by Suzanne Labry
A New Literary Genre: Quilting Science Fiction
Before the 1960s and during the early stages of the 20th-century quilt revival, it was possible to count the number of books about quilts using a few digits. As the revival took hold, however, that situation began to change rapidly, and today there are books on seemingly every conceivable aspect of quilts, quilters, and quilting.
There are books of how-to’s and techniques, books of patterns, scholarly studies, histories, coffee-table tomes, books documenting state quilt searches, books detailing quilts made in different countries throughout the world, books about different styles of quilts from traditional to art to modern, and on and on and on.
With so much interest in all things quilt-related, it is perhaps not at all surprising that quilts also have become the focus of popular literature. There are children’s books that center around quilts or quilters and novels that use quilts as a focal point in the story. Perhaps most common since the turn of the 21st century are the quilting mysteries, with a growing number of writers producing whole series around quilts, quilt shops, and quilters—and some series are being set only in certain states. With the quilting mystery field becoming more and more crowded, two writers decided to take a different approach and…ahem…go where no [wo]man has gone before: quilting science fiction.
Death by Chenille is the first book in the quilting science fiction series by Ann Anastasio and Lani Longshore. Photo used with the authors’ permission.Ann Anastasio and Lani Longshore, two multi-talented artists/musicians/writers/quilters and longtime friends who were neighbors in Livermore, California, when their children were young, have decided to create their own genre. Their first effort, Death by Chenille, revolves around the quilt shop owned by their plucky heroine, Susan, being invaded by space aliens disguised as bolts of beige fabric. Through a plot involving adventure, danger, and romance in order to ultimately save the universe, Susan discovers that the aliens are attracted by lavender and killed by chenille.
The pair had so much fun with the first book that they created a sequel, When Chenille Is Not Enough, then a third, The Chenille Ultimatum. They are now working on a fourth book in the series to be titled, The Captain and Chenille.
If you think these women sound like they are having a great time creating together, you’d be right, but writing quilting science fiction is neither their first nor their only collaboration. The two also form the backbone of a quilting musical comedy troupe called Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre. Founded in 1994, the group’s aim is “writing songs, choreographing dance moves, making quilts, and all-around entertaining quilt guilds.”
Usually, they take the score of a well-known song in the public domain and create lyrics to it. For example, to the tune of the old South African folk song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (later popularized in the U.S. during the 1960s by doo-wop group, the Tokens), Ann and Lani write lyrics such as these: “In the quilt shop, the mighty quilt shop, the fabric waits for me!” They use a selection of wall quilts they’ve made to help advance the story of whatever skit they’re performing.
Ann Anastasio and Lani Longshore form the backbone of a quilting musical comedy troupe
called Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre.Although Ann and Lani are able to collaborate long distance on their books, the duo performs less often together now that they no longer live near one another. Lani does occasionally travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Ann currently lives, in order to take part in Art Quilt Santa Fe, an annual “quilt workshop, fiber art workshop and quilt retreat dedicated to supplying a unique Santa Fe experience.” Ann started that effort with her fellow Santa Fe-based quilter, Gale Oppenheim-Pietrzak.
If you’ve read enough quilting mysteries to be able to figure out who-done-it after the first few chapters, perhaps it’s time to venture into another dimension and try some quilting science fiction. You may start to think differently about the next bolt of beige fabric you see.