Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Book Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic Inc)

Copyright Date: 2016

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I finally ticked a book off of my to-read list in Goodreads that I’ve put off for two years!

Being a fan of the Harry Potter series and also being married to a man who grew up during the series’ prime I was keen to get a hold of this screenplay. For this book legendary author, J.K. Rowling, teamed up with writers from London’s West End theater to create a new installment in the Harry Potter story, this time nineteen years after the conclusion of the Hogwarts War.

Harry and Ginny Potter are parents to James, Albus, and Lily who are all pupils or soon to be at Hogwarts. Albus, the middle child, has always felt like a misfit in his own family. Growing up in the shadow of his father has Albus feeling like a constant failure. After being sorted into the house of Slytherin, Harry makes it even more clear that he has little in common with Albus. Luckily, Albus makes friends with another troubled child at school, Scorpius Malfoy. Together, the two boys set out to write their own destinies as opposed to accepting the one’s determined by their birthrights.

At the Ministry of Magic, Harry and Hermione uncover a time-turner which threatens all that they know to be truth. In the wrong hands, a time-turner can rewrite history. They go to great lengths to protect their world from the effects of time travel, but forces in their midst threaten that security. Albus and Scorpius learn of this magic and decide to use it to fulfill their own purposes. Caught in a web of the past, Albus and Scorpius must combat dark magic not unlike the quests of their fathers.

At first, I struggled with Harry Potter’s parenting techniques. His harsh demeanor toward the son he struggled to relate to seemed as though he had learned nothing from his own estranged upbringing. I hoped to find Harry fostering a relationship with his own children that opposed the treatment he received from his uncle. Nonetheless, I can imagine it to be a true struggle for parents when they don’t connect with their children easily. While reading I needed to reference earlier books (since it had been such a long time) when it came to some of the spells and magic used in this book. I also didn’t love the fact that this book is actually just a copy of the script for a stage performance. I found that stage directions and speaker switches threw off my immersion in the story. I know that much of that is necessary to perform a play, but I wanted to lose myself in this book the way I did the novels of my childhood.

All of us who love Harry Potter have waited a long time to return to the wizarding world. To be back in the halls of Hogwarts made me feel like a kid again. I have missed the moving staircases, enchanted portraits, and lively Quidditch matches. Being able to catch up on the lives of the characters I grew up alongside really made this tale nostalgic.

I would love to see J.K. Rowling write more about Albus Potter in the future!

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Turtles All the Way Down: Book Review

Title: Turtles All The Way Down

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Copyright Date: 2017

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“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.” (Green 283)

Aza Holmes had enough trouble trying to get through high school and battling her own anxious thoughts without the drama of a missing billionaire to complicate things. Just before he was arrested, Russell Pickett went missing. He left behind a fortune, an exotic pet, and two sons (and he ranked their importance in that order.)

With a hundred thousand dollars on the line, Aza’s best friend, Daisy, is convinced that the two can solve the mystery. Daisy enlists the help of Aza because she used to be friends with the billionaire’s son, Davis, back when they spent their summers together at “Sad Camp.”

After reconnecting with Davis Pickett, Aza learns that wealth isn’t everything. Davis grew up fed by a silver spoon yet he experienced grief and loneliness akin to her own. As the two grow closer Davis begins to break down the wall of anxiety that Aza has built around herself. Together with her closest friends, Aza focused on Russell Pickett’s disappearance while also working through her internal demons.

Lately, some of my favorite books have been based on mental illness. When We Collided by Emery Lord and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley were phenomenal books that dove into issues of anxiety, depression, and grief in an honest way. I felt like John Green also did a good job covering topics that teens wrestle with in an authentic light. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the book he provided resources for those struggling with mental health and admitted to his own struggles that were reflected in Aza’s character.

Mental illness has been a trending topic both in writing and the media. With recent suicides in Hollywood a lot of energy has been focused on getting people the help that they need. As someone with diagnosed anxiety, I found myself relating to Aza on some level while also being inspired to push past my fears in order to avoid situations she faced.

I’m a fan of John Green. I liked The Fault In Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and Paper Towns. In my Honors History classes, I occasionally show clips from his Crash Course Youtube channel where John Green and his brother explain eras of history in their own quirky way. When I first started teaching, his books were all the rage, but with his movie deals and Youtube Channel it’s been a while since he released a book. Last year when this book came out I added it to the top of my To-Read list on Goodreads. Thankfully, I finally had the opportunity to read this one. It was a quick read, and totally worth every minute. At times, the main character really annoyed me, but it helped me to see what anxiety can be like for the people surrounded by it. Mental illness affects far more than just your mind. Relationships feel the tremors and fallout associated with the internal battles we all face.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Lesson From an Aspiring Author: ONE Question

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You may be wondering where I’ve run off to. My posting schedule has been on hiatus and it’s been weeks since I last talked writing with you. Don’t fear–I haven’t given up on my blog and its readers, however, it has been a struggle to balance blogging with intensive personal projects. Since the last time I provided a lesson I have started a new  manuscript, been accepted to write published book reviews, met non-fiction picture book writer Linda Stanek, and had the first two chapters of my first book critiqued by a free-lance editor.

The writing life is a busy life.

One thing I strive to do despite the high demands for my time is to continue to educate myself on craft. Before plot and characters can impact readers I have to be sure that my craft is on-point. I love running into great books on craft at the bookstore. While some of you may think books about writing sound about as dry as the Sahara, I find joy and passion in studying writing.

Lately, I’ve been reading through the Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction. It is a practical guide from New York’s acclaimed writing school. As I read through the book it helps with my character descriptions and plot development. One thing that I’ve focused on in my second manuscript is the idea of one major dramatic question.

Each work of fiction should be written to answer ONE pressing question. The answer to that question is what drives your reader through the pages of the book. Their hunt to know how the question will be resolved should guide the author’s writing. Stepping outside of the information pertinent the question bores readers, and concluding your story without answering the question reader’s asked throughout will leave them confused by what the book was really about.

I started to think about some of my favorite books and how the one question is revealed and answered in each work.

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the question is: Will Liesel survive the war in Molching? This question arises early on as the narrator for the novel is Death and from its onset, the reader knows someone is about to die. Each page turn is a step closer to the impending Death promised in the first pages.

In The Selection by Kiera Cass, the question is: Will America be the next Queen of Illea? This question transcends the first three books of the series. At times, it seems the answer is clear, but other times the unpredictable nature of the protagonist leaves the reader wondering.

In Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, the question is: Can Lynn survive on her own in a world without water? From its earliest pages this book describes life in a post-apocalyptic world where people are dying in a war for water. Lynn’s mother has been her rock and helped her to defend their pond from the thirsty. When Lynn’s mother is killed Lynn is faced with the challenge of survival on her own. This conflict-packed story finds its roots in the major dramatic question and all of the plot returns back to the essence of that question.

What are you writing? What’s your ONE question?

The Ameri Brit Mom

Short Story: Allegations

This short story was submitted to a contest through The Short Fiction Break. It is written according to contest guidelines and following a prompt provided by judges. It is a YA piece.

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Allegations

by: Lauren Sisley

Everyone else in the room decided I was guilty. I wondered if trying to persuade them otherwise was even worth the effort. Mom sat in the corner picking at her nail polish while Dad nodded along as the principal explained the situation. Neither of my parents looked me in the eyes.

“Mr. and Mrs. Konkel, this is a very serious allegation that has been made against your son. If charges are pressed we will have to turn this case over to the local police.”

The sound of my mother’s gasp distracted me from the dialogue. Dad asked questions like a detective. Mom continued in silence letting her heavy breaths do her talking.

“All I can say at this time, Mr. Konkel, is that it matches up. I can’t say for sure that Jordan is at fault, but he is our only suspect.” Principal Wallis placed his hands on his desk and looked my direction. He was the only brave soul in the room.

“And if charges aren’t pressed?” Dad questioned.

“Then, suspension is not off the table. This is still very serious and the school has a zero tolerance policy for this kind of thing.”

I found it ironic that no one asked me if I did it. They just assumed because I was Wilson’s little brother that I had to be guilty. While I was a captive to Principal Wallis’ office I tried to put the pieces together in my mind.

Seventh period I was in English. Miss Thorne was going over poetic devices and I was nodding along like I had any clue who William Shakespeare was. The bell rang and somewhere between my seat in English and the bathroom floor I lost all recollection.

I awoke to the smell of urine. A hand tapped my backside as I realized my face was soaking up the wet floor. My head felt as though it had taken the brunt of the fall. I could feel a bruise already forming under the skin, but other than that I felt fine.

“Better get yourself to the nurse, Kid.” The janitor spoke to me while returning to his mopping. It’s weird how you can go to the same school for three years and never once speak to the janitor. I wondered if he knew my name. Standing to my feet I walked right past the man without a word and made my way out of the bathroom.

When I turned to the hallway I heard the cries.

A girl from my history class was talking to Principal Wallis and pointing toward the bathroom. My vision was blurry, but I could see her busted lip and ripped clothes from where I stood. Fear masked her face almost as well as her smeared makeup.

Principal Wallis turned just as I crossed the hall. “Young man, I think you ought to turn around and head toward my office. You have some explaining to do.”

Then the questions started.

“What were you doing in the bathroom in the middle of eighth period? Do you know Amira Paulson? Why are you covered in urine? Did you flood the bathroom? Why is your head bleeding? Please answer me!” Principal Wallis was getting frustrated.

As hard as I tried I couldn’t come up with a response. There was seventh period and there was the bathroom floor. I couldn’t be sure of anything else.

Watching my parents as they each dealt with the conflict knotted my stomach. I could tell that they were struggling with how they could have raised another monster. They never thought I’d turn out like Wilson. Dad was pacing and finally worked up the courage to address me.

“Well, Son, do you have anything to say for yourself? After all we’ve been through as a family these past few months do they mean anything to you? Did you learn anything from your brother’s mistakes?” It was my first opportunity to speak since they arrived, but the death of my brother was still too raw to touch.

I wanted to be able to give them an answer that would satisfy them. I wanted to remember what happened so I could get myself out of this. I wanted to tell them I’m not like he was, but I couldn’t bring that up. Not now.  I just shrugged my shoulders and continued to avoid eye contact like the other three people in the room.

“Jordan, I suggest that if you are innocent you say so.”

“I need my bag.” My words were involuntary.

“Excuse me?” Dad’s voice jumped several decibels.

“I need my book bag. I think I left it in the bathroom.”

“No, it’s been confiscated.” Principal Wallis pointed to a bag behind his desk that I couldn’t have possibly seen from my chair.

“Well, I need it back.”

“Listen here, Jordan. You will get your bag when you cooperate. You’ve gotten yourself into a whole heap of trouble. You don’t get to make requests. Right now your only concern is the truth. Tell us what happened.” I could see a vein popping out of Dad’s neck as he spoke.

“The bag first.” I tried to barter information for the safe return of my belongings.

“What’s so important in this bag anyway?”

In a quick motion Dad bent down and grabbed the bag off the floor. I felt my stomach wrench as he unzipped the front compartment and shook the bag upside down. I couldn’t watch, but I heard the sound of many objects as they hit the desk.

I knew they had found it the moment Mom began to wail.

I could hear him pick the bag up off of his desk. “Is this why you did it?” I balled my fists as I waited for a lecture. It didn’t come. Instead I was punished by the return of silence to the room.

“You’re just like him, Jordan! And I can’t go through this again.” Mom broke the silence as she stood up and left.

All of this was too much for her. I wasn’t the first of her children to carry around a bag of crank. I always promised that I wouldn’t get caught up in this stuff like Wilson did.

“Mr. Konkel, I have no choice but to involve the authorities now.” I heard Principal Wallis pick up the phone and dial.

“How could you do this to your mother?” Dad barked before he joined my mother in the hallway.

I was done for. Not only had they found my stash, but there was a girl in the next room crying rape. Both my parents were furious. The authorities were on their way. I wasn’t sure how I would ever get myself out of this one.

I continued to answer all of Principal Wallis’ questions with silence until there was a knock on the door.

The janitor entered the room. He was a large man, and his face was lined with wrinkles. He wasn’t someone to be crossed.

“Mr. Wallis,” He muttered. He had a student by the collar as he shoved him into the office. “Caught this one in the hall talking about that little girl who was in here crying.” He let go of the student and looked over at me. “Oh, hey, how’s that head doing? You took quite the fall on the floor. I was coming in to mop it all up when I seen you laid out. Stupid seniors always making my job tough. Clogging toilets and all.”

It was a relief to know I hadn’t done it.

I have a week’s suspension from school to figure out how to tell Mom and Dad that I carry Wilson’s bag to remind me who I don’t want to be. It’s all he left me in this world.

I would never hurt them the way that he did, which is why I was so terrified that I had.

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent.

Lesson From An Aspiring Author: Always Write

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This week at my SCBWI meeting in the Central South Ohio Regional Chapter we had an author visit from Jennifer Maschari, author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price.

Throughout her presentation, Jen focused a lot on publishing. It was really helpful to hear from someone who has gone through the process before and who is actively working through the publishing of another book. There is so much about the industry that I have yet to learn.

The photo from above is from her presentation and discusses the process of traditional publishing. As you can see, it is a daunting process, but her advice is to always be writing something new. Publishing takes a really long time and if you are only working on that piece you may go years without writing something new. Exercise your mind and creativity and always always always work on that next big story. It will also help pass the time between stages in the publishing process.

I’ve found that setting routines for writing have helped me to always write. I have several projects I’m working on. I have revisions of my first book, short stories, a book I am beta reading for a fellow SCBWI member, articles for my church magazine, and I’m plowing my way through the first draft of a new story. I have to plan out how to get all these things done. If it seems like I’m blogging a little less than usual it is because I have been progressing in some of my projects. I’ve rearranged routines to fit the needs of my project list.

I can’t say I’ve mastered the routine yet. Right now I have days set aside for new writing, days for revision, and days for blogging. I am looking for new routine ideas to use my time efficiently. The writing life is a busy life especially when you tack on the fact that I also teach full-time and I have a family and friends that need my attention as well.

The most important thing, though, is that I’m writing. To be a writer isn’t to finish draft 1 and call it “done.” In fact, all of my first drafts have been pretty terrible. The journey is in revision and rewriting. We should always be working on the next big story.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Photos from: jenmaschari.com

Thin Space: A Book Review

Title: Thin Space

Author: Jody Casella

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Copyright Date: 2013

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A few months after the car accident that stole away his twin, Marshall is desperate to contact his brother. He remembers the old Celtic legend that his elderly neighbor told him before her passing. A thin space is a place where a soul both entered and left the world. It is believed that these are places where the wall between this life and the after life is thin enough to pass through. At the time his neighbor explained this legend it sounded insane, but now Marshall is so desperate to see his brother and set things right that he’s willing to give it a try.

Before her passing the neighbor left Marshall instructions for locating a thin space. Part of the legend states that one must enter the thin space with bare feet. Marshall goes all over town in the dead of winter without shoes in the off chance that he walks through a thin space.

When Maddie moves into the neighbor’s house, Marshall starts to open up about the accident. At first, it’s the convenience of wanting to search her house for a thin space which sparks their relationship, but soon Marshall learns that they both have something to gain from finding a thin space.

This is a boy’s journey to cope with the loss of a sibling. It shows how we go to great lengths to just have one more conversation with the ones we love who have passed.

I really enjoyed this read. I’ve been reading through YA fiction from Ohio authors this year. I have actually met Jody Casella on several occassions as she is the coordinator for my chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) If you are looking for a supernatural thriller Thin Space is an exemplary piece.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Two Bottles and a Revelation

This year for my father’s birthday I decided to write a story for him. This is a flash fiction glimpse into the life of a beer drinking priest. I was inspired by my father who loves both beer and God. I hope you enjoy.

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Two Bottles and a Revelation

By Lauren Sisley

-To my dad who taught me to follow God’s calling

Father Roberts loosened his collar after a long day’s wear. He shut the door to his study and took a seat behind the desk. There were no easy days leading his congregation. Each day was packed with meetings to attend, hospitals to visit, and house calls to make.

With tired hands he opened his Bible. It was time to focus on his own spirit. In his line of work it was easy to pour himself out. It was more difficult to fill himself back up. As he began to pray for direction in his work his stomach rumbled. Hours of running about herding the sheep caused him to forget about lunch.

The prayer ended quickly. He resolved to move his work into the parsonage where he was free to shed the collar and to fix himself a plate of spaghetti. Behind the desk was an old creaky door which adjoined his parsonage to the abbey. Minutes later, as he stood over the stove stirring the pot of minced onion and tomatoes his heart was heavy with an encounter from that day.

 

“Father, I’m not sure that I am living in God’s favor.” Sampson, a young man from the congregation admitted while sitting on the other side of the desk.

“What makes you unsure?” Father Roberts questioned.

“Lately things have gone from bad to worse in my life. Like, no matter how hard I pray or how righteous I try to be life just sucks.” Sampson’s shoulders sank and his eyes dropped to the floor where his toes tapped against the carpet.

“What is it about this life that sucks?”

“I’m drowning at work. I try to do everything right, but it’s just never enough. There was a promotion I was really hoping for. It would help my family so much. Now, I have to go home and tell my wife the bad news.” His hands were beginning to fidget.

“Have you prayed for God’s will?” Father Roberts opened most sessions with this question. Many of the people he had spoken with throughout the years wanted more, but rarely did they seek the counsel of the Lord.

“Well, not really.” The young man admitted. “I just sort of assumed that if I worked hard I’d get it. God knows it would help with the kids.”

“Ah, yes. But sometimes our will and God’s are not the same.” Father Roberts began to run his fingers over the stubble growing on his chin. When he looked into Sampson’s eyes he was taken back to his twenties. The man was so familiar.

“But I’ve been doing everything right.”

“It isn’t about our acts, Sampson. It’s about our faith.”

 

Father Roberts opened the refrigerator and pulled out a cold beer. As the noodles boiled he stirred his homemade sauce while also taking long drinks from the refreshing bottle. He felt the weight of the day lift with each gulp.

Moments later his phone rang. He put down the bottle and turned down the stove top to allow for a simmer. He reached for his phone and realized that the call coming through was Sampson.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Father Roberts. It’s Sampson again. Would it be okay if I stopped by the parsonage tonight?”

“Well, of course it would be fine. I’m working on dinner. Would you like to join me?”

Sampson agreed to be there shortly and to bring his appetite. It had been a while since Father Roberts welcomed someone into his own home. It was his place of retreat from the beckoning of the church, but he sensed Sampson’s distress and happily offered a meal.

 

The two men sat across from one another for the second time that day. Father Roberts was on one side of the table finishing his bottle of beer and watching his guest. Sampson twirled the pasta on his fork for longer than any hungry human ever would. Something was on his mind and once Father Roberts fed himself he was sure they would get to it.

“So, please, tell me what has brought you here.”

“I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. About God’s will.” Sampson said. He began to wriggle nervously in his chair. “I left your office and went home to pray.”

“That’s a start.” Father Roberts acknowledged.

“As I prayed there was something that I could not get out of my head.” Father Roberts desperately wanted to return to the kitchen for another beer, but decided against it in the midst of Sampson’s discourse. “While I sat in my car praying about God’s will for me all I could think about was your collar, Father.”

The cleric was intrigued and searching for an explanation.

“What do you think it could mean?” Sampson’s fork stopped circling the plate of noodles. His eyes moved from his dinner to the priest along with his question.

“I can’t say I know.” Father Roberts admitted.

 

They finished their meals and Sampson left with the promise that Father Roberts would pray about the situation as well.

While he cleaned up their meal and did the dishes Father Roberts opened a second bottle. He let the aromatic brew warm his stomach. The bubbles fizzed and the stress of his day started to dissolve once again.

Sampson was a younger version of himself. Father Roberts remembered when he had first heard the call to priesthood. It wasn’t at a seminar or in the sanctity of a church. He was a student who enjoyed his beer like any other. He was up late studying for an Economics final with two beers already in his system. His heart became heavy with questions about his purpose. And in those moments as he pondered the direction his life was taking he heard the still, quiet voice of God. It was a call to lay it all down. In his dorm room he committed to the call and became a priest years later.

He was glad to serve a God that called him, but also allowed him to drink his beer. God accepted him twenty years ago for who he was. And now as his fingers wrinkled from the dish soap he recognized the calling of another. With the towel beside him he dried his hands off and called Sampson.

“Hello?”

“Sampson, it’s Father Roberts. I’ve had a revelation…”

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent.

 

Gone Too Far: A Book Review

Title: Gone Too Far

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Copyright Date: 2015

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Ever since I became a member of the central Ohio SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) I’ve been on a quest to read books by Ohio authors. This book was recommended to me by my high school librarian. The author is local to our area. 

Piper Woods is a senior just trying to make it to graduation. Her future plans are all laid out and include paying out of state tuition and studying photography. She won’t miss the cliques and the drama of high school, and she’s aching to get out of her dysfunctional home.

All of that changes when she finds a notebook laying in the hallway of the school. She picks it up and flips through the pages. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that someone is using the notebook to record secrets about her classmates. She soon realizes that knowing the secrets comes at a dangerous price.

After tragedy claims someone mentioned in the notebook Piper decides to turn it in and walk away. Before she can do that, a text message urging her to make things right changes her mind. Piper finds herself caught up in the secrets of the school. Torn between making people pay for the harm they have caused and keeping her squeaky clean record Piper is forced to make some major choices.

Natalie D. Richards is also the author of Six Months Later. Many of my students have read that book and it seems just as good as Gone Too Far. I look forward to continuing my list of Ohio authors over the next couple of months. Some of the authors of the list (like Natalie D. Richards) are also part of the SCBWI with me. It is so cool to read a book by someone I have met. It makes my dream of becoming an author seem so much more realistic. Let me know if you are interested in some reading suggestions written by Ohio authors. There are some really great pieces that come from my home state.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Smoke We Shared

This winter I took part in a writing contest through my online critique group. The prompt for the story was “Two Worlds” and the word limit was 1500 words. This is the story I entered in that contest.

The Smoke We Shared

By Lauren Sisley

The day we buried Archie was gray.

I had only known him for a few months, but I would never forget him.

“Almost there, Connor.” Bridget turned to me as she drove. She tried hard to be motherly during this time. After my own mother was caught with heroin twelve years ago Bridget became the woman assigned by the state to keep watch over me. “It was a lovely ceremony.” She tried to soothe my anxiety as we entered the grounds lined with tombstones.

I had no words with which to draw up a reply. Bridget gave up and continued the short drive to Archie’s plot without a word.

I watched as the hearse parked beside a red tent. I couldn’t take my eyes off of its cab. Something about the fact that Archie’s body was in the back of that car kept my attention.

Out of the row of chairs under the tent only two were occupied. Bridget sat beside me and grasped my hand as the men dressed in tailored suits brought the casket and set it above a six foot hole. The priest took his spot in front of the casket.

“Please join me in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.” He opened. My eyes did not divert from the oak casket as Bridget joined the priest in repeating a prayer. The words were foreign to me.

“Our Father who art in heaven…”

My mind went back to the first day I met Archie.

It was cold and I had just flunked my Algebra exam. I knew that bringing home the test score would mean undergoing house arrest with Bridget again. I was walking home along my usual route trembling from the frigid temperatures. I reached into the pocket of my coat and felt a small paper tube. I took it out of my pocket and lit it.

Three kids from school approached me from behind. I tried to keep my eyes down as they called after me.

“There’s that freak from school!”

“Yeah, that weird kid that doesn’t talk to anyone.”

There wasn’t enough time to run away. Before I knew it they had caught up.

I didn’t put up much of a fight when one of them punched me across the face. My vision went blurry as I was knocked around a bit more.

“What are you kids doing? Get lost!” I heard a voice from the house behind me shouting. “I’m calling the cops. Get off my property!” I took a few more hits to the face and the boys ran. They made off with my coat and cigarettes.

I laid on the pavement for a few more minutes aching from the beating.

“You alright, kid?” The man asked me. He didn’t touch me or try to help me off the ground. I took a closer look at him and saw that he was in rough shape himself. His face was leathery and scarred. His eyes were sad. Several teeth had fallen out.

“Who are you?” I questioned this stranger.

“Nevermind that. Let’s get you inside. We can call your parents in there.” The weak old man attempted to help me off the sidewalk, but in the end I had to muster the strength myself. We used each other’s bodies as crutches as we made our way up the path into his small home.

Entering his home was like stepping back into the 1940s. It smelled of molasses and his living room had wood paneled walls that were barren except for a crooked wedding photo.

“The telephone is in the bedroom. I’ll fetch it. Take a seat on the sofa.” I lowered myself gently onto his old fashioned sofa. The room was dark and there was no television. Instead, an old radio was standing in the corner of the room. From his bedroom down the hall I could hear him coughing loudly. It sounded painful. At the time I didn’t know that it was caused by the cells metastasizing on his lungs.

A few seconds after his cough I saw his silhouette emerge from the bedroom carrying something that resembled a house phone.

“What’s your house number? I’ll dial for you.”

“Bridget won’t be home. You will have to call her at work.” I answered still a little weak.

He returned ten seconds later brandishing a large book with yellow pages.

“Where she work?” He asked adjusting his bifocals on his nose.

“She cleans offices at Barrel and Dumm’s.” I replied noticing that my lip was bleeding.

The man thumbed through the book struggling to read the small print. Just as he located the number he turned and released another loud bark from his throat.

“You okay?” I questioned.

“I’m fine.” He said as though my question was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

“Who am I to ask for?”

“Bridget Morris.”

“Yes, may I please speak to a Ms. Morris?” I let myself relax a little into the sofa as I imagined Bridget’s reaction to these recent events. I listened as he assessed my state to Bridget and imagined she was quite frantic on the other end. The man provided Bridget his address and then hung up. “She’ll be here within the hour.” He assured me as he walked the telephone back to his room.

He returned with a pack of cigarettes and turned on the radio as he took a seat in the recliner beside me.

“Want a light?” He offered, but I turned him down. I wasn’t about to smoke if Bridget was on her way. That would add another month to the grounding. We waited for her arrival without speaking. He read the newspaper and I stretched out on the sofa.

I felt at home in the silence.

The doorbell rang thirty minutes after their call. I know this because I watched the arm of the clock on the wall make half a revolution around the dial as I listened to the grossly outdated music on the radio. The man removed his glasses and folded up his paper before opening the door.

“Can I help you?” He asked roughly.

“Yes, I’m Bridget, I believe you have my foster son.” I could hear the fear in her voice.

“Come in. He’s on the sofa. Not much of a talker that one.” He opened the door and pointed toward me.

“Connor!” She gasped as she saw my face.

“Thank you so much, Sir.” She turned toward the man. “Where’s your coat?” She questioned me.

“They got it.”

“Let’s get you home. You’re freezing.” Before we could leave the man went to a closet in the hallway. He brought out an old coat and offered it to me. I tried to decline, but Bridget thanked him and wrapped it around me as we made our way home.

A week later I was wearing a new coat from the thrift shop and decided I would return the old man’s coat on my way home from school. I rang the doorbell and could hear coughing and cursing from within his house.

“Can I help you?” He acted as though he had never met me before.

“Yes, Sir. You let me borrow your coat last week. I just wanted to return it and say thank you.” I stood freezing as we spoke in the doorway.

“Come in.” He ordered. I entered and was met with the familiar smell of molasses. “You don’t look like that same sorry sod was here last week.” He coughed.

“I’m doing much better.” I smiled. He coughed again as he reached into his pocket and brought out a pack of cigarettes.

“Want a light?” He offered the pack to me. This time, I accepted. I reached in and took a paper tube and pulled my own lighter from my pocket. I inhaled and felt myself relax. I took a seat on the sofa where I had laid last week.

“Was that your wife?” I asked motioning my cigarette toward the wedding photo on the wall.

“Ah, yes. Beautiful right until the end.” He took a long puff and let his mind wander back to her. Another loud bark interrupted his memories.

“Are you okay?” I asked again.

He shook his head this time opening up to me about the cancer.

I would stop there six more times over the next two months. Some days he would tell me about his wife or about the war. Other days we would sit in the smoke of silence that we shared.

A few days ago I stood on his porch with my lighter ready. I knocked. No one answered.

“Ambulance left a couple hours ago. Took Archie with ‘em.” An old lady called from across the street. I knew in that moment that he was gone. I turned to walk home and smoked a cigarette in his memory.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

I watched as they lowered Archie into the ground.

 

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The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction (Week 4)

It was tough to wake up today. My bed was warm and my house was cold.

It was one of those days when the moment I sat up I started planning when I was going to catch a nap. This isn’t my typical Saturday morning. Usually I wake up excited about my writing routine and about making some progress toward my goals. I normally wake and make a pot of Highlander Grogg and get right to work. Monday through Friday I’m on someone else’s schedule, but Saturday mornings are mine.

Today was not that day.

I stayed in bed a little longer than usual. I had just enough time to jump in the shower before my daughter’s basketball game. As I teetered on the edge of an illness I found myself losing interest in writing today. I made a promise to myself that I would take some meds, eat some food, and then write. So here I am.

Armed with my drink, a long to-do list, and some home remedies I am reading through two new chapters in The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke.

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Change the Metaphor You Use For Yourself As a Novelist

As a novelist I tell stories. I write and I edit and I put in long hours to create a story that will hopefully resonate with readers. It’s easy to call myself a storyteller, but the issue with comparing myself to someone sitting around a campfire entertaining friends with tall tales is that I don’t tell my stories with the spoken word.

Stories that are told are different. There’s a lot of summarizing and telling vs. showing. You can dwell on certain details that don’t fit well into fiction writing. Telling a ten minute story should look vastly different than a novel. Novelists need to arrange scenes, build suspense, and forge connections between readers and characters. In that sense we are more like movie directors. We set the stage, cast the characters, and decide where the camera is focused. A true novelist creates a movie in the mind of their reader. Writers are not storytellers. We are movie directors.

Should You Write What You Want or What the Market Wants?

This week I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting. The question which headlines this chapter of Gerke’s book came up in my small critique group.

If your ultimate goal is to get published shouldn’t you look for what is selling in the market?

The answer is simple, yes; however, yes is only the answer if your ultimate goal is to get published.

That means that the question you should really be asking is: Why do I write novels?

For me, I write because it is a gift that God has given me. I write because there are stories in my heart that God wants me to share. I write because it’s who I am. To be a published author of multiple books is a goal of mine, but I would never want to achieve that at the cost of my why.

I have to believe that the stories God has given me are from Him. I have to believe that if it is His will that I pen these stories that someone will want to publish them. I have to view my writing as a ministry before a business. If it takes years to find someone who publishes my stories so be it. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the writing market it is that the author has very little control over who buys or represents their work. I would drive myself mad writing only to get published. If I’m going to be a writer for the long run I have to do it for me and my ministry. I can’t let my eyes get so focused on publication that the heart behind my work is lost.

This may not fit everyone’s writing journey, but for me this is why I write and why I will not let the writing market dictate my stories.

The Ameri Brit Mom