Writing As A Beard

Writing As A Beard
By Deborah Smith

After more than thirty years as an author and publisher, I’m proud to say I’ve developed these useful skills, which can be handily disguised as “career related”:  painting cheesy folk art, making concrete birdbaths using elephant ears as the mold, sculpting polymer clay jewelry, creating glass beads with a blow torch, turning bottle caps into glass pendants, painting and woodburning on gourds, scrapbooking, decorating t-shirts and tote bags with fabric paint and iron-on decals, setting up an office design using fung shui, and, in the past year, last but not least! Knitting.

All of the above either came out of research for a novel, eventually inspired a novel, or filled Bell Bridge Books’ VERY IMPORTANT NEED, I’M SURE, for promotional items. What other publisher handed out their company logo on homemade glass pendants at RWA 2011?  Hmmm? And has, say, Harlequin included hand-beaded faux-crystal necklaces in a raffle basket, uh? Nunh uh!  And who thought up the glass heart pendants with the tiny silver BBB charms on them for BBB authors attending RWA 2012? Me, that’s who: Bell Bridge Books’ Chief Crafts Executive.

But I have to admit: Knitting now tops my list of favorite job-related craft addictions. Knitting is the PERFECT accompaniment to my twelve-hour work days as Bell Bridge Books’ Editorial Director, Vice President, and, when time permits, Author. Five minutes to exercise? Hit the stationary bike in the corner. Five minutes to pretend to exercise while knitting, instead? Excellent! Long conference call coming up? Grab a knitting project. Editing an audiobook? Easy peazy—listen while knitting.

Balls of yarn and a vase filled with knitting needles (“sticks,” as the insiders call them) happily blend in on my crowded desk, unlike hot glue guns, blow torches, sanding tools and bags of concrete. My knitting went along with me to RWA 2012 and then to Dragon*Con, the big SF and Fantasy fest in Atlanta each fall. My knitting comes to board meetings and management retreats. In November, my knitting will travel to Bell Bridge’s headquarters in Memphis, for our 2013 budget-planning session.

Knitting (and its friend, crochet, which I have not yet mastered) are the fiber arts equivalent of a back rub, a martini and soak in a hot tub: a fiberlicious, Calgon-takes-me-away interlude of relaxation that can be instantly inserted into the most crowded day.

Better yet, this knitting skill, which was taught to me by fabric-and-fiber guru, Bell Bridge Prez Deb Dixon (Native American name: “She Who Can Knit An Entire Baby Blanket Using One Ball of Worsted And A Pair Of Toothpicks”) has finally prompted me to carve out time to write a new book. Shepherd’s Moon. The book’s theme? KNITTING.

Evil laugh—bwahahaha—does this mean I can write off a closet full of yarn as a business-related tax deduction? 

Like the world of books, the world of fiber arts is historic, diverse, and crosses all cultures. Weaving and other needlework skills are among the oldest of human inventions. When God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden and they realized they were naked? Eve grabbed the nearest sheep and started spinning wool into yarn for a dress.  Needlework, like reading and writing, links us across centuries of both functional and creative sisterhood. Forget “six degrees of separation.” Think six repeats of “knit one, purl two,” or “chain three, slip one.”

This brings me to my yarny relationships with Debbie Macomber and Deborah Norville. Also with the sorority girls who stop by our local pub for a pink Cosmo at the bar, assorted strangers at airports, and a random selection of anyone, anywhere, in public. We all have knitting in common. Debbie Macomber is a terrific lady—lovely to other authors, generously offering help, advice and endorsements (yours truly is proud of the one she gave to a book of mine). Now, besides being one of the biggest bestsellers in fiction, she is building a nifty empire as a knitting maven. The Universal Yarns company produces a Debbie Macomber line. It’s fabulous yarn, I’ve got some.

Likewise Deborah Norville, the bestselling author and award-winning journalist who anchors Inside Edition. She’s a big-time needlework artiste and was my classmate in several J-School courses at UGA, circa “I’ll Never Tell You How Long Ago It Was.” Premiere Yarns offers a line of yarns under her name. I feel so close to her (not in a stalker way) when I’m loading skeins of “Deborah Norville’s Serenity Chunky” into my basket at the local Hobby Lobby.

As for the other folks, the sorority girls etc.? One of the cool things about a hobby you can play with in public is the way it draws people into conversations. Wish I had a nickel for every time a stranger has come up to me to admire what I’m knitting or tell me that they knit, too, or how they remember some favorite relative who knitted or crocheted.

On the other hand, knitting in public once led to this: One Sunday morning, while on vacation in Asheville, NC, I sat down on a curb outside my fave breakfast diner. There was a long wait, with lots of people milling around, but no one besides me was sitting on the sidewalk. Hubbie Hank was parking the car.  Granted, I go full bohemian-redneck in Asheville, which is a laid-back place. I wore flip flops, baggy cargo pants, a t-shirt and my shabby-chic New York baseball cap I bought during RWA in the Big Apple.

I was happily knitting a scarf and enjoying the sunshine. Two well-dressed older women walked up. “Oh, how pretty, oh how talented you are,” etc. Okay, that’s nice. I’m chatting with them and knitting. Slowly their comments turned more personal. “Do you enjoy being out here on the street?” and “Do you make much money selling your scarves to visitors?”

I’m thinking, This is a tad weird.

They hand me their business card. Hank walks up, says hello to the nice ladies, and asks me how much longer the wait will be on our reservation?

The ladies get a strange look on their faces, say a pleasant goodbye, and leave.

We get to our table in the diner and I’m telling Hank about the odd conversation. I look at the business card. Counseling and Street Ministry. He stares at it. I stare at it. We stare at each other.

They thought I was a homeless person.

All I could sputter was, “Couldn’t they tell I was knitting with a silk-merino blend?”

I’m happy to report that Shepherd’s Moon is clicking along nicely toward a late fall or early winter pub date. Research for the book has given me a chance to learn more about breeds of sheep, the history of the woolen industry in Ireland and America, how small yarn mills operate, and many other angles on the subject of All Things Knitty. Most of all, the story has given me an even more perfect excuse to merge writing and knitting—and that’s Deb Dixon’s fault.

“We should knit some things to use as promotional giveaways,” she said a couple of weeks ago,  knowing it would send me off on a feverish search for the right patterns and yarns. Now both she and I are armed with new projects to knit this fall. Today she suggested I find a gorgeous sweater pattern the cover artist can use for inspiration.

At this rate, the book may not be finished before spring. But I promise you, the promotional sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, shawl, socks, leg warmers and full-size car cozy will be knitted up long before then.

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19 Responses to Writing As A Beard

  1. I thought I was great at time management, but I concede you must be a guru. But I understand the need to work with your hands. It’s so relaxing and satisfying. And I’m sorry I missed out on a charm! Looking forward to your next release, and thanks for all you do for us at Bell Bridge Books.

    Hope Clark
    Lowcountry Bribe

  2. Cindy Gerard says:

    I agree. YOU ARE A GURU! Amazing. And gorgeous goods. did you knit the items shown? unbelievable. And the big question — do I have to change my name to DEB if I want to get into knitting? You must admit … it’s a tad weird there are so many Debs among the knitting goddess ranks.

  3. Trish Jensen says:

    Your many talents never cease to amaze me. I determinedly set out to learn how to knit once upon a time while recuperating. Bought yarn, needles, and a beginner’s DVD that could teach a monkey how to knit. Followed every step, and as the expert held up the result I should see once I’d done this and that, I’d hold mine up and it in no way resembled what she was holding up. But I trudged on. I only quit when a stranger made an observation that was I was knitting resembled a pickle-warmer. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had an urge to warm up my pickles before I eat them. At best it might have worked as a condom, except I’d dropped so many stitches, I wouldn’t hold out much hope for it working as a successful contraceptive tool. That’s when I threw in the sticks. I was going for a plain scarf.

  4. Christie Ridgway says:

    I can’t wait for a new Deborah Smith book…so put those sticks down until it’s done! 🙂 I love your homeless knitter story. Surely those ladies went away shaking their heads.

  5. Kylie Brant says:

    I’m so very impressed by crafty people! Because I’m, uh…not 🙂

  6. Thank you everyone for the comments! Sorry I didn’t post earlier; I was sunk deep into book-writing land, also, I just heard about this great new craft project . . . SO SIMPLE . . . buy a cheap picture frame, whatever size suits you. Just be sure to buy one with the glass included., Using poster board or card stock, cut out an insert to fit the frame. Fill the insert with colorful blocks — 7 across and 5 down, 35 total. You can use post-it notes or those little square paint chips from the hardware store, or draw your blocks with a ruler — however you want to do it. The point is to create a group of blocks as the base for a one-month calendar. Insert your finished calendar (blank, no months or days written on it) into the picture frame. Get a dry-erase pen (or any kind of pen that isn’t permanent and can easily be wiped off glass.) Voila! Write on the glass to fill out your new calendar, and when the month is over, wipe it off and start again. Thanks to Brittany Shirley, assistant to Chief Crafts Executive, Bell Briddge Books

  7. michelehauf says:

    Wow! I bow down to the Knitting Goddesses of Belle Books! I, who can easily navigate html code cannot begin to understand the intricacies of knitting. But I am always fascinated by those who can take a ball of yarn and make a Wearable Garment out of it. Maybe you can knit up a batch of bookmarks for promo, eh? 😉

    • deborah smith says:

      The problem with knitting is that what the expert knitters define as a “super quick knit!” takes me about a hundred hours. Even bookmarks are slow going. It helps to enjoy the Zen-like appeal of creating its stitch. End result? Maybe sucks. Process? Fun anyway.

  8. I replied to the blog earlier, and now I don’t see my comment. Here’s another try! I enjoyed your blog post so much! It was so entertaining, and I loved reading about your knitting. I wish I was that talented. I got motivated once to start knitting prayer shawls, but I had the worst time. My stitches were super tight or they were sloppy loose, and my hands ached from the effort. I was such a flop at it that I gave up.

    Love your idea about the one month calendar. How cool is that? And your book sounds wonderful. I’ll have to write myself a reminder so I don’t forget to look for it later on. I hope you will be back on this blog again at that time to remind everyone about its release.

  9. loisgreiman says:

    I think creative women need something to do with their hands…and something to create. My daughter the knitter, just bought a spinning wheel and is talking about buying alpaca for the fiber. I may never see her again.

  10. I love yarn. Unfortunately I don’t enjoy doing any fiber arts with it. I don’t enjoy knitting, crocheting or weaving. Same with fabric. Love it. Don’t enjoy sewing.
    Can’t wait to read the book.

  11. Oh, can’t wait to read Shepherd’s Moon! And to see your handiwork in person, hopefully at the next RWA. Thanks for sharing, and for all you do for us BBB authors!

  12. Lee Ann says:

    I started knitting and crocheting about a year ago after first donating yarn to an organization a friend started that makes items for the homeless. I had done both before but it was years ago and had to re-teach myself both skills. (The Internet is a wonderful thing — great videos and instructions!) Now I pick up my yarn and hook or needles when I take breaks from narrating wonderful books (A Dixie Christmas). It’s so nice to hear how others find this relaxing and creative at the same time.

    Great story about being mistaken for a homeless person. 🙂

  13. Liz Flaherty says:

    I loved this. Just added knitting to my endless bucket list. It’s becoming obvious to me that I’m never going to have time to die.

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