I have a confession to make.
You know how everyone's binge-watching Netflix right now? How the internet's going crazy over Carole Baskin and her husband? (Apparently The Tiger King is set in Oklahoma and, as a Texan who lives about 30 minutes from the Okie border, I'm not surprised.)
I don't watch television that much.
I've got my other vices. I spend too much time swiping through Instagram and browsing YouTube videos. I think I've played close to 200 levels of Candy Crush since quarantine started. I just won a hard level of Solitaire on my laptop. But Netflix? For some reason, I don't watch it very much.
I tried watching the new Star Trek: Picard series. It has its good moments, I'll admit. But it's also super intense. People get sliced up. Picard himself is super old and dying of an incurable brain disease (not that he's told anyone about it). And when one of the characters attempted suicide for the good of the crew, I just about lost it. My hands were sweating from sheer terror.
In the evenings, when my parents are watching the news and my sister is killing zombies in PUBG, I tend to daydream.
I heard that there's a new Marvel series coming out called "What If?". I don't know much about it, but I'm pretty sure it sees how things would play out if XYZ happened instead of ABC. Like, "What if Loki were in this situation instead of Captain America?" or "What if this person died?" I do that. But with my own books.
Some of my alternate realities are pretty sad. What if Alynn had died in the Battle of Faith? What if (spoiler alert) she'd been poisoned instead of Drostan at the end of Where I Stand? Others are a lot happier--like, what if she hadn't fallen off the Darting Swallow in the first place?
One of my favorite alternate realities is actually a mash-up of two different scenarios. First, fifteen-year-old Lukas McCamden decides to stay in Scotland rather than join St. Anne's Monastery. He gets married to a lovely girl named Everhild, and for a while, they live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, the Norse massacre still happens. Lukas, worried about his friends, decides to go investigate. And, because Everhild is a particularly determined individual, she decides to go with him. They arrive at St. Anne's Monastery only to find everyone dead--and their ship torn to bits in Treacherous Landing. They have no choice but to live at St. Anne's Monastery.
Things aren't so bad for the McCamdens. Lukas and Everhild have some kids and start to grow old together.
And here's where the second "What if?" comes into play. Alynn is kidnapped by Konar instead of Caitriona.
Lukas stumbles across Alynn trying to escape and takes her home to the monastery. Everhild loves her, of course, and they come to the decision that they're going to try and take her back to Limerick. They manage to get aboard a ship and make their way back home, where Alynn is reunited with her family.
There's no point in going back to the Norse-infested St. Anne's Cleft, so Lukas and Everhild and their kids decide to stay in Limerick. They're hailed as heroes for bringing Alynn home, after all. Finally, surrounded by friends and family, Lukas and Everhild get their happily ever after.
What's an alternate reality you'd like to suggest for Where the Clouds Catch Fire--or any book, really. Let me know in the comments below, and I might make a full-length story out of it! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter!
Tonight, Dad said that we were The Remnant, and Bennett asked what that meant. He was five and always asking questions. Meg was three and she asked a lot of questions too, but Bennett’s questions were always more fun to answer.
“Well,” said Dad, “when World War Three wrapped up when I was a kid, there were two kinds of people left in the world. Most everyone decided that the only way to live was to stay under the government’s protection, so a bunch of federal- and state-commissioned communes popped up. But my parents, and your mom’s parents, both believed that the best way to live was in the middle of nowhere, where we’d be less of a target in case World War Four started up.
“So little neighborhoods just like this started popping up in the woods of America. You’ve got across-the-street neighbors, and then you’ve got neighbors about two miles to each side of you, and you’ve got a backyard full of woods that’s about two thousand acres—plenty of land to hunt and farm on. And then when that solar flare happened, we ended up with better chances of survival than anyone else.”
“What do you mean by ‘better chances’?” Brooke asked, twirling her honey-brown hair between her fingers. She was smart for an eight-year-old, and even Mom and Dad found it hard to keep secrets from her.
“They say that ninety percent of Americans are going to die,” Dad said. “There’s a good chance we’re going to be in the ten percent left over. And that’s what makes us The Remnant.”
I remembered the day the solar flare happened. Dad had been playing Monopoly with us in the living room when Mom called his name with terror in her voice. We all thought the baby was coming until she explained through tears that her computer had completely stopped working. We thought nothing of it until Owen said, “My phone’s dead.”
His phone was plugged in. It had been for the past thirty minutes.
We got Mom to stop crying over her computer (she was a children’s book author and all her stories were on it, so it was no easy task) and had Owen get the radio out of the attic. It was an antique radio from the 1980s; Mom and Dad had figured it would be worth a lot of money someday and were saving it to sell to a collector. That day, however, we took batteries out of the TV remotes and fiddled with the radio dials until we got a signal.
“This just goes to show you, folks!” announced a man’s voice. “Everyone hustlin’ and bustlin’ about technology and productivity and crap like that. Now where’s it gotten you? Ninety percent of America’s population is going to die, just because you were too stupid, too self-centered, to plan for a CME.
“And you knew it could happen, too! It wasn’t like this was some sort of unforeseen circumstance, no sir, you fools knew it could happen. You ignored it, and you laughed at those who didn’t. Well, have fun starving to death, because Leroy Hackensack and his family’s all hunkered down, ready to dominate the new world order!”
And with that, he gave a cry of delight, and Mom turned off the radio
I'm about to shock you with a strange but true fact.
I, a published author, send my college essays to the writing center for proofreading before submitting them.
Well, at least sometimes. In one particular class--a class that's made me read nine entire novels this semester--I get extra credit if I submit my essays to the writing center. Since I'm persnickety about my grades, and because an extra eye certainly wouldn't hurt things, I go ahead and ship off my essays.
I had two essays due this week. One of them was about gender in Henry James's novella Daisy Miller. Actually, it didn't have to be about gender. The professor let us pick the topic, and gender was one of the suggested ideas--because, you know, all books written before 1970 portray women as inferior and submissive, right? And it's important that college students understand the nuances of the patriarchy. (God forbid we're taught anything useful like how to write a resume or balance a checkbook.)
I actually think that the females run the roost in Daisy Miller. In one scene, the titular character goes on a walk--scandalously--with not one, but two men. A better-mannered female friend drives up in a carriage and asks that Daisy come away with her to save her reputation. Daisy refuses, but one of the men capitulates. So much for the patriarchy.
Anyway, that was the easy paper.
The hard one was the one I shipped off to the writing center. The one I got a surprising amount of feedback on, because I simply gave up while writing it. The assignment went something like this:
"Pick two or three of the five post-apocalyptic books we've read this semester, find a theme they all share, and write about it. And oh, by the way, you have to write about how COVID-19 has created an apocalyptic moment for you. (We don't care if the genetically engineered humans in Oryx and Crake give you anxiety. You're an adult. Deal with it.) Here's a page requirement and word count requirement that don't mesh with each other. Oh, and it's worth 30% of your grade for the class."
(And the genetically engineered humans in Oryx and Crake DID bother me, thank you. Along with the child pornography, murder live streams, and freak-of-nature ChickieNobs. I echo the main character's cry of "F***ing Crake!")
Sorry for ranting. I'm glad the semester's almost over. One teacher says we only have one more week of school; another teacher says we have two weeks. I don't know who to listen to. Confused is an understatement. I don't know what's going on in life at this point.
The good news is, I was able to make a really fun parody of a poem in one of my other classes. I'll release it for you next Monday.
What's the most ridiculous assignment you got in school? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Every day, Mom went out to check the mail. Dad tried to get her to stop. It was December; we needed to keep the door closed to conserve heat. She was eight months pregnant with Baby Number Six; she needed to rest more. But Mom wouldn’t listen to him, even though the mail hadn’t come in two weeks and it wasn’t coming again for the foreseeable future. So, when all else failed, Dad decided to make it a family affair.
Every day at two o’clock, we would wrap ourselves in every scrap of clothing we could find and run outside. Even inside we wore our winter coats and at least two pairs of pants. Even Owen, who at thirteen wanted to be as manly as possible, had borrowed a pair of Mom’s workout leggings to wear under his jeans. But when we went outside, all the clothes we owned went on. Gloves beneath mittens. Snow bibs. Hats underneath our hoods. We had to stay as warm as possible, because there were no vents blowing hot air or faucets delivering warm water to warm us up.
When we’d go outside, Meg and Bennett would immediately start running around and playing in the snow. Sometimes, Brooke and Owen would join them—Brooke because she was young enough, and Owen because he was a boy and boys never really grow up.
Mom would walk as if she was in a trance. Down the driveway a quarter mile to the mailbox. Up a quarter mile back. The silent forest surrounded us; birds and foxes watched us. And I would go with her, a pistol in my pocket, while Dad protected the house and the other kids with his rifle.
Sometimes, we would meet Mr. Davis at the mailbox. He lived across the street in a ramshackle house that was always falling apart around him. Dad always offered to help him repair it, but Mr. Davis was often described as a Stubborn Old Coot and always declined. I always thought it was because he didn’t want us in his house. He’d started collecting guns and ammo after he served in World War III, and he didn’t want us stealing any of it.
Today, though, there was no Mr. Davis. Mom opened the mailbox, shut it again, and began the trek back to the house. The trip back was always slower since it was uphill, and Mom would stop once or twice along the way to catch her breath and rub her back or her belly.
I started to worry about her.
Regardless of how much I worried, we’d always get back to the house safely. Then we might enjoy the bitter fresh air for a while, and I might even join Dad and my siblings in a snowball fight or a snow-fort-building competition. But we’d always go back inside and hole up in the living room again, our feet cold and our faces red, dreaming of what we’d do the next day at two o’clock
It's been said that it takes ten years to become a professional at something. In that case, I'm a professional homeschooler.
It's easy to tell people that I was homeschooled for ten years, and slightly less easy to tell people that I started in kindergarten, skipped seventh grade because I was bored, and went to a private school for ninth and tenth grade. Nevertheless, I intimately know the ins and outs of doing school at home. Online classes are right up my alley. Educational games are my forte.
However, I'm fully aware that they're not everyone's forte.
I also know that actually educating a child is one of the hardest jobs in the universe. (Well, at least being in charge of a dozen smartphone-addicted middle schoolers is one of the hardest jobs in the universe.) But if Laura Ingalls Wilder was able to manage a classroom at sixteen, I figured I was able to do it at eighteen. And you're able to do it, too.
And, just to help you a bit, I've compiled a new eBook for the emergency homeschooler.
Yep. I wrote y'all a book.
It's a short book, but it covers a lot. I talk about making and maintaining a schedule, which is arguably the hardest part of homeschooling. I talk about academics, extracurriculars, and educational games that you might even convince Dad to play. And best of all, I provide a plethora of links to extra resources in the back.
It's everything you need to get your child through quarantine for only ninety-nine cents.
If Amazon would have let me distribute the book for free, I would have. My goal with this book isn't to make money (although money would be nice). I just want to give a helping hand to a lot of moms and dads who are out of their elements.
Be the first to Buy it here, or get it free with Kindle Unlimited. And be sure to
How green is the outside world!
The grass is vibrant and freckled
with the electric pink of Indian Paintbrush.
But all this is seen only from a window. I
am finally peaceful in quarantine, with a God-
given joy lighting my soul. Books and yarn and
pillows surround me; a teddy bear keeps me company.
I've been making hot pads and cleaning all day.
It's beautiful, really--these peaceful,
Happy Maundy Thursday to all of my dear readers! I must say, though--never in all my nineteen years of life have I celebrated Easter like this.
When I was particularly small, our family would do Resurrection Eggs. (At least I think that's what they were called.) It was a plastic carton full of plastic eggs, and inside each egg was a small figure that was to remind us of one aspect of Christ's Passion. In the first egg, for example, was a toy donkey to symbolize the Triumphal Entry. There was a two-inch-long leather whip in one, a nail in one, and a rock in another. The last one, though, was empty to symbolize the empty tomb on Easter morning.
Along with each day's egg came a short devotional. Mom would read it to us. Once our reading skills were adequate, my sister and I would read bits of the devotional as well. Our dad would even join us on occasion.
We haven't done the Resurrection Eggs in several years. We lost little pieces throughout the years, and I think we got rid of them entirely when we moved. Besides, my sister and I are too old for them now.
But this year...this year, we're nixing all the traditions.
We used to decorate for Easter. We have a family of bunnies wearing dresses and carrying baskets that we used to prop up in the corner near the coat closet. We had two wooden flowers that we'd set up in my bedroom. Of course, we'd have baskets full of that plastic grass that you end up vacuuming for months afterwards. You know. Typical Easter stuff.
This year, we can't even go to church thanks to Coronavirus.
It's a fitting holiday for a pandemic, actually. On Easter, we remember that Jesus carried all our sins, sicknesses, and the general nastiness of humanity. We remember the wounds that, according to Isaiah, provided our healing. And we remember that, just as Christ was raised to life, all the Christians who have died during this pandemic will find new life in heaven.
I mean, we all will someday.
Easter is a season of hope, and right now, we have a lot to hope for. Hope that quarantine will end soon. Hope that we'll find a vaccine. Hope that the government will either start implementing the cure they've found or find another one that works better. Hope that life will return to normal--except that we'll have closer communities and higher standards of hygiene.
We Christians have hope that we'll end up in heaven someday, where pandemics aren't a thing and where every day is a day of celebration and praise and thanksgiving.
How will you spend Easter in quarantine? You can join my church service online if you want--Victory Life Church will be having a live stream! God bless you, dear readers. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay peaceful.
Hello to all of my introvert friends! To those of you who are introverts by nature, congratulations. And to all of you who are introverts by government mandate...I'm sorry.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. All non-essential stores are shutting down today, so I took yesterday to support local businesses. Meaning I bought yarn and frozen yogurt. It's not like I haven't left the house in the past two weeks. I'm the primary grocery-getter since I have the strongest immune system in my family, and we go to the park a lot to use their walking trail. But I was so happy to be in Joanne's Fabrics. It was glorious.
Even better, after our online church service, we watched AFV as a family. Well, minus my sister, who has stolen my ex-best-friend and spent all evening FaceTiming her. But that's alright. See, when I was little, we'd watch AFV every Friday night. We stopped when we moved to Texas for some reason, but I still love that show.
And even better than that?
I finished the rough draft to Book Number Three in the Clouds Aflame series.
"Did you have fun?" God asked me when I lay back to rest my screen-weary eyes after ending the final poem. In truth, I have had fun. I've introduced a few new characters who are very fun to work with. One of them looks like me. One of them is based on a friend I went to high school with. And, of course, I get to explore new facets of the existing characters. That's always fun.
The finished product is a bit shorter than I expected. It's around 60,000 words. For perspective, Where the Clouds Catch Fire is 75,000 words or thereabouts, and Where I Stand is almost exactly 90,000. But I'm not worried. The rough draft for Where the Clouds Catch Fire was less than 50,000 words long, and I still haven't added Lukas's journal entries. For whatever reason, I always add them after completing the rest of the narrative.
I remember the day I got the idea for the story. I was probably fourteen or fifteen, in the middle of an epic Nerf war with my sister and my aforementioned ex-best-friend. I didn't particularly care for Nerf wars. I'd only participate if I was allowed to wear a cloak and fight with my toy longbow instead of a Nerf gun.
At one point, I was hiding in the bathroom. I was behind the door, still and silent, cloaked and hooded, a loaded longbow in my hands. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror across from me and thought, "This is pretty cool. I should make a book."
I paused the war, jotted down an idea, and the rest is history.
What do you hope to see in Clouds Aflame Book 3? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to look us up on Kindle Unlimited!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.