A Stranger’s Funeral

Last weekend, at Mass the priest had announced a funeral service would take place on Wednesday at lunchtime. He also explained that the deceased would have only a small contingent of family and friends present. What really caught my attention was when he observed if any of us in the faceless congregation could make it, it would be appreciated.

When he said that, I made a mental note: if I could, I would be there. I awoke yesterday morning and remembered it. Working at home as I do, there was really no excuse not to go.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cross.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a cross.

As you may know, Roman Catholicism and I have had a bit of a “complicated” relationship over the years, and my books reflect that. I packed the novel-writing away for all of an hour or so. As I closed the front door, I reflected on the fact that I could not recall ever before having been to the funeral Mass for a total stranger.

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Sneak Peek: The Beginning (Warning: Contains Spoiler)

As we know, Amazon makes the first 10 percent of a Kindle book, as well as the first pages of a print version (although not nearly so many pages as for the Kindle), available for free reading online. I suspect that is gradually altering writing; I know it’s impacting mine. For given that potential readers get to sample only the beginning of your hard work that could stretch on for several hundred additional complex pages, it seems increasingly important that novels commence with “a bang.”

That said, and as you also may know, I don’t do “gunfire”; but I always seek to grab. Passports opens with an optimistic, pleasant, meeting in a college class, but one also loaded with various signs lots more is gonna happen here from every direction and then some. Frontiers starts with something of a “shocker” that is deliberately meant to lead a Passports reader briefly to think: “Wait. What?”

Now, given the reality its first pages will again be visible online anyway eventually, I thought I’d share the planned beginning to Distances.

Passports (Part 1), Frontiers (Part 2), Distances (upcoming Part 3).
Passports (Part 1), Frontiers (Part 2), Distances (upcoming Part 3).

A word of warning: There is a substantive “spoiler” in this “sneak peek.”

So, to borrow from a television sports reporter who says before revealing a final score for a game that will be broadcast only later on “tape delay,” if you are interested in reading the first two books and have not, and don’t like “spoilers,” CLICK HERE (and I’ll redirect you safely to yesterday’s post). ;-)

Whether or not you choose to read on, have a good weekend, wherever you are. :-)

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He Says, She Says

During our phone chat a few weeks ago (because we weren’t able to get together as hoped), my uncle told me that (based on what he’d read so far) he considered what I write nicely readable. That’s a good thing, though, he asserted. If it’s what I want, I should run with it.

But I thought how that could also be considered a “backhanded” compliment: that it is good enough to sell and attract readers, yeh, but it isn’t “deep.”

Recently I’d also noted a reader who’d written to me that she thought the books belonged in history classes. That is quite a compliment for fiction; but I wasn’t writing history, of course. (As flattering as that may be to hear, I don’t want to scare away potential readers here thinking they’re dry history. They’re not!) Yet “history” would seem pretty “deep” stuff, no?

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Dirty Foreheads

As you may know, yesterday was Ash Wednesday for many Christians. I’m not an “obsessive.” But I do try to observe reasonably.

After getting ashes at church, I stopped in at a small supermarket. At the check-out, the woman cashier – in her late teens to early twenties, I guess – chatted with me briefly. Suddenly, she looked at me a bit strangely.

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“Yeh, but we don’t go to church much….”

I happened to notice recently that PBS America (meaning PBS’s UK channel) will begin showing The Roosevelts on October 19. My Mom back in Pennsylvania had told me the other day that, having seen it, she had been most impressed by Theodore. I told her that made sense: he lived life at triple the speed of the rest of us.

Because it rather reflects my personal outlook, for years I’ve liked this list by that first President Roosevelt:

In 1917, in an interview with Ladies Home Journal, President Roosevelt offered at least 10 reasons for going to church….

I won’t reproduce them: you can click *here* to read them. As we know, religion has *always* been a sensitive, and divisive, subject. We all have our own “personal journeys” of course.

Like many of you who were/ are Roman Catholic, growing up I had been escorted through all the “Catholic requirements.” But by my older teens and 20s, and, again, like many of you, I was definitely not a churchgoer. Frankly, I did not even really believe in any god.

However, as I moved into my 30s, I began to see the value in churchgoing much along the lines Theodore Roosevelt (he hated to be called “Teddy”) outlined. Do I believe in God now? Hmm. Let’s just say I don’t see a reason any longer to question others’ faith: my view is “faith” simply is.

The top of St. Peter's, The Vatican. [Photo by me, 2013.]
The top of St. Peter’s, The Vatican. [Photo by me, 2013.]

In fiction, faith is regularly portrayed as synonymous with an intolerant fanaticism. Yet what I encounter in various churches week in and week out are ordinary people full of life questions and doubts, and who enjoy gathering with their neighbors much as Roosevelt notes. That is worth attempting to portray accurately in fiction too.

So as I organized my tale, I decided I would include religion. But my characters would be similarly ordinary people with their own intensely personal, and varied, views. I would not attempt to ignore faith or pretend it is not there.

Here, during his first chat with Isabelle, James explains “what he is” after she casually inquires, “If you are Irish and Italian, you are Catholic, no?”:

“Yeh, but we don’t go to church much. I don’t think a lot about it. Busy with life I guess,” he sought to explain.

That was, essentially, also myself at his age. We may also find ourselves surprised by how people think of faith. When James explains his doubts, and meekly asks Isa about her own Catholicism, she replies:

“Do you think to be Catholic you have no doubt? A birth to a virgin? It is preposterous. …. You just have to have faith.”

Naturally not everyone “has faith.” In a previous post, we’ve already seen Uncle Bill tell Isabelle he considers himself a Unitarian. Separately, he also points out:

“You have faith. I admire that. I just can’t summon it up. Never could. Giuliana didn’t understand either.”

Indeed in the hope of better understanding someone, we may seek to “pry.” We might do so especially if what a person “believes” has not been overtly evident. For instance, James cagily asks Valérie if she’s a churchgoer like her friend, and she replies:

“Not regularly,” she admitted, sipping her drink. “My mother does go now and then. I think we did go more when we were little in Beirut. I remember church more in Beirut. Not as much in France. Not like Isabelle.”

And we also often encounter those who don’t want to be bothered with any of it:

“James, if you had answer wrong, you would not be here,” Béatrice stressed. “I don’t think [Isabelle] will marry a man who is not Catholic. Do not be offended, but I think it is all stupid and false. But that is me.”

How individuals approach religion is simply another aspect of their humanity. As in our own lives, it may be presented among characters’ make-ups as complete individuals. It does not have to turn a book into a “religion debate.” It can just be part of “life.”

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are reading this. :-)

The Keys

Happy Sunday from Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Got here at last yesterday evening:

The view from the rear of our rental house, near Marathon, taken around 6:30am today. [Photo by me, 2014.]
The view from the rear of our rental house, near Marathon, taken around 6:30am today. [Photo by me, 2014.]

And I could, uh, much too easily get far too used to this. ;-)

Whenever we travel (in America, Ireland, Italy, France, wherever), we always find a Catholic Church and attend services locally. Doing so gets you mixing a bit – even if only for a little while – with area residents in a “non-tourist” manner. Once, in France, we even found ourselves at a baptism.

So we went to church early this morning at the beautiful San Pablo. It is gorgeous. I have to get a couple of photographs of it before we leave.

And I’d never been in a church before in which, in the pew, was a prayer card that included a “Prayer for No Hurricanes.”

Religion

I snapped this photograph of Pope Francis at a Wednesday audience in St Peter’s Square in September. I am probably the proudest of this photo of any I have ever taken. I still can’t believe I took it. Sometimes photographic luck does go a long way:

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