When I spotted Sarah Mallery’s title Sewing Can Be Dangerous, and other Small Threads, I thought it was one of the best titles of a book I’d ever seen (right up there with By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept). I loved the cover too. And when I started reading this collection of short stories, my first impressions were rewarded – it’s a charming book, woven around real incidents from American and European history. So I’m delighted to be welcoming Sarah on my blog today.
I remember my father sitting with me on his back porch one summer’s night years ago, and as the fireflies flickered and glowed and the crickets sawed, he told me about the horrors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911. I couldn’t get the image of all those poor immigrant girls who died so needlessly out of my head, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to turn that historic event into a fictional story.
Being a professional quilter at that time and surrounded by fabrics and textile art, I lived and breathed sewing. So one day, after I had written ‘Sewing Can Be Dangerous’, my first ever short story, I had an epiphany: I would write a collection of short stories that all had a single ‘thread’ of either sewing or crafts.
That started me down the path of researching various historic times. If a certain event or era appealed to me, I started looking into what kind of sewing connection they might present. For example, my story, ‘Precious Gifts’, was based on a tiny slip of paper that I saw in a ‘History of Sewing Machines’ exhibit. It was placed inside a counter next to one of the early Singer machines and it read something like, ‘1870, Washington Territory: I put my Singer in the cornfield so in case of an Indian attack, it will be safe.’ That bowled me over! The fact that her sewing machine was worth far more than her family or her cabin was fascinating to me. The other stories were all developed from sifting through history books, movies, documentaries, and/or reading articles.
Have you published any other books?
What’s the most interesting bit of research you have done?
Honestly, when it comes to research, I can’t commit to ‘most interesting’, because to me, it’s ALL interesting! I suppose I am a bit more drawn to America’s past, but I do enjoy reading and learning about other times in history – the Tudors, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Ancient Greece, how the Middle East and Latin America were so advanced years ago with their various inventions and their herbs. And as for challenging, if I’m excited about a fact or time period, I’m relentless. I won’t stop until I get some info on it!
When I do my research, I study books and articles, watch documentaries, look at many photos (Hence my Pinterest boards all about history, vintage clothing, old films, vintage ads/posters: http://www.pinterest.com/sarahmallery1/ ), read about the language/lingo, culture, food, and costumes of the particular period I’m looking into. I also love listening to music from the past. I often will try to buy and download songs, scores, etc. to keep in my car. It helps me think of plots, character development, motivation, and authentic ambiance.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
The Dolan Girls has it all. Set in Nebraska during the 1800s, whorehouse madams, ladies of the night, a schoolmarm, a Pinkerton detective, a Shakespeare-quoting old coot, brutal outlaws, and a horse-wrangler fill out the cast of characters. Add to the mix are colorful descriptions of an 1856 land rush, Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, Annie Oakley, bank/train robberies, small town local politics, and of course, romance. Two, in fact!
What do you enjoy reading?
Even though I primarily write historical fiction, when it comes to my reading tastes, once again, I’m very eclectic. I love murder mysteries – cozy or otherwise – thrillers, romances, biographies, and if the characters are appealing and the plot is good, I’ll go with paranormal or even zombie stories, which is something I NEVER thought I would say!
Do you have writing buddies or beta readers?
Absolutely! Since Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Unexpected Gifts were at first traditionally published, I was such a newbie at this writing game, I didn’t even think to give these manuscripts to anyone else but my publisher’s editor. Big mistake! Live and learn…
A fellow author at that publisher’s introduced me to a fabulous writer’s Facebook support group, where I met wonderful, supportive authors. I asked a couple of them to give their opinions/thoughts regarding my Tales to Count On collection, which was very helpful. Recently, I reached out to seven more of them to beta read The Dolan Girls. I was thrilled with the invaluable input these writers each contributed and now feel that the book is far better because of all their various observations. It was also interesting to me that as far as the different notations given about things that ‘bothered’ each individual, there were not that many duplicate issues. In other words, it was like having seven different editors before I even sent the work to my main editor. I highly recommend doing this! After all, there comes a point when we read our manuscripts, our babies, we should realise we are just too close to them to be able to see the things other people do.
However, I do want to add that even if I didn’t end up agreeing with every author’s note, it at least made me analyse my book, or look up things to see if they were indeed correct, and if I decided to ‘stand my ground,’ that ultimately helped me believe in myself more.
Sarah, thank you for sharing your writing life and insights with us. And good luck with your books!
A true, eclectic ‘Gemini’, I have worn various hats in my life. Starting out as a classical/pop singer/composer, I moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. My short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt. As a quilt artist/designer I also published a couple of non-fiction articles in Traditional Quiltworks and Quilt World.
What they say about Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads
‘S. R. Mallery is quite simply a master story-teller.’
‘This is a box of bon-bons, every story an eye-opening surprise. Eat one and you’ll want to devour the whole box.’
‘Women, sewing, history, and storytelling. A quilt of wonderful stories.’
‘Rich and beautiful stories that will captivate you.’
‘These stories will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book…’
‘I was amazed by the variety of stories that took place in various locations, and at different historical times.’
‘… [this] collection of short stories is absolutely superb. Don’t be misled by the title. This is NOT a collection of tales about little old ladies sitting around drinking dandelion and burdock and darning socks.’