Looking for feedback

.Happy Christmas! Hope all is well with you and yours.
I’m writing for my amusement. There’s no way of my knowing if the work is worth any more than that, except if I receive feedback. Perhaps members of  The Catholic Writers Guild and other interested friends could take a look at the sample below. My manuscripts relate to Catholic themes and symbols. The current manuscript  looks to be a young adult novel. That category is somewhat in need at this time. Maybe all of that summer reading has created a demand among 12-17 year old readers and their teachers. So what I’d send you would be “Catholic” and “young adult.”

Should you have time after things quiet down, I could send it as attachments: one /chapter. In many ways the manuscript is a series of linked short stories, mosaic pieces fitting into slots within a theme or ongoing story. Please let me know if you would be interested and how you want to receive the manuscript. Take your time with it. You have very little time to do anything about this right now.

Thanks for you help. the first chapter is right below.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

Don

October Pilgrimage (title)

 

By Francis M. Madden (pen name)

 

(Set in October 2012, In and around Assisi, Italy)

 

(Protagonist: Melanie Van Cortland, age 16)

 

Young Adult Novel

 

Chapters: 15*

 

Word number: 88100*

 

Page number: 200, plus the cover page.*

 

*There’s more to come

 

Chapter 1: Are we there yet?

 

They were alone in the elevator. Melanie rolled her eyes in her frustration. “Mommy, I really don’t understand why we have to go to Assisi. We could spend our entire trip in Rome. We’ve only scratched the surface. I mean, the Forum, Coliseum, museums and even the Vatican were all so educational, but we need to go where we can have some fun. Daddy would have taken me to the Riviera or at least Venice and Florence. I understand you have a more limited budget, but a bus ride to Assisi is the pits. Why can’t we go on one of those fast trains? That would be fun. You’d never think of that. Besides, I still haven’t done any shopping. Daddy gave me a thousand Euros for my birthday. I still haven’t bought anything for myself. Won’t the Euros go bad?  Aren’t they having some kind of economic problem in Euro-land? I don’t want to bring any Euros home with me. The faster I spend them the better. Maybe Daddy will send more? I hope you don’t expect me to help you with the hotel or meals. That’s your responsibility. I’d have to tell Daddy if I paid any of the hotel and restaurant bills. He’d be mad at you.”

 

“Daddy said I was to spend all of these Euros on me. He’ll ask me if I spent any on you. I can’t lie to Daddy. I suppose I could buy him a souvenir or two or send some post cards. I mean I can’t even call him. My Droid is useless here. You didn’t pay for an international carrier. Maybe I can take pictures, but that’s all. I‘ll take some for Daddy. Maybe he won’t like Assisi. At least I have some from Rome, especially the cute girls. He always likes it when I send candid shots of the local lovelies.  If we are going on a bus, I have to sit by the window and not just any window seat. I have to be facing forward. Looking backwards will make me sick and I know you don’t want that to happen, do you Mommy? ”

 

Jennifer Dunn-Van Cortland sighed as she doubted the guarantee on her maternal instincts. She smiled at her sixteen year old daughter, “No, Melanie I certainly want you to enjoy our European field trip as much as possible, but you must realize that we are on a group tour and will have to sit with people we don’t know. I can’t be sure that we get to pick our seats, especially since this tour takes economy into consideration. Yes, we’ll travel by bus, and yes, we won’t have all the amenities. I’m sure all the seats face forward, the windows are big, so you can see out of both sides of the bus, and it’s a short trip of a few hours with a stop in Foligno. You’ll get to see more of Italy this way instead of zipping along at almost a hundred and ninety miles per hour on one of those Eurail trains. Umbria is supposed to be very beautiful. Besides the slower pace will give you more time to absorb the experience. We’ll meet the tour guide and the members of our tour group in just a few minutes. I suspect that most of the participants come from our portion of New England. Who knows, you may want to see some of them again after we return home?”

 

The hotel elevator door opened to the lobby of the Rome-American Airport Hotel revealing a poster supported by a brass tripod, directing Jennifer and Melanie to the organizational gathering of the Tour of Assisi with Father Anthony Farley, OFM. Mother and daughter, unfashionably early, leisurely strolled toward the conference room indicated by both the poster and the tour syllabus they had received three weeks previously. Melanie glanced through the opened door, expectantly but timidly. She immediately noticed an older man in a brown robe, bound by a white rope at his waist. He wore a small, matching cape covering just his shoulders, down to about the level of his heart. A hood suspended just behind his neck seemed to be attached to the he back portion of his cape. Melanie turned to Jennifer. “Mommy,” she whispered, “Is that man in the costume supposed to be Saint Francis of Assisi? Isn’t he a bit old for that sort of pretend thing? It’s like being dressed up as Santa Claus.”

 

Jennifer wondered if her daughter had been overly sheltered in her first sixteen years and then silently reconsidered, “Sheltered from what? Maybe she’s just naive about religion and the church?” She turned to her daughter, “No Melanie, it is not a costume. That is most likely Father Farley, the Franciscan priest who is directing this tour or pilgrimage. He is wearing the characteristic religious habit of the Franciscans. Let’s go introduce ourselves.”

 

Indeed it was Father Anthony. He had been engaged in an animated conversation, in Italian, with a dark haired woman who gestured expressively with her hands, her arms, her shoulders, her eyes, her smile, her entire being. She and Father Anthony laughed easily and often. The woman, about forty years of age, shifted her glance toward the mother and daughter. Father Anthony noticed his companion’s glance and stopped speaking. He turned and smiled at the newcomers, extending both hands in greeting. “Good evening!” Then gesturing toward his companion, Father Anthony added, “This is Anna Maria Bertoni, the famous tour guide who will bring us to Foligno, Assisi and Perugia and back again to Roma. I am Father Anthony Farley, the spiritual director for our pilgrimage.”

 

Melanie had been trained to assert herself. She spoke in English although her Italian could be understood by a patient listener. “I am pleased to meet both of you. I am Melanie Van Cortland. This is my mother, Ms. Jennifer Dunn-Van Cortland. I turned sixteen last month and this tour is both a birthday present and a part of my home-schooling preparation for admission to Harvard. Father Farley, you described our time together as both a tour and a pilgrimage. I’m not sure where one begins and the other ends. I’m not certain that both are relevant to my academic needs at this time. I’ll be taking the Advanced Placement European History exam in the spring and this will be my only European experience other than my earlier trips to the Riviera with my father and his current girl friend, which ever that was at the time. A tour should help me prepare, but really, a pilgrimage: how quaint?”

 

Father Anthony smiled broadly, “AP European History! I take it that you have already read The Canterbury Tales. Pilgrimages were and in some quarters, still are an essential part of European life, creed, culture, economy and military history. A tour places you in physical proximity to historical artifacts and landscape, inviting you to reconstruct a holistic view of a location as it journeyed through time. A pilgrimage draws you into the spiritual eddies as they flow to and through a pilgrimage destination: sweeping you toward a personal transformation.  A pilgrimage encourages you to embrace a unique spiritual reality as did many earlier pilgrims and through it, to realign your own personal relationship to existence.”

 

“All of Italy and Europe are tourist destinations. The town of Assisi outshines its neighbors, not because of its size, wealth or industry, but because its primacy as a pilgrimage destination, and why not? Francis of Assisi changed the world. What could be more relevant than to accompany Francis on his spiritual journey, absorb and appreciate his values and outlook, not only passively by traversing the space he once occupied, but with an active response to your own times with insights shared with you by Francis himself? I’m not sure of your spiritual development to this point, but you should consider the possibility that through Francis, God calls out to your soul offering the spiritual nourishment that a pilgrimage provides. Are you open enough to risk the impact of a spiritual Metanoia?  You certainly have ambitions and career plans in mind. Don’t you think that you should consider the possibility that you have a calling to something more significant than prestige, power and influence and an exorbitant salary and all the toys it can buy you?”

 

Melanie looked at her mother as if to say, “What planet is this guy from and are you going to let him talk to me like this?” But her instincts asserted themselves reminding Melanie that she had weathered the opening salvo of a debate. She realized that she had time to gather her forces and to respond in her own way. She was actually flattered that Father Farley had treated her as an adult, with respect for her superior intellect and enriched educational experience. She too could be gracious.

 

“Thank you Father or is it Professor Farley. Yes, I am open to new experiences and will actually take your suggestion and explore the pilgrimage aspect as both an academic and a personal adventure. You should know that I belong to no religion and practice no spirituality. I’m young, privileged and have the world lying at my feet. I intend to explore and perhaps exploit that world on the way to gathering those toys, but don’t forget the boys too, and the experiences you had mentioned. Please understand that if I decline to participate in any religious or spiritual activities, I am not attacking you or your religion. In reality we signed up for your pilgrimage not because of its religious dimensions but because it’s the least expensive tour of an interesting portion of Italy available at this time of year. Mommy and I have enjoyed ourselves in Rome. The hotel’s shuttles delivered to us many of the most interesting sights and museums at no extra charge, so we are already ahead of the game. The tour of Umbria is a bonus. So thank you for organizing the tour and allowing even non-believers to enjoy it with you.”

 

Melanie had noticed in her peripheral vision that several others had arrived and now waited to speak with Father Farley, so she extended her hand to her host, smiled coyly and thanked him and Anna Maria Bertoni.

 

Anna Maria judged that almost all of the participants had arrived so she invited everyone to take a seat. She encouraged them with the promise, “We have a wonderful buffet for all of you immediately after our brief introductory meeting. I am Anna Maria Bertoni. My usual business is to conduct day tours between Rome, Assisi and Perugia, but Father Anthony Farley has convinced me that we could find housing for all of us at a retreat center in Assisi and we could enhance our experience by turning it into a pilgrimage as well as a tour.”

 

“Let me go over the logistics and then Father Anthony will introduce the substance of the pilgrimage aspect of the next few days. You flew into Italy on October first, just as the tourist season had ended, so you have the benefits of reduced rates on everything. You had the day to recover from jet-lag. Today, the second of October, you were invited to tour Rome on your own. Tomorrow, bright and early we will take my bus to Assisi, with a stop at Foligno for lunch. The third of October is the anniversary of the actual death of Saint Francis of Assisi. We will arrive in Assisi early enough for you to check into the retreat center and get back on the bus for the short trip to the basilica and a leisurely visit to the tomb of Saint Francis.”

 

“As you might expect, we are not the only ones going to Assisi at this special time of the year. The citizens of Assisi will welcome you and all the other seasonal tourists with a special medieval festival on October fourth, the liturgical feast day for Saint Francis. On the fifth we will travel to Perugia, an important place in the life of Saint Francis. Between times, you may see the many attractions of Assisi and I will give you a guided tour. Early on the sixth, my bus will take you directly to the airport in time for your departure. Many of you came on the same flight and will leave together. The difference is that on the way home you will know each other and will be able to share your many experiences as you fly back across the Atlantic.”

 

“Assisi is our focus. It is a gorgeous town perched in the mountains of Umbria, surrounded by orchards, fields and beautiful countryside. It existed during the days of the Roman Empire and still contains structures from that period. It suffered terribly during the barbarian invasions and played a significant role in the many medieval political and military events, but is best known because of Saint Francis. Interestingly the street names often recognize persons who lived at the time of Saint Frances. For instance there is Via San Francesco, as you might expect. Via Bernardo da Quintavalle has been named after the first follower of Saint Francis and is the street where Bernardo had lived. Via Fra Elia near the Basilica of Saint Francis, honors Brother Elias who directed the construction of this massive church.  Via Santa Chiara honors Saint Clare, the founder of the Poor Clares. Other streets have the same name today as in the time of Saint Francis: Via Metastasio, Via Portici, Via San Paulo and Via Sant’Apollanare, to name a few. Almost all of the buildings have changed since the time of Saint Francis, but the family residence of Saint Francis remains not far from the Roman Temple of Minerva which has survived since pre-Christian times. There is so much to see, that we will be very busy.”

 

 “I’d like to say a word about food. We have a delicious and authentic Italian buffet tonight. However many visitors to Italy have never enjoyed an authentic, home cooked Italian meal. Fortunately for you, the retreat center will correct that injustice. However, you may not be familiar with anything they serve you here or at the retreat center other than the pasta. The prosciutto, salads, sauces, vegetables, meats, sea food, breads and desserts will tempt you to fill up. Restrain yourself. Europeans do not eat like Americans. You will notice that the American diet causes Americans stand out in the crowd when in Europe or any where else. Eat slowly, eat less and enjoy your food. The streets of Assisi are narrow, steep and rather twisted. When you walk these streets, you don’t want to be weighed down by your lunch. You’ll want to enjoy everything about Assisi. It looks like the weather will cooperate, so you should have a marvelous experience. Please save your questions until we sit down to eat. Father Anthony would now like to introduce you to the pilgrimage aspect of our time together.”

 

Melanie whispered, “Mommy, I think I’ll order room service and put it on the hotel bill.” Jennifer glared, “You are not authorized to do any such thing. The buffet is your dinner. Room service is out of the question. You’ll stay here, listen to the presentation and meet the other members of our group.” Melanie sulked, “I’ll tell Daddy.” Jennifer quietly added, “Tell him anything you like, it won’t make any difference, especially if you get less than a perfect score on your AP European History Exam and someone takes your place at Harvard.”  Pouting, Melanie folded her arms across her chest, turning her face away from her mother and the front of the meeting room. She stared at the closed door to the meeting room, her only escape.

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About that cat…

Image                                                                                                                                                                                                                         …the black and white cat in the picture up there. His name was Tripper, not because of a kinship with the Gore family. No, his favorite way of getting one’s attention was to amble between that person’s ankles. I’d say that his strategy could be effective from Tripper’s point of view or annoying and hazardous from my perspective. It came as a total surprise the first time he tried to trip me because we hadn’t been formally introduced. For some reason, my back yard duties brought me outside on a sunny afternoon. Tripper, a regal, that is magnificent and king-sized feline crossed the property line and made right for me. He immediately began his stagger-inducing shin slalom.

My first impression was that his beautiful and healthy appearance suggested he had a home and could never be a stray. It seemed that he must belong to a neighbor. As the weeks and then months ticked away, he still tripped his way through the back yards. The neighbors thought he was mine and I thought he was theirs. We were all mistaken. This became apparent as September rolled around. Tripper had lost weight and was frequently found inside my garbage can. A bald spot formed on his spine just above the base of his tail. Decision time had arrived. Should my wife and I take him in or call animal control. While discussing this weighty issue with Nancy Ann, Tripper joined us. Nancy Ann sat on the top step leading to our deck. Tripper climbed the several steps, snuggled next to Nancy Ann and put his head on her lap. We had a pet. He adopted us.

The photo shows Tripper sitting in a flower pot. Note the leaves: catnip. I grew it for him. I guess he liked it. Note the gaze. No, he wasn’t under the influence. He’d look you straight in the eye. There was nothing shifty about this guy. Tripper rarely raised his voice. He was into non-verbal communication. In other words, he had us well trained. He stayed with us for about ten years, a well behaved, quiet, affectionate member of the family. As time went by, he stopped climbing trees, not because he lacked claws. It seemed to be too much for him. He had a bit of hip dysplasia early on, but this condition faded away after a few days in an animal hospital. Toward the end, the classic signs of diabetes suddenly and forcefully appeared. The hip dysplasia returned with a vengeance. He lost control of his bowel and bladder and wouldn’t come into the house. Nancy Ann remembers opening the kitchen door for Tripper. He put his chin on the threshold, but would not enter.  We knew it was time for him to go. I kept looking into his eyes as the vet administered the final anesthetic. Tripper was buried just beneath the spot where his catnip grew. He can never be replaced.

This piece is dedicated to my Sensei: Leslie Lynch.