"How's school going?" a friend asks.
"Oh, it's fine. I have to write a ten-page paper, though, for my government class. It's about oil fracking."
"That shouldn't be any problem for you. I mean, you're a writer."
I'd love to smile at them and say no, writing an essay is nothing like writing a book. I don't have to enjoy trying to take a topic that I have zero background knowledge on and write a ten-page dissertation about why it's good, why it's bad, the corruption between the government and the oil industry...ugh. Yeah.
Do I enjoy it? No. Do I get good grades on my essays? Yes. And if you or someone you know is trying to write an essay, the following tips might help you (or them) get an A.
Most of my clothes are scattered about the side of the road. I had them folded, but it's windy today and they're scattering. I scrub harder and hope they don't blow away.
"Don't forget the windshield," the driver snaps at me through the open window.
I climb on the tire and get as much of the windshield as I can reach. I hate being short. I hate being twelve in general. I hate having to stand by the side of the road and wait for someone to ask me to wash their car.
"The light's green," the driver says.
He swears at me and drives away, and I grab what's left of my clothes. My long-sleeved shirt, my hoodie, my short-sleeved shirt, the pants that are two sizes too big on me--I'll need most of them if I'm here late and it gets cold. But right now, I can work in my tank top, secondhand Nike shorts, and New York Yankees cap.
I've washed five cars, got paid three times, and made eleven dollars today. If that one older couple hadn't given me seven bucks, I'd be a lot more disappointed than I am now. But I shake it off, toss my sponge back in my bucket, and take up my sign again.
Yank's Car Wash, it reads.
If I had more cardboard, it would say a lot more things. Best In Detroit. Four Years' Experience. Taught by Best Dad in the World.
I wish I could put that last bit on there. "You must love your dad," so many people would tell me. "I did," I'd tell them back. "He was killed in a car crash two years ago." "Oh, that's terrible," they'd say. "Do we have any more cash? Good--here's ten dollars, dear. Get yourself something to eat."
I try to tell myself that would never actually happen. People aren't nice like that anymore. Not that they ever were. If people were still nice, they'd let me work at actual car washes instead of the side of the road. The foster care system wouldn't be the mess it is. Kids at school wouldn't pick on me. I could probably stop going to school entirely and no one would notice, but I really need my high school diploma so I can get an actual job.
The light turns red, and I get another car to wash. This time, I get three dollars. That's enough for two water bottles, a week's worth of clearance Walmart bread, or a package of hot dogs.
I take a sip from my water bottle, and someone sees me. A pedestrian. Great. This never ends well.
It's a female--long brown hair, lighter than my jet-black ponytail. Jeans and a T-shirt with a jacket around her waist. She looks rumpled and tired and pretty dehydrated.
"You good?" I ask when she's within earshot.
"Can I have some of your water?"
I hand her my water bottle, but she goes straight for my bucket of soapy wash water, soaking her arms and her face and pouring some down her shirt. "I hate this weather," she breathes.
I give her a drink, and she accepts it eagerly. "You're not the only one," I tell her. "But it sure beats getting your hands frozen off, washing cars when it's fifteen degrees out, with a wind chill of negative two. Because that sucks."
"I'm sorry you have to do that."
She finishes my water bottle, and I can't say I blame her. The nearest building with a water fountain is three blocks away, and I'm tempted to send her to refill it. But she'll probably forget, and I'll be down a water bottle, and I hate it when that happens.
"I need a job," the girl says.
"How old are you?"
"Diploma or GED?"
I consider rolling my eyes. "Did you graduate high school?"
"Have you tried fast food?"
"You need an address and a social security card, and I don't have either."
I sigh. "What are you good at?"
"Try dog walking."
"Thanks." The girl stands up, a bit shakily, and I stand up after her.
"You need to rest for a bit," I tell her. "Find a gas station or something. Drink some Gatorade, chill in the AC, you're going to get heatsick. You have cash?" She shakes her head, so I hand her three dollars. "Come back with the change. I'll show you how to use it. I'll be here until seven or eight tonight."
"Thank you so much." The girl takes the cash, then smiles at me. "What's your name?"
"Call me Yank." I point to my New York Yankees cap. "You?"
She hesitates. "Brook, I guess." Her red, apprehensive face smiles a bit. "Nice to meet you, Yank."
One of the things I try to do as an author is maintain a level of historical accuracy. But sometimes that's tough. Sometimes different books and websites will tell you different things. And in that case...do I go crazy trying to figure it out, or just make up my own stuff?
Case in point: life expectancy. It's common knowledge that people in the Middle Ages didn't live for very long. You got married at 15, had five kids, and then died of cholera at the age of 30. Right?
It might be true that the life expectancy for a person was somewhere around 30 or 35. But there's a reason for that: infant and child mortality. There were no NICU's in the year 950. Some sources say that half of everyone born in the Middle Ages died before their twentieth birthday. Yes, pro-vaxxers, diseases had a lot to do with that. Things like scarlet fever, typhoid, influenza, smallpox, and tuberculosis (called consumption at the time) were commonplace, and children didn't always have the strength to survive these things.
But the lack of vaccines weren't the only culprit. People didn't understand hygiene at all. Norse people only took baths once a week, and only God knows if they washed their hands before meals (or used soap if they did so). At some point, the church decided taking baths was actually bad for you, and people went their whole lives without bathing. Sewage ran in the streets. Outhouses were too close to drinking wells. You get the picture.
Oh, yes--diseases weren't the only things that killed people. Famines were commonplace. If you had a bad harvest, if you were at war and someone decided to set fire to your fields, if you were in a city under siege...you couldn't exactly run to Dollar General to pick up some milk and peanut butter.
Now, for those lucky people who survived to adulthood, you could expect to live for a while. How long? It depended. A lot of women died in childbirth; a lot of men died in battle. But living to the age of 55 or even 60 was not unheard of. Snorri Sturluson, a famous Icelandic historian and author, lived to be 62. He would have lived longer than that, too, had someone decided not to murder him.
So the next time you pick up Where the Clouds Catch Fire (either by clicking the "purchase" tab above or by dropping by the Amazon Kindle store), don't be surprised when you find out Lukas is in his fifties. It wasn't as uncommon as most people think.
Have you discovered something different in your own research? Let me know in the comments below; I'm always looking for information! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Sorry for the late post. I have a couple of essays due, so I might be posting on Fridays instead of Thursdays for a while. Or not at all. It depends on how well I'm able to stay off YouTube.
So. Valentine's Day. It's a big deal for some people, nonexistent for others. For me, it was like any other day, except that I had to throw a party for a dozen kids (two of whom were there even though they were sick) instead of prepping them for the STAAR test. And my dad took me to Chick-fil-A today. I have yet to meet a girl who loves chocolate more than some good ole' Chick-fil-A.
I got chocolate. Why is chocolate considered more romantic than any other kind of candy? I'd pick Swedish fish over a Hershey bar any day, but I still appreciate those little heart-shaped boxes with four little chocolates in them. Those are good.
And then there's flowers. Is it wrong to buy myself flowers, so I can at least pretend my parents aren't the only people who love me? I'll wait until they go on sale. Or maybe I'll just wait until the wildflowers come out and take my dog to find some yarrow. Or Indian Paintbrush. Or those little purple ones that look like Eeyore.
And one more thing: what's with the teddy bears? Grown-ups don't have a use for them, unless they know a kid they can give them to. They'll just sit there on a shelf and collect dust. Or maybe they'll be given to a dog. My dog enjoys playing with stuffed animals. The only thing is that none of us enjoy cleaning up the stuffing that gets strewn across the yard.
Honestly, I'm wondering what the point of all this stuff is. Yes, most girls like flowers and chocolates, but we need a lot more than gifts. Depending on our love language, we might also need quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, or physical touch. I'm a major hug person. If you've read Where the Clouds Catch Fire (which is available on Amazon), you'll see a large importance placed on the power of human touch.
But hugs make some people uncomfortable. My sister can't stand them. She prefers quality time. As I'm writing this, my dad is demonstrating love for my mom by hanging a picture for her. He got his level out and everything. My dog knows she's loved when she gets treats and walks. I haven't been able to walk her as often now that I work in the afternoons instead of the evenings, but hey, we both need the exercise.
Love is so much more than flowers and sugar and glittery cards. Flowers wilt. Sugar rots your teeth. Cards get thrown away. But true love lasts forever.
What did you do for Valentine's Day? Do you know what your love language is? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Christmas comes and goes. I turn nine on Epiphany. Snow falls, rain melts it, and now it's February, and we're sad along with the weather.
We keep trying to explain to Tarin what happened. A group of bad men--Da says they're Vikings--sailed up the Shannon. They stole things, but worse than that, they stole people. They took Mum because she was pretty. Da tried to stop them, but he got hit in the head and couldn't do anything about it.
In our dreams, we all see the man who took Mum. Sometimes, Tarin wakes up screaming. Aunt Sorcha and her new baby Maura have been staying with us, and she always tries to calm him down, to make him go back to sleep. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, he cries all night, and Britta wakes up and cries with him.
Britta cries all the time now. She won't nurse off anyone else, and she won't drink from the bottle that Nan tries to give her. Sometimes she'll take a few sips of sheep milk, but she usually spits it up.
Now it's March. One morning, I wake up, and Britta's not crying. I take her out of her cradle, and she's cold and grey and heavy. I take her by the fire to warm her up, and I try to wake her, but nothing happens. When I put my ear to her chest, her heart isn't beating.
We put her next to my sister Louisa in the graveyard, and I wish there were flowers growing so we could give some to her. But we pray masses for her, and Da gives the priests money so they'll pray even more masses for her, and we know that she was baptized, so she'll go to heaven. And since Louisa's there, she won't be alone.
One grey and rainy day, Da wakes up and packs all our things into two trunks. All our clothes and dishes. Monika, the rag doll Mum made for me when I was little. Tarin's little wooden ox and cart. We take the trunks to the graveyard. There's a bunch of people there--Nan and Grandad, Aunt Sorcha and Aunt Ruari and all our other aunts and their husbands. Uncle Micheal, Uncle Stiofan, and Uncle Oisin are there too, and for once they're not causing trouble.
Grandad walks up to Da; he's angry. "Don't do this, Rowan," he snaps.
I jump. I've never seen Grandad angry. I want to run away, but Da's holding my hand and would sooner twist my arm off than let go.
Da's voice shakes like it has a lot since the Vikings took Mum. "I can't stay here anymore. There's too much sadness. Too many memories."
"At least give us the children," Nan says. "They deserve a better life than you draggin' them town to town. God knows if you'll ever get a decent job."
"I've had two of my children taken from me, and by God, I'm not lettin' you take the other two."
"There's memories in them, Rowan," Nan says. "Alynn's turnin' out just like Cait. Tarin's got her green eyes. They'll sadden you worse than Limerick City, Rowan."
"You were hit in the head. You're not thinkin' straight," Grandad says.
Da holds my hand tighter and swears. "I know what I'm doing. Caitriona's not the first person I've lost. These children are all I have, and blast it, I know how to take care of them."
Nan gives a strange sob and hides her face. Grandad just gets angrier. "Rowan McNeil, you--"
"Stop it!" I shout. "Stop yellin'! It isn't helpin' anythin'!"
I start crying, and Nan hugs me and kisses me and cries with me. Da lets go of my hand long enough to kneel by Britta's and Louisa's graves and say good-bye to them. I hug all my aunts, all my uncles, and my eleven cousins. Then Da picks up one trunk, Uncle Micheal picks up the other trunk, and we start walking.
Da and I take turns carrying Tarin. He fusses and cries and wants food and water, but I can't give him anything. We keep walking until we reach another town. But Da doesn't go into town. He goes into the woods, breaks down a few branches, and builds a wee shelter to keep the wind away. He says it'll do until we find a house.
Finally, I sit down, and Uncle Micheal gives Tarin a crust of bread to quiet him. Then he hugs us, wishes us well, and leaves back for Limerick City.
We all sleep in a pile to keep warm that night. Da puts his arm around both of us, and I hold Tarin, and Tarin holds Monika the rag doll. Just before he goes to sleep, Tarin asks me, "'Lynn?"
"What is it?"
"Does it wain in heaven?"
"I don't know."
"Will Bitt cwy if it wains in heaven?"
Tears sting my eyes. "Bitt won't cry in heaven, even if it does rain. There's angels watching her."
"There are," I promise, holding him tightly. "I'm sure there's angels watching Mum."
"There are. There's angels watching us, too."
I'd just like to take a moment and thank Texas for the lovely weather we've been having. Yesterday it was seventy degrees; today's it's thirty and feels like eighteen. I went from wearing short sleeves to sweaters in 24 hours. I'd also like to give a shoutout to everyone who's been stuck in a polar vortex recently, my relatives in Illinois included. God bless you guys, and stay warm!
I met a fellow author yesterday. A Baptist organization at my community college gives out free lunch on Wednesdays (rather, they invite churches to give out lunches) and yesterday we had pizza. Wonderful, cheesy pizza. And cookies. And salad with Olive Garden dressing. But I ended up sitting with a young veteran who was working on a fantasy series of short stories.
It sounded amazing.
I'd almost liken what I heard of it to C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, except the races don't get along and there's no common language. There are gods and angel-like beings and either seven or twelve different races (we weren't the only people talking at our table), only one of which is a democracy. There's a race of snake-like people who hate everyone and can hold bent bows for hours on end. There's Nazi goat-people who live in the mountains and three nations of elves. The best part of the whole thing, though, was watching this young veteran enjoy himself. He was having the time of his life as he told me what his stories were about.
To be honest, I was a bit envious of his imagination.
I've made up a lot of things for my books, both present and future ideas. One of the fantasy works I hope to release in the future involves a dragon and a made-up language (in which I can't even remember the alphabet, much less any of the 100 or so words I've come up with so far). But inventing a species of sentient beings? That sounds like fun.
One of the gods my lunchmate had come up with was the god of creativity; the one who made the earth. He said that any person in his fictional world who was particularly creative or inventive was said to be blessed by this god. And that got me to thinking. As a Christian, I believe in one God Who created everything--you, me, elephants, whales, oceans, forests, stars, fleas, everything. And we as humans are created in the image of God. Which means that we, too, like to create things.
Not everyone creates worlds and races. Some people, like my mother, create music. Others create cars, bridges, mathematical equations, medicines, or new ways of doing things. Some people don't make much of anything at all, but they make it possible for other people to create things. Athletes need stadiums. Businesspeople need new technology. All these things need to be created.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go create order in the kitchen by doing dishes....
What's your favorite thing to make? If you're not the crafty type, how do you express your creativity? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check out our Kindle book!
One thing I never understood about Britta was how she could hate the rain so much. It rained most Sabbaths when we took her to church. It rained when Mum worked in the garden, it rained when we went shopping for a new pair of shoes, it rained when we went to Nan and Granddad's house to give Mum a rest. But Britta never got used to it. Anything more than the gentlest mist, and she'd be awake and wailing.
Sometimes, Mum can make her stop crying. She'll bounce her around and sing to her and try to nurse her. But sometimes Britta doesn't want to be bounced, sung to, or nursed. She just wants to cry and curse the rain. Then Mum will sigh and ask me to take her inside. I love nothing more than sitting by the fireplace, drying her off, and letting her suck on my finger. She's so wee and cute, and sometimes she'll look up at me with big blue eyes and smile.
Her hair is starting to grow in. I can never decide if it was red or blonde--it's right in the middle. I'll stroke her hair and boop her nose and make faces and talk to her, and she'll wiggle and make noises and put her fingers in her mouth. If she falls asleep while I'm holding her, I set her on the bed and go help Mum.
Today, it's raining fierce hard, and Mam can't find her nalbinding needle.
"I can borrow one from Nora O'Brien," Mum says, mostly to herself. "Britta will fuss if she goes out in the rain. Alynn, can you keep an eye on the wee ones?"
"I can, Mum."
"Da's out in the smithy if anything comes up, but I know you can handle it." Mum kisses everyone and makes sure Britta's had enough to eat before she leaves, and knowing her, she'll start chatting or helping out with some chore and be gone for half an hour. And until then, I'm in charge.
"Let's play," Tarin says, handing me the little wooden ox that pulled a little wooden cart. "Let's play store!"
Store is easy to play. Tarin pretends he's a merchant and finds little things around the house to put in his cart and sell to me. I've got a little pouch of pebbles that we pretend are silver coins. Tarin can play Store for hours, but since I'm in charge, I want to do something worthwhile.
"I've a better idea," I say. "Everyone says Britta won't mind the rain once she gets used to it, right?"
"And she can't get used to the rain if she stays inside, right?"
"So let's take Britta outside and show her that there's nothing to be afraid of. Then Mum will come home and find that Britta doesn't mind the rain, and she'll be happy. Right?"
Tarin grins. "Wight, Let's go, 'Lynn!"
I bundle Tarin up so he won't catch cold, and I drape my own plaid over my head. Britta's too little to have a plaid, so I hold her against my chest and share mine with her. Sure enough, Britta begins to cry as soon as the first raindrops hit her.
"Whisht, my heart," I say. "See? There's naught to be afraid of. It's just water."
Britta squalls, and I start to wonder if this was a bad idea. Tarin starts to jump in a mud puddle. "Stop!" I cry. "Tarin, we just washed that--"
"I know it's squishy. Just--" Sighing, I take his hand and lead him inside. "Let's play Store."
Now Tarin's crying, Britta's crying, I'll have to wash Tarin's clothes before Mum gets home, why did I have to do this? While Tarin's kicking around on the dirt floor, I take off his trousers and plaid; his shirt is blessedly clean. He can run around in it until his trousers dry. I wash the mud off and hang everything on the back of a chair to dry. Tarin's still crying, Britta's still crying. When the clothes are hung up, I sit on the floor between them all and cry too.
I'm glad when Mum comes back. I'll let her figure out how to make Britta stop crying.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.