I’m not a very crafty person. At least not in the scrapbooking, sewing, beading, needlework sense, anyway. Of course, when you have kids, your lack of craft skills becomes glaringly obvious when their friends show up in precious handmade Halloween costumes and your child is wrapped in a bed sheet decorated with twine and a dried-out Sharpie. Then you arrive for a playdate to find a handmade wreath on the door that looks like it came from Pottery Barn. And then you’re served delicious, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies on plates fired in your hostess’s basement kiln. Let’s take this out of generalities–this was me, and my lack of craftiness collided with my competitive streak when my oldest was four or five.

I started small, doing crafts for the Sunday school classes I was teaching. Thank God (as it were), for curricula with supply lists and step-by-step instructions. Life got complicated the year I taught at a church where I was required to PAINT WOODEN FIGURES AND THEN MEMORIZE A SCRIPT TO DRAMATIZE EVERY SINGLE LESSON. No, that wasn’t complicated. That was a nightmare. I smelled paint in my sleep. (We left that church after a year. Wouldn’t you?!) I got a little better with the Halloween costumes. (I think there’s one of my daughter in her tea-dyed mummy costume in the previous post. Just ignore the duct tape and safety pins and focus on the cool glasses, okay?) But I still couldn’t compete with the mom who sent my seven year-old daughter home after a sleepover with a handmade bracelet, and a laminated placemat that my daughter had woven out of construction paper. I countered a couple years later with my own laminated Thanksgiving project. (Below.) Okay, my son was not even two, so I had to do the drawings with minor contributions from him. But don’t judge. It’s laminated!

CB placemat

Then I discovered the mommy/crafter’s secret: a hot glue gun. There was no stopping me after that. My first big project was an advent calendar made of felt, the dates written in glue and, yes, glitter. My daughter was unimpressed with my Latin headline, “Salve, Jesu.” I gather it is the equivalent of “Hey, Jesus!” instead of “Welcome,” as was my intention. Whatever. It held candy, didn’t it? I took my glue gun to Sunday school class with me, and I must say that the quality of the crafts that the kids started taking home rose considerably.

I moved on to Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is a safe holiday if you’re a lame crafter. It’s okay if Valentines look homemade because most of us made and gave homemade Valentines when we were kids. At least to our mothers. (My friends mostly got Scooby Doo and Barbie Valentines–without candy. The candy school Valentine didn’t really kick in until well after my high school days.) I have an entire storage box of Valentine stamps and stickers and felt in my closet. And two years ago, I started sending homemade Valentines to my friends–first it was a bookmark, and last year a seed packet in a construction paper flowerpot. Sure, they’re dorky and amateur, but I have fun doing them. (Sorry, I don’t have any pictures because I mailed them all away.)

For a long time, I was confused about needlepoint and embroidery. Embroidery is a free-form needle art. As in I used to embroider peace signs and puppies on my blue jeans in the ’70s. Needlepoint is basically fill-in-the-holes to make a pretty picture needlework. These days I do needlepoint because my creative brain is pretty sucked dry by my writing. I do enjoy doing crewel work, too. This is my favorite project to date:

bird crewe.

I pour a lot of my creativity into making food. Cooking is both an art and a craft. Baking is my favorite. I’m primarily a bread and pizza girl, but here’s some pie in my favorite Bybee Pottery dish:


Of course, my very favorite craft is writing. Sure, there’s art in writing, but the construction of a story is mostly craft. It’s a meticulously woven arrangement of thoughts into words. As a very young writer, I didn’t understand that to write well–in fact to even legitimately call oneself a writer, one has to practice. And practice and practice. That’s what the crafter knows, and what the artist knows. It’s why writing, like any other craft, can be taught. Practice and repetition and careful attention to detail, with a dash of inspiration, is what turns a craft into art.

The past few years, I’ve turned my attention to the craft and business of publishing. While the vast majority of my stories and books are/were published by commercial publishers like Ballantine/Random House (ISABELLA MOON and CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS), Pegasus Crime (BLISS HOUSE), and smaller presses like Press 53 (SURREAL SOUTH), I’ve also begun to enjoy crafting and publishing books myself.

My husband Pinckney and I started GALLOWSTREE PRESS about three years ago. Our first project was to publish my out-of-print books as ebooks (thanks to my amazing agent, Susan Raihofer, who made sure I got the rights back quickly). Then we gave my Appalachian Frankenstein tale DEVIL’S OVEN a home. DEVIL’S OVEN is a project of my heart: not quite horror, not quite fantasy, definitely not a romance. And an exotic dancer and a lovesick husband save the day. After that, we published FEEDING KATE, an anthology to benefit a good friend who has lupus (the proceeds now go to the Lupus Foundation). It was such a privilege to publish the stories of writers like Joelle Charbonneau, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, Thomas Pluck, Steven Blackmoore, Linda Rodriguez, Chuck Wendig, and lots of others. Putting together an anthology is a huge challenge–and I had lots of editing help from my three co-editors.

Both DEVIL’S OVEN and FEEDING KATE were published in paperback as well as in ebook formats. It’s such a rush to see a book that you’ve put your heart into in paper. It’s true that publishing is relatively easy to get into these days, but the quality of the product is only as good as the detail work you put into it.

Now we’ve created my favorite holiday craft, ever.

Haunted Holiday

HAUNTED HOLIDAYS: 3 SHORT TALES OF TERROR is a collection of three short stories written by me, and two horror writers I respect very much: Lisa Morton and Carolyn Haines (aka R.B. Chesterton) I got the idea to write a ghostly Christmas story, but it just seemed too sad to publish it all by itself, and I decided only back in August to do it–so it was far too late to submit it somewhere. Lisa and Carolyn were game, and I’m so thrilled that Gallowstree and I get to publish them! We’ve all worked hard to make it the best book that it can be–Carolyn alone has written over seventy books, and Lisa has won the HWA’s Bram Stoker Award many times for her work. We’ve had it edited and designed to a fare thee well so you can enjoy it as an ebook ($2.99) or in print ($6.99). Even though these are, technically, horror stories, you won’t find gore or slasher porn. We were inspired by fireside Christmas tales of the past, and gave them a contemporary edge.

I hope you’ll check it out. It’s the one thing I’ve made for Christmas this year, and I’d love it so much if you would pre-order. Here are the links: Amazon, Paperback, iBooks, Barnes & Noble. (Updated as they go live.)

Do you celebrate any winter holidays? Are you crafting something special?

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