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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Jennifer Chiaverini captures a thriving art form in "Elm Creek"


Madison resident Jennifer Chiaverini has created a quilt without utilizing any actual fabric. She's an author who has stitched together a group of people, much like a patchwork quilt, in her series of novels, "The Elm Creek Quilts."

"(This is) a series about a quilters retreat in Pennsylvania," Chiaverini says. "I try to bring in quilting techniques, characters and their relationships and the ordeals they go through."

Chiaverini never intended to write a series. Her first novel, "The Quilter's Apprentice," found such a following that fans were clamoring for more.

"I've been doing this since 1999. I didn't know there would be a sequel, but it found an audience," she says. "I'm happy to oblige, happy they wanted a second book out of me. Readers kept asking and one book led to the next."

Now, with the release of her ninth novel, "Circle of Quilters," she is promoting it on a book tour around the nation.

"In this story, two founding members of Elm Creek Camp had to leave to pursue other interests," Chiaverini explains. "This is the search for two replacements. There are five new characters, four women and one man, who have different backgrounds and areas of quilt history."

She says that a person doesn't need to be a quilter to read her novels.

"I wanted to introduce non-quilters (to quilting) so they could understand why their quilting friends are so passionate," she says.

Chiaverini also wanted to debunk quilting stereotypes with her "Elm Creek" novels.

"Some people think quilting that was done long ago purely out of necessity. They aren't really aware of it being means of artistic expression," she says. "There are many people still enjoying it today. I wanted to let them know quilting is alive and thriving. There are 21 million (quilters) in the United States alone and it's popular overseas as well."

Quilting, she says, is an adapting and thriving art form, and, in turn, finds her quilt-inspired writing to be much the same.

"I don't work with an outline, I think that takes the fun out of it for fiction," she says. Instead she goes with a "natural flow, organic process."

Chiaverini has taken her readers and characters from the present day to historic time periods and has found a way to bridge the two eras. She says she has no idea how many more "Elm Creek" novels there will be.

"I can take one character who is a minor in one book and make her the focus in another book; I can flash back to other time periods," she says. "There's a lot more I can do with the series, as long as each one fresh new and interesting in their own right."

As for the book tour, Chiaverini says she hopes people will come out to see her.

"I always get a warm reception from quilters and fans in Milwaukee," she says.

Jennifer Chiaverini appears at 7 p.m. at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Brookfield on April 4 and in Madison at Barnes & Noble on April 5. Her Web site is elmcreek.net.

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