Boo! It's the church ghost! Actually, it's our administrative assistant , Jen. We were cleaning out the "Sunday School Supply Room." Why camouflage would be among our supplies is anyone's guess.
Church life shifts gears constantly: one minute you're dealing with a bereaved parishioner or a person in need, and the next you're cleaning out closets and wearing funny hats.
I codified some of this in about three pages at the beginning of my novel, Heart Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll in which assistant pastor Lins describes her Sunday morning. Some of it is drawn from my own experiences.
Click here to read what Lins’ Sunday is like.
The business about the coffee urn, by the way, is a real thing. While our coffee-maker no longer is hidden at our church, the coffee hour set-up people still have issues making the coffee, not to mention figuring out which of the coffee urns in the cabinet work.
Why we don’t throw the non-working ones out is not really a mystery. That’s because churches never throw anything out (unless they’re engaging in a yearly cleaning fit) because you never know when you might need it – even a dead coffee pot. It’s a not logical, we do it.
Aside what goes on during Sunday mornings, most people also don’t know what happens in a church during the week. Our administrative assistant Jen is supposed to prepare the Sunday bulletin (aka the program), answer the phone, write letters and emails, oversee the church calendar, and a whole bunch of other clerical things. My stated job is to oversee educational (spiritual formation) ministries, youth ministries, church communications, and assist the pastor Sunday mornings.
Sometimes nothing unusual happens during the week, and we execute our assigned duties with time to spare. Other times it’s a full-on party of people, all squished into a space designed to hold a secretary and maybe one other person. So, you can guess what happens to that “assigned duties” thing.
One of the other things our administrative assistant Jen and I do is solve mysteries. They’re not Sherlock Holmes types of mysteries but are mysteries nonetheless.
Take the “Case of the Vanished Paper Cutter.”
One day last fall, Jen wanted to cut some printed material in a half. So, she walked over to the tables by the window where we keep the paper cutter.
“Hey…” she suddenly said.
“What?” I asked.
“Where’s the paper cutter?”
I swiveled my chair around. “It’s not there?”
So, we began a hunt to find that a big, square slab of wood with an attached, moveable blade that always reminds me of a guillotine.
But it was nowhere to be found.
Figuring someone must have borrowed it, Jen went old-school and cut the pages in half with a pair of scissors.
Two weeks later and the paper cutter was still missing. I thought it might come back if I posted something on Facebook and so I did, asking if whoever had borrowed the paper cutter could please return it. But no one answered.
“There’s only one thing to do,” I announced days later. “We need to order a new paper cutter.”
“But what if the old one comes back?”
“Oh, it will. This is how it works: we order a new one and the old one will come back.”
“I’m not. We need a paper cutter, so we have to order a new one, but once we get it, the old one will come back.”
So, even though I was making no sense whatsoever, Jen ordered a new paper cutter. It arrived, and she happily began cutting things in half with it.
One day a few weeks later, we entered the office and…
There was the old paper cutter, sitting on the table right next the new one.
We still don’t know who borrowed the old one.
Some of our other mysteries include:
Yes, my friends, working in a church is more than a calling, it’s just plain weird. And I love it.
Welcome to my sneak preview from the third draft of “The Great Central Fair.” Let me set the scene for you.
It is June of 1864. Sgt. Patrick McCoy is on leave, having orders to report for duty in a week at Mower General Hospital (Philadelphia), where he will begin service as a steward.
When Patrick arrives at Greybeal House, the new home for Maggie, Eli, and the rest of family and friends from the old boarding house, Frankie wants to spend some time alone with her beau. However, she has not been allowed that luxury.
Later that evening, Frankie finds Pat sitting outside on the veranda at the front of the house. She joins him, and they have a conversation about marriage and where life might be taking them next. We start at the tail end of that conversation, just before Eli enters. Their big mistake is that Frankie is sitting on Patrick’s lap.
Now, Eli, Frankie’s stepfather, has always treated Patrick with a degree of suspicion, mainly because he tends to be hyper protective of his stepdaughter. Here Eli finally waves a white flag, but only because Patrick decides to set him straight.
“Hey, Pat…” Frankie said.
“Listen to us. We’re planning a life together.”
He snuggled her. “So, we are.”
“Sorry to intrude,” an all-too-familiar voice said.
Startled, the young people looked up.
At the sight of her stepfather, Frankie squeaked and leaped to her feet. “Papa! We… uh… we… we were just…”
“I can see what you were ‘just’.” His eyes rested accusingly on Patrick. “What have you to say for yourself, young man?”
Patrick frowned. “Nothing. It’s all completely innocent.”
“Really? Doesn’t look that way to me.” Eli turned to Frankie. “Go inside, please, Frances. I need to have a word with this fella.”
“Papa, please don’t – ”
“Frances, I asked you to go inside.”
Frankie heaved an irritated sigh and, straightening her spine, marched past Eli and into the house.
Once they were alone, Eli pegged his way across the porch and stopped in front of Patrick.
Pat said, “You don’t need to treat her that way, Eli. She’s not a child anymore.”
“And how do you mean, ‘not a child anymore’?”
“I mean, she’s eighteen years old. She went through the battle at Gettysburg. She served in two field hospitals. She worked in an insane asylum and lived through a riot!”
Eli pursed his lips in thought. “And that’s what you mean by ‘not a child’?”
“For God’s sake, Eli, she only was sitting on my lap!”
“And we both know what also is on your lap, don’t we?”
Casting his eyes heavenward, Patrick gestured for a little help from a higher authority. Then, with a sigh, he indicated the rocking chair beside his. “Take a seat, Eli.”
Eli sank onto the chair, put his cane on the floor, and waited.
Patrick took a big breath. “You need to understand something: I respect Frankie. No, I don’t merely respect her, I love her, and I never would do anything to hurt her. Do you remember when I was wounded last year, and she ran away to bring me home from Mower?”
Eli nodded. “I was mad with worry.”
“Well, you would have been even madder if you had known the whole story.”
“Tell me. Let’s see how mad I get.”
“Fine. On the way home, the train had a layover, so we found an inn. The landlady thought we were married and gave us one room and one bed.”
Eyes wide, Eli sputtered, “Why, you miserable little son of a – ”
Patrick cut him off. “Nothing happened, Eli!”
The middle-aged man’s expression went from anger to confusion. “Nothing? Really?”
“Yes. Nothing happened. It’s not that I wouldn’t have liked it, but I know what could have gone wrong. So, we slept in our clothes, side by side. I didn’t lay a hand on her. Honest.”
“Huh…” That was followed by a long silence.
Finally, Eli said, with a repentant smile, “Well, young fella, it seems I’ve misjudged your character.”
“I know what’s right and wrong, regardless of what you may think.”
“And I understand the temptations you face.” Eli sat back in his chair, adding, “When I was courting Mrs. Smith, we had a moment when… well, let’s just say it would have been easy to forget ourselves. I didn’t want her feeling guilty or having to explain anything to anyone, so I put a halt to the activity. My meaning is this: I’m glad you exercised restraint because it’s easy to get carried away, especially when you’ve had experience with women.”
Patrick said. “That’s wrong, Eli. Actually, it’s easier not to get carried away when you haven’t had any experience at all.”
There was dead silence for a moment.
“What?” Leaning toward him, Eli whispered, “What do you mean? Are you – are you saying – ?”
“I am. I’m a virgin. Like Frankie.”
Mouth agape, Eli searched for an appropriate response and settled for a chuckle. “Damn! And I here I thought – ”
“Well, you thought wrong. You even didn’t bother to get your facts straight, did you?”
“Damn!” Eli laughed again. “That’s just bell-fired bad journalism on my part, isn’t it? Shame on me! Please accept my apology, Patrick.” He held his hand out.
Smiling, Patrick shook with him. “Apology accepted, Eli.”
“I’ll ease up on you from now on. It was nothing personal. I just wanted to make sure Frankie – ”
“You love her like a father, don’t you?” the young an interrupted.
“Yeah.” Eli admitted and sat back in his chair. “Yeah, I do.”
“Know what I think?”
“I think you’re not as tough as you act.”
“You do, eh? Well, don’t let it get around.”
“It’s our secret.”
Eli glanced at Patrick. “Say… listen… no one’s in the kitchen at this hour.”
“So, I happen to know where the whiskey bottle is hidden.” Eli grinned naughtily at him. “Care for a sip or two?”
“Won’t Maggie or Emily notice when they go to use it for a cake or medicine or something?”
“Of course, they will. They always do. The men sneak sips, the women notice the liquor level is getting low, but they never say anything unless they think it’s going down too fast.” Eli grabbed his can and launched himself onto his feet. “Come on, son.”
“Son? Say, does that mean...?”
“Hell, no! Don’t want to give you a swelled head, do I?”
Amused, Patrick followed portly man inside.
Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek! I will put up another one or two over the next few weeks.
Around 2013, I took a break from the 1860s. Using the word “break” is kind of laughable. I only had written the first Saint Maggie novel and was doing research for Walk by Faith. Now, I’ve got four full-length novels, two short stories, and a novella out there. I suspect my recent blogging about the 1700s is a sign that I need to take another breather. But I digress.
My 2013 break consisted of writing a script called “Heart Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which was built around: 1) feeling a bit burned out vocationally (this happens off and on in parish ministry and is completely normal); 2) some of my actual experiences in parish ministry; and 3) my love of rock.
The story was fun to write, but the script went nowhere. Later, I turned it into a novel, because at heart I am a novelist.
But lately, I’ve been noticing that this little story has amazing longevity and is sparking some creativity. My partner Dan is convinced that Heart Soul will be my breakthrough work, and I’m inclined to believe him. Two recent developments make me suspect that.
First, we’re polishing the script again. Dan is a retired art teacher, who spent the last ten years of his career developing and teaching classes on media arts (aka, film). A dedicated student of film, he has become my “script doctor.”
This past weekend, we spent a sizable chunk of time reading the script out loud at the table, tweaking and rewriting. We are about half-way through. A typical script can run between 90-120 pages, and we are at page 61. It’s looking good. The dialog is tight. And we’re cruising our way to the crisis.
Once we get a finished product, we will need to pitch it. Since we both are rather introverted, we’re going to have to find an extrovert who knows the film business to be our spokesperson. In other words, we need an agent. Good luck to us. (That comment is both sarcastic and realistic on my part.)
Meanwhile, Heart Soul is involved in a project my social media marketing manager, Stephanie Moore Hopkins, has been curating with graphic novel artist Lee Davis. You can guess what format the story might be taking. Let me clarify thought that it will not be the complete story. Stephanie wants to see what happens when an author’s words are interpreted by an artist. We had hoped to have someone working with the project in another media (like photography), but sadly that did not happen.
I don’t know when we’ll get to the “finished” stage but hope it will be sooner rather than later. Because it is seriously COOL. Stay tuned.
Interpretation of an author’s work can happen so many ways. The photo at the top of the blog is Dan Bush’s vision of the Flying Fish Club, the dive of a bar in which Neil Gardner’s band plays.
One of the two locations found in the Heart Soul's film and the book is Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. I know the place well. I lived there for a year and was nearby for another year or so. And Point only about an hour from where I live now so it was easy for us to pop down for a visit.
Of course, anything in New Jersey is only about two hours away from anything else. Without traffic, that is. I read somewhere that New Jersey’s state motto should be “Hope you like traffic.” Don’t even think about getting on the Garden State Parkway on a Friday night during the summer. Not unless, of course, you like traffic.
So, one day last spring, Dan and I traveled to Point Pleasant Beach and walked around town, looking for a likely building that would inspire him. We were on Arnold Street, the main drag, when I said, “The Flying Fish Club is located on a side street in the story. Why don’t we check those out?” Dan agreed, and we turned down the first side street we came to.
Both of us stopped in our tracks.
“It’s perfect,” Dan breathed.
And we proceeded to take photographs.
In my mind, the club is in a more contemporary, brick building, possibly built in the 1950's and has big glass windows. However, although the glass windows are still in Dan’s vision, the building itself is an old, rather tired, Victorian building.
I don’t know why Heart Soul keeps popping up as an opportunity for art and film, but something must be there. It would be amazing if this little story traveled even further, because I think it has things to say. That, however, remains to be seen and I’ll just have to be patient.
Let’s tie up a few loose ends and get up to date, since it’s Friday.
Hester Morris, Maggie’s Ancestor
I had a group of folks respond about what occupation they thought Hester might have in the 1730s American colonies. So, between their suggestions and my own here is what we came up with (in no logical order):
You’ll have to give me some time to think about what Hester will do. I won’t be dashing off a story any time soon, since the 18th century is less familiar to me than the 19th and I will need to get my research on. On the other hand, I did score a better grade on my “Seventeenth & Eighteen Century American Religion and Culture” grad school exam, than I did on the “Nineteenth & Twenty-First Century American Religion and Culture” exam. So, there is that… In sort, maybe I know more than I think.
Once I get “The Great Central Fair” story and the novel The Good Community out, I will be free turn to another century just for the fun of it. The prospect sounds fun. I could make another trip to Williamsburg. I could hang out in their archives. Ohhh… to hang out in an archives again! Yes. Geeks like me think research is fun. Everyone else wants to go out and enjoy summer, I want to sit and peruse old books, journals, and periodicals. Love that smell!
“The Great Central Fair”
I’m completing the second draft of the story, which is running around 20,000 words. At that length, it just might be a novella. I usually do four or five drafts before I dare to let my beta readers have it. Any writer will tell you the first few drafts are dreadful. As I go through each draft the writing decreases and the editing increases. Also, the time spent decreases, but the anxiety goes way up, because writers hit a “this thing really sucks” stage. That’s when we must be brave and hand it someone else.
This will take a while. Please be patient.
Also, remember I’m not a full-time author. I have another career. Life is a juggling act of priorities, just like it is for everyone else.
My social media manager, Stephanie Moore Hopkins of LAP It Marketing, tells me a project she is curating between graphic artist Lee Davis and myself is close to launch. Let’s just say it involves his graphic novel-style art and my book Heart Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’ve seen some of Lee’s work on this and I’m so excited I can barely stand it. I’ll let you know more as we get close to launch.
That’s it, folks. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Monday!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder