New York Times best-selling author comes to The Next Page in Frisco
If you go
What: New York Times best-selling author Sandra Dallas presents her new book, “A Quilt for Christmas”
When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22
Where: The Next Page Books & Nosh, 409 Main St. No. 101, Frisco
Cost: Free; books will be available for purchase
More information: Call (970) 668-9291 or visit www.nextpagebooks.com
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Denver author Sandra Dallas’ novel “The Persian Pickle Club,” a story about a group of women in 1930s Kansas who build friendships through forming a quilting group. The author’s newest book, “A Quilt for Christmas,” revisits the same Kansas setting 70 years earlier, following a Civil War-era quilting group, whose members are actually the grandmothers of “The Persian Pickle Club” characters.
The story follows a Union soldier’s wife and how she finds comfort, camaraderie and courage through her quilting group when he dies in battle. The Civil War is a period that’s always interested the author, and she used to be a quilter herself, so it was natural to bring the topic and the setting together.
“When I lived in Breckenridge 50 years ago, I quilted. I was considered pretty good, but that was because I was the only person people knew who quilted. Then quilting became more popular, and it became obvious that I wasn’t a good quilter,” she said with a laugh.
Dallas will be at The Next Page Books & Nosh on Saturday, Nov. 22, to discuss “A Quilt for Christmas” and sign her books. She said quilting is a common theme in her writing, and as a collector, she most enjoys the old quilts, the ones that provided women an artistic outlet during a time when women weren’t encouraged to be creative.
“The new ones are perfect; the old ones have these little flaws that are so cool,” she said. “I have a baby quilt that’s done in pink, cheddar yellow, brown, and way in the corner is a blue swatch because the quilter ran out of the fabric. Today, you’d go buy more, but 150 years ago, you didn’t do that. Women back then were not encouraged in the arts, so they put artistry into everyday things they did, and quilting was one.”
BEING A WRITER
Dallas began her writing career as a journalist, studying news writing in college and serving as the Denver bureau chief for Business Week. She wrote a few books on Western history before turning to fiction 25 years ago and was surprised that the skills she developed as a journalist carried over to fiction writing.
“I thought writing fiction would be like writing French poetry, something I’d never attempt,” Dallas said. “I don’t outline my books; I know what the ending is, though I often change it when I get there. I don’t know the subplots, what’s going to happen.
“It’s sort of disconcerting. With journalism, you have this notebook full of notes and you have to get them into your computer in some logical form and you know what it is, but with fiction, you don’t really know. I don’t understand it, but it generally works.”
Plotlines can come from anywhere, Dallas said. With “A Quilt for Christmas” and her second children’s book, “Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky,” the initial ideas came from her editor, but though the author receives stacks of emails containing unsolicited story ideas, she almost never acts on someone’s suggestion. Many times, the ideas come from something she has read, but sometimes, they just come.
“I don’t want to say God wakes you in the night, it doesn’t happen that way,” Dallas said. “They’re things that just hit you. It’s a weird thing. … Ideas are like that. You’re reading something and you think, oh, that would make a good novel. I don’t say, gee, there’s a lot in the news about Muslims, maybe I better write a novel about Muslims. I’m not that logical about it.”
There’s a famous quote where someone asks a writer, “Do you like writing?” and the writer responds, “No, but I like having written.” For Dallas, when writing her novels, the feeling is the exact opposite.
“I actually like the process of sitting down and writing,” she said. “The promotion, the Facebook, all the other stuff, I don’t like. But I like sitting at my computer and seeing what happens.
“My fist novel didn’t come out until I was 50, and the fear of the blank page was overwhelming. In fiction, you just stare at that blank page, the computer screen, and you don’t know what’s going on. And I couldn’t deal with that when I was younger, but now it’s that excitement of what’s going to happen, something is going to happen.”
As the words play out on the screen, the characters come to life and become very real.
“You get caught up in their lives and you’re happy for them,” Dallas said. “It sounds so cute to say these things, but there really is a relationship that you built with your characters. I wrote my second novel, and I felt disloyal to the characters in my first novel, that I had abandoned them.”
SENSE OF PLACE
When piecing together a book, Dallas also spends time discovering the place, the setting of the story. At the height of her journalism career, publications were still sending writers here and there to get a sense of place, and the author has continued doing that with her novels.
“You’d spend money going places and interviewing people in person, you’d soak up all this atmosphere, where they lived, what their offices looked like, what they looked like, and that’s what I really like doing with writing,” she said. “I really want to get a feel for a place. Place if very important to me in my novels. Place is like a character.”
Most of Dallas’ books are set in Colorado and take place during time periods with which the author is very familiar. During her time at Business Week, she covered the West and learned about mining history. She also lived in Breckenridge for a while and has created fictional settings that mimic areas of Summit County.
“I know something about the period in which I write,” Dallas said of her historical fiction. “I don’t write about the Black Death in the 14th century; I write about the West. When I start out, I start with the background that I have. Then I look up things. I usually don’t particularly care to do library research. I buy a batch of books on the subject.
“You want to give a patina of the time period. You don’t want to overwhelm the reader with all this research. So the research you do is not as extensive as if you were writing a nonfiction book.”
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