Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns

My upcoming novel for Chesterton Press, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," takes place in a Parisian Convent. This has made for some interesting research challenges, particularly being a Protestant. One resource that has recently come onto my radar screen is Lifetime's new reality show, "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns."

One of the contestants, Claire Halbur, is a friend of several friends of mine. I'd recently friended her on Facebook and couldn't help noticing this show she kept talking about. Five young girls visiting different convents to discern their calling? All sorts of nuns getting interviewed? This was exactly what I was looking for!

"But it's reality tv," you say. "It's just drama, right?"

Not at all. Sure, there is drama, and some of it is heightened because of the cameras and editing, but overall I've been very impressed with the first three episodes and the respect the show is giving both the Catholic faith and their contestants. There is a reason they are labeling it as a "docu-drama" rather than reality tv, even though that's what it is. They did a good job of picking a very diverse cast, so that the drama comes from five very different young women experiencing a very radical shift in lifestyle - which is something that happens when you get a bunch of women living together - no exceptions! i.e. it is realistic drama, not (mostly) staged.

The episodes are available online for cable subscribers. If you don't have access to a cable account yourself, it's worth borrowing a friend's account to check out this (short) series (although I hope it'll make its way onto Netflix eventually). Whether you are Catholic, or interested in learning about a new culture, this is interesting, informative and about as respectful as I think you can expect a reality tv show to be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OUAT: Heroes and Villains

It's the midseason finale of "Once Upon a Time, and you know what that means - Spoilers Ahoy!

In episode 4.12, "Heroes and Villains," we have plenty of wrapping up - although almost none of it is nice and tidy with a bow - save for our Arendelle heroes. Okay, we don't actually get to see Anna and Kristoff say "I Do" but Anna's walking down the aisle, so until we hear further, we'll assume they are safely wed.

On the other hand, last season's wedding finally reached the tragic revelation we've been bracing ourselves for all fall. Belle sent Rumple out of the town on the point and power of his own knife. While our hearts bleed for Belle, there is little pity for Rumple, who immediately (well, six weeks later) went off in search of one-time apprentice, Ursula, to form a team of supervillains ready to fight for their own happy endings.

Can I just say that I liked Ursula much better in her our-world-aquarium persona than in the weird ABBA stage outfit? On the other hand, Cruella, while seeming very out of place in the Enchanted Forest, seems perfectly cast and poised to be the best baddie next spring.

I'm glad that Robin went with Marian, and that Regina sent him off firmly. Although I do want to see those two together eventually, I don't want it to be because of adultery. And this way gives us more drama and growth for Regina. Thankfully we did get to see something go well for her. with her and Emma finally making up, becoming drinking buddies, and Emma joining Operation Mongoose. Also, Henry finally got to do something useful this season with his curious tendencies. Huzzah!

The character who got the lamest storyline this season was Hook. I am really starting to feel sorry for actor Colin O'Donahue, who is not getting much to work with in a role that really ought to be juicy, especially now that many consider him the leading man of the show.

Our original leading man, David, and his heroine wife, Snow, stayed pretty much in the shadows this episode. I'm sure this was very much due to their own real-life new parenthood and that giving them a smaller part this half-season was in order to give them a break and enjoy time with their new son. Still, for the first time I find myself missing the Charmings and desperately wishing for an episode that centers more heavily on them. Spring, dare I hope you'll bring this to me? Now if only Snow could get a better fashion sense...

Other hopes for spring? I'm dreaming of Belle finally getting a character arc, and not a supporting role where she basically says the same thing every episode. I'm looking forwards to more Aurora backstory (they've promised her return), and MORE RUBY. Also, I sincerely hope that Robin, Marian and Roland are not going to disappear for a long time, and that we get to see them living in our world before they come back to Storybrooke.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hearing Aids and Facebook

So, first off, I thought I'd share this photo my mom took from my hearing aid fitting this morning. Second pair of aids, definite improvement in sound quality but still some issues we're working out. Praying that that'll be easily resolved so that I can have reliable new aids because my current ones are 9 years old! 

Also, my audiologist told me that he's never seen anyone with such a profound hearing loss function so well lipreading. So that was kind of an awesome perk to my day after the dress of dealing with the programming.

THEN I have finally converted my facebook page to allow for public followers. I'm at the point where I'm getting more and more friend requests from people that I know are probably followers of my blogs but aren't people I know offline, and with "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" publication coming up, I'm guessing that this phenomenon will continue to grow. (Hopefully it will!). I thought about creating a separate author page, but the research I did indicated that it'd be better and easier for the people I'm already friends with just to keep it all in one place. (I've set up some different lists so I can still keep family things more private and such) So we're going to try that. And I'd like to invite you to be among the first to officially follow me on Facebook!

Monday, December 8, 2014

OUAT 4.11 - "Shattered Sight."


"Shattered Sight" is hardly "Once Upon a Time"s best episode - but it manages to be pretty enjoyable nonetheless. This is largely due to comedy and nostalgia. On the one hand we have some pretty funny lines... and on the other hand, we have the most poignant Ingrid flashbacks thus far. There's a moment when you genuinely wish that Emma could have been raised by Ingrid and been happy.

And then you remember 'no Henry, no Storybrooke, no Show.'

But still. Ingrid is, I think, of all the villains thus far on a show all about redemptive villians the most misguided but 'good at heart' of them all. This is why her ending was perfect - a true sacrifice that never the less brought her a happy ending. We couldn't be sad for her when she was so happy - only sad that we won't see more of her.

On the other hand, there will be quite a few fans jumping with glee at the ending of the Frozen storyline. While it had it's ups and downs (Elsa was written pretty lame, I thought), it still gave us Ingrid, and a sometimes pretty awesome Anna. (Some episodes Anna was annoying, others she was hilarious and/or badass). Anyhow, while I won't miss Elsa, I do sort of wish Anna and Kristoff hang around. We REALLY need to see their wedding, 'kay?

We can't completely ignore the over simplicity and convenience of the discovery of the letter that saved the day... but I, at least, could forgive it because, well, man that was a sweet scene. Plus the stuff taking place at the jail was pretty rocking too. "DON'T you dare wake my baby!" "What am I wearing?!?" Seeing Snow and Charming fight was both painful and kind of exciting.

What I can't forgive is that the Rumple/Hook plot was way underdone in this episode. Either their scenes should have been written stronger, or made shorter (or eliminated). As it was, it was just a rehash of what they said and did last time and added nothing to the story.

I guess I have a lot of grace for OUAT that I don't have for other shows. I'm not sure why, except it keeps doing enough stuff that I love that I can ignore most of the weak points (even if the Hook fangirls get on my nerves).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Way Down South... Louisiana 2014

Oh my goodness. Where to start? 

Every Vacation is an adventure, but some more so than others. When 10 days becomes 16,  you know it definitely counts as 'more than others.'

Me, playing with Jake and Faith's puppies.

 We were down in Louisiana, about an hour and a half southwest of New Orleans. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate the marriage of Nathan's brother, Jake, to his beautiful fiance, Faith. We were both in the wedding party (Nathan was best man) and so timed our arrival to get down just in time for the joint Bachelor/Bachelorette party on Saturday, the 15th.

So THAT's spanish moss
 We had a layover in Houston on the way down, which kept getting shorter and shorter... by the time we landed, everything had been pushed around so much that we only had half an hour to get to our gate. No time to procure gluten free supper. I was grateful for the snacks I'd packed, but it wasn't enough to get me through till after midnight, cuz...

..there'd been some miscommunication about the rental car insurance, so when we got to the pick-up place, they wanted to charge us twice as much as we'd been quoted online. There was no way we could afford that. Thankfully, Jake was willing to drop everything and come pick us up right away. Still, it was 12:30 before we found me a baked potato at Wendy's, and after 3:00 before we all got to sleep.

The party was fun, although it didn't go according to plan. Plans are pretty flexible down there, apparently, and things were constantly changing from one hour to the next. But the people were lovely!

On Sunday, Jake let us borrow his car to drive down to the edge of the bayou and see the ocean. It was a simply gorgeous drive down!

My first look at a sugercane field!
 It was surprisingly chilly - Louisiana didn't escape the cold front that swept over the nation last month. Still, it was a good 50 degrees warmer than Minnesota!

We found this little cemetery on the drive down and got out and looked around. I'd never seen raised graves like this before. It was beautiful.

That night we went to the supermarket and got seafood. We made scallops and alfredo that night, and the next I made fried catfish.

This catfish is going to become a bit of a family legend, cuz the only gluten-free breading I could scrape up was frosted flakes. (Nope, couldn't find regular corn flakes.) Still, it was a big hit and my father-in-law is going to beg me to make it every time I visit from now on.

On Monday, we finally got our own rental car (SO much cheaper to rent from a local place rather than at the airport) and drove down to New Orleans. We didn't get a ton of time because we got a late start and had to be out of the city by sundown, but we made the most of the time we had.

I'd located a little restaurant in the French Market Food Court that had gluten free offerings, and was thrilled to enjoy GF crab cakes - something I've not been able to find anywhere else. All organic too!

We made a quick circuit through the flea market, then poked around in a few different shops. For a souvenir, we picked up a Christmas Tree ornament with "New Orleans 2014" written on it.

We also visited a candy factory, where we got to sample pralines and purchased gummy worms for the long drive home.

Tuesday was a rest day, and on Wednesday we visited the local Aviation and Sawmill museum.

I really enjoyed learning about how they processed and used Spanish Moss.

Plus, huge trees are always fun.

It also gave us some more time to hang out with Faith. We'd only met her in person once before, at that was very briefly at our very hectic wedding. We really enjoyed having the whole week prior to the wedding to get to know her and her family, and see her and Jake as a couple.
replicas of originals

people had better handwriting in those days

it's so small!
 Thursday was the rehearsal, which ran for a good two hours, and the dinner, which was lovely! I got some really delicious grilled fish - my in-laws had told me to order whatever I wanted off the menu, since I couldn't have the fried shrimp everyone else had access to.

It was really fun seeing Nathan get into his best man mode. He's been in a lot of weddings, and been best man twice before now, so he's an expert. (Or at least, I think so.)

Bridal bag goodies
 There were 8 bridesmaids, 6 groomsmen, one junior bridesmaid/flower girl and one ring bearer. As far as we could tell, Nathan and I were both the oldest and the tallest of the guys and girls, respectively.

The bridesmaid hair requirement was a french twist, but mine was so short, they allowed me to do it however I wanted. I think I managed okay. ;) Then I ended up doing four of the other girls' hair as well!

 Look at that train!

Look at that LACE!

I really enjoyed getting to spend a lot of time with my mother-in-law. There were just 8 of us representing the Hajek side, so we took our duties seriously

The wedding ceremony was at 2:00, followed by photos, food (buffet style) and dancing. I don't have a good photo of the hall, but it all took place in this gymnasium that had been transformed into a magical light and flower filled hall of romantic pillars, candles and mini Eiffel towers.

I really liked seeing Nathan in this old fashioned tux
At about 5:15, Jake and Faith went off in their limo to start married life! Nathan and I left soon after, ready to relax after all the intensity of the past few days... little did we know what was in store.

My bouquet
Sunday morning I woke up in extreme discomfort. I won't go into TMI, but it got worse all day, until we wound up at the ER at about 7pm. They identified the issue (doesn't always happen!) and prescribed stuff, but I didn't feel as well as we'd hoped the next day. We were a half hour from the airport when I broke down, crying, and told Nathan "there is no way I can get on that plane."

This was hard. We found out that it would be $400 to change our flight, and we couldn't get a refund on the original tickets. Still, Nathan was so patient and sweet and didn't make me feel bad about it at all. His parents were still down at Jake and Faith's house, which, since they'd left for their honeymoon, was open for a few more guests. So we went back out there and settled in to do everything we could to get me better.

It was a rough few days. I had to give up getting home to have Thanksgiving with my family, which was hard all around. However I had Nathan with me, and we got more time with his parents (whom we see less, anyhow) so that was a blessing in disguise. They were willing to postpone their own trip home in order for me to heal as much as possible. They were also willing to lend us their second car so that we could complete the final leg of our trip home.

Friday morning we finally set out for the long drive home. We spent the night in Kentucky, took a supper break in Illinois at my in-laws house, then pushed on to get to Minnesota by 1:30am on Sunday morning. My mother-in-law ended up coming up with us to visit my sister-in-law, so she got a chauffeur on the way up (Nathan) and we didn't have to worry about getting the car back to her.

That last week was really hard, but God totally had us in his hand the whole time. Nathan only had to miss two more days of work due to Thanksgiving, so that was another blessing.

But I'm really, really glad to be back home, in my own kitchen, with easy access to stores with plenty of Gluten Free options, and close to my doctor and supplement provider. All of this has made us decide that, between being gluten-free (dominos was the only gluten-free restaurant in our area of Louisiana. I had pizza 3 times.), and having unpredictable health issues, we're not travelling out of state again for a long, long time. This is sad because we have so many friends and loved ones in other states that we'd hoped to visit over the next few years and now we have to accept that it is just not feasible. I guess I'll just have to lure everyone here with my cooking or something... ;)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Fair "Selfie" didn't get a fair chance at all.

ABC's cancellation of "Selfie" feels a little bit like a temper tantrum. "You don't love our show with Karen Gillan and John Cho? FINE. BE THAT WAY." I mean it just seems really early to cancel a show with so much promise that is slowly growing it's fanbase.

I'm guessing that it likely has something to do with whatever salaries Gillan and Cho are commanding, but that's only a hypothesis and one that could easily be wrong. Networks seem to be getting more and more jumpy lately, but even so, a cancellation after only episode 6 seems premature.

It's too bad that their marketing campaign was based around a really shallow television spot, that likely turned off the more intelligent audience the show is really written for. The pilot episode didn't help much either - everything got a lot stronger and better with episodes 2 and 3.

And then there is the title. Clever in some ways, but also problematic for marketing and tagging. How do you follow a show when typing the name into your tumblr search bar just brings up photos of people taking pictures of themselves?

But if this is the era of early cancellations, it's also the beginning of the era of rebirth. So far it's only long-time fan favorite shows like "Community" and "Veronica Mars" that are seeing second life. Perhaps it is too much to expect a show just 7 episodes out of the gate to get a second life. But who knows? If the fans speak up, anything could happen. Anything at all.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why I am Writing for a Catholic Publisher (When I'm not Catholic)

(The following images are all taken from my "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" pinterest inspiration board. Please visit the board for credits and further awesome photos!)

As I near the end of writing "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I contemplate again what an odd situation this is - a Protestant author writing a fantasy novel for a Catholic press. I've been working really hard to craft a novel that is faithful to a Catholic Worldview, while remaining accessible and engaging to audiences of other faiths. So far my husband (biased, but Protestant), thinks I've succeeded. I hope that all of you do as well!

Anyhow, I wanted to share some of my further thoughts on the subject of writing Characters of Faith or writing for a Christian audience, and thought that the best way to do so would be to share with you a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago, which I reproduce here with her permission.

AnneMarie said:  Dear Mrs. Hajek, First, congratulations on your marriage! I have been praying for you two, and hope that you are enjoying married life! 

Anyway, I had a thought-and if this is out of line or too personal, feel free to not answer-- but, in one of my writing classes, many students have been discussing the place for Faith (for my classmates and I, Catholicism) in literature. Since you are a huge fan of Regina Doman's books (which have lots of Catholicism sprinkled around), but you're not a Catholic yourself, I was wondering what your perspective is? I've had friends tell me that I can't put overtly Catholic subject matter in fiction writing, because people don't like it/aren't comfortable with it/feel like they're being preached to/if you want to be successful, you can't be overtly Catholic in fiction. 

Do you feel that there is a particular way in which Catholicism (or even Christianity as a whole) is treated better when used in fiction writing? Is there a place for it in fiction writing? 

I said:  Okay so here are my thoughts... I think there are three ways to bring religion (of any sort) into writing.

#1 - to write a religious character. This character lives out their religion, it is an important part of their lives, but it is not the focus of the book. You could have a Catholic or a Muslim or a Buddhist and their faith makes them who they are, but it doesn't make the book a "preaching book." (Orson Scott Card does this very well. What Regina does falls between this and a sort of in-between category of this and #2. Chesterton's Father Brown is this as well.)

#2 - a preaching book. This is what most explicitly Christian literature is. It's not just filled with religious characters, but there must be a conversion story, a crisis of faith, etc. It is nearly impossible to have a book with a main Protestant character that will not be a book of this sort and published by a Christian publisher. Because there are not as many small Catholic publishers, you are more likely to find a book with Catholic characters out in mainstream publishing, but you will probably not find a conversion story in those books.

#3 - a book written from a Christian worldview, but without any sort of proselytizing agenda. This means that ultimately the main moral compass of the book is going to line up with Christian believes, even if it's set in another world. (The Lord of the Rings is an excellent example of this, as is "Till We Have Faces" by C.S. Lewis. Orson Scott Card does this in most of his writing, although technically he is Mormon.)

You can have books that mix and match these catagories, of course. #1 and #2 will nearly always also incorporate #3. But you can have #3 without #1 or #2. Many young writers make the mistake of thinking that in order to have their faith be present in their works, they need to write #2. That's not true. You don't have to have a Christian "message" or "character" to be writing a book that is consistent with Christianity and that brings people to understand something true and beautiful about God's creation. BUT you can definitely have people of faith in secular novels.

I again mention Orson Scott Card, who is becoming more lamblasted for his conservative worldview, but nonetheless writes in the secular science fiction market. He has characters of many faiths in his books, and each one is treated with deep respect. I highly recommend reading some of his work if you haven't already.

There is a line you have to walk, however. One of the main reasons Regina Doman got into self publishing was because her books were "too Catholic" for the secular market but "not Catholic enough/too Catholic for Protestants" for the religious market. Her books are fabulous and I wouldn't' change them a bit, but she would agree that the route she took would be very difficult for another to take without also going the selfpublishing route (and remember, she was published by Bethlehem books first, but they couldn't make enough on their fiction imprint and closed that down). Neither she nor I would recommend starting off in the self-publishing market.

I am grateful to be able to write for Regina's company and therefore be able to write a character of faith without having to write a conversion story. I've found it very hard to write a Protestant character of faith without it sounding very cheesy to me - actually it's been much easier to write a Catholic character because it is much easier to describe the outward forms and the particular journey of this character within the symbolism of the Catholic church. I have a great appreciation of the Catholic Church, which is why I am able to write this book, but I would never be able to write something like this for a secular market. I already know it is going to be difficult to sell this book outside of the Catholic circles, because it will have some elements that will be too foreign for a lot of reader - but I'm doing my best to write it as "an intriguing look into another way of life" rather than an alienating difference.