Why I Know I’m a Writer
by Vicki Stiefel
By 2007, I’d published dozens of articles, hundreds of film reviews, several short stories and four mystery/thrillers. For the previous four years, I’d focused almost entirely on my fiction. I loved writing about murder and mayhem and my homicide counselor sleuth.
You’d think with those stats, I’d feel like a writer. I didn’t. Not really. I “sort of” felt like a writer, “sort of” being two of my least favorite words. A part of me knew that one day I’d wake up and the Great Beyond would shout: Just kidding! You’re not a writer at all! Ha!
That same year, 2007, my husband took ill. Now Bill, he was a real writer. William G. Tapply had published thousands of articles and more than three dozen non-fiction books and mystery novels. Words flowed from the tips of his fingers in beautiful ways. He also was my mentor, my partner, my hero.
So although I was in the midst of writing the fifth novel in my Tally Whyte series, my focus turned to him. As time passed and his illness worsened, I could no longer go to that fictional world. The real one gripped me far too powerfully to have any time or energy left for Dreamstime.
Damned if I can remember what I did during the day while trying to write. All I know is, I spent an inordinate amount of time at my desk, not writing. And a crevasse of negative space grew as I tinkered, copy edited, and critiqued Bill’s writing, while mine atrophied.
He never said anything, but I knew my dearth of fiction prose made him sad.
Bill was a champion, a soldier, but at night he’d tire, and so would I, and so we’d watch the tube—sitcoms, procedurals, movies—and I’d knit. Knitting felt profoundly satisfying. I could click two sticks together and produce hats and scarves and mitts and shawls.
There they were, these beautiful, luxurious objects that I could create and control. Knitting filled a small portion of that expanding emptiness of unwritten words.
For some reason, on a day when I was helping a friend with her knitting, I whispered, I’ll write a knitting book!
You’re thinking I’d turned delusional. You’d be correct! What the hell did I know about writing a knitting book? And why would I imagine I could do that?
Buying into the madness, Bill thought a knitting book was a splendid idea.
And so that acorn of an idea fell from a rather out-of-sorts tree and burrowed deep into the soil of my imagination.
I grew determined. I didn’t care what it took, I would do it. With the aid of a great agent and Bill’s support, I wrote a proposal and sold the book.
Bill was thrilled. And that thrilled me like crazy.
Odd, but I sensed I could accomplish a non-fiction book, whereas my fiction brain was straightjacketed by Bill’s decline.
And so I wrote through the remainder of Bill’s illness and his subsequent death and the aftermath that was an inconceivable loss.
I pounded the words, I brought aboard a knitterly co-writer, I gathered designers, and I titled the book, 10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, about colors and fiber, festivals and yarn stores, critters—sheep, alpaca, vicuña, yak!—and community.
Words flooded onto my computer screen. The release was near orgasmic.
Midway through the three-years-long project, while Bill still batted the keys with his typical lightning speed, I walked into his office.
“Something just occurred to me,” I said.
His fingers’ stilled and he raised his bushy brows.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
His soft chuckle warmed me. “Of course you’re a writer. I’ve been telling you that for years. “
“I know, but…”
“Writers can’t let that void exist, babe. Makes them unhappy.” He smiled. “See what you did? You filled it with words.”
The 10 Secrets of the LaidBack Knitters appeared on shelves this past May. The book has gotten lots of lovely reviews and some nice sales. It’s in its second printing. It’s a book of the heart.
* * *
JAN BROGAN: Where did you get the idea for the book’s laidbackness?
VICKI STEIFEL: I was knitting with my friend, Kim. Well, I was knitting. Kim was giving birth. Pain, pain, pain. Knitting for me was a wonderful, warm cave. I wanted it to be that way for her, for everyone. Knitting should inspire joy.
JAN: What’s with that subheading, A Guide to Holistic Knitting, Yarn, and Life?
VICKI: Lisa (Souza, my co-author) is not just about the object or the fiber or the people. Knitting is all encompassing. That’s what makes it so cool. And don’t doubt it for a second—knitting is cool. So is crochet.
JAN: You’ve got 21 designers in the book. Was that challenging?
VICKI: I’d have liked even more. It was so hard to choose. Our designers range from unpublished to luminaries in the knitting world. From Rebecca Danger to Sivia Harding to Romi Hill to Norah Gaughan and onward. We have designs for everyone, from beginner to advanced:
JAN: What was the most fun in doing this book.
VICKI: Um, the writing…the photography, which I did…and the collaboration with so many amazing women. That rocked.* * *
I’ve begun work on my fiction again. But I had to do one more special project, this one for Bill. He published Sportsman’s Legacy in 1993, a memoir of growing up with his remarkable dad and famed outdoor writer and editor, H.G. “Tap” Tapply.
Far more than a book about sport, it’s a tale of fathers and sons, family and friendships, and critters, both wild and domestic.
In conjunction with White River Press, I expanded the book with additional writings by Bill, added a Q & A by Bill and mystery writer Philip R. Craig, and included more than sixty photographs. It came out this month, and I’m enormously pleased.
Oh, and about that mystery novel I’m writing? Well, the first draft is half in the can, and I’m once again immersed in that magical place I call Dreamstime. I suspect Bill is smiling and thinking, At last!
JAN BROGAN - Vicki shared a powerful story here, but how about you? When did you know you were a writer? Are you still waiting? Or are you really glad you aren't one of the writing nuts around here?