No matter which religious holiday you celebrate at this time of year -- or even if it is a purely secular one -- I want to wish you and yours, from me and mine, a most glorious holiday season.
I've had an extraordinary year but I'll get to that at some other time (perhaps around New Year's) but suffice to say today that the Windy City Author is enjoying her new life in beautiful southern coastal Maine. I love my new home and wonderful neighbors but, of course, I also miss Illinois. How can I not? I lived there for well over a century!
The new challenge for me will be to determine how the Windy City Author is going to transition into a writer who incorporates a new regional flair into her work. New England has a rich history of outstanding writers in all genre including my own own and I'm excited that I am now able to tap into that rich tradition and, hopefully, bring something to the table as well. As I feel myself evolving as a novelist I realize how much my Midwestern roots shape and influence my story telling. It is so exciting to think about the many possible ways in which my new home will add it's own unique flavors to the body of my work.
Lobster meat on a Chicago pizza? Who knew?
I haven't blogged here since I shut it down to start packing for our move late last summer but despite my absence here I've done a great deal of writing elsewhere (as you may know, I write a LOT of political commentary!). However, one of the projects I've been working on is the sequel to January Moon, March Storm, which I hope will be ready to publish in early to mid '12. Like all writers, there is almost nothing as wonderful as hearing from your fans and I'm not sure what's normal for most writers but I received an enormous amount of earnest heartfelt feedback from my readers. It is really amazing how often people who have read January Moon will contact me either through my website or on Facebook or Twitter and share with me their wonderful impressions and opinions about January Moon. I am not yet a well-known author -- and it is quite possible I never will be -- but I suspect there is no author in America who receives the kinds of messages I am blessed to receive. There are many things about the issues and characters in January Moon that seem to strike very, very deep chords in people, such as racism, female genital mutilation, religious extremism and mental illness but above all else it seems the story of a heroic dog, as well as the healing powers of true love resonate more than any other.
Last week I received a remarkable email from a woman struggling with her own dysfunctional family issues and she wrote this: "Above all else, I think January Moon may be a love story. It shows how tragic it is when we live without love and how magical it is when we are blessed with love. Love, or the lack of it, is really what shapes our lives, isn't it?"
So, on that wonderful note -- and what could be more about the Holiday Season than the Spirit of Love? -- I thought I might share with you today an excerpt from January Moon that specifically mentions Christmas.
In the following excerpt, Chicago Homicide detective, Lt. Del Carter, is spending Christmas with his fiancé, Jess Farrell, at her parents' home in Wisconsin. It is already well established that Del and Jess are deeply in love.
Several days earlier, Del and Jess delivered the heartbreaking news to her parents, Frank & Louise, that their beloved 13-year-old granddaughter, Summer, was dead. Summer, or "Sunny" as she was called, had been a happy and content child who was being lovingly raised by her maternal grandparents until an Illinois court ruled in favor of her mentally unstable biological mother, the Farrells' oldest daughter Evelyn. After the court ruling, Evelyn, a woman with a history of serious emotional problems, took her daughter to live with her inside a secretive and bizarre religious cult somewhere on the Illinois prairie.
The circumstances under which Sunny died are both tragic and mystifying and before the mystery of her death is solved, the cult leaders, the feds, the police, Del and Jess, and even the Mayor of Chicago, will be dragged into one of the strangest tales of mutilation, murder, and terror to ever surface in the Midwest.
However, on this night, a week after Sunny's death, the Farrell's are trying valiantly to just survive Christmas and Del is determined to cover them like a glove. In this part of the story, which I've deliberately constructed to give the reader a breather from the previous tension, Del and the Farrells enjoy a rare moment of peace and Del is given the opportunity to share with Jess and her parents some of his own family’s Christmas traditions.
Excerpt from Chapter 34:
The Farrell’s and Del went to Midnight Mass and Del had to admit Fr. Mike gave a pretty good sermon. Not that he was an expert on sermons, of course, but it reminded him he had to have a serious conversation with Jess about how they were going to raise their kids. He’d been reading Eastern philosophy and had respect for Buddhism but he figured there probably wasn’t a chance in hell that was going to fly with the Farrell’s.
Del and Frank enjoyed some powerful eggnog before they left for church and Del felt warm and mellow and even kind of sappy afterward. He held Jess’s hand and wanted to cry when everyone sang Joy to the World.
He knew Louise, Frank and Jess were dying inside; Jess cried so much people began to look at her strangely and it got kind of embarrassing. When the woman next to Del tapped his arm and kindly handed him more tissues, he whispered, “It’s been kind of tough. There’s been a death in the family.”
“Oh, my,” the poor woman said, “I’m so sorry. Christmas is such a bad time for those things.” She then whispered what she learned to her husband and he nodded kindly at Del, sort of a “hang in there old buddy, keep the chin up” type of look. She then tapped someone on the shoulder in the pew in front of here and whispered some more. Those people turned around and smiled sadly.
The Farrell’s were totally oblivious to the fact that Del was making inroads into the community. By the time the service came to the part where everyone shares the sign of peace most of the church knew the Farrell’s had suffered a terrible tragedy. Louise and Frank were a bit surprised and touched at the number of people who stepped out of pews and walked up and down and across the aisle to hug Louise and shake hands with Frank. Del and Jess received their fair share of Christian love too.
On the ride home, though, Louise had her reservations about how much pain she really wanted to share.
“Well, now I guess I’ll have to tell the whole damn town what happened to us,” Louise bitched. “That nosey cow Lucie Heffernan was all over me as we were leaving Mass. I hate telling her anything. She always twists what she hears and the story’s never the better for it either.”
“Oh, those damn peas,” Frank laughed, “so hard to keep on earth…” Del and Jess laughed but Louise didn’t think it was very funny.
“Frank, sarcasm doesn’t become you.”
Del delivered everyone home safely and proceeded to introduce them to a Carter family post-Midnight Mass tradition: a big breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes at 1:30 in the morning. He made a special dish for Wolf and he was in chow hound heaven.
As he was breaking eggs and flipping pancakes, and Jess was minding the bacon, Del educated the Farrells about his own family’s traditions.
“Well, just like you, we always went to Midnight Mass and then returned home to eat bacon and eggs and pancakes, just like we’re doing now. Then we’d all sit around in our pj’s and open presents. When we were really little kids, our next door neighbor came over and played Santa.”
Del had plenty of good stories about Santa.
“Sometimes Bill was stinko drunk. My sister Katie thought Santa was an alcoholic for years and worried about him killing himself on the sled, I guess pile driving Rudolph into a skyscraper or something. Katie was that kind of kid, always thinking about the damnedest things.”
And then there was the time the family dog pissed on Santa’s leg. “Bill bought a new suit that year but for some reason he couldn’t explain the damn thing smelled absolutely terrible. Like rotten venison. He smelled better when he only stunk of cheap gin.”
Del explained how the family would fall into bed, totally exhausted, about 4 or 5 o’clock and wake up to the miraculous smells of turkey and all the trimmings.
He never knew how Marge pulled it off but she did. “My Mom must have stayed up to stuff the bird and start the meal and she probably crawled back to bed to catch an hour or two of sleep and then got up again. But by the time everyone was up and dressed and relatives were showing up at the door about noon, one o’clock, Mom already had the dining room table set with her mother’s dishes, real silver, and crystal and the food ready to take out of the oven.”
Del’s sisters and their families keep the tradition going. “They all go to the folks after Mass and everyone stays the night. We got people all over the place. My nieces and nephews love it. They have their own sleeping bags and they sleep around the tree. Our neighbor Bill still comes over and plays Santa. Only now he really looks like Santa! He doesn’t need rouge on his nice red bulbous nose or any padding!”
Jess laughed, “And you want to be a Buddhist? Yeah right. You love Christmas more than I do. You might not be religious, but you’re a hopeless romantic, babe, and Christmas is full of a special kind of romance.”
“Yeah,” his whispered, “and kids. I want kids. They go well with Christmas. I’m about ready to steal some.”
“Oh damn, I misunderstood. I bought you sax for Christmas. Didn’t you want good sax?”
Frank interrupted, “You want good sox? I’ll tell you where to go. Bass Pro. They got thermal.”
“Have some more eggnog Frank.”
“Good idea. Thanks!”