Birds in the Air

Read a Sample Chapter from Birds in the Air!

From Frances O’Roark Dowell — bestselling author of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water and other “beloved books for tweens and teenagers” (New York Times Sunday Book Review) — comes Birds in the Air, Dowell’s first novel for adults.

“A truly enjoyable read! Quilters will relive their own first patchwork steps along with Emma as she searches for her place in a new community. Non-quilters will experience vicariously Emma’s discovery of the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.” –Marianne Fons

In the tradition of Marie Bostwick and Jennifer Chiaverini, Dowell combines her deep connection to the quilting life and her love of storytelling to create a novel about the abiding friendships that bind together a community of women who share a passion for making quilts.

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When Emma Byrd moves into the house of her dreams in the small mountain community of Sweet Anne’s Gap, she knows that making friends may prove to be her biggest challenge. Her husband loves his new job and her kids are finding their way at school. But Emma — no natural when it comes to talking to strangers — will have to try a little harder, especially after the sweet, white-haired neighbor she first visits slams the door in her face.

Luckily, a few of the quilters of Sweet Anne’s Gap adopt Emma and she soon finds herself organizing the quilt show for the town’s centennial celebration. But not everyone is happy to see the job go to an outsider, especially one who has befriended an outcast pursuing her own last best chance at redemption.

With Birds in the Air, Frances O’Roark Dowell (winner of the Edgar Award, the William Allen White Award and the Christopher Medal) has created a warm, funny novel about fitting in, falling out and mending frayed relationships one stitch at a time.


What a delightful book! … As I read, I was transported out of my chair and into the town of Sweet Anne’s Gap and the lives of the quilters that I can understand so well.”  –Annie Smith

Birds in the Air is a great book and quilt block — it’s as unusual as liking the book and the movie! It was such a pleasurable read. I cared about the characters and what happened to them. I enjoyed revisiting what it is like to be a brand new quilter.” –Kathy Mathews, ChicagoNow


A Quilting Q&A with Author Frances O’Roark Dowell

  • Why did you decide to write about quilters? There’s a rule of thumb for writers: Write the books you want to read. I’m so happy whenever writers like Jennifer Chivavirini, Marie Bostwick and Sandra Dallas come out with new quilting novels–I wish more quilters wrote books! So it makes sense that if I love reading books about quilting, I should write one.
  • What draws you to quilting? I’ve always loved quilts. For many years I was convinced that I’d never be able to make a quilt (I’m math phobic, for one thing), and when I finally realized I could, quilting became my new passion. I recently interviewed novelist Marie Bostwick for my blog and asked her why she made quilts. Her answer: Because I can’t paint. I totally got it. Making quilts satisfies my artist soul (the one that can’t paint, alas).
  • How are quilting and writing similar; in what ways do they differ? With both quilting and writing, I revise a lot. I find this especially true now that I’m designing more of my own quilts. I mess up a lot in both endeavors, but find that sometimes my failures lead to good, unexpected places. Neither books nor quilts always end up being exactly what you intended them to be — for better and for worse. One thing that’s different about making quilts is that you’re constantly in motion, going from the cutting board to the sewing machine to the ironing board and back again. It’s great to move while I’m making something instead of just sitting in front of a computer.
  • How did the “Off-Kilter Quilt” podcast come about? I’d been making quilts for a few years when I discovered quilting podcasts. For the most part, these podcasts were homey and conversational, and I loved listening to the hosts talk about their projects and guild meetings, and hearing about the books they were reading and what they were having for dinner. For me, starting a podcast was like joining an ongoing conversation with other podcasters, which then became an ongoing conversation with my listeners, who leave comments, send me emails, and sometimes even come through town and have a cup of coffee with me. It’s a really wonderful, supportive community.

See what readers have been saying about Birds in the Air

“It is a wonderfully written novel with characters that I continue to think about long after I finished it. I found the characters charming and the plot intriguing–I’d love to move in right next door to Emma in Sweet Anne’s Gap.”

“I’m not a quilter but I enjoyed this tale of friendships and small town life… I’d like to see more from Dowell, as she has a nice touch.”

“As an elementary school librarian, I have read and enjoyed Dowell’s children’s book and was eager to read her first foray into adult fiction. So it should be no surprise that this awarding winning queen of exploring the ins and outs of friendships and not fitting in for the tween reader would see fertile ground for exploring the same themes in an adult book.”

“This was a wonderfully warm, exceptionally well-written novel and I couldn’t believe it when I noted I was almost finished with it.”

“I read it in one day, finding plenty of reasons not to do any of the housework (other than laundry) so that I could finish it.”

“Captivating story for those who love and appreciate how the art of quilting weaves people and lives together like a good novel does.”

“Quilting, quilt shows, writing, friendships, fitting in . . . throw in a bit of mystery. What more could a avid reading woman ask for?!”

“I love quilting but rarely read quilting fiction. This book was a happy exception.”

“It’s not the quilting that gets one hooked – it’s the quilters and their stories that keep us engaged.”

“I enjoyed this book by a new author (to me anyway) and hope she makes it the first of a series.”

“The author brings past quilting history and highlights how it functions in a community both in the past and in current times.”

“I really commend Francis for moving outside the square – of her writing genre – she certainly has shown she can write adult novels as well as children’s.”

“I tucked up under a quilt by the fire and spent many enjoyable hours with this book.”

“I would recommend this book to quilters and crafters of all sorts, as it examines the dynamics of how we get along with others as we meander down creative paths.”

“Put this on your Must Read list.”

“I can so identity with Emma, Angie, and even Christine. Keep them coming, Frances.”

“As a quilter it was fun to read a book written by someone who understands the social ties and sense of community we quilters have with each other.”

“I love how Frances uses quilt-isms throughout the book!”

“Dowell was able to get my mind into that town and its drama easily enough for me to lose track of time.”

“Enjoyable read that starts out deceptively simple and then starts to layer on the plot and draws you in even more.”

“Quilters would definitely enjoy this story, but so would the uninitiated, because it’s really about a woman finding her “people.””

“Frances … created a smart story where the characters see like real people.”

“I found myself smiling along reading about Emma’s journey as a new quilter.”

“I enjoyed being transported to Sweet Anne’s Gap, NC.”

Such an enjoyable read!

Delightful. A great mystery with history and drama thrown in.

I hope to see more books for adults from Mrs. Dowell soon.

“Loved the story hope there are more to come”

It is a great read and hard to put down”

“Great slice of life story involving small town America, new beginnings, and quilts.”

“It was great. Love the characters and the quilting.”

“The characters are fascinating, alive, and wonderfully believable.”

Birds in the Air was a pleasure to read, beginning to end”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frances O’Roark Dowell’s first novel for adults is the quilting novel Birds in the Air, which Marianne Fons called “a truly enjoyable read” about “the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.” To younger readers, Frances is known as the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Dovey Coe, which won the Edgar Award and the William Allen White Award; Where I’d Like to Be; The Secret Language of Girls and its sequels The Kind of Friends We Used to Be and The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away; Chicken Boy; Shooting the Moon, which was awarded the Christopher Medal; the Phineas L. MacGuire series; Falling In; the critically acclaimed The Second Life of Abigail Walker; Anybody Shining; Ten Miles Past Normal; and most recently, Trouble the Water. She lives with her husband and two sons in Durham, North Carolina. Learn more online at FrancesDowell.com and OffKilterQuilt.com.

An Interview with Novelist Marie Bostwick

Marie Bostwick

Marie Bostwick


By Frances O’Roark Dowell

Marie Bostwick is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, including A Single Thread, The Second Sister, Between Heaven and Texas, and most recently From Here to Home. Her novels feature creative, resilient women who face their problems with intelligence and humor, and who get by with a little help from their friends. Quilting is a central preoccupation with many of Marie’s characters, making her books especially dear to those of us who love a good novel and a good quilt with equal passion.

LINK: The Novels of Marie Bostwick

I interviewed Marie recently via email in April 2016. In our exchange I discovered a delightful, funny and thoughtful woman (it’s always a treat when writers you love turn out to be nice people). For more about Marie, go to her website: http://www.mariebostwick.com/

 

Marie Bostwick's From Here to HomeFrances: Before we start talking about your marvelous new book, From Here to Home, I want to talk about your quilting. I’ve seen pictures of your quilts and they’re beautiful! How did you start quilting? What are your favorite kinds of quilts to make?

Marie: Well…I’d love to say it was because I had this deep, ineffable need to express myself creatively. The truth is I was walking by a quilt shop in a strip mall in Texas, saw they gave classes, and thought this would be a good way to get a break from my toddlers and engage in adult conversation while I still remembered how. (Bet I’m not the only one who can say that.)

The creativity part came later, when I found out how much I truly adored quilting. It brought me back to that creative part of me I’d given up on after getting a C on my wood sculpture in my fourth grade art class. I often say that I quilt because I don’t paint. (Bet I’m not the only one who can say that either.)

As far as a favorite kind of quilt; for a long time the answer to that question would have been traditional piecing. Now my favorite kind of quilting is whatever I’m working on at the moment. I set myself a goal to tackle a new technique every year or two. That’s opened up a lot of new avenues for me – applique, paper piecing, using made fabrics, learning to quilt my own tops instead of always relying on a longarmer. I’ve been more successful at mastering some techniques than others, but I’ve enjoyed it all.

Right now, I am all about crazy quilting. Perle cotton makes me go weak in the knees!

Frances: Are you a member of a quilt guild or any kind of quilting group? If so, talk about the ways these groups have been meaningful to you. What’s your favorite thing about being around other quilters?

Marie: My work and travel schedule is hectic and unpredictable so I haven’t been able to join a traditional guild. However, a few years back I started an online quilting group through my website. (That was back when websites still had forums – in the old days of ten years ago.) We started with about 25 people.

Now we have a Facebook group – Cobbled Court Quilt Circle Online – with about 1100 members. We do swaps, charity projects, post pictures of our quilts, share tips about tools and techniques, ask for advice about problems we’re having or what border looks best.

Even though it’s an online group, people make strong personal connections. Sometimes we meet in person too. Recently, I was in Washington DC so I asked if anybody from the area wanted to have a meetup. About 20 of us went to a quilting/mixed media shop in Alexandria, VA and had lunch afterward. It was great getting to talk face to face.

What I love about being around quilters is the way that it opens but avenues to meet and make friends with people I would never have known otherwise, people whose life experience or backgrounds are very different from mine. We begin with a love of quilting as common ground and, before long, we’re finding so much else we have in common.

Frances: You’re a novelist and a quilter. What kind of connections, if any, do you see between making quilts and writing novels?

Marie: Something I have discovered over the years is that artists of all stripes – from writers and composers, to sculptors and choreographers and, yes, quilters and fiber artists too – go through similar stages of the creative process.

It starts with an idea that seems very clear and very, very exciting. At this stage, you can’t wait to get to work. You’re sure you’re onto something brilliant, that you are brilliant!

About halfway in, you decide you are the opposite of brilliant. You wonder why you ever, ever thought this was a good idea. It’s just not turning out like you thought it would – not that you can really remember at this point. (By the way, when I’m writing, this feeling always hits me somewhere between pages 160 and 185. It’s eerily consistent.) You’ll be sorely tempted to give up and start something new. And it’s possible you will. But, if you don’t, you’re probably going back and doing some serious editing, ripping and re-sewing, or the like.

Then – assuming you didn’t give up – as you get toward the end, you start to become excited again. Your project might not have turned out exactly like you envisioned but there are some very good, and surprising, things about it. You’re pleased with the effort, eager to show it to others. You realize that you learned a lot in the process and are starting to think about how you can apply that to your next project. You get excited all over again.

Now, because quilting is my hobby as opposed to my profession, the emotional swings I experience in quilting aren’t as dramatic, but it’s definitely that same creative roller coaster ride. I think this is something just about every artist can relate to.

Frances: In From Here to Home, we return to the tiny Texas town of Too Much and what remains of the Templeton clan. The last time we saw Mary Dell and company, in the final pages of Between Heaven and Texas, it was 1984 and all kind of exciting things were just getting started—Mary Dell’s quilt shop, The Patchwork Palace, the romance between Lydia Dale and Graydon, etc. From Here to Home is set in the present day, which is to say some thirty years later. Why did you make the choice to jump so far ahead in time? And do you think you’ll ever go back and write about the years you leapt over?

Marie: Originally, I did plan for three “Too Much, Texas” books. But when I started to sit down and plot out the middle bit, I realized that the things that happened as Mary Dell built her business and life just weren’t as momentous as what happened later.

A good story requires drama, a seemingly insurmountable problem to be faced. That’s what I was able to give readers in From Here to Home that I wouldn’t have been able to supply in a book focused on the middle years of Mary Dell and Howard’s lives. It’s a plot that keeps you turning pages.

Frances: Mary Dell is just fabulous—she’s the best friend we all wish we had. One of my favorite things about her is that she’s so down to earth and yet larger (and gaudier) than life when it comes to clothes. What do you think this dichotomy says about who Mary Dell is? How fun is it to come up with her wardrobe choices? Do you make it all up, or are her outfits inspired by someone you know in real life?

Marie: You really hit upon something here that is important. Mary Dell’s wardrobe choices are very gaudy – she never met an animal print she didn’t love and one of her favorite sayings is, “more red is more better.” But there’s a reason for that quality that goes far beyond a quirky character trait.

The thing about Mary Dell is this: she knows she has no taste, she even jokes about having, “no more taste than a hothouse tomato”. But, guess what? She doesn’t care. She likes what she likes and she is who she is. She makes no apologies for it. That’s what I absolutely love about Mary Dell. She’s not proud but she is confident, comfortable in her own skin. I think that’s what readers like about her too.

Her wardrobe is really all of my own invention – I just sit there and try to think of the loudest, craziest combinations of colors and patterns I can come up and go with that. Yes, it’s a lot of fun.

Frances: I love Howard! I love that he’s a real (if made-up) person, not just a stick figure with Downs. But I’m curious—was it hard to get inside the head the character of a young man with an intellectual disability? And speaking of getting into men’s minds, how did you go about creating Rob Lee, who’s returned from Afghanistan with PTSD?

Marie: Thanks! I love Howard too.

You know, it really wasn’t hard at all to get in Howard’s head. Cognitive challenges or not, people are people. We want the same things – love, acceptance, happiness in our relationships, satisfaction in our work, a chance to prove ourselves. At this stage of his life, Howard wants to be independent, to go out into the world and test himself, to have control over his choices. I have three grown sons and watched them all go through that same stage of life – perhaps at a younger chronological age than Howard – but the desire was the same.

Learning about PTSD was more challenging. I read many books on the subject. The ones that contained first person narratives from people who had suffered through it, and also from the family members who were walking alongside them, were crucial in helping me get that portion of the story right.

Frances: What’s the hardest thing about writing a series? What’s your favorite thing?

Marie: First off, let me say that I’ve never written a series by planning to do it. What happens is that I finish a book and find that I want to know more about the main character, or I realize that a secondary character has a story of they want to tell.

Part of the reason I never plan to write one is that it is just really hard to do. You’ve got to figure out a way to make the story, setting, and characters seem fresh to people who read the previous books and, at the same time, you have to make sure that you cover enough of the older story so new readers won’t feel like they came in at the middle of the movie. It’s a tricky balance to strike.

However, the part I do like about writing a series is the sense that you’re getting to visit with an old friend, someone you’ve missed talking with. From the letters I get, I know that is what readers like about reading a series as well.

Frances: I know you’re working on something now. Are you the kind of writer who resists talking about her current project or can you tell us a little of what it’s about? If you don’t want to spill the beans just yet, can you tell us when we can expect to see a new book in the stores?

Marie: I really don’t like to talk about a book until I’m finished with it. However, I can tell you that my next book is set in Seattle, involves three sisters who are failed artistic prodigies. One of them is a part time mermaid. As you can imagine, I’m having a lot of fun with that.

Frances: What’s your big quilting dream that may never come true, but is fun to think about (owning your own quilt shop, spending your retirement years taking quilting cruises)? Do you have any special hopes for your writing career?

Marie: My quilting fantasy involves making a Baltimore album quilt – by hand – and doing it well. This doesn’t really seem like something that will ever happen though; my needle turn applique skills are less than stellar. And where would I ever find the time? But it is nice to think about.

As far as writing, I’d like to live long enough to write 50 full-length novels. I’ve got 38 to go.

I’d like to do that well, too. Really well.

***


Marie’s Books on Amazon

marie_bostwick_books

GoodReads – Birds in the Air (10 Copies!)

Enter the Goodreads.com Giveaway now.

Enter the Goodreads.com Giveaway now.

Enter for a chance to win one of 10 signed copies of Birds in the Air, a novel that Marianne Fons calls “a truly enjoyable read” about “the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.”

In her first novel for adults, Frances O’Roark Dowell (bestselling author of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water and other “beloved books for tweens and teenagers” (New York Times Sunday Book Review) — has created a warm, funny novel about fitting in, falling out and mending frayed relationships one stitch at a time.

Fans of Marie Bostwick and Jennifer Chiaverini are sure to love the resilient quilters of Sweet Anne’s Gap.

Enter to win one of 10 free copies of ‘Birds in the Air’ Now!

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