Monday, October 31, 2016

R is for Ramona Sanducci

Ana loves this secondary character from her time travel WIP, working title 'Angel Foster.'

Ramona Sanducci is the kind of friend that every uptight heroine needs.

She's bold and brash. She wears high heels and knock-off designer clothes. She colors her hair fire-engine red and when they land a new account, celebrates by adding black tiger highlights. (She paints her fingernails to match.) She's unafraid to elbow her way up to the bar and whistle piercingly to hail a server. She speaks her mind unflinchingly

She's loyal and competent. She sticks with the heroine when times are tough; works weekends when the job demands it. She started working straight out of secretarial school and absorbed a high degree of knowledge on the job. She naturally inquisitive and has down-to-earth reasoning.

She still believes in love. She married young, had a daughter, got divorced, and supports herself and her daughter.

excerpt from Chapter 3:
             Ramona disappeared for a few moments and returned with a shiny black floral box adorned with a puffy gold bow.
            Angel’s stomach churned.
            “They’re for you, Foster. Probably another thank-you from our favorite CEO.”
Ramona opened the box and extracted an armful of giant ruby roses. “Be still my heart! There must be two dozen in here.” Cradling the bouquet like a beauty queen, she shook the filmy green tissue paper. “There’s no card. All right, Foster. Who is he and what happened?”
            “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Avoiding her assistants’ eyes, she reached for the remote and clicked for a weather channel. “Nothing happened.”
            “Let me get this straight. You spent the weekend with sixty teachers and one very rich administrator.”
            “Fifty-eight hours,” Tony interjected.
            “Thank you,” Ramona said. “Fifty-eight hours of non-stop, elbow-to-elbow, heads in a huddle, eat-sleep-work-and-breathe togetherness. You negotiated a brilliant settlement, thanks to yours truly and Einstein here. The most beautiful flowers on the planet show up, and all you can say is nothing happened?”
            “Nothing happened.” Angel retreated to her desk and dug an antacid bottle out of her purse. “Montague’s very married.”
            “What about the teachers, Terhark, Dupont, and Roberts?”
            “Married. Full of himself. Not interested in women. I’m completely stumped.” She sat, massaged her temples, and prayed that Ramona would leave it at that.
            “How about one of the regular teachers?”
            “I printed the document. They voted. I left.”
            “And you can’t recall anyone special.” Ramona snapped her gum.
            “Oh, honey. Take it from a woman who’s been married and divorced. You should try to remember.”

            For two weeks, at exactly eight-thirty in the morning, a courier delivered twenty-four long-stemmed roses. The office resembled a diva’s dressing room on opening night.
            Ramona opened two tall bottles of water, drained them into an empty wastebasket, and arranged the newest crème whites. Then she peered intently over Tony’s shoulder as he downloaded the complete roster of RISE teachers and profiled them by gender, eligibility, salary, and other.
            “Whoever he is, this guy’s got deep pockets,” Tony said. “You’d think he’d lose interest by now. There are lots of other women out there.”
            “And you know that from experience, I’m sure.” Ramona flashed him a scornful look. “Foster’s florist is definitely not interested in a quickie. I think it’s time to lean on her to—”
            Angel walked in carrying her briefcase. “Lean on who to do what?”
            “Lean on you to come clean,” Ramona said. “You know more than you’re willing to admit. Look at all these flowers. What could be so bad about this guy? He’s got taste, money, and staying power. Great qualities in a man. Why don’t you want to know who he is? Let Einstein go to work. If you don’t want him, let me have him.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Q is for Quarrels

An editor thought Debra's first hero was too angry.

As you've heard from me before, I cut my romance reading teeth (so to speak) on the Harlequin American novels back in the mid-80s. The heroes tended to be domineering males, many times with a chip on their shoulder, who often didn't bother to show their disdain for the heroine at first meeting...and for many pages after that.

When I sat down to write my first romance, perhaps it was natural that some of these characteristics wound up in my hero too.

Logan Reed definitely has a chip on his shoulder. He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and is back in town to prove he's far from the poor boy who left. And he's definitely irritated with Sharlie because of how their relationship ended twelve years ago. And he's definitely not afraid to show her exactly how he feels. They quarrel. A lot.

On my first query/submission of this story, I got a note back from the editor saying that while she enjoyed the story, she found my hero was too angry.

Since then my heroes have morphed into more of a hybrid alpha/beta mix.

I think in general the alpha male has changed in romance. Oh, there are still alphas out there (thank goodness), but they tend to be the 'bad boys' our heroines fall for: the cowboys, the military men...and even they have a softer side...that we see sooner than the declared "I love yous" at the end of a story. They still may have a bit of a 'take charge' attitude, but not in a domineering-bordering-on-bullying kind of way. In a good way that makes a girl's heart skip a beat. They don't seem to be angry just for the sake of being angry. There's more depth. More to them.

And the heroines have definitely changed. I think some of the heroines of today's romance are somewhat alpha themselves. They're not always the damsel in distress or the helpless gal who needs a male to get through life. They hold their own. They're strong. Capable.

Quarreling and tension definitely have their place in a romance. After all, the conflict is central to the story. But often times it's more of an undertone, rather than an 'in your face' kind of thing.

Of course it's dangerous to make such a wide-sweeping generalization when there are so many different types of stories out there. Something for everyone's taste. So if angry, domineering males are your thing, I'm sure there are plenty of stories out there for you: whether you're writing them or reading them. As for me, I myself am enjoying the 'new' hybrid hero.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Q is for Questions - and Answers

Paula asks: How much information should a character should give in answer to a question?  

Having a character ask a question and someone else answering is a useful technique for giving your readers some important information, either about the character or about a plot development.

However, there are pitfalls to watch out for!

Have you ever read a novel where a character asks an 'expert' a question, and is then given a long complicated answer, so much so that you’ve switched off half way through the paragraph, or in some cases, the whole page? I’ve read novels like this in which readers were treated to a long dissertation when most of the answers the expert gave could have been condensed into a few concise sentences. Sometimes it seems the author simply wanted to show off how much research he had done and therefore bombarded the reader with a lot of unnecessary facts.

Similarly, I’ve read ‘backstory’ presented in a similar way, following questions such as, “What have you been doing since we last met?” or “Why did your grandmother (or aunt or whoever) bring you up?” The character then proceeds to tell all in lengthy detail.

In both these cases, the author is using the question and answer as an information dump, either to reveal his/her detailed research or to tell the reader about the past life history.

What should authors do instead?

In the case of the research information, yes, it is tempting to include the mass of details you have scribbled in your notebook - but only if you want to bore the reader to death! When I was writing ‘Changing the Future’, I did a lot of research about volcanoes, but probably only used about one percent of it in the story. I sometimes tell people that you have to research the other 99 percent to make sure your one percent is correct, but you only include what is absolutely necessary for your story.

With backstory, it is far better to ‘drip-feed’ it into the story at appropriate times. Any huge chunk of backstory, either in dialogue or in the inner thoughts of a character, inevitably breaks into the ‘present’ and slows the whole story down.

In many cases, with questions and answers, ‘less is more’. Don’t spell everything out in your characters’ questions and answers. Credit your readers with some intelligence and imagination, keep your questions and answers short and to the point, and use the ‘drip-fee’ technique to reveal information as and when it is necessary. Far better for the readers to formulate some questions in their minds, than to give them all the answers too soon!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Q Is For Quest

Jennifer’s on an editing quest…

So as a result of my writer’s conference, I’m polishing my manuscript to send to an editor and a few other people who requested it. I’ve already done a read through, and I spent the past week going through it and making copy edits.

When I edit, I have a routine that I go through, which works well for me.

First, I edit for plot, making sure I close up any holes I may have forgotten. Then I edit for pacing and conflict. And finally I edit for word choice.

One of the resources I use is from a fellow writer who is also a freelance editor. She ran a workshop a few years ago on editing and handed out a packet of material that she uses when editing. One page had a list of commonly overused words.

Now, some of the words make sense, like “that” or “very.” By getting rid of such words, or severely limiting them at least, we tighten our writing. We also make it crisper and more specific by choosing better vocabulary words—like “exhausted” instead of “very tired.”

But some of the words seem a little silly. For example, “shoulders.” I think the point of not overusing that word is to make sure you mention other body parts, rather than just one or two.

So I take the list with a grain of salt, as I do with most writing rules. Very few are hard and fast and can’t be adapted. However, one of my weaknesses is using “-ing” words too often. In fact, in a 70,000-word manuscript, I had almost 3,000 of them! Sure, they’re great as adjectives and they allow me to vary my sentence structure, but I’m pretty sure something I do 3,000 times is too much!

I am happy to say that after an exhaustive week, and after probably destroying my eyesight, I have edited that manuscript to the best of my abilities. I’m doing one last pass on the first three chapters and then I’m sending it out and crossing my fingers.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Q is for Questions

Ana asks: is it good storytelling to leave questions unanswered temporarily?

Critique partners often pounce on scenes where a question is left unanswered.
Is this a writer's thing?
Does leaving out an immediate explanation turn off a reader?
Where is the line between hook and frustration?

I don't know.
And I'd love your feedback.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

P is for Placement

Debra's Valentine's Day story placed in a contest!

Going through my inbox on a daily basis...sometimes more than once...can sometimes be a chore. More often than not, I delete more e-mails than I wind up reading. So much spam, it drives me crazy.

Today, though, I had some good news. My novella Valentine's Day at The Corral placed fourth in the International Digital Awards (#IDAWinner2016) contest! Yay!

I've had some pretty good luck in this contest. Last year, One Great Night was the first place winner.

It is always interesting to me to find out what readers prefer. This year I also entered my Christmas story from the Holidays at The Corral series. Out of the two, I like the Christmas book better myself. I found it interesting that one didn't place. It just goes to show, reader preferences and tastes are varied. I think often times we never know what will catch their ear or tickle their fancy. I guess all we can do is keep putting our work out there and hope it resonates with someone.

It's been a long time since I 'visited' my Valentine story. It was fun to think about it again today. Here's a little snippet for you. This scene takes place after Gail runs into her new boss at a speed dating event.

Monday morning Gail found a small box wrapped in pink paper with red hearts on her chair. After hanging her coat on the tree behind her and stowing her purse in the bottom drawer, she pulled the package onto her lap.

She cast a furtive glance out over the office as a niggling suspicion about who had put the box on her chair teased her. Most of the cubicles were still empty. Most days she was the first to arrive.

The red satin bow came undone easily when she tugged one end. The wrapping paper fell away to reveal a box of conversation hearts. She smiled even though she’d never really cared for the chalky candy.

A folded piece of cardstock was taped to the box. She stifled a laugh as she read the note:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I had a nice time
Talking to you.

Initials ST completed the message. The bold, masculine scrawl was a stark contrast to the silly rhyme.

Amusement lingered as she tucked the note beneath her keyboard, then pulled a small glass dish out of a drawer. She filled it with the candy, then set it on the high ledge in front of her desk. Familiar with the collective sweet tooth of the employees at Thompson and Sons, it wouldn’t last until noon.

Did the new president have a sweet tooth as well? Scott Thompson had only recently taken over as head of the company for his ailing uncle, and she didn’t know much about him.

Except that she agreed with the woman in the pink jumpsuit. He had a nice ass. Normally she didn’t go for men in suits and ties. She only wanted two things out of life. A pair of nice fitting jeans and the man inside them. Some girls liked shoulders or chests or abs. For her, it was all about the butt.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

P is for Predictability

Paula asks: How predictable are your novels?  

I would contend that all novels are predictable to some extent. Detectives solve their cases, criminals/murderers are brought to justice, mysteries are solved, the ‘goodies’ win and the ‘baddies’ lose. People want satisfying (and ‘happy’) endings, whether they are reading murder, mystery, western, or whatever (unless they are reading tragedies, of course)

Why then are romance novels sometimes sneeringly referred to as ‘predictable’? What’s so different between a detective solving his case i.e. happy ending, and a couple overcoming whatever conflicts/problems confront them in order to be together i.e. happy ending?

Jane Eyre came back to Mr Rochester, Elizabeth and Darcy were reunited –were those endings predictable? Yes, of course they were, but does anyone complain about that?

A romance, by its very definition, needs a happy ending.

Of course, the important thing is how we actually get to that happy ending, and this is where the unpredictability comes in. The reader should start to wonder how on earth the hero and heroine are ever going to resolve the problems or conflicts we’ve thrown at them in order to reach their happy ending.

In the case of Jane Eyre, she leaves Thornfield, certain there is no future for herself and Rochester once she learns about his wife. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet turns down Darcy’s proposal in the most scathing manner imaginable. These are the points where the reader, like the characters themselves, is left thinking that all is lost.

Of course, it isn’t – and this is where writers must use their powers of ingenuity to find a way to bring the heroine and hero together again. It can’t be contrived or coincidental, and it can’t happen until the problems have been resolved, otherwise it will seem too easy – and therefore predictable. Every romance needs a ‘twist in the tail’, something that will surprise the reader near the end – and not a fairy godmother who waves her wand to solve everything for them! Having the reader thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t expect that”, is the way to make the ending of your novels UNpredictable. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

P Is For Pitching

Jennifer pitched at the writer’s conference this weekend...

So I’ve been in somewhat of a rut recently. You know the one, where as a writer, you look at everything you’re doing or not doing and find fault? You’re convinced that you’ll never get anywhere and no one will like your stuff. I was ready to crawl into a hole and give up.

But then the NJ chapter of the Romance Writers of America held their annual writers conference. Everyone I knew was going. My critique partners were even involved with running it (and they did an amazing job, but I’m getting ahead of myself). And I wasn’t planning on going. Because, you know, my rut.

Until a writer I admire, who is way more successful than anyone I know (think almost a Nora Roberts kind of success), and who actually calls me a friend, suggested we meet for coffee. Well, if SHE wants to see me, I should probably think about going.

So I signed up.

And then my critique partner, who was arranging the editor and agent appointments, told me she’d help me get good appointments if I wanted to pitch. I didn’t. But my nagging muse kept whispering that I should.

So I picked a few editors and agents.

And then my critique partner changed them for me and gave me some really great ones based on what I write, helped me with my pitch, and put me at the lunch table with other editors and agents. Seriously, how can I say no after that?

Well crap. I haven’t pitched at a conference in years. I don’t like putting myself out there. But I had to. Everyone was super nice, although honestly, all the volunteers who tried to keep us from being nervous by telling us not to be nervous, made me a little nervous (but their dancing and peppy attitudes were hilarious).

But I pitched to an editor and an agent, both of whom loved what I pitched and asked for more. So I’m doing one last round of edits, because you can never edit too much, and then I’m submitting. My goal is to have it done by the end of this month.

And my writer friend and I never got around to having that coffee--but we did give each other hugs.

Here’s hoping for good news soon!

Monday, October 17, 2016

P is for Personality

Ana muses crafting the personality of a secondary character.

In the initial character profile of my villain's wife, she was one-dimensional.
Early 40s, short, mousy hair, flat-chested. Family owned a jewelry store. In high school.
she pined for the villain, son of the richest man in town. She didn't think beyond wanting a
huge wedding. When the heroine's mother rebuffed the villain and married the wild artist,
the villain choose her.
It's a loveless marriage. He's a doctor and runs the State Hospital. She serves on volunteer committees, goes to lunch with friends, pretends to be happy. When her husband's new Physician
Assistant comes to town, she tries to arrange a fling with him. But he's going to fall for the heroine.

We probably knew someone like this back in high school. Not destined to change the world.

I've begun to write the story, and she's playing a bigger role. The marriage had faded to loveless.
Her doctor husband thinks of the heroine as the daughter he could have had. The wife is now a daycare inspector who is dedicated and strict. She is protecting children that could be her own.
She is jealous of the heroine's mother, even though the mother is presumed dead, and can't stop herself from redirecting her jealous onto the heroine.

She seems more human here. She copes in an imperfect way-- and has room to grow over the story.
I have no idea if she will become an ally to the heroine or how much she will allow the villain to manipulate her into helping him.

She's definitely becoming a more prominent character with a multi-dimensional personality.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

O is for (Baseball Season in) October

Debra's team is finally getting their act together.

Chicago is a sports town. Hockey season and football season tend to bring people together. (Whether it's to celebrate our terrific hockey team or to commiserate about our awful football team.) However baseball season tends to divide the city. You're either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan. Even though baseball is probably one of my least favorite sports, I consider myself a die-hard Cubs fan. It's the way I was raised. And for the past hundred years or so, it's definitely been a die-hard kind of following. Fans didn't have a whole lot to root for.

But things are starting to turn around. Last year my Cubbies made it into the play-offs. This year again, and it just might be their year. IF they make it to the World Series, I for sure will sit down and watch some baseball.

Even my husband, who is a Sox fan (We have one of those 'mixed' marriages!) said he'd sit down and watch if the Cubs make it in.

Hmn? Maybe baseball season can bring people together!

Even more fun, the Hawks open their season tonight. That I'm all in for...

In writing, sports can be a fun way to add some depth to our characters. What teams do they like? Are they die-hard fans or jump-on-the-bandwagon fans? Do they root for the team in their hometown or root for the team where they live now? Did they play a sport in high school or college? Fans of opposing teams can throw around some good-natured barbs at each other in the form of witty dialogue. When we're looking for ways to make our characters feel 'real', sports can do the trick.

Until next time,

Happy Reading! (And go Hawks and Cubbies!)


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

O is for Options

Paula thinks about the ‘options’ we give to our characters.  

‘Real life’ consists of a series of options, some very minor (e.g. what shall I wear today?) but others requiring us to make major decisions. Similarly, in my novels (and probably in yours, too), the characters have different options presented to them and have to make choices. Should Jess in ‘His Leading Lady’ leave her safe and predictable life to go down to London and impersonate her twin sister? Should Abbey in ‘Fragrance of Violets’ go to Paris to meet with Jack, knowing it will change their relationship but not sure if she wants that to happen?

The characters can agonise about which option to choose. Sometimes they make the wrong decision, albeit for what they may think are the right reasons. In ‘real life’ this could have disastrous consequences, but at least in fiction we can provide the means whereby they can sort out the problems they then face.

Sometimes a character thinks they only have one option. This was the situation facing my heroine in ‘Her Only Option’ and one of my reviewers summed it up perfectly: “After taking positive steps to follow her heart and a future with a man with whom she’s hopelessly in love, things take a life-threatening direction. It’s time to forget what her heart is telling her and listen to what her head is advising to save a life; it’s Her Only Option.”

Neve Dalton loves her job as a tour guide on a River Nile cruise ship as much as she values her independence. She isn’t ready to settle down with her Egyptian boyfriend, despite his repeated proposals and his father’s desire to see him married.
Nor is she ready to meet Ross McAllister, a compelling and fascinating archaeologist. She struggles against her growing attraction to him until she can no longer ignore what her heart is telling her.
When she starts receiving cryptic messages, and Ross’s work in the famous Valley of the Kings is threatened, Neve has to make a heart-breaking and life-changing decision which she feels is her only option.
Can they discover whose enmity is forcing them apart before it’s too late?

What ‘options’ have your characters had to face?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

O Is For Out of Words

Jennifer talks about reading to escape...

The world is going crazy and I’ve had enough. The American election has turned into a reality show, an embarrassment to our country and to the world.

Countries that support terror are running amok, with little to any pushback from anyone. Photos are horrific and the lack of assistance is staggering.

The edges are sharp and harsh and no one is stepping in to be a role model or even to be kind.

So I read to escape from what I see all around me. And if you’re feeling the same way, may I suggest you read any of the books that we, as bloggers and authors, write? All of us write romance and the requirement for romance is a story with a happily ever after or a happily for now ending. That requirement is missing in the world right now.

If none of our books suit your interest—and that’s totally fine, reading tastes are subjective and we can’t all satisfy everyone—there are mysteries to get your blood racing, and historicals to remind you of happier times, and women’s fiction to showcase the bonds between women, and biographies. Oh yeah, biographies, of some of the better leaders this world has seen—perhaps they will fill you with hope.

Perhaps disappearing into a good book will soften the edges, lower the stress and restore our faith in the world.

So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be buried in my Kindle for the foreseeable future. And if you want to join me, let me know what you’re reading—perhaps I’ll try it too.

Monday, October 10, 2016

O is for Out-take

Ana presents the original prologue of her time travel romance. 

Father Dominic stood at the foot of the open grave and raised his hand for the final benediction just as another squall of ice-edged rain blasted through the old churchyard. He stopped, mopped his brow and wondered if the Heavenly Host were complaining about the soul he was ushering into their eternal care.
Dust rag in hand, Roswyn Littlejohn had greeted him on the day he started ministering to the working class Irish of South Boston. He'd quickly learned she served a vengeful and demanding god.
Now her casket sat on a flat-topped mound of dirt and rock unearthed by four glum-faced workmen. Their picks and shovels leaned like hired mourners against the crude headstone.
 “Amen.” He signaled for the internment to begin.
The workmen slid ropes under her coffin and lugged it to the tomb-shaped hole that had contained the remains of her daughter and son-in-law for nearly sixteen years. Grumbling and grunting, they played out the ropes that lowered the casket until one lost his grip.
The box landed with a sickening thud. 
Father Dominic and the four laborers peered anxiously into the chasm.
            As if pushed by an invisible hand, Roswyn’s box slid slowly to the center and dropped onto its side between the two decaying palls. In life, she'd stood between her daughter and her daughter's husband. She seemed just as determined in death. 
“The devil’s touch,” the head workman intoned superstitiously.
            Wide-eyed, his fellows nodded.
“You finish this, Father,” he continued. “We’ll not stay longer.” 
Father Dominic didn’t order them to come back. His pledge to honor Roswyn's wishes had been exacted in return for her silence about a night long ago, the night he had had been tempted.
He had always hoped he’d find peace when the old woman died. Now that feeling eluded him.
He pitched a dozen shovelfuls of dirt into the hole. Then he remembered—Roswyn’s granddaughter was still in the church. She had insisted on staying after the service.
Angel Foster had been like his flesh and blood since she was orphaned to her grandmother’s care. Barely a year old, she’d sat in a rusty stroller while Roswyn scrubbed the rectory floors. By the time she was three, she was trimming candlewicks in the sacristy. She spent as many hours in his company as her humorless caregiver permitted. He delighted in her endless questions about fate and free will as much as he sought to soften the harshness of her home life.
The slim, young woman knelt still as a statue in a shadowy corner of the empty sanctuary.
He rustled his vestments to avoid startling her.
“Is it done?” Angel lifted her veil.
“Yes, my child.” He held out his hand. “Tis well you stayed inside. A cruel wind blows this night.”
She slipped her fingers between his, leaned against his protective bulk and jerked back. “Father, you’re soaked. You must go to the rectory and warm yourself at once.”
“I’m fine.” He patted her hand.
“You’re not fine,” she replied indignantly. “The hem of your cassock is dirty. Oh, Father, did you fall in?”
“No. I was helpin’ the others so they could get out of the rain.” He cleared his throat. “Angel, there are things that must be said.”
“Then say them. I’m not a child.”
“True. You are not. Angel, yer granny left everything to the Church. The house isn’t worth much, and the Bishop has decided to raze it for a new parking lot. The furnishings, therefore, are yers to take.”
“These are all I want.” She tightened her grip on three framed pictures. “Give to the needy and bulldoze the rest. I never want to see any of it again.”
“Very well,” he said soothingly. They resumed their slow recessional. “Have ye decided what ye will do now?”
“I have a room at the YWCA and enough credits to graduate early.”
“Did ye speak with Mr. O’Shaunessey about being his check-out girl?”
“And let him feel me up in the back room again? I’d rather starve.”
“Oh, dear.” He’d heard rumors, but few parish teens were as outspoken as Angel. “With yer head for numbers, I thought it would be a good match. No matter. In no time ye will meet a nice Catholic man to marry, have a houseful of wee ones, and yer life will be full. Twill give me great joy to officiate at that ceremony.”
“No. My life is mine to do as I say now.” She trembled, but he recognized it was from fervor, not from fear. “I mean no disrespect, Father, but I want more out of life. I want to wear something other than mission box clothes. I want a job that folk will respect. I want to go to France and see where Saint Joan crowned the Dauphin.” Her voice grew stronger. “I will sleep ‘til noon on Sundays, and you’ll be stiff in your grave before I have a ‘houseful of wee ones,’ because I will never, ever get married.”
“Remember, child,” he admonished, “tis God who guides yer life.” He regretted his perfunctory, sanctimonious response. She had already been through so much in her short life. “I’m counting to five. Whose day is this?”
“February 9th.” She answered before he got to three. “Appollonia, patron saint of toothaches and dentists.”
“On the button, as usual.” He chuckled and cleared his throat again. “I have the Bishop’s permission to grant five thousand dollars towards yer granny’s hospital expenses. It won’t wipe them clean, but it will buy ye time to find yer way.”
“Bless you, Father.”  Her big, blue-gray eyes glistened, but he knew she would not cry.
“Have you been plagued by dreams since she died?”
“No, Father.” The knuckles of the hand holding her pictures turned stark white.
“Oh, that’s fine.” Silently, he prayed the picture glass would not crack and cut her.
All too soon they reached the front doors. He thought about explaining what had happened in the grave, but it was almost dark, and her room was twelve long blocks away.
And he had not yet reclaimed his equanimity. “God goes with you, Angel Foster. I’ll watch for you next Sunday.” He drew the sign of the Blessed Cross on her forehead.
She picked up her small, battered suitcase and walked out into the storm. The uneven hem of her shabby, gray coat flapped cruelly against her legs.
He waited on the church steps, just in case she needed an encouraging wave.
To his dismay, she stopped in front of the churchyard gate.
“There’ll be plenty of time to pay yer respects,” he called out. “You’d best go along home now.”
 She ignored him and walked into the churchyard.
“Angel, stop. It’s not done.” He chased after her. When he caught up she was already beside the grave.
“You said when Granny Roswyn died we wouldn’t have to listen to her any more,” she accused. “But you always did what she wanted.”
He seized on the first platitude that rose to his lips. “Remember, child, love is built on forgiveness.”
           “She never forgave them,” she shouted, pointing down at the mildewed, worm-eaten boxes. “And she never loved me. But at least she was honest.” She pulled away from him.
            “Come back inside, Angel,” he pleaded. “I can explain.”
“You mean you’ll tell me more lies.” Her voice was full of loathing. “You never cared about any of us, Father.” She turned, darted through the rectory gate and disappeared.
           The wind swirled savagely around him. Its strength made him feel small and insignificant, and its pitch evoked Roswyn Littlejohn’s shrill, self-righteous voice.
           He welcomed the penance. He picked up the shovel and pitched earth onto her coffin.