This week is a very important week at our church. I happen to go to a very large church that has thirteen locations, plus an online church that ministers to people all over the world. But every year, we take a few evenings and meet together. People fly in from different countries--last year, I met a woman from South Africa who didn't know what a burrito was--and we rent a casino's event center. We call it Jubilee.
Jubilee has been going on for over thirty years, but we've only been meeting at the casino event center for four years or so. But it's a good thing that we've upgraded, because there are literally thousands of people that attend. We fill up the auditorium with seats and still have to cram people into the bleachers. Once a few years ago, they asked young people to sit on the floor because they were running out of seats for everyone.
Anyway, yesterday was a very special night for me. The pastor who spoke was from Scotland.
Pastor John Donnelly is a wonderful man of God who pastors Glen Aros church in Dumfries, Scotland. I've had the honor of running into him at almost every Jubilee so far. Last year, I even gave him a copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire. He was thrilled to meet an author and eagerly introduced me to his wife, Susan. This is us last year.
Pastor John usually starts off with a funny story. The first time I heard him, he had everyone in stitches by personalizing the "W.C. Joke" that had apparently been used on some sort of late-night show. (I thought it was a true story until I relayed it to someone who'd heard it before.) Yesterday, he told a story about being at a conference with Pastor Duane (my pastor) and Andrew Womack. He felt small compared to the giants of the faith he was surrounded by. Finally, a woman came up to him and inquired if she could ask a question.
Pastor John smiled, wondering why she was asking him rather than Pastor Duane or Pastor Andrew. He wondered if he had some sort of wisdom that they didn't have, or some fountain of knowledge they hadn't unlocked yet. Finally, the woman said, "Pastor John--Pastor John, how do you get your head so shiny?"
"It's the annointin' of God!"
He also cracks jokes about his accent. He's learned how to tone it down just enough for us Americans to understand it, but it still makes for a few good laughs. He mentioned "hillwalking," which is apparently the Scottish term for hiking, but sounds like "hell-walking." And since quite a few of his i's come out like e's, don't ask what happens to the number six when he says it aloud.
I hope to run into him again this Jubilee. He's been reclusive--I think he's been filming things especially for the online church, because I haven't seen him walking around like he has before. I'm working nursery tonight, so I won't be able to see him. And since I'm playing piano at three services this weekend, I'm not sure I'll make it to tomorrow night, the last night of Jubilee.
Speaking of this weekend, we have James Brown--who hosts NFL Today on CBS--speaking at our church this Saturday at 4:00 and 5:45. You can watch the service online at live.vl.church/ and, if you look in the far shadows of the stage, you might be able to see me playing the piano during worship.
Have you ever been to Jubilee? And since I'm not really a sports person, what do you think of James Brown if you've ever seen his show? Let me know in the comments below! God bless, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
The back door opened, and hurried footsteps sounded throughout the building. Alynn smiled as a brown-clad monk rounded the corner, praying under his breath and forgetting to shut the door. “Good evening, Lukas,” Caitriona said.
The monk pulled off his hood to reveal a halo of cropped, white hair. “Evening,” he murmured, hurrying past with hardly more than a glance. He and his Latin musings disappeared up the stairwell.
“You don’t have time for a hug?” Alynn called up after him. “Lukas?”
“Don’t pester him, Lynder, he’s a busy man,” Caitriona said. “Knowing him, he’s probably half-starved, too. Change yer clothes, will you? You’ll catch cold.”
Alynn stared up at the stairwell. She couldn’t remember all the times she’d watched Lukas’s mind drift back to earth after a round of silent prayers. It was as if life sprang back into his clear blue eyes, a silent gleam hiding in their depths. When she couldn’t pry a smile out of them, something was wrong.
It was nearly an hour before footsteps once again sounded down the stairs, but this time, they were unrushed and placid. Lukas peered at the boiling salt cod, stole a leaf from the watercress salad, and left to draw some water from the well. “Everything smells delicious,” he said.
“Thank you.” Alynn tried to fish the cod out of the kettle, but she splashed boiling water on the plain oat-colored dress she’d ripped during sword fighting practice earlier that day. Her frock covered most of the damage, but she prayed Lukas wouldn’t notice her leg peeping from the rip in the skirt.
“I’ll get that,” Caitriona ordered, taking the platter out of Alynn’s hands. “Sit down before he comes back.”
Alynn hid in a chair just as the back door opened and shut. She took the opportunity to heap her plate with skyr—a Norse cheese so soft it was eaten with a spoon. Lukas sat down and helped himself to the watercress.
“How was yer day, Lukas?” Alynn asked.
“Not bad,” he said, which was the highest he spoke of anything. “Sigmund’s returned from his missionary trip.”
“He has?” Caitriona asked, snatching a serving spoon from the cupboard. “How did it go?”
Lukas gave a halfway twitch of a smile, but he meant it with his eyes and his heart. “He said that it was very much a success.” He took Alynn’s hand, waited for Caitriona to sit, and took hers. “Lord, we thank Ye fer this day, and the chance to spend it wi’ friends and family. We thank Ye fer the miracles Ye wrought wi’ Sigmund on Hrafney, and I pray that many others would come to see Yer light.”
Alynn and Caitriona repeated the rest of the prayer with him— “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Yer gifts, we are about to receive, from Yer bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
For a while, no one spoke. Caitriona’s food was too delicious for that.
Everyone loved Disney's Frozen back when it came out. I've seen the movie exactly once. Not because I didn't enjoy it--it was cute, and the ending was perfect--but because we're not really a Disney family. In fact, I'm not much of a TV person. I watch YouTube more than is good for me, but if I'm going to spend an hour gawking at a screen larger than my cell phone, I'd rather be writing.
I made this realization a while ago, and now with Frozen 2 on its way to theaters, I'm ready to tell everyone why Hans was the stupidest villain in all of Disney history.
From any standpoint, Hans is a great villain. He seems like a great guy, and we genuinely like him until we find out he's evil. And his motivation is pretty solid, too. People have done terrible things to obtain power. And for a guy with twelve older brothers poised to inherit the throne of the Southern Isles, he's right. He has to marry into royalty somewhere if he ever wants to be king.
But there's a problem with that.
I can't take credit for this aspect of my theory. Other people online (notably SuperCarlinBrothers) have said that, if a man marries a queen, he doesn't become a king. He just stays a prince. Take Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. They've been married for a very long time, but Prince Philip is still a prince.
But...there's also another problem. One that, so far, no one on the internet has pointed out.
I don't know if Hans hadn't thought his plan out all the way through, or if he just had to roll with the plot as it unfurled, or if he was genuinely an idiot. I'd blame the scriptwriters, but I'd much rather find fault in this otherwise perfect villain. Because when he stumbles out of that bedroom, saying that Anna died after they exchanged wedding vows, everyone around him should have scratched their heads and said...
"Hold on, Hans, you never married the girl. No one witnessed anything."
Allow me to impress you with my knowledge of NSFW History. I've had to do quite a bit of research on Viking weddings, and one thing that surprised me was that a wedding wasn't considered legal unless at least six people witnessed the, uh, consummation of the marriage. And it wasn't just Vikings. Following the bride and groom home was popular in other countries like England, and especially wherever nobility was involved.
Since Disney obviously isn't going to want to put something like this into a children's movie (though they wouldn't surprise me if they did), they could have just mentioned that no one witnessed the ceremony. At least one or two people, in modern America, have to watch you sign your marriage license before you can legally be married.
Of course, most kids aren't Klaus Baudelaire and know nothing of nuptial law. So none of them--and few of the older viewers--picked up on the plot hole. But writers see plot holes the same way interior designers see mismatched colors. We notice. And, if given the chance to sit back and think about it, it bugs us. A lot.
Anyhow, I am excited for Frozen 2, but not nearly as excited as I was to see How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. And hopefully, while we're on the subject of sequels, you're excited to read Where I Stand, book 2 in the Clouds Aflame series. I'm releasing bits and pieces of the first chapter every Monday, and if you need to catch up on the first book, it's available on Amazon or by clicking the "Purchase" tab above.
What did you think of Frozen? What do you hope to see most in the sequel? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
“Alynn! Come inside, child! You’re crazy!”
A sixteen-year-old girl spun circles in the midsummer afternoon’s rain. “Mum, can’t you see the rainbow?” she asked, laughing as the raindrops tickled her neck. “It’s out above the ocean! I wonder who’s to find the pot of gold!”
The girl’s mother, Caitriona, sighed helplessly from the doorway of St. Anne’s Monastery. “You’ll catch yer death of cold. Come inside.”
Alynn filled her chest with fresh, damp air. “It’s rain worse than this I’ve been out in, and I’m fairly certain I haven’t died yet,” she said. Laughing, she flew through the yard and took her mother’s hand. “Come see the rainbow!”
Caitriona picked up her skirts and ran into the yard, ducking her head against the rain. Alynn smiled. She knew that her mother, somewhere deep within her, had a free spirit. It shone through her shamrock-green eyes and her smile as she looked up at the heavens.
Suddenly, Alynn slipped on a patch of mud. Her shoulder blade hit something wooden, and she landed hard. She looked up—she was sprawled in the vegetable garden, propped up against the pea trellis. Helpless with laughter, Alynn glanced up at Caitriona to find her laughing, too.
“Not the peas again, Lynder!” she exclaimed before tripping over a tussock and landing in a puddle. She looked at her ruined dress, then at Alynn, and laughed even harder.
Alynn beamed. She gazed at the heavens to see the rainbow, glowing like a smile from God. Truly, He was smiling—restoring in a moment of time the years that had been stolen from her childhood. Even Caitriona, her dripping golden hair hanging nearly to her knees, had returned as the mother Alynn remembered.
Caitriona helped Alynn to her feet and pulled her into a hug, whispering a “thank you” as she fingered Alynn’s strawberry-blonde tresses. Alynn smiled.
“I missed you, Mum.”
“Beautiful girl, I missed you, too.”
Even though it had been over two years since she and Caitriona had been reunited, there were times when Alynn still couldn’t believe it. The moments were rare when Caitriona was exactly as she had been before the Vikings took her, but when she was, Alynn was eight years old again.
Caitriona gave her a squeeze, then took her hand and led her back to the monastery. “Let’s get you dried off.”
She led her through an arched doorway, then the kitchen that was designed to feed a hundred monks. Alynn passed rows of unlit cooking fires on her way to the hearth. She spun before the fireplace, letting her blue dress drip-dry on the stone floor.
Caitriona snatched a rag and made Alynn stand on it. “Don’t slip,” she cautioned. “Did you finish lettin’ down the hem on yer Sabbath dress?”
Caitriona sighed, toweling her hair dry. “Child....”
“I’ve my plain dress.”
“It needs patched.”
“It’s still a dress.”
Caitriona handed Alynn her towel. “Hurry and change, then put some bread in the oven. I’ve half a day’s worth of carding to do.”
Working with kids is the best and worst thing that's ever happened to me. Week One of teaching summer school is completed, and I'm accumulating stories.
We send books home with the kids, along with a reading log so we can know how much they read. One kid forgot his book at home. I'd donated a copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire to the bookshelf, so I grabbed it for the kid to read.
He looked surprised--it was quite a bit thicker than most of the books we had. "I like the name," he said, pointing to my last name on the cover. "Just take out the 'a,' and it's Pizza."
Yes, we get that a lot, I wanted to tell him. But he didn't know I'd written it, so I just smiled and told him to read to Page 8. He didn't get that far. Everyone was in high spirits (in other words, they didn't want to listen) and we were playing math games before long. Afterwards, I made the unruly ones help me clean up, and I waited twenty minutes after closing time for my last student to get picked up.
Maybe I should just collect quotes from my students. They say the darndest things.
I've gotten "You're not a real teacher" and "Why don't you work at McDonald's?" from a couple of boys. I've gotten "You're boring" and "Why can't we do anything fun?" multiple times (I'm pretty sure all teachers do). But I've also heard the kids tell an assistant from another classroom "You're not our teacher!" when she stepped in to help control the noise level. They wrote on the whiteboard, "Miss Micalah's Class and no one else's!"
Perhaps my favorite quote is from a younger child who isn't in my classroom: "I hate B.M.! Do you know what that stands for? Bad Mondays!"
During the spring semester, one of my boys came in upset. "Caitlyn broke up with me!" he said (to his friend, not me). "I gave her everything! I gave her chocolate on Valentine's Day! And she left me for Daniel? He's a loser! He's never done anything for her!"
Dude. You're in fifth grade. Relax a bit, I'm out of high school and still single.
It's good to know how kids work when you're a writer. After all, you never know when you're going to have a character with a twelve-year-old sibling, or you need a random fifth-grader to say something snarky at the public pool. Working with kids is one of the best ways to figure out what they're like.
Using relatives is okay too, but you won't get a representative sample of the age group. You only get the people who are the same kind of weird as you. My little sister left for camp this afternoon. I was on my way out the door with someone waiting for me, and my sister tackled me and tossed me on our stair landing.
"Get in my suitcase," she said. "And if you don't, I'll break all your bones so you'll fit better."
"Sis, get off of me, I have to leave--"
"Get in my suitcase!"
I left. Unfortunately. And now she's gone to camp, without a broken-boned teacher in her backpack.
What's the darndest thing a kid has ever said to you? And what's your favorite science experiment to do with kids? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
“What are you doing here, old man?”
Lukas McCamden met the sailor’s gaze calmly. The pier rocked beneath them, the wind and the waves trying to push them into the choppy waters below. The steady rain danced on the ocean, sending dimples running across the crest of every wave. The noise was amplified as a gust of wind blew the raindrops diagonally.
“I’m here to meet the ship,” Lukas said.
“How’d you know we was coming?”
Lukas was steady. “I’ve my ways. I’d like to speak wi’ Sigmund.”
The sailor snorted. “Get off the pier, and he’ll meet you. We’ve got enough landlubbers about. You’re insufferable.”
Lukas returned the sailor’s sentiments. The pier creaked beneath his boots as he carefully made his way back to dry land, cautious not to slip on the rain-dampened wood. The rain had soaked through his cowl, scapular, and tunic; even his undershift stuck to his wet shoulders. The wind set a sharp ache in every bone he’d ever fractured. He wished for his cloak.
The ship was finally secured against the pier, and Lukas watched a young man as he ran, blond head ducked to the rain, towards dry land. He stumbled on the slick wood but caught himself before he fell. The metal tip of a hook peeked out of his left sleeve.
The young man’s head jerked up. “Lukas!” he exclaimed, running up to him and shaking his hand. “You’ll not believe all the Lord’s done in Hrafney!”
“The missionary trip went well, I take it?” Lukas asked.
“The chief himself was converted,” Sigmund said. “Seventy-eight salvations in total.”
“Seventy-eight?” Lukas repeated. Sigmund nodded, shivering as the wind blew through his slight frame, and Lukas wished again for his cloak. “God be praised, that’s good news! Now suppose we get out of the weather.”
Sigmund led him down the wood-paved street, every bit as slippery as the pier, to the tailor’s small longhouse near the center of town. “Of course. Remind me, though, I’ve got to tell you about a Scottish captain I met. He said he was a friend of Alynn’s father.”
Lukas glanced at Sigmund. He obviously didn’t know the magnitude of what he’d just said—glad instead to be on dry ground, anxious to see his wife for the first time in five weeks. “A Scotsman?” Lukas repeated.
“Judging by his accent, which doesn’t mean much. But he mentioned Alynn by name. Seemed rather concerned about the matter.” Sigmund once again ducked his head to the wind and quickened his pace. “Hrafney is sending a young man to study for the pastorate. I assumed you wouldn’t mind discipling him.”
“Not at all. I’ll be glad to meet him. What’s his name?”
“They haven’t decided who they’re sending. It’s either going to be the chief’s cousin or future brother-in-law.” Sigmund nearly ran the last four steps to the tailor’s house and rushed inside. Lukas heard the glad cries that only arise when a traveler is welcomed home—the shouting of names and the clapping of hands, the tears of a young wife who had never been apart from her husband before. It overpowered the din of the rain and the occasional clap of thunder.
And Lukas stayed outside, recalling the tales he’d been told of a Scottish sea captain, a friend of Alynn’s father.
I honestly have no idea why I forgot to post my blog yesterday.
I have an alarm on my phone that tells me to post my blog every Monday and Thursday. It goes off at 11:30 a.m. and yesterday, at 11:30 a.m., I was at the gym with my sister.
I'd had a heck of a time getting there. The thing about sisters, especially when they're 18 and almost 14, is that they don't always get along well. So we'd gotten in a bit of a scuff before we'd left, and when we were one intersection away from the gym, I heard a plop.
"Micalah, your car broke, and I didn't do it."
I stopped at a red light and glanced over. My sister was in the front passenger's seat, and at her feet was a plastic panel that had, a few seconds prior, been attached to my car. Long story short, we got it fixed. Probably not the way it was supposed to be fixed. But it's fixed nonetheless.
We got in the gym, and I told my sister that we had an hour before we need to leave. All I'd eaten for breakfast that day was a protein bar and a package of fruit snacks, so I wanted to be home in time for a decent lunch. Another argument ensued--my sister is going to participate in a 2-mile run at summer camp, and she wants to be in shape. Fair point, but don't argue with a hangry nerd who's already out of her comfort zone.
Then my alarm went off.
"Crap, it's Thursday," I said aloud, before silencing my alarm, opening my YouTube music app, and plugging in my earbuds. "I should write my blog when I get home."
Well, I got home, ate lunch, worked on getting Where the Clouds Catch Fire formatted for paperback on Amazon, had a chat with my dad, browsed Pinterest, and went to church for a worship team meeting.
Fast forward to today. I cleaned out my closet today and filled up two trash bags--one with clothes I want to get rid of, and another with actual trash. (Most of it was boxes I'd saved in case I had to return the thing that came in them.) I can actually shut my closet doors now. Anyway, Pinterest eats my soul again, I emerge two hours later for lunch, and then start making 100% sure that Where the Clouds Catch Fire is free from type-o's before I submit it.
Oh, and here's the proof I just got:
It has a matte cover, so it's super soft. I've been carrying it around with me, asking random people to touch it. I got it Wednesday, and I just sat and pet it for a while. After putting it on Instagram, of course. (Did I mention I have an Instagram? No? I'm the M.J. Piazza with a bunch of book stuff in my feed. You can't miss me.)
Anyway, I was editing, and I realized that Alynn is thirteen in the book. I was thirteen when I started writing the book. Now, my sister's thirteen, almost fourteen.
"Wouldn't that be such a cool thing to put on my blog?" I asked myself.
Oh, yeah. My blog. Thank God I remembered.
To be fair, I've had the past two weeks off work, so I've been pretty out of the loop recently. I woke up at 7:00 this morning for the first time in what feels like years, to prepare for Monday, when I have to be at work at 7:30. I already know I'm going to leave early and get myself coffee. There's a local chain that has something called a Mexican Mocha or something like that, and I ordered it once specifically because it doesn't taste like coffee. I don't like coffee. But I loved that Mexican Mocha.
What's the craziest reason you've ever forgotten to do something? And what's your favorite way to drink coffee? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Sorry for the late post. I had a friend stay over yesterday and you know what happens when two eighteen-year-olds have an afternoon to themselves. Anyway, over the next few weeks, I'll be posting bits and pieces of Where I Stand, the sequel to Where the Clouds Catch Fire! I'm excited too! So let's get going with the poem that opens Where I Stand...
While I stare in hope at the ocean,
My gaze set on water and stone,
I see naught but waves set in motion,
No person, for I am alone.
O speak, flaming sunset! O, what have you seen?
What visions to you have been shown?
Tell me the fate of the one who has been,
The person who left me alone.
Nothing tonight meets my vision,
My hope to the wolves has been thrown.
Tomorrow I'll repeat my mission,
With hope that I won't be alone.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.