As I delve into the art of short story writing, I’m also looking at how authors make the stories in a collection cohesive.
S.R. Mallery wove together the stories in her book Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads using historical events and the fabric arts. Because she tied together history and short stories – two of my current interests, I’ve invited Sarah to tell us more about her approach.
What inspired you to write these stories?
My father had told me about the catastrophic Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire; not only how horrendous it was, but also in time, how important it became as the stimulus for changing factory labor practices. So years later when I started writing fiction that was the very first story to pop into my head. Besides loving history, I also began to think thematically. What about creating other stories that included sewing and crafts as well?
Do you sew? How much of your own sewing experience came into play in writing these stories?
After having been a quilt designer, quilt teacher, and quilt writer for over twenty years and surrounded by fabrics, sewing machines, and my crafts, it wasn’t a huge stretch to incorporate sewing and crafts into these stories. I had already experienced first hand how the aches and pains of intense sewing can wreak havoc on your neck and shoulders, the inherent danger of certain sewing accessories, and how viewing vibrant fabrics up close can be mind-blowing.
Your stories span centuries. How did you choose the points in time to write about?
As I recall, I simply started reading mostly coffee table books of various time periods. Then, if something caught my interest, I would try to envision how a craft or sewing project could fit into that period for a story. For example, I thought of the Salem witchcraft story because I had read in a quilt book how certain quilt patterns were seen as curses. My medieval story evolved from reading how great manors would have a separate sewing wing constructed just so local girls could stitch exquisite embroidery items 24-7.
How did you approach the research to allow you to accurately represent so many different places in time?
So much of how I do research just seems to fall into place from something I’ve read. For example, I might be thinking about an era or a story I want to follow up on and as I investigate further, I might come across one tiny fact about a person or event. That leads me to looking up more about that person or event, which often leads me to even more details attached to the subject, a plot devise, and/or a character development. These discoveries don’t necessarily happen in rapid-fire sequence, either—a shower, movie, book, gardening, teaching, or discussions with family and friends often comes in-between.
Which is your favorite story and why?
Actually, I have two favorites. The Triangle shirtwaist story and the slave quilt story. The former because I totally got swept up with those poor, poor girls dying on that fateful day, and the latter because I loved doing research and writing about how smart the U.S. slaves were, when they would do their ‘Puttin’ on the Massah’.
You also write novel-length works. How do you compare the task/challenge of writing short stories and novels?
I wrote these stories before I attempted to write my novel. So, when I began to seriously think about and dig into Unexpected Gifts I was terrified. How was I going to do a complete novel having only written short stories? Then I had an epiphany. I pretended that after I made my outline, each chapter was going to be like a short story. That calmed me down enough to continue!
I can relate to that, Sarah. I tackled my novel in much the same way. The final story in your collection is different than the others, because it includes a craft but not thread/fabric. How do you see that story fitting into the collection?
Well, actually, there are two other stories besides the one you mentioned, “Nightmare at Four Corners,” which are not really about sewing: “Lyla’s Summer of Love” involves a macramé artist, and “Border Windfalls incorporates the weaving process of making blanket like pieces. I had originally thought of doing more crafts, but decided to stick with what I had. I also liked the title Sewing Can Be Dangerous from the Triangle Shirtwaist story, so that governed my product.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping to publish another shorter collection of stories, ranging from flash fiction to longer stories, and in the wings, lies a very general outline and characters for a Civil War book but that will undoubtedly take quite a while to write! The joy AND the pitfalls of historical fiction…
Yes – history gives us endless possibilities to explore. Anything else you’d like to share?
Just a hearty thanks for interviewing me with such interesting questions!
It’s been a pleasure to have you here today, Sarah.
Join the discussion: Which would you rather read? A short story or a novel? When you pick up a short story collection, how do you expect them to tie together?
Author Bio: S.R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life. Starting as a classical/pop singer/composer, she moved on into 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. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt. She also has had quilt articles published in Traditional Quiltworks and Quilt World.