Volume IX, Issue Three | September 2014
The idea to write a Christmas quilt book came from my agent, Danielle Egan-Miller.
The original title of my last book was Holladay Street. That novel is about the murder of a prostitute in Denver in 1885. Holladay Street was Denver’s red-light district, and I thought it made a pretty good title. When Danielle read it, she called and told me I had to come up with something else. Why? I asked. “Because your readers will think it’s a Christmas book,” she replied. The title then became Fallen Women.
A week or so later, Danielle called again. “Why don’t you write a Christmas book, a Christmas quilt book?” she asked.
Easy for you to say, I thought. You don’t have to come with a plot. For me, the plot is the hardest thing about writing a book.
Not long after that, I had lunch with a writer friend who is not only male but Jewish. I doubt that he’s ever threaded a needle. “Quick, come up with a plot for a Christmas quilt book,” I quipped.
He thought a moment and said, “How about if a woman makes a quilt for Christmas for her husband in Iraq?” He followed through with what turned out to be a great plot.
Wow! What an idea, I thought. But Iraq? I’d have to write about cell phones and computers and modern weaponry. I couldn’t do that. But I could write about the Civil War. So that’s how A Quilt for Christmas came about.
The first thing I do when I write a book is come up with plausible names for the main characters. If the names aren’t right, the characters don’t come alive. Mattie Spenser in The Diary of Mattie Spenser, for instance, came from a list I compiled of some 20 names from quilt and history books. I spotted the name Tom Earley (in that same book) written on a board in a Colorado ghost town. Beret in Fallen Women, is the name of a librarian I met just before starting the book. My main character in A Quilt for Christmas is Eliza, a name I saw on a tombstone in the Georgetown cemetery. —SD
St. Martin’s Press, my publisher, describes A Quilt for Christmas as follows:
It is 1864 and Eliza Spooner’s husband, Will, has joined the Kansas volunteers to fight for the Union, leaving her with their two children and in charge of their home and land. Eliza is confident that he will return home, and she helps pass the time making a special quilt to keep Will warm during his winter months in the army. When the unthinkable happens, she takes in a woman and child who have been left alone and made vulnerable by the war, and she finds solace and camaraderie amongst the women of her quilting group. And when she is asked to help hide an escaped slave, she must decide for herself what is right, and who she can count on to help her. With rich historical detail and vibrant characters, A Quilt for Christmas is the perfect novel about the bonds of family and the true meaning of sacrifice.
Fall is a busy time for me. Sleeping Bear Press is publishing my second children’s book, Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky, in September. The book, written for children eight to 12, is the story of a 12-year-old Japanese-American girl and her family sent to a internment center at the start of World War II. The book, which is set in Tallgrass, the camp I used in my novel Tallgrass, tells of a girl’s struggle to remain loyal to the United States despite its treatment of her. Tallgrass is really Amache, the Japanese relocation camp that was located in southeastern Colorado.
In addition to A Quilt for Christmas, St. Martin’s is bringing out the 20th anniversary edition of The Persian Pickle Club. I can’t believe so much time has passed since I wrote that book. Back then, I thought there might be a few quilters who would read it. I had no idea there are more than 25 million quilters in the U.S. and that next to quilting, reading is their favorite activity. Many have become not only loyal readers but friends. They are the reason I put quilting into subsequent novels. —SD
Sandra Will Receive Denver Public Library Award
Sandra is the 2014 winner of the Eleanor Gehres Award given by the Western History Dept. of the Denver Public Library (DPL.) The award will be presented by popular Colorado historian Thomas J. Noel at a ceremony on Sept. 17. The Eleanor Gehres Award recognizes Sandra’s contributions to the West and to the library’s western collection. She has donated her photographs, manuscripts and much of her western memorabilia to DPL and is a member of the library’s acquisitions committee. Sandra and Mrs. Gehres, who headed the Western History Dept. until shortly before her death in 2000, were long-time friends. They were two of four editors of The Colorado Book, an anthology of writings about the state, published in 1993.
The Gods of Gotham
By Lyndsay Faye. Berkley.
My editor St. Martin’s editor, Jen, knows how much I like reading the history of New York’s Lower East Side. So when I was in New York this summer, she recommended The Gods of Gotham. The novel is set in the mid-19th century when New York’s police department was established amidst the bribery and corruption of city politics.
Timothy Wilde is appointed one of the new cops (called Copper Stars) through his brother’s political influence. Making his rounds, Tim collides with a girl prostitute who’s covered in blood. That leads to his discovery of the bodies of young children, each mutilated with a cross on the chest. Despite pressure from higher-ups to drop the case for political reasons, Tim is determined to solve the crime. He’s aided by a minister and his daughter, Mercy, a kind of social worker. Tim has been in love with her since childhood.
Set against a colorful background of early New York violence, racial strife, religious intolerance, poverty and political shenanigans, The Gods of Gotham is a mystery, a romance and more subtly, the story of a relationship between two brothers.
As you might have guessed from my books, I love period slang, and The Gods of Gotham is filled with it, a sublanguage called “flash.” The language was compiled into a book by George Washington Matsell. (He’s included as a minor character in The Gods of Gotham.) Of course, I ordered the book, and now I have a new source for dialogue.
Night of the White Buffalo
By Margaret Coel. Berkley.
It’s hard to believe that Father John, a Catholic priest, and Vicky Holden, an Arapaho Indian lawyer have been catching bad guys for 18 books. Night of the White Buffalo is the latest in Margaret Coel’s Wind River mystery series, and it’s one of the best of the bunch.
A white buffalo named Spirit is born on a ranch in the midst of the Wind River reservation. The animal is sacred not just to Indians but to everyone. But there are problems. The ranch owner has just been murdered, and his wife is hard-pressed to finance the roads and fencing and other improvements needed to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who will descend on the ranch.
Meanwhile Father John wonders if the rancher’s death has anything to do with the confession by an unknown parishioner who admitted he murdered a man.
Night of the White Buffalo is a solid mystery, complicated by the tension between Vicky and Father John. Coel is one of the West’s best mystery writers. —SD