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April 6th, 2008:

LiveJournal Sentence Sunday

This is a writer thing, which I'm doing at the behest of , and for a (very) rare change it will not appear on the main ContraPositive site on has declared a “Sentence Sunday,” which is a way of provoking discussion among writers on their current projects. It works like this:

1. You go to one of your current novels-in-progress, and find the page number declared for this event.
2. You choose an excerpt beginning at the first complete sentence on that page.
3. You post it where others can read it.
4. You tell everyone what you like about it.
5. People discuss it in the comments.

My only problem is that Melissa has chosen page 123 this time, and although I have a number of novels-in-progress (including a few that have been in progress since the early 1980s) none have gotten to that page yet. Old Catholics has gotten to page 81, and it's the project on which I have the most momentum right now, though with all the jackhammering my mouth has undergone in the last two months, the momentum has been thin. Alana has given me permission to knock out the hundreds column and start with the first complete sentence on page 23. Remarkably, that one page stands together very well:

“They have a church building. And a woman priest! Just like your Episcopal church. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?”

Suzy didn’t nod.

“So let’s make a deal. I’ll call Peter and ask him if he can help me with my laicization paperwork-if you’ll come to their church with me tomorrow. It’s right out Devon Avenue, near Western.”

Suzy puffed out her cheeks and considered. The steam rose from her cup in slow rosettes. “Ok. Deal. But I get to be the judge. If these people are crackpots, I grab your arm, and you leave with me. No questions. No objections. You get up, we leave, and we don’t go back.”

Rob sat silently, his fingers clenching in his lap, thinking of Mrs. Przybysz reading his aura, and imagining a deacon fishing in the cold-air vents for fugitive rosary beads. Suzy’s definition of “crackpot” might not quite match his own. Cutting deals with a brilliant woman like Susan Helms was a lot like gambling, and he knew how good he was at gambling. Making ordinary, rational decisions was hard enough. Taking bets–it was an invitation to humiliation. If this were not the woman he loved, and had loved in absentia virtually his entire adult life…

“Oh–and if you don’t call Peter, I will.”

Rob opened his mouth, afraid what his face would reveal, thinking of Suzy on the phone with his old friend. People had called them a “threesome” back at Loyola, and there had been enough resentment in that to yield more than a little relief in not getting a response from Peter Luchetti. Rob remembered once–was it 1972?–walking along the lakefront with his arm around 5’2” Suzy Helms, and 6’2” Peter on the other side, his arm on her back above Rob’s.

The feeling that rose in him that evening when he was back in his room–anger, jealousy, covetousness, whateverthehell it was–had scared him half-silly and sent him screaming for his confessor. His friendship with Peter was conflicted (and stale) but Suzy’s threat was not idle: Her father, bakery magnate David Warren Helms III, had left a cool three million dollars to the Archdiocese of Chicago upon his death in 2004. Cardinal Peter Luchetti did not answer just anyone’s phone call. But he would answer hers.

Those who have followed my fiction at all know that this is a peculiar thing for me to write: No starships, no aliens, no AIs, no gunfights. It's about a Roman Catholic priest who resigns his parish position in Indianapolis to return to Chicago to the woman he abandoned for the priesthood thirty years earlier. He runs across a (very) eccentric Old Catholic community that includes an ex-con, a psychic little old Polish lady, a former call girl who became a priest, a young computer geek who has a side business converting churches into condos, and a bishop who spent the bulk of his life writing advertising copy. The priest's seminary buddy has since become Chicago's cardinal, and the new Pope–a reactionary conservative from Brazil–is hell-bent on bringing the American Church's liberal wing to heel.

I like it because it's been a necessary exercise in the things that I am not naturally good at: Characterization, nuance, and a story told without chase scenes. I've had to create characters who are eccentric but not ridiculous, and treat with a light heart a set of topics that, often as not, incites people to fury: Should priests be married? Should women be priests? Do we really need a Pope? And what really defines the Catholic idea? That's what I'm reaching for. I'm not sure how successful it will be, but I intend to finish it, and will get back to work as soon as I can chew without wincing, which should be any day now.