Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kathy Cano-Murillo for Authors @ The Teague

When Kathy Cano-Murillo appeared for Authors @ The Teague, she brought out the local audience, people who had gone to school with her, and readers who wanted to know what she said about Glendale in her latest novel, Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing. Cano-Murillo is a local favorite whose "Crafty Chica" column used to appear in The Arizona Republic. Then, she left to work with her own line of crafts. From there, she took her love of crafts to fiction in her Crafty Chica series.

Kathy told us she loves crafts. She uses crafts as a metaphor for life in her books. In her first book, Waking Up in the Land of Glitter, glitter was a metaphor for happiness. Some people use a great deal of glitter, while others are happy with just a little.

In her new book, she uses patternless sewing as a metaphor for life. She still remembers teaching students how to make a purse in a free-form art class. One woman asked where the pattern was. Cano-Murillo said she had no pattern; she'd show her how to wing it. The woman questioned it, saying how can you sew without a pattern. So, Kathy took a 12 x 12 piece of scrapbook paper, and said, here's our pattern, but she encouraged the woman to go with her instincts. They never used the scrapbook paper.  The woman stayed longer than any other student, but she left with a purse. A year later, Kathy was in the middle of teaching a class when the woman came in and came up and hugged her, saying she loved patternless sewing. It taught her to let go of rules in other areas of her life.

The concept in Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing is that we all have a pattern for life given to us by our parents, our culture, our neighborhood. But, it's up to us to keep that pattern, alter it, or start all over. In the book, Scarlet Santana teaches a class about patternless sewing, but it's also about changes in life. It will all come together in the end.

Before Cano-Murillo read to us from her book, she introduced the scenario.  It's the first class session for Scarlet's class. Kathy thinks of Scarlet as a Latina Katy Perry. She's creative, with two degrees in engineering. Scarlet's family expects her to follow her father and brothers into the engineering field. But, she dreams of being in fashion design.  Cano-Murillo said the first class is set in a record store on Glendale Ave.

Patternless is a framework for life. We can change the pattern, skip it, or stay with the one we are given. We have to find our own pattern, and why we are here.

Cano-Murillo said she always admired a designer of purses, and used to try to emulate her. She took that idea, and gave Scarlet a Latina designer, Daisy de la Flora, who was her muse. Daisy's nephew runs a designers' program. Scarlet runs her patternless sewing class in order to save up money to go to the designers' program.

Kathy said one of the scenes in the book was based on her own Nana who used to go to Saks with her daughter. They'd take three dresses into the dressing room, turn them inside out, and study them to mentally take them apart, and go home and design a new pattern. But, Kathy said even her Nana, as expert as she was, could make a mistake. She told a funny story of ordering the wrong size dress for a wedding, and her mother insisted Kathy's Nana fix it the same day. While Cano-Murillo went to get her body wrapped to try to lose more inches, her Nana worked on the dress, taking it apart and adding material. But, when Kathy went to put it on, her Nana had put the back on inside out. So, shortly before the wedding, she was sewing it again, praying under her breath.

Cano-Murillo regretted that she never took official sewing lessons from her Nana. Her cousins sewed with her, but Kathy was always too busy to take lessons. She based Scarlet's Nana Eleanor on her own grandmother. When her Nana died, it broke Kathy's heart that she had never had lessons. But, her husband said, all she wanted was for you to sew, and he went out and bought her a $99 sewing machine, and she hasn't stopped sewing since. But, Cano-Murillo included even that regret in her novel, when Scarlet's career threatens to overshadow her family and her Nana Eleanor.

Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing evolved from the first draft to what it is now. It was originally as happy as Waking Up in the Land of Glitter. But, Kathy's dad passed away in the past year, and the story now has deeper issues than in the first draft. Death changes how you see the world and relationships. Cano-Murillo dedicated this book to her father.

She also told us she had to write this book faster than her first one. With your first novel, you have all the time in the world. But, there's a deadline for the second novel. With her newspaper background, she looks at it as a 90,000 word feature story. But sometimes it's easy to write, and other days she cried that she couldn't do it. Then, she'd get up the next day, thinking she had to write more that day to make up for the day she cried and didn't write. Cano-Murillo said she knew the ending of the book, but she had to work to get there. She loved how the book turned out.

When someone asked about the Mexibilly Frocks in the book, Cano-Murillo said she designed those with scarves and a tube top in her Guide to Artful Sewing Book. In this book, Scarlet's ideas for dresses originally were inspired by movie stars. But, it was her Mexibilly Frocks that were special. When she followed her heart, her inspiration, it worked for her. We need to celebrate what's under our noses.

Asked if she was going to write sequels, she said, maybe. She's writing the third book right now, tentatively called Miracle of the Sacred Cupcake. It's about a woman who does cake decorating, and that's a metaphor for life, with icing, cake that's too dry and crumbles. Kathy's editor did tell her she could weave characters from earlier books into her other ones. She said she would like to write sequels though. She loves happy endings, and her books end on happy notes, but there's always more to the story after the ending.

Since I had introduced Cano-Murillo saying her book included Glendale locations, she was asked about them. She answered that the record shop where Scarlet teaches classes is between 57th and 58th. She grew up herself across from 43rd. La Perla Restaurant is in there. She was going to make up a restaurant, but her husband warned her she better use La Perla's real name. I can tell readers that she also includes the historica Catlin Court neighborhood, La Purisima Bakery, "home of the best apple empenadas in all of Glendale," Pete's Fish and Chips, and even mentions the Christmas decorations downtown. Kathy Cano-Murillo said Arizona has taken some hits in recent years, and she likes to showcase Arizona. She, her grandparents, and her parents all grew up here. Kathy's Arizona is artful, cultural, positive, and fun, and that's the Arizona she showcases. She showcases different areas that she likes. Cano-Murillo said she picks out fun places and the cool things we have here.

People think of Kathy Cano-Murillo as The Crafty Chica, and crafting. But, she wrote long before she crafted, saying it was her first passion. She loved Erma Bombeck, and wanted to be the fifth grade Latina Erma Bombeck. She used to write stories about what happened at the family dinner table, and when her parents went in for conferences, they were surprised to find out what she had written.

Kathy Cano-Murillo concluded the program by saying you should find what you love to do. Do it because it makes you happy.

Kathy Cano-Murillo's website is

Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing by Kathy Cano-Murillo. Grand Central Publishing. ©2011. ISBN 9780446509237 (paperback), 352p.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I write without an outline (unless one is requested), so Kathy's book and philosophy really appeals to me!

(I'm getting quite a lot of books on my Kindle and on my bedside table, Lesa! It's been a good thing...) :)

Susan Murray said...

Thank you so much for this great write-up, Lesa!! I have always loved Kathy Cano-Murillo, and this felt like I was in the room with all of you. Thanks! Susan

Lesa said...

That's good, Elizabeth. I'm glad it's been a good thing. And, you'd love Kathy & her personality.

Lesa said...

It gives you a taste of home, doesn't it, Susan? You'd recognize so many places in the book.