Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Vicki Stiefel

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?


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  2. Oh, VIcki, so nice to see you here today! (We love our Wednesday guests!)

    The knitting book is gorgeous..I love the "laid-back" philosophy. Knitting is supposed to be fun and soothing and comforting--not crazy. Which I learned when I made my first sweater, years ago. Let's just say I'm so happy that my own arms do not match the sweater's arms...yikes.

    My Gramma Minnie taught me to knit, and it's a lasting legacy.

  3. Dd you know that knitting is supposed to increase the neurons or something in your brain?? And it's one of hte things, like ballroom dancing, that's supposed to stave off dementia?

    Vicki, I was TOO much of a laid-back knitter. My stitches were way to loose!

  4. I must have very short brain neurons. When I knit what's supposed to be flat comes out looking like the front of a Frank Gehry building. For some reason I can crochet.

    So glad to hear you're writing, Vicki -- tough as Bill would have said, how could you not. We miss you here in New England!

  5. Oh, Vicki, what a great story to share!

    I'm another knitting addict--well, really, fiber of all kinds. But I haven't knitted in almost a year with all the writing strangeness that encompassed this last year. I've gone to knitting and spinning when my creative juices get low and I feel sterile. That's one of my resolutions for 2012. More knitting! Can't wait to add your book to my vast knitting library!

  6. What a lovely story, Vicki. Thank you.

    I first knew I was a writer when I discovered that a woman I didn't know had a poem I'd published in the state power co-op magazine posted on her refrigerator. But then I forgot I was a writer, even though I kept writing -- it isn't always easy to hold on to that belief. Thanks for reminding us how important it is.

    Jan, that's the reason Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Schools, included knitting in the kids' curriculum!

  7. Vicki, this is a lovely and bittersweet story. So glad you've been able to write in several capacities. I haven't knitted in a few years, but I have all my stuff. Maybe this winter I'll restart the inexpert effort.

    I knew I was a fiction writer when I spent the year my younger son went off to kindergarten writing 2/3 of a farming cozy mystery, then spent the next 14 years writing short stories before I got back to novels. And now I have a three-book contract for, guess what, a cozy Local Foods farming series!


  8. Ah, so Leslie, it IS true then.

    Linda, I'm writing a story for the Globe as we speak about New Year's resolutions and why they are so hard to keep (actually, it's a sidebar to wellness coaching)

    And Edith, you have a lot to celebrate. Sounds like its going to be an awesome new year!


  9. BTW, I knew I was a writer in first grade when I wrote my first short story, The Cat in the Moon, and deliberately dropped it in the street, thinking a publisher might pick it up and make it a book.

    Delusional, even then.


  10. Oh, dear. I can't knit. Or crochet. Or ballroom dance. If I didn't already fear for my neurons, I would now....

    But I love yarns and fabric, and I love your story, Vicki. And as I have very good friends who do knit, I now know what to get them for gifts.

    Congratulations on your book, and Bill's book, and on getting back to fiction.

  11. Vicki . . . dear story about you and your Bill.

    I felt like a writer in grad school, because that's pretty much all we did. But when I switched from academic writing to fiction I stopped feeling like a writer.

    I wrote a lot of poetry back then, too. And while I valued it, I didn't consider it anything called writing. I wrote it for performance. To give a message.

    People invited me to write poems for special events, like ordinations and baccalaureate services, commencement activities, parties. People asked. I wrote. That's all there was to it.

    I would like to be able to call myself a writer, but I'm not much of a knitter.

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  13. Reine,
    I had sort of the same response (despite my grade school confidence).

    As a journalist, I knew I was a writer, but when I started writing fiction, I couldn't bring myself to say I was a "writer." (instead of reporter.)

    I had a hard time telling people that I was working on a novel. I felt like I was telling people I was ruling England as queen. (delusional even to be considering it)

  14. Ha, Jan, thanks! That just about says it!

  15. Wonderful story, Vicki. My mom's the knitter of the family, and we could always tell when she was agitated by the furious clicking of needles and plentitude of booties, hats and scarves, lol. She's in her early 80's now and much more mellow, so I think she'd really like your "Laid-back" book!

    I knew I was meant to write while in grade school, after writing plays for the neighborhood kids to perform, then in 4th grade I worked for our school newspaper (mimeographed, 3 pages or so, dating self, lol) and wrote & illustrated short stories, poems and interviewed people, like a real reporter!

    Incidentally, my dh was a huge fan of your Bill's writing in several outdoor publications, which turned me on to read his Brady Coyne mysteries! What a coinky-dink!

    Thanks for guesting today and bringing back fond memories!

    PS-Leslie, I loved the poem on the fridge story, so cool!

  16. Just chiming in...if we writers cannot be inspired by Vicki's story to keep writing, are we real writers? Powerful story.

    Hank - I also love the Wednesday guests. :)

  17. Vicki, I have made numerous attempts to knit. I haven't gone near knitting needles in something like 35 years. I was able to handle very plain scarves and a couple of pairs of slipper/socks. I started so many projects that I never finished. I would just get agitated when I could not make things look just exactly "right". I think I could benefit from your book!

    I need to tell you, Vicki, that I am so sorry that you lost Bill. I was a huge Bill Tapply fan,and also loved Philip Craig. And the books that they wrote together were a special delight! It was devastating for me, as a fan,to lose both of them within a short time.

    Reine,it's good to see someone from home (TLC) again!I don't feel quite so homesick!


  18. Vicki Stiefel is on the road and having technical problems posting from her handheld. She emailed me (Jan) this to post:

    I love everyone's comments, from knitters to crocheters to writers to readers...and more! Jungle Red is terrific, and I am so honored to contribute to JR's blog! - Vicki

  19. Whew--hard day at the office lovely to come back and see you all. My neurons are SHOT. Maybe I should go knit...

  20. Knitting definitely staves off dementia (I like to believe that, anyway.) Of course, I'm told wine does, too! I love reading all the tales of knitters/crocheters. These are the arts where you can undo your work and genuinely begin again. Thanks for the lovely comments about Bill. They mean a lot. And Hank - yup, knitting will chill you right out. Just lift those sticks and relax. Again, I loved visiting Jungle Red. What a cool place to hang out! —Vicki

  21. I know I'm a writer because i finished the doggone book!! At least the first draft. Now I can celebrate the holidays with my family until I have to start promoting the first one right after Jan. 1. (ARCs will be going to reviewers.)

  22. Wow, Linda! That's terrific! Applauding in Boston..xoo Of course you'll come blog when the time comes..and tell us all about it!

  23. Thanks, Hank. Now, I'll look forward to coming back to Jungle Reds when the new book's on deck. Love those Reds!

  24. Deb, thank you! I don't feel quite as lonely now. The red jungle is a lovely place. It's easier to transition when you have a place to go. xo

  25. Linda! That is fantastic! I hope you will be promoting it at the Tucson Fedtival of Books! Can you hear the wild applause!!!! xoxo

  26. Hi - I loved all the comments, but noticed no one made any comment about the links at the end of the article. Every time I try them I get the dreaded 404 error. Is this just my computer?
    Thanks, Dee

  27. Thanks Gram,
    You made me remember that I actually have to hit he link button to make it a link!

    (it used to do that automatically)