Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Excerpt from “The Modern Quilting Bee”

by Amron Gravett 
MaryJanesFarm August-September 2014, p76-77

This October, the Women Writing the West will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a gathering in Golden, Colorado. It is in a spirit of tradition and storytelling that a group of 16 quilters from the organization chose to do a collaborative quilting project to raffle off at the conference. Sherry Johns, writer, longtime quilter and project coordinator says, “I want this quilt to be something that represents the women who write about the West, to celebrate 20 years of hard work by the founding members and all those who belong to this organization. Quilts are a celebration of life and this one will become an heirloom for one lucky conference attendee.”

Back in February, Sherry sent 10-inch squares of focus fabric to each quilter with detailed instructions on theme (women, writing, West), colors (Southwest landscape hues), and method (pieced or appliquéd), to produce 20 finished quilt squares that will be stitched into a queen-size quilt. Barbara Dan, writer and quilter, fondly describes the group as the “merry band of quilters.”

But how does quilting tie into women writing stories about the West? Creative women have always used quilts to inspire and tell stories and have even used stories to inspire quilts. Writer Nancy Oswald says, “Quilting is a way to tell a story visually. It’s an art, as is storytelling. Both quilting and storytelling allow for creative expression and enrich everyday life.”

Scenes of typical quilting projects in the past usually involve a group of women sitting around a table with a large quilt in their busy hands, pulling, piecing, sewing, and chatting away. The social element of quilt-making is obvious. The nature of quilting is a collaboration that brings people and fabric together.

Despite the vast geographical distance among quilters in the collaborative quilt project, it was surprising to see how many similarities there were in the individual quilt squares. But perhaps, it’s not so surprising when we understand that our frame of reference, our landscapes, and our stories have the common themes that the quilt assignment hoped to illustrate. It’s not the location of the writers’ and quilters’ homes that is their commonality, but the spirit of the West celebrated through writing, fellowship, and support that brings our colors together.

Collaborative quilt projects are popping up all over the place as people are striving to provide more hands-on experiences in this age of hard-wired creativity. This project provided Women Writing the West members a way to give back to the organization in a very hands-on way. Many of the organization’s founding and sustaining members are still actively involved in the operations, promotion, and celebrations after 20 years. Many of the women remain members because of lifelong friendships developed from a love of the Western voice. Often, location divides a group, but this organization is brought together by a depth of place: It’s not our artistic or quilting ability that connects us, but our stories. The end result is a quilt that visually expresses those stories in the rich and deep hues of the Western soil.

Amron Gravett is a professional indexer, librarian, member of Women Writing the West and this year’s WILLA Coordinator for Scholarly Nonfiction. She can be found at or

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Part 2: Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing

Part Two of "30 Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing" which first appeared on C.M. Mayo's blog.  

by C.M. Mayo

9. Stop picking up the telephone. As Marie Antoinette might have put it, Let them send email. If you can, pay for an unlisted number and caller ID and change your telephone number at least every other year. If that little click to voice mail distracts you, why, just unplug it! And, pourquoi pas? Fling it out the window!
10. No recreational shopping. Whew, this one adds up over a season, a year, two years. So never, ever shop in stores or on-line or in fact anywhere anytime without your list. If an item is not on your list, do not buy it. Shopping malls are time- and money-gobbling maws and believe it, the marketers, watching your every move on their cameras, are more sophisticated than you think you are. Not only does recreational shopping squander prime writing time, but it tends to fill up your house with clutter-- a time-suck in itself. Go to a park, a museum, a library, the seashore, a basketball court, have fun and refresh yourself as necessary, but stay way away from the maw. I mean, mall. 

11. Stop accumulating a large and varied wardrobe based on navy, brown and/or beige. And give all that away to Goodwill. If you wear clothing that is black and/or coordinates with black, you'll be able to make fewer shopping trips, pack faster, and do far less laundry and dry cleaning. And since black makes colors "pop," your blue sweater, say, will appear brighter. Yet another advantage: black makes you look slimmer.  (Ha, maybe I was a Jesuit in my last life.)

12. Cancel the manicure. Horrendous time sink there. Plus, the polish is toxic and it flakes.

13. Quit following the stock market on a daily basis. This is a tick-like habit that achieves nothing but a heightened sense of anxiety. On par with spectator sports.

14. Quit playing computer games. On par with drugs. Or any other addiction. Including following the stock market on a daily basis.

15. Quit hanging out on Facebook and Twitter. Of course, these can be useful for keeping in touch and promoting one's books and events, but like Burger King, they're best indulged in rarely and only of dire necessity or unavoidable human frailty. On par with computer games.

16. Ignore spectator sports. 
Do not attend games, do not watch or listen to or otherwise follow games, do not discuss games, and whole weekends for writing will emerge from the sea of froth. 

17. Do not indulge in expensive, time- and space-consuming activities such as, oh, say, collecting and expounding upon various types of fermented grape juice.
Come on, folks, once it goes into a carafe, 99% of your guests won't know the difference between one chablis and the next chardonnay. Pick a reasonable brand and stick with it, white and red. For me, it's Monte Xanic-- or else it goes into the pot for coq au vin.

C.M. Mayo is the author of several books, most recently, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. She is currently at work on a book about Far West Texas, and apropos of that, hosts the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing

This is part one of "30 Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing" which first appeared on C.M. Mayo's blog.

by C.M. Mayo

Where do you find the time? It’s not so much finding time as it is prying your physical presence and attention away, either permanently or for a spell, from someone, something, someplace less valuable to you—if you really do want to write, not just pretend and fantasize and gripe. Herewith, a menu of sources-- some of which just might work for you. They do for me. A few of them took me a while to recognize, alas.

1. Give up TV, just give it up, deep-freeze turkey & freekin' forever. You may have to find new friends who can have conversations on subjects other than TV shows. Oh well, too bad for the old ones. (Feel lonely just at the thought? Then you probably shouldn't try to be a writer.)

2. Cut the digital leash, the crackberry, whatever you want to call that soul-sucking hypnotic thumb-twiddler. The price of this is that you must therefore continually combat tidal waves of exasperation from loved ones and others that you are not instantly and always available to them. Find the humor in this. Because really, how blazingly ridiculous.

3. No drugs. Duh. And I include prescription drugs here, too. Exercise, eat lots of vegetables, drink raw juice, meditate… do whatever you possibly can to avoid adult onset diabetes and joint issues and so having to take drugs, for aside from suffering from lousy side effects, you'll waste countless hours waiting for doctors to write prescriptions, then getting them filled at the pharmacy, dealing with insurance, and complications, and so on & so forth.

4. Quit your commute. If you can possibly live closer to where you need to be during the day, even if you have to sell half your furniture to fit into a smaller place, do that. Otherwise, try to get into the habit of writing while commuting. I hear some people have been able to do that. I admire them genuinely.

5. No drama. Mantra: not my circus, not my monkeys. If you relish fighting / debating / gossip because you find it entertaining, that's your writing mojo leaking like water onto the asphalt. Incessant worrying about other people's problems that are not yours to solve is also silly. You can be aware, you can be concerned, you can be compassionate, and when they are your problems, then they are your problems.

6. No more ruminating over the past.  Regrets, nostalgia, whatever, writing gets done in the now.

7. Less fantasizing about the future. Again, writing gets done in the now.

8. No nursing grudges against editors / agents / other writers / 

reviewers / readers. This one can vacuum up untold hours of yammering in workshops, at conferences, and over sad and grumbly cups of coffee. But listen here: the so-called gatekeepers and the clueless readers and half-literate kids glued to their handheld devices, they’re just doing the best they can, too. So are the peasants wading through their rice paddies in Burma. You are luckier than a lottery-winner to even be able to write at all. So strive to always improve and write for those who appreciate what you do, knowing that, of course, even if you one day win the Nobel Prize, only the teensiest portion of the population of Planet Earth will have heard of you, never mind actually read anything you wrote. Bottom line: If you can’t stay focused on doing your own best work, you’re not writing, you’re back to ruminating.

C.M. Mayo is the author of several books, most recently, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. She is currently at work on a book about Far West Texas, and apropos of that, hosts the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project at

Check in tomorrow for part two of this excellent list!