Thursday, November 18, 2021

Noah Strikes Again - Part 2

    Katie came in and set her bag by the front door. Michael was the only one in the room, and he barely glanced up.
    “I’m home,” she said.
    “You’re always home,” he said, still paying very little attention.
    It was true that she came home from school nearly every weekend. But it would be nice if her siblings acted as though they missed her just a little during the week.
    “Hi, Katie.” Liz came around a corner.
    “Hi, Katie.” Cecelia was right behind her. “We named the ghost Muffy.”
    Katie wrinkled her eyes at her sisters. “What ghost?”
    “Noah’s ghost,” Cecelia said.
    “The one that doesn’t exist?”
    “Yeah. We named her Muffy.”
    Liz nodded but looked as though she was mostly humoring her younger sister.
    Katie was sure they still weren’t making any sense. She shrugged it off as unimportant. She was just glad the two girls were getting along again. Noah had pulled off a months long prank where he was moving stuff in their room. Liz blamed Cecelia until they started to convince themselves it was a ghost.
    “Forget Muffy,” Michael said. “Let’s play a game.” He went to grab something from the shelf. He had to grab and return several before he got enough players to agree to one.
    Katie did feel missed when they argued over who would be on her team. She enjoyed several games with various subsets of her family during the weekend. She was happy to be home and stuck around until Monday morning since her first class didn’t start until 11 am.
    She and her dad were the first ones up and sat at the table sipping orange juice when they heard the shower turn on upstairs.
    “That’ll be Liz,” he said.
    Katie nodded. “I’ll check the pancakes.” They had two big puffy pancakes in the oven. Her dad had gotten them in there before she was dressed, but she felt justified in saying they were making breakfast since she was in charge of getting them out. The sides were curling, and the scent was heavenly.
    “What smells so good?” Noah asked as he came into the kitchen.
    “Puffy pancakes,” Katie said.
    “Yummy.” Noah went to the cupboard and grabbed a stack of plates.
    Cecelia joined them as Katie was cutting slices for those plates. “I want some,” she said.
    “Dad!” Liz appeared clutching clothes and a towel to her chest. She was in pajamas. “Can I use your shower? Michael’s in my way.”
    “What’s he doing up so early?” Dad asked.
    He asked way too calmly for Liz. She added some urgency to her tone. “I’ll never get my hair dry if I have to wait for him!”
    “Go ahead,” he said. “But try not to disturb your mom.”
    Liz rushed off.
    Noah seemed entertained by the encounter. “Did you do something?” Katie asked him.
    He only smiled. The water had shut off upstairs. Michael came charging down a few moments later. His hair was dripping and his shirt darker in spots that were wet. It looked as though he’d skipped the towel. “Oh, man, I’m missing pancakes.” He grabbed a granola bar and started stuffing things into his backpack.
    “Why are you in such a hurry?” Cecelia asked.
    Michael answered somewhat angrily. “It’s called a school bus.”
    "But it won’t be here for like a half hour.”
    Noah burst out laughing.
    Michael froze. Then he looked at the clock on the wall. His confusion passed as he glared at Noah. “Someone must have changed my alarm clock to make me think I slept in.”
    “Noah strikes again,” Cecelia mumbled. He’d stopped saying it but sometimes other family members filled in the blank. The baby of the family had enough sense to run out of the room as soon as Michael figured out what had happened.
    Michael looked for a moment as though he was thinking of following before he simply rolled his eyes and returned to the kitchen to grab his share of pancake.
    Katie had finished hers already. She looked up as she heard a door opening.
    Mom came out of her bedroom squinting at the light. “Why is Liz in our shower? And why is she singing?”
    “Blame Noah.” Michael spoke around a mouthful of food so it wasn’t just the early hour that kept their mom from understanding him.
    “Liz always sings in the shower,” Cecelia said with annoyance. “And she’s already singing Christmas songs.”
    The squint deepened and Mom shook her head as though she didn’t care enough to have anyone else try to explain anything to her at the moment. She moved farther into the room and pulled down a coffee mug.
    Katie was thinking that it was almost November so it was almost not too early for Christmas songs. Cecelia wouldn’t appreciate that observation. Someone should tell Michael not to talk with his mouth full. He wouldn’t appreciate advice from his sister. And Mom certainly wouldn’t appreciate a reminder that she was the one who encouraged Noah to become a prankster. Katie quietly took another sip of her orange juice.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Noah Strikes Again - Part 1

 

I’m switching to fiction for the next three months.  Why?  Because it’s becoming a tradition for me to do this near the end of the year.  And because I want to.  I have three installments of a short story that borrows a few peripheral characters from my next book (Romance Arts #3).  Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.  This is part 1.

---- 

    There was a sheet blocking the doorway into the kitchen.
    “Is this really necessary?” Katie called through it.
    “Is what necessary?” came her mom’s voice from behind it.
    “The sheet.”
    “Yes!” Noah yelled. He was also behind it. “Don’t come in.”
    “It’s fine,” Mom said.
    Fine wasn’t the same as necessary, but Katie knew the answer meant she needed to respect the barrier.
    “They won’t let anyone in,” Liz said.
    Katie had been upstairs doing homework. It was Dad’s birthday. She knew her youngest sibling, Noah, had talked their mom into letting him help with dinner in honor of the occasion. Because she was in high school and he was only eight, she had already been closed in her room when he got home from school and didn’t know there was a big reveal in the works.
    Michael had several papers spread out on the floor for his homework, and Liz was reading a book. Katie wondered where Cecelia was. Surely the most emotional member of the family would be less calm about being left out of the loop. She heard clinking from the dining room and found her youngest sister setting the table.
    “It’s almost ready,” Cecelia said.
    Katie asked her if she knew what Mom and Noah were making.
    “No, but it’s almost ready.” Cecelia smiled. She appeared satisfied to at least know more than Katie.
    Another sheet was over the entrance to the kitchen on this side, too. Noah’s head popped out near the edge with his hand clutching the sheet under his chin. “Go get Dad,” he said. “We’re bringing it out.”
    Cecelia dashed off at the request, calling the names of everyone in the family as she went.
    They gathered around the table to a meal of spaghetti. At least, it sort of looked like spaghetti. The noodles seemed almost crumbly and the sauce was… the color was off. Katie concluded that they’d used a different recipe than usual. After the food was blessed, the family waited for the birthday guy to sample the first bite.
    His mouth puckered in the weirdest expression. He didn’t look displeased, just confused. Then he started laughing and said, “This is not spaghetti.”
    Katie took a tentative taste of her food and found that instead of tomato, it was strawberry. Apparently, it was crepes and strawberry sauce in the shape of spaghetti. Once she got past the odd appearance, it was delicious.
    Cecelia was poking at hers with her fork. “I’m not eating this until someone tells me what it is.”
    “You’ll like it,” Liz assured her.
    Cecelia sent a glare around the table at everyone enjoying the meal without her before she carefully touched one tine to her tongue. She pressed her lips together, then took a slightly larger sample. “Okay, I’ll eat it,” she said.
    Noah was grinning at all the reactions. He’d recently pulled off a few minor pranks, and it was starting to look like he couldn’t get enough.
    “Mom, are you sure you want to encourage him?” Katie asked.
    Mom only smiled indulgently at her youngest. “It’s a little harmless fun.”
    “Eat up,” Noah said. “We made cookies for dessert.”
    “Are they really cookies?” Michael looked between Noah and Mom as though he wasn’t entirely sure who would be honest. “Because if they’re actually dog biscuits or something, that won’t be funny.”
    “Ew!” Cecelia nearly dropped her fork at the idea. “Is there anything in this that isn’t food?”
    Noah frowned at her. “You said it was good.”
    “I said I would eat it,” she countered. But she took another big bite as soon as Mom assured her it was food.
    They skipped the candles but sang “Happy Birthday” as Noah proudly brought out a plate of what Katie hoped was chocolate chip cookies. He seemed pleased that people eyed them suspiciously as he passed them out. Michael smelled his, which seemed to convince him to take a healthy bite. Katie left hers on her plate because she noticed that Noah paused after setting one in front of Mom.
    She gasped at her first bite. “Hey! When did you put mint in these?”
    Noah laughed and said, “Noah strikes again!”
    “Seriously,” Mom said. “These are delicious, but I was right there. How did I not see you put mint in the batter?”
    “I’m good,” Noah said, pumping his fist.
    “Do you still think the pranks are harmless fun?” Katie asked.
    Mom shrugged at her. “I like surprises. And mint.”
    Katie did not like surprises so she was still wary that this phase would not end well. But she had to agree that the mint was a good addition to the cookie.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Tips for Writers

Good news. I’m going to take a few minutes to offer some advice for writers. Though I’ve been a writer for quite a few years now, I’ve been a reader even longer. Here are a few random tips I’ve picked up from the many books I’ve read. This certainly isn’t all the things a writer should know or even the most important. It’s only what popped into my head when I decided to write about it.

1) Step one for writing an excellent book is to give your main character an unusual name. This could even be a common name that’s spelled weird. Whatever you choose should be something that makes the reader pause to consider several different pronunciations the first several times it appears. If you want to be helpful, you can have someone in the book eventually explain the pronunciation by saying that it rhymes with or sound like another more common word. But make sure this doesn’t happen until the second half of the book. You want your readers to struggle to correct the mistake in their heads for at least a chapter afterwards.

2) If you are writing a Christian book and want your protagonist to be listening for direction from God, make sure this is found in a still, small voice. Did you catch those words? Still and small. Don’t try to get creative with synonyms or suggest that God might communicate in any other way. And don’t write still and small. The “and” would mess it up. You are only allowed to describe God with a still, small voice.

3) To make a character likable, describe him or her with the word quirky. This doesn’t mean that the character has any unusual habits or mannerisms. In fact, it’s better if he/she doesn’t. This only means that the reader is required to like the character.

4) To really set your book apart, have the characters speak with an unusual dialect. This can’t be mentioned and assumed, it needs to have most English words spelled wrong in order to work. You want your readers to hurt their brains trying to parse the conversations. I l’nie und’stan we reeters d’it. If you understood that, I’ll have to work on my own dialect writing skills.

5) If you are writing something set in the Old West, your hero will need superb tracking skills. Spotting footprints isn’t good enough. Noticing broken brush isn’t good enough. When someone inevitably needs to track the bad guys (kidnapping the heroine usually works), he will need to be able to step outside and say, “There were four of them. Their hideout is three miles due west. One had black teeth, and he’s riding double with Charmayenne on a five-year-old sorrel. Two of the guys are brothers and another was born in Canada. They left two hours, 16 minutes and 12 seconds ago.”

6) It’s always good to find a place in the story to include some incorrect math. You could mention how many years ago something happened in one chapter, then how old a character was at the time in the next chapter. These two numbers cannot add up to within a year of the character’s current age. You don’t want to leave room for off months.

7) I read a lot of love stories so I know the importance of this last one. Make your days insanely long. The minutiae of each day should take at least eight chapters to describe. This way, when the heroine declares her true and lasting love for the hero, the reader will have forgotten that they only met two days ago.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Things I Almost Said

I’ve written about the importance of editing and thorough proofreading a few times. (Feel free to check the archives for examples.) The one that sticks in my memory is a post where I listed and mocked errors that had made it into final books. I was trying to illustrate how a sentence that doesn’t say what it’s supposed to say disrupts a story. The reader, at least when the reader is me, pauses to imagine the unintentional meaning. While the point was valid and I didn’t name the books, it sticks with me because I still wonder if it came across a little mean-spirited.

I will try to re-illustrate the same idea with sentences from one of my own books. Let’s all acknowledge a critical difference first though. These are sentences that I found while editing an early draft. None of these mistakes were in the book when it was published.

“It’s the same game,” Audra said, brining it to the table.
Why is she brining the game? And how can she brine it to the table? I didn’t think brine was sticky.

Logan put four kinds on top of the straight.
Even readers who don’t understand the game the characters are playing will understand that there are no kinds in a deck of cards. How did Logan end up with four of them?

She was grateful thought.
The only thing funny about this sentence is that for about half a second I thought the mistake was a missing “a” between was and grateful. Careful. It wouldn’t have been the first time I introduced a typo while fixing a different one.

The shape of Grandma May floated out of the crown and reached the back of the counter as he reached the front.
If his grandmother is floating out of a crown, why is he still moving towards that same counter? That’s too creepy.

We word on the furniture here so there’s regularly some banging and…”
I cracked myself up with this one. What does it mean to word on the furniture? It sounds like a reason you might yell at a toddler. Stop wording on the furniture! But this character says it as though it’s something good. Is it fun? Maybe they entertain each other with furniture puns. Do we need a new table? Let’s postpone that discussion. With a gavel. That’s why there’s banging. I was thinking this made them awfully weird while I was the one thinking it.

That’s be awful.
Something about this sentence makes me picture someone with an eyepatch. “Arrgh! That’s be awful.” Spoiler: There are no pirates in my book.

“And they sell if for her?”
Someone apparently sells if. Does that mean people buy if?

“The lazy part of the creepy part?”
A clown dragging one leg behind it? That’s certainly creepy, but I don’t know if it would count as lazy or why anyone would want to ask about it.

Both sides of the room seemed to be crammed with mostly woodened furniture or various types.
I’m not sure what makes furniture woodened. But mostly I’m wondering why we’re left hanging on what has various types.

She spun around with that lovely pony talk swinging.
I don’t know what pony talk is, but it sure is lovely. I guess it swings, too.

I think that’s sufficient proof that typos can be distracting, that I get distracted even when trying to correct them, and that I can imagine some odd stuff. It probably also shows that I don’t mind making fun of myself. I’m not done. It appears I wrote something else that makes no sense, and unfortunately, I can’t find a mistake to blame. I compiled this list of almost-quotes at least six months ago. (Before The Art of Introductions was published, which I’m sure everyone has recognized as the source.) When I opened the file to use the material, I discovered that I had left a note to myself at the bottom. It said, “Fix book 1. Tap on the floor.”

I stared at that for the longest time. I can only conclude that it’s what I meant to write, I just don’t know what I was trying to tell myself. Now I’m concerned that there might be something I was supposed to fix and didn’t. Yet another reason that clear writing is vital. New note to self: Include more details in future notes to self.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Another Troglodyte Story

Once upon a few weeks ago, I was reading a paper copy of Our Sunday Visitor from sometime before that.  There was an article about books for the modern Catholic.  It included a variety of topics and at least one that I made a note to maybe get around to reading eventually.  I did notice, however, that there was no fiction on the list.

The next issue printed a letter to the editor lamenting the lack of fiction on the list.  I was a little more interested in the story once I knew I wasn’t the only one to notice.  But I cringed at what I knew was coming.  I’ve seen it too many times.  I watched the following letters, waiting for someone to suggest JRR Tolkien.  I kind of wanted to scream.

I need to pause here to state for the record that I believe Tolkien is a great writer worthy of mention.  I have in fact been working my way through The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the last eight months.  Why is it taking so long?  Because I’m reading it with my teenage daughter.  She does voices for all the characters.  We stop every few paragraphs to laugh at the latest indignant dwarf, to recount the many names of Aragorn, to trace the journey on a map, to take sides when Sam and Gollum argue, to discuss whether or not it’s historically realistic to have so many broken swords.  It’s many kinds of awesome.  I have nothing against Tolkien.

But he is not the only Catholic to write fiction.  And more importantly, no one needs that suggestion!  Ask around and let me know if you find the one person who hasn’t heard of Tolkien.  I’m curious about the size of the rock that person is living under.

The story doesn’t end here.  One of the editors kept it alive for me by writing a piece suggesting that maybe we need a Catholic literary revival.  She acknowledged that a few Catholics have written novels in the past.  Including Tolkien.  Cue scream.   

This was the first time in my life I was tempted to write to a newspaper.  I did not.  I cannot.  As a Catholic writer, I am not allowed to be part of the conversation on Catholic writers.  Anything I say can and will be used to accuse me of only trying to draw attention to my own books.

Well, now that I’m having a conversation with myself, I will list current authors.  To be clear, these are not personal recommendations.  I am familiar with only a few of these writers.  (I have a small budget for books, and some genres are just not my cup of tea.)  All of the following authors claim to be Catholic, have published at least one work of fiction in the last five years, and have multiple positive credible-looking reviews and/or have won at least one respectable award.  Since these are fairly objective criteria, I will include myself.  That’s right, I’m breaking all the rules here where I make the rules.

Carolyn Astfalk
Carrie Sue Barnes
Jacqueline Brown
Michelle Buckman
Davis Bunn
A.J. Cattapan
CJ Daily
Fiorella de Maria
Sophie de Mullenheim
Jean Schoonover-Egolf
A.K. Frailey
Ellen Gable
Amanda Hamm
Therese Heckenkamp
Lisa Hendey
Ruth Logan Hern
Joshua Hren
Myra Johnson
Patrick Augustin Jones
Antony Barone Kolenc
Dennis Lambert
Jane Lebak
Theresa Linden
Carmela Martino
Paul McCusker
Lynn F Monahan
Amy Schisler
Cynthia T. Toney
Fr. Lawrence Edward Tucker SOLT
Corinna Turner
Jacqueline Vick
Marian O'Shea Wernicke

Goodreads is my primary social media.  I check in there a few times a month.  I let newspapers pile up before I read them.  I am not exactly on the cutting edge of the information age.  And yet this is how many authors I came up with when I gave myself one hour to search.  Think how many more there must be.  Catholic writers of modern fiction are not hiding.  This is why it’s frustrating that I can be completely sure that the next time someone asks about Catholic novelists, the very next person will say something to the effect of, “There was this one guy seventy or so years ago.”

And then I will go bash my head against the wall.