Birds in the Air

‘Quilting Life’ Inspires First Novel for Adult Readers

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From Frances O’Roark Dowell — bestselling author of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water and other “beloved books for tweens and teenagers” (New York Times Sunday Book Review) — comes Birds in the Air, Dowell’s first novel for adults.

In the tradition of Marie Bostwick and Jennifer Chiaverini, Dowell combines her deep connection to the quilting life and her love of storytelling to create a novel about the abiding friendships that bind together a community of women who share a passion for making quilts.

A truly enjoyable read” about “the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.” —Marianne Fons

When Emma Byrd moves into the house of her dreams in the small mountain community of Sweet Anne’s Gap, she knows that making friends may prove to be her biggest challenge. Her husband loves his new job and her kids are finding their way at school. But Emma — no natural when it comes to talking to strangers — will have to try a little harder, especially after the sweet, white-haired neighbor she first visits slams the door in her face.

Luckily, a few of the quilters of Sweet Anne’s Gap adopt Emma and she soon finds herself organizing the quilt show for the town’s centennial celebration. But not everyone is happy to see the job go to an outsider, especially one who has befriended an outcast pursuing her own last best chance at redemption.

With Birds in the Air, Frances O’Roark Dowell (winner of the Edgar Award, the William Allen White Award and the Christopher Medal) has created a warm, funny novel about fitting in, falling out and mending frayed relationships one stitch at a time.

What a delightful book! … As I read, I was transported out of my chair and into the town of Sweet Anne’s Gap and the lives of the quilters that I can understand so well.” —Annie Smith


Author Frances O’Roark Dowell (l.) celebrated the launch of Birds in the Air (Milton Falls Media, Sept.) with a trunk show and book signing on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, at the annual meeting of the Atlanta-area’s Chattahoochee Evening Stars Quilt Guild. The show featured a number of quilts by Dowell (Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water) incorporating variations on the traditional Birds in the Air quilt block, a central element in her new novel — her first for adult readers.

A Quilting Q&A with Author Frances O’Roark Dowell

Why did you decide to write about quilters? There’s a rule of thumb for writers: Write the books you want to read. I’m so happy whenever writers like Jennifer Chivavirini, Marie Bostwick and Sandra Dallas come out with new quilting novels — I wish more quilters wrote books! So it makes sense that if I love reading books about quilting, I should write one.

What draws you to quilting? I’ve always loved quilts. For many years I was convinced that I’d never be able to make a quilt (I’m math phobic, for one thing), and when I finally realized I could, quilting became my new passion. I recently interviewed novelist Marie Bostwick for my blog and asked her why she made quilts. Her answer: Because I can’t paint. I totally got it. Making quilts satisfies my artist soul (the one that can’t paint, alas).

How are quilting and writing similar; in what ways do they differ? With both quilting and writing, I revise a lot. I find this especially true now that I’m designing more of my own quilts. I mess up a lot in both endeavors, but find that sometimes my failures lead to good, unexpected places. Neither books nor quilts always end up being exactly what you intended them to be — for better and for worse. One thing that’s different about making quilts is that you’re constantly in motion, going from the cutting board to the sewing machine to the ironing board and back again. It’s great to move while I’m making something instead of just sitting in front of a computer.

How did the “Off-Kilter Quilt” podcast come about? I’d been making quilts for a few years when I discovered quilting podcasts. For the most part, these podcasts were homey and conversational, and I loved listening to the hosts talk about their projects and guild meetings, and hearing about the books they were reading and what they were having for dinner. For me, starting a podcast was like joining an ongoing conversation with other podcasters, which then became an ongoing conversation with my listeners, who leave comments, send me emails, and sometimes even come through town and have a cup of coffee with me. It’s a really wonderful, supportive community.