After entertaining on the quilt lecture circuit, we created the new genre of quilting science fiction
It’s great to be part of your blog world, George! Like you, I spent the better part of my life in other fields. While I began college as a poetry major, I graduated with a degree in Russian Political History. My intent was to join the diplomatic corps. But a frank discussion with my dad about life as a civil servant pushed me in another direction. I’ve been a secretary, a teacher and worked in human resources in the biotech and financial industries. My husband’s job brought us to California just in time for the dot-com bust. For many years I intended to return to the working world, but then I met Ann Anastasio, who introduced me to quilting. Together we created Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre, a quilting vaudeville troupe. We wrote one-act musical comedies about quilts and the women who make them. After entertaining on the quilt lecture circuit, we created the new genre of quilting science fiction with Death By Chenille, When Chenille Is Not Enough, and The Chenille Ultimatum, novels about quilters saving the world from aliens disguised as bolts of beige fabric. We thought The Chenille Ultimatum would be the last in the series, but then a friend said we absolutely had to write The Captain and Chenille because it was such a great title. We would have appreciated getting a suggestion for a plot as well, but you work with what you’ve got. Ann has lived in New Mexico since before When Chenille Is Not Enough was published, so we are used to writing long distance, but the pandemic has slowed our progress. We both joined the army of mask-makers in our home states when the need arose, for instance, which made my already messy sewing room a complete disaster. A lot of my creative energy has been shifted from writing to getting my quilting projects under control.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? My husband is a true technophile, so we have computers everywhere. My favorite is in a corner of the family room. It’s close enough to the kitchen to get tea and snacks but far enough away from the phone that I can ignore it. It’s adorable that you ask which distractions I “allow.” Distractions are worse than teenagers. Not only is there no arguing with them, you can’t even threaten to take away their car keys. HOWEVER, if I’m brutally honest, the time that distractions get the upper hand is when I’m uncertain where to go next in the scene I’m writing.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Absolutely! The California Writers Club has been a godsend. Ann and I were entertaining a quilt guild in San Jose and casually mentioned we were writing a novel. One of the women pulled out her CWC business card and suggested finding a branch nearby. That happened to be the Mt. Diablo branch, where Igal Levy had just started a critique group. Jack Russ, then the president of Mt. Diablo, established a committee to create what became Tri-Valley Writers. I joined Tri-Valley Writers after my term as Secretary to the Mt. Diablo branch ended. I joined two critique groups with this branch, which gave me the accountability I needed to finish the manuscript of Death By Chenille, which we published on Smashwords after hearing a presentation by Mark Coker, CEO. I’ve also published short stories in almost a dozen anthologies that I heard about through Tri-Valley Writers and a short story on BookTrack after one of their representatives gave a talk to the club.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes, or at least parts of real people. Ann and I will combine the traits of people we know. We try to avoid having too much reality in our characters. Although we write cozy science fiction (meaning even our villains have a soft side), we don’t want anyone to say, “Hey, that’s me” – and not in a happy way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Some settings are real, and some are fictional. Clearly, the alien planets are fictional, but even those planets have elements based on places we’ve known on Earth. All the quilt stores in our books are based on real stores.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Becoming a writer means being a life-long learner. Promise yourself that you will learn more and be a better writer for the next project, then submit your work for publication. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win the contest, or land the agent, or make the best-seller list with your self-published book. What matters is that you’ve tried. If you are convinced that this is the best work you can do at this moment, then do what you can to get it in front of readers. No one can tell your story like you can, so give readers a chance to hear your voice.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted? I post twice a week on Lani Longshore’s Blog at lani.longshore.wordpress.com. Mondays are about my writing life, Wednesdays are about my quilting life. There are also posts about the flowers in my garden when I haven’t accomplished anything either at the computer or in my sewing room. The entire Chenille series can be found as e-books on Smashwords.com. The Chenille Ultimatum is also available in a print edition on Amazon.com.
Death By Chenille https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55823
When Chenille Is Not Enough https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/306399
The Chenille Ultimatum https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/815344
Lani Longshore introduces us to science fiction, quilting and writing about life (blog)
The Chenille Ultimatum (with Ann Anastasio). Susan thought she was done with space aliens when she sent her mother, Edna, and daughter Cecily as ambassadors to the planet Schtatik. Instead, she must travel across the galaxy to stop a civil war that Edna started when she made herself queen of one of the clans. As Susan struggles to make everyone calm down, she learns how strong she really is, and how important it is to carry an embroidery project wherever she goes.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? I’ve thought of myself as a writer since elementary school. In high school and college, I produced short stories, poems, essays, and news articles. I was fortunate enough to find a good writing support group as an adult and wrote my first (still unpublished) novel.
How long was your road to publication? The first book in the Chenille series, Death By Chenille, was published twenty years after I began writing novels. I’m working on the fourth novel in that series with co-author Ann Anastasio.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I am indie published.
Where do you write? I write at my computer desk in the family room. I transitioned from writing by hand to a typewriter when I interned at a local weekly newspaper while in high school. In college, my portable typewriter took up most of my desk.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? Since I write in the family room, I write to all sorts of sound. Sometimes there is music, sometimes the television is on, sometimes there is only the drone of the dishwasher from the kitchen. As other people are often in the room, the choice of music isn’t entirely up to me, so I’ve learned to embrace all genres.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? While aspects of the plots and characters’ are drawn from life, I avoid pulling too much from my own experience. My co-author and I used to perform on the quilt lecture circuit, producing 1-act musicals about quilts and the women who make them. The real story behind a quilt isn’t always entertaining. We took the part that fit our needs and made up the rest, a process we’ve continued in our cozy sci-fi novels about quilters who repeatedly save the world from alien invasions.
Describe your process for naming your characters? I go through a baby book first. If that fails, I start searching the bookshelves for author names I can adapt. If that fails, I go to actors’ names I can manipulate. There was an old movie on TV when I needed a name for a secondary character in the first Chenille novel, Death By Chenille, so Randolph Scott became Scott Randolph.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? One of my aliens puffs out colored smoke from his body whenever he gets emotional. The colors match the emotion.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? There are many books I wish I had written, but I am reading A Gentleman in Moscow now by Amor Towles and would love to have written it. His character studies are brilliant, and his plot devices are amazing.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? Complicated punctuation in dialog. People speak in pauses and full stops. Who do you know who speaks in semi-colons? No one, that’s who! It’s rare enough to find someone who speaks in full sentences, so I prefer authors to stick to dashes, commas, and periods (with the occasional exclamation point and question mark where required).
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? I don’t suppose I could pull an ocean-going boat, fuel for me and the boat, and a really strong radio from a parallel universe, could I? Okay, then I’ll want a food replicator because I’m a vegetarian, so all the fish in the sea won’t do me any good, and what’s the use of life without chocolate? I’ll also want embroidery supplies to make fiber art to decorate my hut (I get a hut, right?), and a crate of notebooks and pens.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I’ve never been able to answer that question because there are so many wonderful books available and more on the way. I also can’t settle on a favorite color or even a favorite candy bar.
What’s on the horizon for you? If the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll finish the fourth book in the Chenille series, The Captain and Chenille, by spring.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? When I finally outgrew imagining I knew everything, I realized if I wanted to know anything at all, I should say yes whenever someone offered to teach me. It’s why I know how to quilt when I don’t have a domestic bone in my body (okay, I love to cook, but that’s a survival skill), and why I’m a black belt in karate when I come from a long line of pacifists. Three bits of trivia: I’ve seen Lenin’s Tomb; two of my quilting students were recipients of presidential pardons for federal crimes; both sides of my family have scandals regarding running away from the clan and taking the reasons why to the grave. As to my books, The Chenille series came out of a failed plan to create a platform for a quilting technique book. Ann and I had a great idea, and our proposal received favorable comments, but we weren’t famous enough in quilt circles for a publisher to take a chance on us. We decided we would write a novel to get some publicity. Quilting mysteries were just starting to take off, but neither Ann nor I had enough confidence we could write a good mystery. Since we had already created quilting vaudeville with our 1-act musical comedies, we decided to create quilting science fiction. We still aren’t well known enough to get our technique book published, but we’re working on our fourth novel. The remarkable thing about our collaboration is that Ann and her family moved several states away before we had finished our second book, and yet we still managed to get that one and the third book completed.