I follow Vanessa North on Instagram and after she posted a picture of her first completed project of 2022, I had to talk to her about knitting. So of course we also talk about gender, crafting, raising fearless trans teenagers, photography, and writing romance. Plus book recs, as always.

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Transcript

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[music]

Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 495 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and with me today is Vanessa North. I follow Vanessa on Instagram, and after she posted a picture of her first completed project of 2022 I had to talk to her about knitting. So we’re going to talk about knitting, but we’re also going to talk about gender, crafting, raising fearless trans teenagers, photography, and writing romance, and we have a ton of book recs, as always. Thank you to Vanessa, and please do not worry; I will have links to every single Instagram post that we talk about and where you can find Vanessa as well.

Hello and thank you to our Patreon community. I have a compliment. I love this!

For Judy L.: When your friends feel cold, they think of you to feel warmed on the inside, and when it’s really hot, they think of how much you make them laugh and how very cool you are.

If you would like a Patreon compliment of your very own, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. The Patreon community makes sure that every episode receives a transcript and keeps the show going every week. Thank you again to our Patreon community – you are all fabulous.

This episode is brought to you in part by Stamps.com! I feel like such a real podcaster when I say that. If you are a small business owner like me you probably have some plans for the year ahead. Me, I have giveaways to run, prizes to ship, books to mail, lots of business with my friendly postal carrier – his name is Ron; he’s great. I’ve also joined some mail exchange groups where I send notes and cards to different people around the world. With Stamps.com, I can take care of all my postage needs, skip the trip to the post office, and never waste another dollar or minute of my time. Stamps.com gives you all the post office and UPS shipping services you need right now from your computer, and you get discounts that you can’t find anywhere else, like forty percent off USPS and seventy-six percent of UPS! Save time and money this year with Stamps.com. Sign up with promo code SARAH for a special offer that includes a four-week trial, free postage, and a digital scale. No long-term commitments or contracts. Just go to Stamps.com, click the microphone at the top of the page, and enter code SARAH.

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I am really excited to share this interview with you, especially if you are a knitter! You’re going to love this. On with my interview with Vanessa North.

[music]

Vanessa North: My name is Vanessa North, and I write contemporary romance across the entire gender and sexuality spectrum.

Sarah: That’s a really good one-line explanation!

Vanessa: [Laughs] I’ve, I’ve worked on that before.

Sarah: Yeah. ‘Cause, being an author, you have to not only elevate or pit your, pitch your books, you have to elevate or pitch yourself?

Vanessa: Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah: That’s hard.

Vanessa: And it, whenever I introduce myself at a conference or anything, you know, people say, well, what do you write? And there’s this vast –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Vanessa: – amount of stuff you could describe. Well, I write small-town, or I write this or I write that, and I, I just, I write contemporary romance across the gender and sexuality spectrum. It just, that’s the easiest way to describe what I do.

Sarah: You actually wrote one of my favorite books. I love Roller Girl. I love it so much!

Vanessa: Oh, thank you so much! Thank you.

Sarah: I, I love how much you, you wrote with such thought and care about a transgender person’s relationship with their body before, when they were a professional athlete who had to be aware of their body, and then after.

Vanessa: Right.

Sarah: I loved that so much.

Vanessa: Ah, thank you so much. That was such a, you know, I, I have a good friend who plays derby. I do not play derby. I, I would, but I don’t think my knees could handle it.

Sarah: And your wrists.

Vanessa: I do love going to the roller skating rink, though. But I have a friend who plays derby, and we’ve talked a lot about how roller derby is one of those things that, you know, every body type is welcome; every body type has an ability to succeed at it. It doesn’t matter if you, you know, aren’t a totally toned gym bod. If you’ve got thick thighs, that’s good in derby, you know –

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: – and stuff like that. And so for me, when I was writing about Tina and her choice to move on after wakeboarding, she could have gone back to wakeboarding professionally, but she chose not to, and she chose to be a personal trainer instead, and it seemed to me that roller derby would be a good place for her to –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – sort of, you know, move on into the next stage of her life, so.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Vanessa: That was a lot of, that was a lot of fun to write, and I had to, I got to have these great conversations with my, my friend Jude E. Boom – [laughs] – who is –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: – who is a roller derby player in Boulder, Colorado, so.

Sarah: The other good thing about roller derby is it comes with great pun names.

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: Which is the greatest.

Vanessa: Yes, so many. So many.

Sarah: So I wanted to talk to you about knitting. Hello, Ziggy!

Vanessa: This is Ziggy Stardust; he is, he is here.

Sarah: Hello, good dog!

Vanessa: He loves Zoom calls.

Sarah: Okay, he’s, Ziggy is gazing at you with such love.

Vanessa: [Laughs] He, he loves, he loves Zoom calls. He comes over here to, you know, see and be seen.

Sarah: Are you talking? Who are you talking to? Can I talk too? Oh yeah.

So I wanted to talk to you about knitting. Not to be a complete creep –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – because, you know, podcasting is a very visual medium, and –

Vanessa: [Laughs]

Sarah: – when I talk about things that I see on Instagram on the podcast, that makes total sense (not at all), but I –

Vanessa: Sure!

Sarah: – follow you on Instagram, which I don’t mean in a creepy way, because I love your knitting. Your knitting –

Vanessa: Well, thank you!

Sarah: – is ridiculously gorgeous. Like, you did a –

Vanessa: Thank you.

Sarah: – new project, and you just posted it; I will put a link in the show notes. This was your first finish of the year, of 2022, and –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – it’s gorgeous! I just –

Vanessa: Thank you.

Sarah: – I just want to ask you all about knitting; I hope that this is cool.

Vanessa: [Laughs] This is cool!

Sarah: Tell me about your, your latest project, the one that you just finished.

Vanessa: Okay. So it is a, it is a semi-circular shawl –

Sarah: Yeah?

Vanessa: – and it is called Radiata, the pattern is called Radiata, and it’s by Nim Teasdale – that’s T-E-A-S-D-A-L-E, first name N-I-M – and this design has been sitting in my Ravelry queue, which Ravelry is a social media site for knitters. You can buy patterns, you can chat in forums, you can look up yarn and yarn ideas and see other people’s finished projects. So this one has been in my queue on Ravelry for probably two or three years –

Sarah: Ooh!

Vanessa: – and I haven’t knit a shawl in a really long time. I went through a phase where I was knitting shawls a lot, where I was knitting probably every second or third project would be a shawl, and so I have a lot of shawls. This one I’m actually sending to my sister. So it’s, it was just one of those situations; I had just finished knitting a sweater, and I wanted to knit something completely different, and I went looking – I’m trying not to buy yarn right now?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: Because, because it’s literally, like, falling out of every corner of my house. [Laughs] So I went looking through my yarn stash, which is everywhere –

Sarah: Right.

Vanessa: – and I found this cake of gradient yarn that went from pink to, like, red to gray, and I thought well, I can knit a shawl with that –

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: – and so I went and, I went digging for beads, and I found beads that would work. So the beads, you can’t actually see in the picture, but the beads go from gray on the pink to pink on the gray, so they sort of transition with the, with the colors of the yarn. And it just, you know, it was just a great little – I say little: it’s a huge project because it uses like nine hundred yards of yarn –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: – but it’s not a, it’s not a long project. It doesn’t take a long time to knit. It took a little over a week, so it was a nice little project to work on in that week after Christmas when everybody was still at the house. The kids were home, my husband was home, everybody was here, and when that’s going on I can’t get a lot of other work done.

Sarah: No.

Vanessa: I can’t write with three other people in the house. It’s –

Sarah: No, me neither.

Vanessa: – so hard! [Laughs] So, you know, I listen to audiobooks, knit, and watch TV and all of those things when there’re other people in the house, and it’s kind of like I was on vacation too. So it was a great project for that post-Christmas week, and I’m –

Sarah: It’s gorgeous.

Vanessa: Thank you!

Sarah: So do you add the beads as you’re knitting? Like, you have to keep track of your stitches and then be like, ooh, it’s a bead stitch! And then run the bead onto the, onto the yarn?

Vanessa: You do. There’s, when you follow a pattern that’s a lace pattern, there’s two ways that writers can, pattern writers can write them out, and this one, she actually wrote out both ways, where they can write written instructions that tell you what to do every stitch –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – and then there’s also charts, which are like a graph of what each repeat will look like, and there’s a little, a little blue square everywhere where there’s supposed to be a bead, and you just use a crochet hook to pull a stitch through the bead, and then you knit the stitch like you would any other stitch. So it’s just, it –

Sarah: Oh, that’s cool!

Vanessa: Yeah, so it just works it in there so you don’t have to string it on anything. You just use your hook to –

Sarah: Grab the loop.

Vanessa: Yep.

Sarah: I understand the, the grid, ‘cause I cross-stitch –

Vanessa: Yes!

Sarah: – and I have a big frame that I put on my lap, and I also listen to audiobooks and podcasts while I’m cross-stitching, and I find that for me, mentally, the hearing a story scratches the sort of I-want-to-read-something itch –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – but then my hands are so busy I’m, like, double-dosing myself with all the good brain chemicals.

Vanessa: [Laughs] Yes! Exactly. Yeah, I think that, you know, for me, I have a hard time just listening to an audiobook or just watching a TV show. Like, I, I –

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: – need to have my hands busy too. I’m a very tactile person, so –

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: – so knitting kind of satisfies that as well.

Sarah: Yep. What drew you to knitting? How long have you been knitting?

Vanessa: I started knitting when my twins were babies, and, you know, for basically the first two years of their life, I feel like all I did was change diapers and breastfeed? And –

Sarah: Yeah, oh yeah, I remember that!

Vanessa: [Laughs] And it’s just, and sometimes sleep? Like, they sleep when they’re sleeping, but I had two babies and they didn’t always sleep at the same time, and so I ended up learning to knit watching YouTube videos while breastfeeding babies. That was my –

Sarah: Oh, that’s brilliant!

Vanessa: So that was my –

Sarah: That’s brilliant!

Vanessa: Yeah, and they’re fourteen now. So they just turned fourteen last week, so it’s been about thirteen years that I’ve been, I’ve been knitting, because I just, you know, I had to do something with my hands besides just hold babies and, you know, it, it became something I started by knitting baby clothes for them, and –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – you know, it just grew from there, so.

Sarah: Yep. Hat, another hat. Burp rag, another hat. Yep.

Vanessa: Hat and little booties that they would grow out of or lose immediately, and, and –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Vanessa: – all kinds of things like that, and –

Sarah: I have learned a lot about quilting and cross-stitching and just different, just even the stitch management from YouTube. I have learned –

Vanessa: Yes!

Sarah: – so much from YouTube as to how to do just basic crafts. Do you still watch YouTube, or have you thought about starting your own YouTube channel?

Vanessa: Anytime there’s a technique that I don’t know, I can read the instructions for it, and that’ll usually get me there –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – but I like to watch somebody else do it.

Sarah: Oh, me too.

Vanessa: And it can be really interesting to me to see how they hold their yarn, because everybody holds their yarn a little differently, and it’ll solidify something in my head that I didn’t see before. I have thought from time to time, oh, I could do a YouTube channel, but honestly I would rather talk – I think if I were to do a YouTube channel, I would rather talk about writing than knitting. And so it’s something that’s in the back of my head that maybe that’s something I could do sometime, but I don’t know. [Laughs]

Sarah: Why not, why, why not both?

Vanessa: I could be, I could be that, that knitter who writes or that writer who knits or –

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: Yeah.

Sarah: Bring your knitting; talk about writing.

Vanessa: It, it could work! It could work.

Sarah: It could totally work! I could see very many people being like, yes, I like both of those things! Subscribe!

Vanessa: Reading club/knitting circle –

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: – at the same time. I love when people combine knitting and other things. It’s –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Vanessa: You know, because, for me, I almost have to be doing something else while I’m knitting or I’m not getting enough stimulation.

Sarah: And I know for me, I love my work, I love what I do, but I can’t do it all the time ‘cause I’ll burn out.

Vanessa: Right.

Sarah: And it’s, it’s very –

Vanessa: Right.

Sarah: – easy – this is what happens when you turn your hobby into a job. It’s –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – a bit of problem; you start –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – doing it all the time. And so for me, when I am cross-stitching or when I am quilting and I’m listening to a book or I’m listening to a podcast, this sends a very clear signal to my brain: we’re not working right now. We’re just relaxing.

Vanessa: Yes! Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sarah: But yet the constructive progress of seeing something become present as you make it also satisfies –

Vanessa: It’s satisfying.

Sarah: Oh, it’s so satisfying! It’s the best feeling!

Vanessa: [Laughs] It’s so satisfying.

Sarah: Do you remember what drew you to knitting in the first place?

Vanessa: I was part of a cloth-diapering community, and a lot of cloth diaper covers are hand knit –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – from wool because wool can absorb a certain amount of its moisture, of its weight in moisture before it feels wet and things like that, and so it makes –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Vanessa: – an ideal diaper cover for cloth diapers –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Vanessa: – and seeing other people’s projects and seeing how cute they were, and I was like, oh, I bet I could do that! So that’s –

Sarah: Much like writing.

Vanessa: Yes! [Laughs] Yes. And so that’s how I got started was because seeing other people create beautiful things makes you want to create beautiful things too, and –

Sarah: It really does.

Vanessa: – and I think that first year I probably knit, you know, dozens of little pairs of pants and shorts – [laughs] – and stuff, because they were, you know, when you’re knitting for small, small kids – now I have teenagers who are bigger than I am, and knitting a sweater for them takes as long as it takes me –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – but when you’re knitting for small babies, they’re small projects. You get that feeling of accomplishment every time you finish a project. It was –

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: And, and you learn so many techniques when you’re knitting a garment because everybody does things a little bit differently and different design features, and so no two sweaters will be knit exactly the same, and so it was a great way to sort of like just go all in right from the start was because I was knitting sweaters and pants and boots and, and I learned so many things in that first year that I just never stopped! [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah! And I think there’s a lot of overlap between knitting and crafts like that and also writing and reading romance. I mean, the common story about how people discover romance is that either they stole it from somebody who said they couldn’t have it, or they were given it, given it by someone –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – who also read romance, so it’s either an unintentional or intentional inheritance.

Vanessa: Yeah. Yes.

Sarah: And knitting is a lot of the same way: you learn it from someone else who does it, and you see someone else completing something beautiful, and you’re like, oh, I want to do that too; I bet I can do that too.

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: It’s that, it’s very similar overlap, don’t you think?

Vanessa: Yes. And I think that I, I meet a lot of knitters who learned from their mother or their grandmother. My mom crochets, and she taught me to crochet when I was a little girl. I don’t remember a lot of it. And when I learned to knit, some of those crochet skills came back –

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: – you know. So a lot of knitters learn from a mother or a grandmother, and sometimes, you know, I meet men who knit, and I’m like, so who taught you to knit? And they say, my mom did!

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: And, you know, and it’s the same thing, and a lot of times, especially now, you see that there’s not quite as much of the gender barrier for knitting.

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: Men, especially men who have been told that crafts are girly feel like they sh- –

Sarah: Yes, the very gendered messaging that comes with crafting can really turn people off of it –

Vanessa: Yes!

Sarah: – absolutely!

Vanessa: I feel like they discover that, so crafts are girly, so what?

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: [Laughs] So what? Crafts are manly too!

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: You know, and it’s such a, it’s such a, an eye-opener, I think, for a lot of, for a lot of men to discover that this thing they’ve been told they can’t do is actually something that’s really, that’s really good for their brains and good for their mental health and relaxation and, you know, that, yes, knitting is manly too!

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: You know, and it, and it kind of breaks down that toxic masculinity. And you do meet men in knitting groups who, you know, were afraid to tell other people they knit –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – and things like that, but I’m teaching my kids to knit very slowly and not very well because I’m a terrible teacher.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: But – I am, I’m a terrible teacher, but I love that I can maybe pass this skill on to them if they will be patient with me – [laughs] – so.

Sarah: And also, when you start thinking, wait a minute, if, if knitting isn’t “girly” or “not manly,” wait, does that mean that gender isn’t real? Hold on! Like, it’s very mind-opening once you think, wait, if that’s not true, what else about gender have I learned that’s not true?

Vanessa: Right? And –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Vanessa: – you know, one of my children is trans. Transfeminine, uses she or they pronouns –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Vanessa: – and she really just doesn’t give a fuck about gender – [laughs] – you know, and I – I can say the F word, right? I’m –

Sarah: Oh, are you kidding? Please do!

[Laughter]

Vanessa: So she really just doesn’t give a fuck about gender, and it’s exciting for me to see these kids who are so much more advanced in their understanding of gender –

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: – than we were at that age.

Sarah: Oh my gosh, yes.

Vanessa: Now, I mean, I’m almost, I’m almost forty-five, so it’s, you know, thirty years older than they are –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – and, and I’m just so excited for them, because they are building this wonderful new world where nobody has to give a fuck about gender, and so I love it.

Sarah: I have a very similar experience. The way that they think about – both of my children – the way they think about gender and about sexuality and about masculinity, I’m like, oh, the kids are okay! [Laughs] The kids are doing great!

Vanessa: Yes, they are.

[Laughter]

Vanessa: It makes me feel like the world is a little safer –

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: – for them. You know, when Joel first came out, I was a little worried –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Vanessa: – that – because we live in Georgia, in kind of rural Georgia, I was very worried that she would face a lot of problems at school, bullying, discrimination, things like that, but the school’s been awesome, and I don’t think Joel can be bullied. She thinks transphobes are awful, terrible people who should be ashamed of themselves – I agree with her, of course – and she has no problem telling them that. [Laughs] So if somebody misgenders her at school, she will read them riot act and, you know, tell them they should be ashamed of themselves, and she’s fearless, and I love it! I still worry for her, because I’m a parent and –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – that’s my job.

Sarah: Yes, that is part of the job, isn’t it? It’s like really awful part. It’s why I do crafts. [Laughs]

Vanessa: But, but she’s, but she’s, I learn so much from her, so that’s –

Sarah: That’s wonderful!

Vanessa: Yeah.

Sarah: Good for them. Kick ass! Take names!

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: Look fabulous in your mother’s knits.

Vanessa: She does! She models a lot of my knits for me on my Instagram, so I will, when I finish something, grab her and have her come outside and take pictures.

Sarah: So I also noticed that you have made a beautiful, deep blue Goldenfern sweater re-, somewhat recently; it was end of December –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – of 2021.

Vanessa: I usually buy a pattern that is in my size already –

Sarah: That helps.

Vanessa: – so I don’t have to modify it that much. My Goldenfern sweater, I did modify, actually, because a lot of – I’m a very busty girl, and –

Sarah: I hear that.

Vanessa: – a lot of sweaters are, well, almost all sweaters are sized based around the bust, and that’s, you know, a very good measurement, but I wanted something that was more fitted through my waist and in the sleeves, so I did modify that one, which meant a lot of math.

Sarah: Oh no.

Vanessa: Knitting is a lot of math –

Sarah: Yes, this is my problem with quilting –

Vanessa: – if you’re modifying it.

Sarah: – it’s math.

[Laughter]

Vanessa: There’s, there’s a lot of math involved in any time you modify a pattern, and so I try to not alter patterns too much. But sometimes you just want something to fit differently and you have to modify it!

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: And there’s nothing wrong with the way the designer designed the sweater; it’s a beautiful design! But she has a different body type than I do, and so I wanted mine to fit more like hers fits her, but because my body is shaped differently from hers I had to modify it, so.

Sarah: Yep. I, I notice this with, with quilting; if I want to make something larger, if I want it to be a bigger throw, whatever, I have to do additional math? So the math part always trips me up, but the thing that I like so much, and I imagine this is true with knitting as well, is that I am solving a puzzle that I have chosen? And –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – with quilting I’m actually making the puzzle. Like, I take this big piece of fabric, I cut it into little pieces, and I sew it back together again!

Vanessa: [Laughs]

Sarah: So I’m making my own puzzle, and that’s very true of, of knitting. Knitting is code and puzzle-solving as well, yeah?

Vanessa: Yes. Yes. In fact, I read somewhere, and I wish I could remember where, that some of the earliest computer coding experts were women who knit –

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: – and knitting patterns are a lot like computer code –

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: – because they repeat and they, they create, you know, sometimes finite and sometimes – for example, that shawl that I just knit: I could have kept going and just kept repeating it.

Sarah: If someone who’s listening wants to give knitting a try, what advice do you have for them? And do, would you, would you want to go back and talk to your beginner-knitter self? What advice would you give your beginner-knitter self?

Vanessa: Always buy extra buttons!

[Laughter]

Vanessa: Because one will fall off somewhere.

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: I, I think I would just say, you know, be fearless. If you want to make something, you know – everybody says start with a dishcloth, but if you’re not going to use a dishcloth, don’t start with a dishcloth. Start with something you’re going to use –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – and you’re going to wear and you’re going to love. If it’s a scarf, great; if it’s not a scarf, that’s great too! You know, you don’t have to, you don’t have to follow a prescribed path to knitting. You can do, you can do it your own way. It’s an experience that involves your senses, so do what makes your senses happy. If you don’t like knitting with wool, don’t knit with wool.

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: If you, you know, don’t like knitting with acrylic, don’t knit with acrylic! You don’t have to find yourself constrained by what people think you should use for, oh, this pattern says I have to use this. Well, no, you don’t have to use that; use whatever you want, you know.

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: And there are good and bad yarn choices for each project, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own thing. It just means you have to maybe change a pattern a little bit or –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – adjust your gauge or things like that. Patterns are suggestions, and you should always pursue what makes you happy with knitting. For me, I love knitting with wool, hate knitting with acrylic, and, you know –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: – so for me, I look for sweaters and scarves and things that I know will work well in wool, and I don’t knit a lot of things that can be thrown in the washing machine. I, so everything has to be hand washed, so I keep that in mind too, that, you know, if something has to be hand washed, maybe don’t knit it in white.

Sarah: Oh, maybe.

Vanessa: [Laughs] You know?

Sarah: That’s a good idea.

Vanessa: Just things like that!

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: You can be practical and still, and still satisfy yourself with your knitting, and I think that’s something that – it takes time to learn what you like, but then, you know – don’t knit something in a color if you don’t like that color, because you’re going to be looking at it the whole time you’re working on it. And don’t knit something in a, in a, in a texture that you don’t like, because you’re going to be holding it for weeks!

[Laughter]

Vanessa: You’re going to be holding it in your hands for weeks, so if you don’t like the way it feels in your hands, pick something else!

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: And just not to be afraid of changing things up or doing things your own way. Don’t look at a pattern, say, oh my gosh, that’s too hard. Look at it and say, I want to see how that works. And if you make a mistake, so what? You made a mistake! You can go back and fix it; you can leave it there and learn from it; it’s, it’s just a mistake.

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: You know, we, we all make them and it’s, it’s – but definitely buy extra buttons. That’s –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: – non-negotiable. Buy extra buttons!

Sarah: Buy extra buttons!

Vanessa: [Laughs]

Sarah: I followed that advice of, okay, if you’re going to try knitting, try this very cheap yarn, you can find it anywhere, and I could not stand touching it? It was acrylic; it was squeaky; it made my teeth hurt?

Vanessa: It squeaks.

Sarah: I hate it!

Vanessa: Yeah, it does.

Sarah: I don’t even like touching foam, so this was like just wrapping foam around my hands, and I’m like, this is awful. I can’t, I hate this so much –

Vanessa: Yeah.

Sarah: – and I realized, well, what if you didn’t use the squeaky yarn?

Together: And use something else?

Sarah: Yeah! But I, I had that exact same piece of advice: okay, start with this. Use this, do this pattern, and I’m like, oh, I hate this! And I realized it wasn’t because I was doing something wrong; it was because these recommendations just did not work for me as a tactile sensation –

Vanessa: Right.

Sarah: – I never wanted to touch it!

Vanessa: And some people love acrylic because it’s very soft and –

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: – you know, very easy on your skin, and wool can be difficult to, it can be very drying for your skin because it will absorb the moisture from your skin and –

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: – things like that.

Sarah: Oh yes.

Vanessa: So acrylic can be a lot gentler on your hands and a lot of people love it for that reason, ‘cause it’s soft and it’s machine-washable –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – and for me, it’s just not something I like, but I can definitely see the appeal. And I knit last – no, I guess it was 2020, so it was not last year but the year before –

Sarah: What is time anymore? We –

Vanessa: [Laughs] I know!

Sarah: – we don’t know.

Vanessa: At the beginning of the pandemic, I knit blankets for my kids, because they were always on a couch playing their Xbox until I moved the Xboxes. I got them each one and moved them up to their rooms? Best –

Sarah: Oh, excellent parenting!

Vanessa: – thing –

Sarah: A+!

Vanessa: – ever.

Sarah: Yes!

Vanessa: Because now they’re no longer fighting over the Xbox in my living room. But they were constantly on the couch –

Sarah: Absolutely brilliant. Yep.

Vanessa: – and they were grabbing, like, they were grabbing my fancy throws, which there’s nothing wrong with the kids using the fancy throws, but they were wrapping their feet in them –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Vanessa: – and I was like, I don’t want to get that dry-cleaned –

Sarah: Nope.

Vanessa: – in the middle of a pandemic.

Sarah: No.

Vanessa: So I knit them each a blanket in acrylic yarn, and that’s the most acrylic I’ve worked with in fifteen years and –

Sarah: Wow.

Vanessa: – and I did not love the process of knitting the project, but I loved the finished product, because they can – and they do their own laundry, so they can throw it in the washing machine themselves. I don’t have to get anything dry-cleaned; I don’t have to hand wash it and – so there’s a practical purpose –

Sarah: Oh yes.

Vanessa: – for everything.

Sarah: So what are you working on right now, writing-wise?

Vanessa: Writing-wise, I’m working on a book called Once Bitten, which is the last Vertical Smile book. The first Vertical Smile book is called Off Limits, and it was part of the Rose and Thorns multi-author Sapphic series –

Sarah: Right.

Vanessa: – and there were other characters in that book that, in Natalie’s band, that I wanted to have their own books but not be involved in the Rose and Thorns world so much? So her band mates are each getting their own books, and so Jacks and Ritchie’s book, Out of Sync, came out in October, and I’m writing Terry’s book, Once Bitten, which will hopefully be out later this year, but it is a polyamorous triad?

Sarah: Ooh!

Vanessa: And it is f/f/f. So it’s Terry and the drummer from her first band, The Glitter Gorillas, Andrea, and the bartender from the pub where they play music every Thursday night.

Sarah: As someone who does not like love triangles, I am all in favor of, you know, what if we just included everybody? What if there was no tension? What if we just –

Vanessa: Exactly!

Sarah: Rather than make it a ten-, a source of tension, let’s not!

Vanessa: [Laughs] And that’s –

Sarah: I like this solution very much.

Vanessa: That’s how I feel about it too. I don’t like the, the, will they or won’t they with this person or that person. Why do they have to choose? Why not both?

Sarah: Yeah!

Vanessa: Just make it, make it work. And I have not actually written a lot of polyamorous books. This will only be the second one. The first one was a novella length, which I’m never writing more than two main characters in anything shorter than forty thousand words ever again.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: Because that was – [laughs] – because that was a lot of work just to keep it short.

Sarah: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Vanessa: And it was, it was in an anthology, so it had to be kept short.

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: I like moving away from the idea that something has to be a, a triangle and it has to be one way or the other and just, you know, let everybody love everybody!

Sarah: Yeah! What are you working on knitting-wise? Do you have a new project?

Vanessa: I do! I’m actually designing a sweater –

Sarah: Ooh!

Vanessa: – at the moment. So I’m, I’m designing it as I knit it. I could, I could see it in my head, and I was like, I really want that, and nobody’s really designed anything like it, so I guess I have to do it myself kind of thing? I’m doing all the math as I go, but hopefully when it’s done I will have the sweater that I saw in my head.

Sarah: Have you noticed any similarities between crafting your own pattern and crafting stories?

Vanessa: Yes, because you have to, you have to have a level of interest and maintain a level of interest.

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: I, I don’t think that books necessarily have to follow a certain structure to work, but I think that for a lot of people, they get the most satisfaction, especially in romance, for books that feel comfortable and familiar in their structure?

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: And so, and it’s the same thing with a sweater: there are a lot of different ways to construct a sweater, but there are ways that you are going to feel the most comfortable wearing it.

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: So for me, you know, as I get older, I’m liking cardigans more and more?

Sarah: Me too!

Vanessa: And I think it’s just because I get colder more often, so I’m, you know, I’m less interested –

Sarah: Long ones, yeah.

Vanessa: – in pullovers and more interested in cardigans and things like that. Well, books are the same way: as you, you know, you are comforted by a certain shape or structure, and so when you’re thinking about creating something, who are you creating it for? What are your goals for it? What do you want it to say, or what do you want it to feel like? And, and with books you’re, you’re evoking emotions –

Sarah: Yes!

Vanessa: – and with garments you’re evoking physical sensations. Well, sometimes with books you’re evoking physical sensations too. I mean, if you’re doing it right, I hope!

Sarah: [Laughs]

Vanessa: But – [laughs] – but it’s, it’s something that I think is really subconscious; when you’re writing, a lot of the times you’re not thinking, you know, I want to evoke this emotion on page twenty-three – well, for me it’s not that concrete. I’m sure there are writers that are much more dialed into it than I am in that way. For me, I’m much more a get the whole scene out and then go back in and do that stuff –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – you know, afterwards. I’m, I’m, I edit as I go, but I also, there’s so much that happens after the book is written, and with knitting it’s kind of completely the opposite: you’re doing everything as you go, but you are using the same basic sense of what do I want this to feel like when it’s finished?

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, you have an emotional goal in mind, as well as a –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – construction goal.

Vanessa: Yeah. There are a lot of similarities, and I think that’s true of all different kinds of art.

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: You know, I do photography as a hobby. You know, when you’re making a photograph, not just taking a snapshot, which I also do plenty of – my phone camera roll can attest to that – but when you’re making a photograph as a piece of art, you’re thinking about it differently, and you’re thinking about, you know, do I want to blur the background? Do I want the background clear? How, where am I positioning the person in the frame as a – well, I, I do portraits; I don’t do landscapes – so where am I positioning the person in the frame in regard to what’s around them? Things like that.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Vanessa: Anytime you’re doing art, you’re creat-, you’re thinking about things in multiple levels and you’re evoking emotion, but you’re also, you’re thinking about the format that you’re working in and –

Sarah: Yes. Well, I mean, you’re, you’re – what’s the word I’m looking for? The construction of a photograph. Layout? No.

Vanessa: Composition.

Sarah: Composition, thank you! I appreciate that. The, the composition that you put into just the photos of your children wearing your knits shows the amount of thought that’s going into the construction of that image, because there’s all of these different ways to highlight the person in the knit, and you –

Vanessa: Yeah.

Sarah: – you can sort of tell that the, the effort that went into that.

Vanessa: A lot of times we go right as the sun is setting –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – because that’s where you get the best, most dynamic light, and our backyard is basically completely unkempt – [laughs] – so there’s trees and ivy and –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – it, in the summer it looks very kind of lush and green, like a fairyland. Right now it’s just sort of gray and brown –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – and drab, but, but we use the light to, you know, light them up from behind, and our house is yellow, so we get the sun shining on the back of the house and then the yellow, the, it acts like a great big reflector –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – like a big yellow reflector.

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: So there’s, over the years of taking photographs of them for, you know, fourteen years, I’ve learned, get in the backyard when the sun’s going down, use the house as a reflector – [laughs] –

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: – and that carries over to photographing the knits, too.

Sarah: I always look at people’s pumpkin picking photos and think, wow, humans look really good with big orange gourds. Why aren’t there just not – what is it with the orange gourds? The reflective color scheme of orange gourds, all the humans look great.

Vanessa: It’s, it’s –

Sarah: It’s wild, right?!

Vanessa: It’s a mystery, because, you know, I look terrible in orange sweaters, but –

Sarah: I look awful in orange!

Vanessa: [Laughs]

Sarah: But man –

Vanessa: But put a pumpkin there!

Sarah: – park a bunch of humans in a pum-, pumpkin patch and they look great! Like, what is it with –

Vanessa: Yeah.

Sarah: – orange gourds and people? I don’t understand!

[Laughter]

Sarah: I can’t wear orange, but –

Vanessa: Me either, but, but it, it’s, it’s a mystery, that.

Sarah: Isn’t it, though?

Vanessa: [Laughs]

Sarah: So I always ask this question: what books would you like to tell people about that you’ve really enjoyed, if you have any to recommend.

Vanessa: I tend to be more of a rereader than someone who reads something brand-new every time they pick up a book, but I just read, this weekend, it just came out this weekend, The Missing Page by Cat Sebastian?

Sarah: Ooh!

Vanessa: Which is the second book in her Page & Sommers series. I don’t know if it’s a duology or, or if it’s going to be more than that, but the first book was called Hither, Page, and the second book just came out and it’s called The Missing Page, and they are sort of mysteries, which I don’t normally go for mysteries, but I will read anything Cat Sebastian writes. Like, that’s just – she’s just so good! One of the main characters, he’s a country doctor, and he’s served in the war as a surgeon, and he has post-traumatic stress disorder, and the other main character is a spy! I think she does so much with her character work that – it’s absolutely intentional, but it doesn’t feel calculated?

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: It’s, it’s very careful and considerate, and these two men who both had a bad war, as they, they, that’s how they describe it, that they had a bad war –

Sarah: Yeah.

Vanessa: – who find each other, they actually met for the first time during the war; then they meet up again in the middle of this, you know, mystery plot. It’s very much not the sort of thing I would have necessarily picked up if it hadn’t been Cat Sebastian, but I loved it, and I love these two characters, and the way she has written their relationship is very, it’s very tender. It’s very, the way they love each other is very generous and careful, and I just love it?

[Laughter]

Sarah: Awesome!

Vanessa: I do! I, so, so I highly recommend that book, and there’s actually a book that came out today that I can’t wait to read, which is Anita Kelly’s Love & Other Disasters about cooking show contestants –

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: – which, I love books with reality show plots? I just, I don’t know what it is, but I love them. But this one is, one of the reality show contestants is nonbinary and is the first nonbinary person to be on this show, and it’s, they’re competitors competing against each other, so that’s just like catnip for me –

Sarah: Yep.

Vanessa: – and so I’m really excited to read that one. I’m just, I’m just so excited for that one. I, I saw it in my inbox this morning and I was like – [gasps] –

Sarah: [Gasps]

Vanessa: – this is all this stuff I love!

Sarah: Yep!

Vanessa: So.

Sarah: I think reality TV presents a really unique context for forced proximity and conflict.

Vanessa: Yes!

Sarah: It’s built into the setting, so it’s almost like –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – if you stick a bunch of people in a bunch of Empire-waist ball gowns in all Almack’s, you’re like, all right, I understand this set. I understand this –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – the dressing; I understand the, the conflicts; I understand y’all can’t go off together, that’s not allowed, and everyone has a purpose. Like, I understand the setting. With reality television, it’s very similar.

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: You have forced proximity, conflict, competition, a fake narrative created by the producers, and then the actual narrative of the humans who are performing the –

Vanessa: Yes.

Sarah: – producer narrative. Like, there’s all this stuff baked in that I love, hence – and also cooking.

Vanessa: Yeah. I mean, and who doesn’t love to read about food?

Sarah: Do you know, by the way, that the, the CBC, our neighbors to the north, have put The Great Canadian Baking Show on YouTube?

Vanessa: Oh!

Sarah: Oh!

Vanessa: That’s –

Sarah: Oh. The first –

Vanessa: – really good to know. [Laughs]

Sarah: The first season, one of the, one of the hosts of the first season is Dan Levy from Schitt’s Creek?

Vanessa: Oh really!

Sarah: Yes.

Vanessa: I love him.

Sarah: Okay. If, if The Great British Baking Show is a very specific kind of, of sensory experience for you, this is very good. Very, very good variety of that one.

Vanessa: Awesome.

Sarah: Yeah. The –

Vanessa: All right, that’s exciting.

Sarah: The CBC has just gifted us with so much. I’m so very – all of the seasons are on YouTube now.

Vanessa: That’s fantastic.

[music]

Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you again to Vanessa North for hanging out with me. After we finished recording I remembered a question I had meant to ask and forgot, so I followed up. She mentioned that wool can be very drying. I asked for a hand cream recommendation. She recommends All Naturals Hand Repair Cream. She says she loves this one and the store owner is a romance reader that she met on Twitter. I will have a link to hand cream because if you’re like me this is a very important recommendation.

I’m also curious: do you knit? Do you have another craft that you adore? I would love to hear what your craft of passion is, or the thing that you just love doing while you listen to books or whatever you’re doing when you relax. Email me; call me; just yell out the window. I would love to hear from you, and if you would like some pictures of your crafting, I would love to talk about them on the podcast, ‘cause clearly podcasting is such a visual medium. It makes such sense that I get ideas from Instagram, right? Yeah, of course.

I have a joke this week from a listener. Hi, Sue! Sue sent me a joke! This joke is amazing! Sue says, I have a bad joke to share. Full disclosure: it was the intro to the latest episode of Dear Hank & John, so I didn’t come up with it myself, but I love it. I, I also love it, and I’m so excited that she shared this with me. Are you ready?

What do Winnie the Pooh and Attila the Hun have in common?

Give up? What do Winnie the Pooh and Attila the Hun have in common?

They have the same middle name.

[Laughs] Sue says, I hope this made you laugh too. I could not wait to share this! If you want to send me jokes or send me pictures of your incredible crafting, [email protected] or [email protected], whatever is easier for you to remember. I love hearing from you.

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[cool music]

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at Frolic.media/podcasts!
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