definitely a moment of self-discovery

Baggage Claim by Cathe Swansons

Not quite an epiphany…

but definitely a moment of self-discovery.  I don’t know why it surprised me.  Except for a few years in Europe, a few in Missouri and then out in Eastern Washington, I’ve always been a midwesterner. Snow is in my blood. (Does that make me an ice queen? Princess Elsa from Frozen? Just cold-blooded, like a frog?)

When I’m not writing, I’m usually sewing or quilting or doing some other kind of creative work that engages my hands but leaves my mind free to wander.  Those are my opportunities to listen to audiobooks, which I enjoy very much, or to listen to trainings and podcasts for writers.  Yesterday, I was listening to a speaker talk about finding the “theme” of your writing. She said that we all have a theme, not only to our lives but also throughout our writing.  She wasn’t talking about the big picture, like “I am a Christian”, but about smaller things. What do all of my books have in common?

My Great Lakes books (and all of my works-in-progress) feature a “restoring the years the locusts have eaten” sort of theme. My Glory Quilts books are about family and finding our place in the world. In the overall story arc of the series, though, that restoration theme is also present. 

As I considered my five published books,  I realized one other common element: winter.  Each of them, set in the city, a small town or in the wilderness, features significant amounts of snow.  My Chicago and Minnesota Christmas books are more about the winter season than the holiday.  The Swedehearts Glory Quilt begins on Thanksgiving Day and ends on Valentine’s Day. In Minnesota, that’s winter.   Much of Baggage Claim is set in the western end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, starting in February.  Yoopers don’t expect spring until May. 

More snow in the forecast

I have at least eight other books in process. They are almost all set in the northern climates,  Frangipani is set in the US Virgin Islands and Charleston, South Carolina, but I’ve still worked in brief mentions of winter in Nebraska and Minnesota. I can’t seem to help myself.

Winter is beautiful. It’s cold, with short, dark days, and blizzards lead to dangerous roads. Ice storms can break trees and lead to power outages. But it’s beautiful, and it’s a great plot device! It slows us down or restricts our movements, can lead to challenging situations (power outages) or it can leave our characters snowbound together.  It can put people in peril.

I long for warm weather, so I can start digging in my garden and getting out on the river in our kayaks, having the grandchildren for visits, and just sitting out on the deck for my morning coffee. In the meantime, though, God made winter beautiful – and so useful for novelists!

 

Comfort & Joy

Comfort & Joy - The 2018 Christmas Lights Collection, with Alana Terry, Toni Shiloh, April Hayman, Cathe Swanson and Chautona HavigThis week, I’m finishing up my Christmas novella, The Christmas Glory Quilt. It will be my contribution to the 2018 Christmas Lights novella collection: Comfort & Joy.  This year’s collection is going to be bigger and better than ever before,  with contemporary Christian Christmas stories from Alana Terry, April Hayman, Toni Shiloh, Chautona Havig and me.  Isn’t it a beautiful cover?

Frost Heaves by Alana Terry
The Trouble with Christmas Cheer by April Hayman
Deck the Shelves by Toni Shiloh
The Christmas Glory Quilt by Cathe Swanson
The Ghosts of New Cheltenham by Chautona Havig

Comfort & Joy will be available exclusively on Amazon on October 15th. We’re looking for a few more launch team members, to help share the news. If you are interested in getting a free advance reader copy of the book and participating in our very fun Facebook group, please click HERE for more information and fill out the form.

 

The Christmas Glory Quilt

The Christmas Glory Quilt by Cathe Swanson - in the 2018 Christmas Lights Collection, Comfort & JoyThe Christmas Glory Quilt will be the first in a series with a seasonal quilt theme – Autumn Glory Quilt, Easter Glory Quilt, etc. (I still need to work on those titles!) Being an overachiever, I designed a quilt to go with the book and plan to offer the pattern as a bonus for early purchasers of the book.  It was a busy summer – and I had to write the book! – so it took a long time just to get it pieced.

Yesterday morning, my good friend and book cover designer, the multi-talented Chautona Havig, said, “I need pictures of the quilt, draped around two people. Now.” So I dropped everything and quilted. For nine hours, I sat at the dining room table and quilted. I finished about six o’clock and my husband helped me take pictures. Triumphantly, I sent them to Chautona.

But they weren’t good enough. An iPhone 5S may take good pictures for posting online, even indoors, but they aren’t good enough to use on the front of a printed book. I thought, “All that work, for nothing. I wasted the whole day, when I should have been working on the book, cleaning house, making dinner, taking a shower…”

Have you even done something difficult and then it fell short? Wasn’t good enough? Did it crush you? Make you feel like a failure? In my head, I know that now I have a finished quilt. I need to figure out how to get a better picture. It will be challenging, but I will make it work out. In my heart, I am disappointed. Deflated. Frustrated. I have to do the pictures all over again and I’m further behind on my book.

Redeeming the Time

But there was a grain of something good in the experience, and it wasn’t the quilt or the pictures. For about half an hour, my husband and I had a wonderful time together.

What we needed was a “green screen” picture of the quilt wrapped around two people. Chautona was going to cut out the quilt part of the picture and superimpose it on the purchased picture of these two attractive models. Kind of like paper dolls, if you remember those.

 

 

 

 

 

So the quilt had to be draped just right, to fit the existing picture. My husband hung a black sheet on the wall, and we set the laptop, open to the picture of the models, on a chair in front of us. To get the right angle, we put the phone/camera on top of a stepladder on top of the piano bench. We practiced standing in the right position first, and then we worked on arranging the quilt.

The thing is, those models are wrapped in a soft, stretchy knit blanket. A brand new quilt is stiff. It doesn’t drape. But we tried. We wrapped up in it, as best we could, then we scooted forward to push the camera button and scooted back, trying to get into position before the ten-second timer went off. It was hilarious. We laughed together, harder than we have in years. We have more ‘blooper’ shots than usable pictures. In most of them, we were rolled up like a burrito or shaped like a Christmas tree. Sometimes, the camera snapped the picture before we were ready.

 

And we laughed and laughed. My husband said, “We know how to do Friday night!” It was a good time, and it will be a sweet memory. Marriage is hard, and sometimes the fun is just drained away. Sometimes we – like many married couples – go along from day to day, doing what has to be done. So I spent a day making that quilt, and even though my original purpose wasn’t achieved, the time was redeemed. God knew we needed that “date night” more quilt pictures. Isn’t He wonderful?

Comfort & Joy

I look forward to sharing more about The Christmas Glory Quilt soon. I’m having so much fun writing it!  All of the books in this year’s collection, Comfort & Joy, are enjoyable, so watch for updates on the Comfort & Joy Facebook page. 

Christmas is Coming Early for Me!

Snow Angels by Cathe Swanson - Part of the Christmas Lights novella collectionThis year, my biggest Christmas gift is coming in October. It’s very exciting to be anticipating the release of my first published book, Snow Angels, as part of the Christmas Lights novella collection.

Things got pretty wild here for a while – nine days before my editor’s deadline,  I ended up in the hospital having an emergency appendectomy! Laparoscopic surgery is amazing, and it all went smoothly, but the nurse and some of my friends were right when they cautioned me to go slowly.  I feel great, but I get tired out quickly.

I finished the Snow Angels manuscript, revised it, and sent it off to the editor with ten minutes to spare before the deadline – and then I immediately wanted it back again, because I thought of so many things that needed to be changed.  She wouldn’t give it back, so now I have to wait for her first round of corrections and revisions.  I keep pestering her:

     “Are you finding many typos?”

    “What do you think of the sweater scene?”

    “Do you like Pete?”

    “Do you think Lisa’s reaction to the sick child is realistic?”

She’s very patient with me. 🙂

Christmas Lights Novella Collection

I have been helping market books for a couple years now, and I like doing it, so I am very much looking forward to an exciting book launch for Christmas Lights.  I’ve known Chautona for years, and it’s been fun getting to know  Vikki Kestell and  April Hayman as we work on this novella collection.  Look for some fun events as the launch date approaches! We’re even putting together a musical book trailer!

And the cover!

I love, love, LOVE the cover for my book!  It was designed by the multi-talented Chautona Havig, a good friend and gifted writer, and I’m going to be unwrapping it slowly.  She also designed the cover for the entire Christmas Lights novella collection box set. Isn’t it beautiful?

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What is Christian Fiction?

What is Christian Fiction ? - Cathe SwansonWhat qualifies a book as Christian Fiction?

We all know that our first responsibility in this world is to glorify God. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do – including writing! – we should do it all to the glory of God.  Therefore, all “Christian fiction” in every genre should glorify God.  That is true and simple, right? No, it’s true and it’s complex.

Ever since the Christian market grew beyond Amish romances and sweet prairie mail order brides, there is an ever-cycling argument about what kinds of language and situations are permissible in Christian fiction.

Although I occasionally enjoy an Amish romance, I am mostly interested in police mysteries/political thrillers and romantic suspense, and those genres are more likely to be set “in the world.”  I live in that world, but I am still a Christian reader. Personal convictions vary, and personally, I lean toward prudery – I do not want to be shown the nakedness or sexual activities, conversation and thoughts of other people. A skilled writer can write (ahem) physically-charged scenes without gloating over the details or making me a voyeur. I don’t want to read blasphemous or vulgar dialog. A good writer can show a powerful conversation between unsaved and/or angry characters without having to tell me which bad words were used.

Hollywood Ratings

Maybe fiction that is specifically marketed to a Christian audience should come with the kind of rating labels we see on TV shows, movies and video games: G, PG, PG13, R, M with the separate content factors of violence, drug use, profanity, degrees of sexual content/nudity, etc. , so readers could make informed decisions about their own reading preferences and the Christian fiction industry wouldn’t have to worry about uniform guidelines and lists of forbidden words.

“Christian fiction” can be about people with sinful pasts or in challenging situations. It can address difficult marriages, poverty, crime and sin, fame and success, business, social justice issues and other tough subjects.  It doesn’t have to have a warm and fuzzy pink bunny ending. Some of the characters might even have tattoos or piercings or – gasp! – ride Harleys.  But if you are a Christian and a writer, your work must glorify God according to His Word.

Write in the World

If a Christian writer really wants to push past the limiting industry parameters, in an effort to represent the secular world in all its dirt, why not bring a few characters with a Christian worldview into mainstream fiction? Write a story without an evangelical message but with ordinary, genuine believers living in the real world and still committed to glorifying God and living according to His Word.  Write about sincere Christians who are imperfect and sin but are not willing to wallow in their sins, either. There are millions of us out here.

Who Gets to Define Christianity?

Almost all portrayals of Christian characters in mainstream fiction are extremes. In general, they turn out to be deceitful and particularly slimy villains. The depicted churches are not real churches but rather hateful cults or ineffective associations of people. In other words, non-Christian authors are the ones defining Christianity for their readers: “This is how Christians are and this is what the Church looks like.” Christian authors are afraid to speak into that stereotype, worried they will be accused of lying, preaching or creating a Pollyanna world.

How often do you see a sincere Christian man – one who loves the Lord before all else – as a fictional character? A Christian homeschooling family that raises productive, intelligent children? Missionaries who do practical good works as well as their spiritual work? A Christian woman who is kind and honors her husband without making her a victim and him a bully? Priests who aren’t pedophiles?  A pastor who isn’t a cult leader?  When did you last read about honest Christians who sin, repent and try to do better the next time? All of these characters are very common in this world and almost unheard of in mainstream fiction.  Do you want to write realistic books? Then include realistic Christians, because there are a lot of us out here!

A skilled Christian author could write these mainstream fiction books. That would indeed glorify God.

In the meantime, maybe we should look into using those Hollywood ratings.

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Do what you love – as long as you love doing it

noquilting

I recently published an article – Quitting Quilting – on my GloryQuilts blog, explaining why I was restructuring my business. It explained the quitting part, but it didn’t really address the “art as career” aspect of the change. Through this experience, I am persuaded that if I am ever forced to support myself financially, I must not do it by making a career from the things I love doing. It sounds good, but it can end up sucking the joy from the creative heart and leaving only resentment.

For more than 20 years, I have been teaching quiltmaking as well as sewing and quilting professionally as GloryQuilts.  At first, I sold class samples and pattern prototypes as well as some things I made just for fun. I did some juried art shows, and then some that were less selective. I had to make quantities of items for the shows, on a strict deadline, and be ready to set up displays and manage sales. I started selling things on eBay and then Etsy.  Instead of selling unique and creative quilts, I began creating quilts specifically to sell, in trendy fabrics and styles. As my reputation grew, I was offered and accepted a number of commissions and special order projects.

But I had never intended to become a quilt factory.  What had once been a delight to me became stressful drudgery. I loathed the sight of my sewing machine and drove around the block to avoid seeing the fabric store. I didn’t even want to make baby quilts for my grandchildren!

Turning a passion into a paying career is something to be approached with caution. If it’s going to remain a creative pleasure, it must remain creative. If it’s going to be profitable, it must be practical. It will probably involve deadlines. It will involve  sales and marketing, business law, accounting, taxes, various expenses that eat into the fruit of your labors… Labors. Are you still feeling the joy of creativity?

It’s a wonderful thing to have work that makes you happy. We all need money, and it’s nice if we can get that money in a pleasant environment. Do what you love and love what you do, right?  The problem is the second part – to keep loving what you are doing once it’s a job. What happens when you give up the life-sucking day job to make a living from your art and then the art becomes the life-sucking day job?

Be realistic in the shift from hobby to career.  Before you start, assess the possibilities and requirements.  In most cases, this kind of self-employment is sales and independent contracting. Can you set aside the creative part of your skill set to practice on the weekends or does the business consume your enthusiasm and energy? Are you a painter willing to work as a commercial artist? An art photographer willing to do senior portraits?  A poet who will write product descriptions for catalogs? A creative chef will be happier in his own restaurant, with creative freedom, than he would be at McDonald’s, at any wage.

It’s easy to be creative on our own terms, without other people telling us what our art should look like and when it should be completed and how much money it’s worth. There is a niche market for art and original work. A few people and companies will appreciate its value, but it’s still a different scenario than just creating for our own pleasure and being willing to sell our art for a good price. Renaissance artists had patrons, and even that could be difficult.

After yet another stressful autumn and early winter, for those reasons and others, I made the firm decision to stop taking commissions and doing special orders. No more craft sales or any other sales event unless I happen to have stacks of finished items available at the time. (unlikely!)

I don’t like to say “God spoke to me and said…”, but I know that this is the will of God. I learned it through prayer, Scripture, wise counsel, observation and examination of the real situation, the preferences of my husband, the changing desires of my own heart. It all led to the unwavering conviction that I needed to stop that cycle and move into a new stage of my life.

In truth, I knew it a long time ago, as God opened portals in my life. I side-stepped them, closed them, looked through them and decided I wasn’t meant to go through them. I wasn’t good enough, they weren’t familiar to me, I needed money (and there didn’t appear to be any on the other sides of those doors.) I can call it fear, feelings of inadequacy, and the disbelief that my desires could really coincide with God’s will for me, but it all boiled down to disobedience and unbelief.

I was slow to make the changes, but I am committed now. I am writing. I am a writer. I believe it is my vocation, at least for now. I will still quilt. I enjoy teaching – especially the workshops that combine Christian ministry and quilting together. I like designing new patterns and making special items. I will still sell things:  class samples, pattern prototypes, and things I make just for fun, but I am not sewing to sell, like a quilt factory. God has called me to do a new thing. I am free to write without feeling guilty – as if I am wasting time in unprofitable activity.

Since I made that firm decision and announced it, I have made several good sales from the current stock in my Etsy shop and increased my internet following by a significant number. I am receiving this as affirmation of my changes. My husband is happy to see me writing and very supportive. Another affirmation.

It shouldn’t surprise us when God gives us the desires of our hearts and frees us from bondage of various kinds, when He makes everything work together for good, but it does surprise us and makes us wary. Sometimes we wonder if we are just seeing our own wishes and calling it God’s will. But we need to remember that He loves us here-and-now as well as for all eternity. He is indeed gracious and blesses us daily, beyond our comprehension.

Those blessings bring a responsibility, though. It’s the tagline for GloryQuilts:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

My (as yet unpublished!) books are not specifically evangelical. They are for the pleasure and encouragement of my fellow believers and a testimony of grace to whoever might read them. I am very grateful to God for this opportunity, and my goal is to glorify Him in all I do. He is good.

And I will love quiltmaking again, and I will make quilts for my grandchildren.

 

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