Rachel Leigh Smith on creative hobbies

Rachel Leigh Smith and I have been friends for a while now. I’m pretty sure it’s been a bit longer than the decade she admits to below. Anyway, last summer, when Rachel released her first book, My Name is A’yen, I ran right to my computer to buy it. I consumed her story with lightning speed, enjoying every minute of it. When she announced the upcoming release of the sequel, The King’s Mistress, I jumped at the chance to do a quick review of the book for her, thus earning me a preview copy of it, as well as the chance to have Rachel swing by my blog to sit a spell, to talk about hobbies, writing, her new book, and where these things coincide. Rachel’s guest post is below. You only have to put up with me for a moment longer. I promise. In King’s Mistress the story of Fae and A’yen continues. New challenges are thrown in their way, both emotional and physical, including an unplanned separation, and a new villain or two, as well as at least one notable surprise, which I’d say more about, but I don’t want to give anything away. The King’s Mistress is as nicely crafted as her first book, and just as hard to put down. Get it. Read it. Meanwhile, I’ll be here waiting for the next installment.

From Rachel

I’ve known Laura for at least a decade now, probably longer. We met on a cross-stitch message board, and when Facebook came along our friendship transferred to Facebook. I knew Laura back before she was a knitting designer. Now I’m feeling old…

Since I met Laura on a cross-stitch board, obviously I do counted cross-stitch. I can’t draw to save my life, but I can paint with thread. Counted cross-stitch is my favorite hobby, my favorite way to relax in the evenings, and a great way to let my brain chew over plot or character problems in my writing.

I also knit and crochet. For knitting I don’t really have any finishes, but I do have an almost finished sock. I’m on the toe decreases. With crocheting, I love pineapple doilies, I’ve made a three-quarter sleeve shrug for myself, and lots of gifts.

My grandmothers taught me to crochet and do counted cross-stitch. I taught myself to knit about eight years ago. But cross-stitch is what I always come back to. It’s my first love. I already have more charts acquired than I can stitch in a lifetime, but I don’t care. Part of the joy is having options and dreaming big.

Creative hobbies are an important part of my life, and it always shows up in my writing too. The first novel I wrote was a historical romance, and the heroine did embroidery and tatting. In My Name Is A’yen, A’yen told me he’s an artist.

Yes, he told me. You see, he’s real to me. As real as my parents and siblings. He’s a fully realized character living in my head and he’s become an important part of my life. Where I paint with thread, A’yen paints with watercolors.

I’ve always been envious of people who can draw and paint. I wish I could, so I could draw my characters exactly the way I see them. But alas, I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. I can color like a boss, though.

Throughout My Name Is A’yen, drawing is an important release for A’yen. He doesn’t get much of a chance to draw or paint in The King’s Mistress, though, because of everything going on. But he misses it, and he longs for the time to sit back with paper and pencil and draw the things he’s seeing. In particular he wants to paint his bodyguard’s eyes because of their unique indigo color. A real challenge for his paintbrush, as he puts it.

Throughout the A’yen’s Legacy series, hobbies continue to play a role in rounding out my characters. The hero of book four plays piano. The hero of books five and six grows orchids. I haven’t done much exploring of needle crafts, though, which is something I’d like to do. Haven’t found the right heroine for it yet I guess.

I’ve included a couple of pictures of my projects. Choosing what to send Laura was hard. My Chatelaine White Nights in St. Petersburg was an easy choice. It’s what I’m working on now and I’m almost done with it! This is the most expensive project I’ve ever done, or ever will do. But totally worth it. The fabric is 36 inches square. Yes, 36 inches.

Chatelaine White Nights in St. Petersburg

Chatelaine White Nights in St. Petersburg

I also love mermaids, and the mermaid is Mirabilia’s Queen Mermaid. My first ever finish on linen. She hangs above my desk. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Mirabilia’s Queen Mermaid

Mirabilia’s Queen Mermaid

I’d love to hear about your creative hobbies in the comments. Please share! Maybe I’ll see one I want to use in a future character.

The King’s Mistress

A’yen’s Legacy, Book Two
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Genre: Paranormal/Sci-Fi Romance
Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, All Romance Ebooks

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Synopsis



Freedom has a cost. Can A’yen pay it without losing his soul?

Liberation of the enslaved Lokmane begins with the king. A’yen and Fae agree to visit the Hidden, a group of escaped Lokmane, to protect his identity while the Shadows make their move with emancipation acts. But he’s not prepared for the prejudice rampant in the Hidden, or their lack of patience for him. And his new linked bodyguard is unstable to the point A’yen fears for the young man’s sanity.

Upon returning to Titan, A’yen is kidnapped and taken to the largest breeding farm in the galaxy. This time he’ll be himself even if it kills him. His resolve to unite his people grows as he wonders if he’ll live long enough to do it.

With A’yen kidnapped, Fae returns to the Lokmane homeworld seeking the final pieces of what happened two thousand years ago when they were conquered and enslaved. Getting as far away from her father as possible is the only way to keep her from disappearing too.

Separated by light years, A’yen and Fae have to stand alone and fight for their right to live in freedom. No matter the cost.

Excerpt


A’yen’s body stiffened, though he tried to relax to keep the burning from coming back to the point he wanted to rip his skin off. Pure, unadulterated evil moved about the house.

He held still on the bed, breathing deep, trying to get a sense of who it might be. Damn stupid pain kept him so cloudy nothing of his telepathic field worked. He missed it. A man’s voice filtered through the closed door. Not close enough to make out the words. Who would come here?

The male voice disappeared and Fae sounded like she held to her sanity by a single thread. She needed him. Now. He pulled his arms under his chest and pushed up from the bed. The room tilted. He grabbed the headboard with one hand, leaned forward, breathed deep again.

Something he’d never felt before crept into his muscles. A warmth, from outside himself. Not from Na’var either. The pain didn’t lessen, but he could move now. Slow, with deliberate care. He kept one hand on the bed, then the wall, moving toward a pair of shorts on the rocking chair. Whoever was out there didn’t need to see him without clothes.

The warmth remained, infusing him with enough strength to get the shorts on, make it to the hall and follow the voices to the living room. Pain accompanied him with every step, and if not for Fae’s need pulling him forward he’d go back to bed.

“Farran, how can you even think of keeping him? Males are more dangerous than you can imagine. I will not have you living here with someone capable of slitting your throat and running away.” Her father. His father-in-law. President of the Breeder’s Association board of directors.

“I’m thirty-two-years-old, Daddy. I think I can decide for myself how I’m going to live.”

A’yen stopped, leaning on the wall in an attempt to slow his breathing. She stood in the middle of the room, her back to him, hands clenched at her sides. Trembling.

“I’ve indulged you long enough. It’s time to come home and take your place. Without this male slave who’s obviously messed with your mind.”

He squared his shoulders and walked the last five feet into the living room. Stopped in the doorway. Leaned against it to hold himself up. “This male slave happens to be her husband and will not tolerate you talking to her in such a manner.”

Fae turned by degrees to face him. She tried to glare at him, but eyes reflecting unshed tears said she’d never been more thankful to see him. More fingers of warmth moved through his body. He crossed to her, folded her in his arms, stared at Benai Hart. She pressed into the safety of his embrace, her trembling forcing the pain to the back of his mind.

“Do you not know who I am?”

“I do. I bow to no one.”

Buy links

Buy The King’s Mistress by Rachel Leigh Smith online at these fine establishments:

Book teasers

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Goodreads

Author bio

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Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. There may also be Netflix binging . . .

She blogs sporadically, can be found on Twitter, and hangs out on Facebook. You can sign up for her newsletter here. She’s an active member of the Science Fiction Romance Brigade and Romance Writers of America. Her books can been found on Goodreads, and Amazon.

Jim

One thing about working at home, one loses track of the days, the day, the date. I went on my merry way all day today without realizing what day it was. As it turns out, 24 years ago today (!) I lost my cousin Jim. He was… amazing. In a note given to my aunt upon his death, Jim was described as being at once a good man to have by your side in a fight, the best friend you could ever have, and a poet.

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He was the only son, only child, of my mother’s sister, the oldest of the five of us first cousins. I was the sister he never had. He, the bother I never had. We were only children of sisters. We shared… everything. I miss him so. My heart still aches, even after all this time.

Jim

Until just before I turned 31 years old, Jim was always three years older, three years smarter, three years more clever. With just two exceptions, he won every game we every played. (I won one normal game of checkers, and one unforgettable game of gin rummy. That’s it. That’s all. It was all fabulous.)

Souders

I’ll never forget when he came home from his second tour in Europe, drove more than 200 miles up to the town I lived in. Amidst all the traffic I heard his car drive up to the curb in front of my house. He got out of the car about the time I emerged from the house. He ran up the walk as I ran down it. He grabbed me, swung me around in a circle, hugged me close. We laughed.

jimandme1967

Even after all these years I still miss you terribly, dear cousin.

People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
People will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou

Designer interview: Adrienne Ku

This is the third and final interview I’m doing for the GAL2014 event. Adrienne Ku has a nice selection of socks, lace, and colorwork patterns in her catalog. She lives and designs in Illinois, and can be found around the web: Drin on Ravelry (Mushroom Knits designs), her blog, and on Twitter. Please continue to learn a bit about Adrienne. By the way, Adrienne has a nice surprise for you, if you make it all the way to the end of this post. Just saying.

How did you get started designing?

Adrienne: I guess I started designing shortly after learning to knit. I didn’t really look at it as “designing” though, I was simply making it up as I went along. The thought of writing up and publishing my work never even crossed my mind until I joined a local knitting group. A wonderful group of ladies, always supporting each other in any way possible. They encouraged me to put my designs out there and just see what happens. Eventually, I decided to give it a try. I did my research and played around with publishing on Ravelry. I finally published my first real pattern, Simple Skyp Socks and was absolutely blown away by the response. All the positive comments and feedback from people I had never met, complete strangers, it was every encouraging. What really surprised me was how much I enjoyed seeing the projects other people made with my design. That’s still the thing I love most about designing.

What is your usual process on a fiber project, for instance, do you start with a yarn, a cute pattern, a need you’ve noticed, something exciting you saw in a movie you want to copy, or a technique you want to learn—then what do you do next, and then what?

Adrienne: For me it almost always starts with the yarn. First, I think about the characteristics that make that specific yarn special and what type of project the yarn is best suited for. Next, I think about what type of fabric would most highlight that yarn’s special characteristics. At this point, I start to think about the design details. Sometimes the yarn is perfect for a design idea I have in my sketchbook, other times I will flip through my stitch dictionaries looking for something to jump out at me. Next comes the swatching, lots and lots of swatching. Once I am satisfied with the stitch patterns I’ve chosen, I sit down and write the pattern. Finally, it’s time to cast on.

What are some of your favorite materials, including yarns, knitting tools, books…?

Adrienne: Oh my! I have so many favorites, I could go on for days! But the one knitting gadget that I simply would not want to be without would be my darning mushrooms. My love for them borders on obsession! It’s the perfect tool and not just for darning socks, it comes in quite handy when tightening up the stitches after grafting the toe. Over the years my collection has grown considerably and I love each and every one. Some are new but most of them are quite old and show years of use, covered in dings and scratches from darning needles. My favorites are the ones that the handle unscrews from the mushroom cap top to reveal a hidden compartment in the handle to hold your darning needles. Absolutely brilliant! I love my darning mushrooms.

Darning mushrooms

Darning mushrooms

You have some lovely lace designs. Can you tell us what inspires you about working with lace?

Adrienne: That’s so kind of you to say, thank you. I have always been drawn to lace knitting. To be honest, when I was a new knitter I thought stockinette was “hard” and more suited for advanced knitters. The inconsistency in my gauge and every little mistake seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. Lace is so much more forgiving. It allowed me to become more confident in my knitting, I could look at a finished piece and see the beauty in it as a whole rather than only seeing all the little individual mistakes. When I am working on a new lace design I try to make it as accessible as possible to knitters of all skill levels. There are so many simple and lovely lace patterns, lace doesn’t have to be “hard” and more importantly, it doesn’t have to be “hard” to be beautiful. (Ed.: Learning Curve and 20 Days are two of my favorites.)

Learning Curve

Learning Curve

20 Days

20 Days

Will you have any new releases during the GAL 2014
period? If so, please tell us about them.

Adrienne: I will be releasing a new pattern, Alpine Lattice—a matching hat and cowl worked in a simple colorwork pattern (only work with one color per row). This pattern had previously been available exclusively through Signature Needle Arts and will now be available through my Ravelry pattern store as well.

Special offer

Now through December 31, 2014, get 25% off any of Adrienne’s designs in her Ravelry store using the coupon code Mushrooms.

Designer interview: Michelle May

Next up in the GAL2014 event, another interview! This time I am pleased to share an interview with knit and crochet designer Michelle May. Michelle can be found around the web: Shellbot on Ravelry (designs here), and her website. She can also be found on Etsy, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Michelle lives in Guisborough, Cleveland, United Kingdom, and has a wonderfully adorable ravatar. Please read on to meet Michelle.

Michelle May

Michelle May, a self portrait

How did you get started designing?

Michelle: I picked up knitting as a hobby in February 2012, and got it into my head that I wanted to design probably about 2 weeks later. That’s just the sort of person I am, always tinkering with things and making up my own ways of doing things, and my background in graphic design made it an obvious leap to make. After a couple of months I also learned to crochet, and knew that one day I’d like to design for both crafts.

A few design sketches started to appear, but I quickly realised that I had no idea how to actually construct half the things in my head. So my new priority became knitting from various other patterns, studying how they worked, picking things apart, making modifications to every pattern I used.

Finally this May, with my 30th birthday rapidly approaching, the idea for Tessellate hit and I decided to try and publish while still in my 20s. Just so I could say I’d done it!

Tessellate

Tessellate

Tessellate was published on May 29th, two days before my birthday. It was immediately popular and sold far far more copies than I’d ever have expected. Admittedly it was on birthday sale, but still, it made turning 30 a lot less traumatic than it otherwise might have been.

Summer this year was hard. A friend since college (and keen knitter herself) lost her battle with cancer at only 31 and my heart just wasn’t in a crafting place for a while. When my first crochet pattern was published in a magazine in June, it was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me and kicked me back into gear designing-wise. Now I’m obsessed, and talk about design ideas far too much to anyone who will listen.

What is your usual process on a fiber project, for instance, do you start with a yarn, a cute pattern, a need you’ve noticed, something exciting you saw in a movie you want to copy, or a technique you want to learn — then what do you do next and then what?

Michelle: Since money and time are both in short supply, I made the probably common decision to design things that I can wear and use myself. So usually a pattern idea will occur because I’m lying in a bubble bath thinking about what to wear to something and think “wouldn’t it be great if I had a nice skinny scarf to go with that outfit?,” or “we’re going on holiday to Iceland, I really need a warm hat,” or similar. This results in a huge list of potential design ideas, and from those I can choose the things that might appeal to other people too. So far, I have to say, that stage of the process has been pretty hit and miss.

Next up, because I am still relatively new to this, comes the “is this physically possible?” stage. So far the answer has been no on two occasions, but those pattern ideas are stockpiled against the day a solution occurs to me. Then comes swatching, settling on/modifying stitch patterns, and attempting (operative word there “attempting”) to write at least most of the pattern without knitting it up. Since I can usually only afford yarn for one sample, I can then knit along with the draft pattern and make any changes as I go rather than knitting it up twice.

What are some of your favorite materials, including yarns, knitting tools, books…?

Michelle: Being in the UK can often mean limited access to nice yarns, as most LYSes here stock nothing but endless pastel acrylics, so along with a lot of UK knitters I’m forced to buy my yarn online without seeing or squidging it beforehand. As a result, yarn purchases have varied in their success!

Thankfully Wool Warehouse (which I highly recommend to any other UK knitters) now stocks a nice range of Cascade yarns, which I’ve been using on a number of designs. As a frugal-by-necessity knitter, my favourite materials are those that don’t cost a ton and provide good quality and I’m happy to say that so far all the Cascade yarns I’ve tried have been great. They even have a handy guide to match their colorways to NFL teams, which I will take advantage of just as soon as personal knitting time becomes available. Go Pack go!

I’m not much of a knitting book collector, to be honest. Not even stitch dictionaries. Instead I prefer to put together my own resources with Pinterest, for example you can see my “lace stitches” board. So I’d vote Pinterest as one of my favourite “knitting tools”, along with the blanket that I’m always curled up in while knitting and also a nice glass of Baileys. Those count, right?

Does anything intimidate you in knitting?

Michelle: No! I made a conscious decision early on in my knitting career not to be intimidated, not to stick to “beginner” patterns, and not to skip knitting pretty things just because they used a new-to-me technique. It’s worked well so far, a month after initially learning to knit I’d already jumped into knitting a lace shawl, Florelei, and while it has a few mistakes, I love it anyway and had a lot of fun knitting it, and isn’t that the whole point?

This “I can do that!” attitude is something I’m keen to share with others, so you’ll often see me pushing people out of their comfort zones and reassuring newbies that yes, they really can knit cables, in my work as moderator of the New Knitters group over on Ravelry.

Actually that emphatic “no!” might not be entirely true. I find people creating project pages from my Ravelry patterns to be extremely intimidating and frankly terrifying. Hopefully this is something that gets easier with time.

As a new designer, what do you find the most challenging aspect of designing?

Michelle: As mentioned above, sometimes I have ideas that are just downright impossible to create (whether in general or just at my current skill level). I’m working on that. There’s also the inevitable feeling of being a phoney whenever I see the other beautiful designs being released, but that’s apparently very common.

Otherwise the most difficult parts for me tend to be more social as I’m a very shy person. Like, lock myself in the bathroom at a birthday party and freak out in tears until they have to call my grandma to come pick me up, that level of shyness. Simply posting about a new pattern on Ravelry, Pinterest etc. usually takes a bit of mental preparation and a few deep breaths. I’ve had no issues with pattern customers so far, but am aware from my other online ventures that dealing with bad feedback can cause me to burst into tears and avoid working on anything else for the rest of the week.

Oh and photography. Everyone hates doing pattern photography, I promise mine will get better with time.

Do you get to do any “selfish knitting”?

Michelle: Hah, I wish! Well technically at least some of my pattern samples count as “selfish knitting”. Today is a chilly one so I’m sat here at my laptop wearing the sample pair for my Inversion Gloves pattern, for example.

Inversion Gloves

Inversion Gloves

I did manage to knit a couple of tops for myself over the summer, but of course holiday season is a little more frantic and I’m currently in the middle of trying to finish off four, yes FOUR, Christmas jumpers for friends.

A couple of patterns magically jumped into my Ravelry cart during the GAL sale so I guess there’s that to look forward to in the new year too.

Will you have any new releases during the GAL 2014 period? If so, please tell us about them.

Michelle: Yes! Well, a re-release at least. My first ever crochet pattern was my Celluloid Beret, the exclusive period with the magazine is now over and I’m working on pulling everything together as a Ravelry download. I’m very excited because it was such a scary experience working with a magazine for the first time, but somehow I made it and seeing my name in print really helped to get me through this summer. Release date is yet to be confirmed, as we need some actual daylight to happen to take new photos!

Celluloid Beret

Celluloid Beret

A new cowl design was also slated for release in late Nov/early Dec. Unfortunately the Christmas knitting is currently taking over my entire life so to avoid piling even more stress on myself I’ll answer that part of the question with a definite “maybe.”

If anyone would like to keep an eye on my new releases, you can get new pattern announcements by signing up to the newsletter in the sidebar of my blog, The Giddy Knitter.