Guest Post/Virtual Tour with Giveaway ~ The Shepherd’s Calculus by C.S. Farrelly

Keep On Keeping On: Writing Even When It’s Just For Yourself

Billy was a kind-hearted accountant prone to making social gaffes, like asking the wife of his boss if she was his daughter.  He sat in his nondescript cubicle in a Manhattan high-rise office building where he laughed too loudly at his co-workers’ jokes, subsisted on drinkable yogurt, and often wondered if his longtime girlfriend was really happy.

I know this because I lived with Billy for a few months.  After a 10 hour day at work and a 45 minute subway commute home with 40 other people crammed into one car while we breathed each other’s exhale and stepped on each other’s feet, I settled into my writing chair, fired up my laptop and returned to writing about the ordinary adventures of Billy and his cringe-worthy social missteps. He was a parable of sorts – someone who gamely rolled with the punches when he embarrassed himself as many of us do, but who, through the events of my short story, eventually came to understand the shame and grief of being deliberately humiliated by another person and was diminished by it.  His story did not end in redemption with him standing up for himself or gaining the love and respect of his detractors.  Like the world in T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, the tale of Billy the Accountant went out, not with a bang but a whimper.  Even as I typed away, I knew I might not finish writing the story I’d started about him and that even if I did, for a variety of reasons, I wouldn’t do anything with it.  Because he was an emotional crutch for me, a way to keep writing even when I was in a rut and struggling to finish a project. 

Billy came to me through a conversation I’d had with two old high school classmates of mine, hilarious guys who I wouldn’t have considered close friends when we were 16 and wrapped up in our own mini-dramas of love and cool parties (for them) and family abuse and dysfunction (for me), but who in adulthood had emerged as valuable sounding boards for me as a person and also a writer.  Another former classmate of ours had recently committed suicide and it hit me hard.  Not because I’d been close to him or even spoken to him in more than 20 years.  But because I could remember with absolute clarity the moment in 7th grade, when I humiliated him in Home Economics class by beaning him in the face with a role of industrial brand paper towels.  The subtle whoosh of the hefty roll sailing through the air towards him.  The abrupt end to his loud belly laugh, a sort of low-rumbling seal bark, the moment it made contact with his nose.  The shocked expression with which he looked at me followed in instant succession by wounded bewilderment and then betrayal.   To this day I couldn’t tell you why I did it.  If I derived any pleasure from it at the time, I can’t remember what kind.  In the past 25+ years, I’ve felt nothing but intense shame when I recall that moment.  I can only think that at the time, with things at home spinning out of control in ever-more damaging ways, I wanted to inflict on someone else what was being inflicted on me. 

For whatever reason, I did it and I’m not proud of it and years later when I heard that he’d committed suicide, it weighed on me.  Not because I imagine that in those moments before he pulled the trigger he thought back to 1990 and that paper towel roll, but because my actions then had likely been part of a lifetime of sending someone the message that he was unworthy: of love, kindness, or even just the compromise those of us who have been abused and bullied seek – being ignored. 

So he dominated my thoughts for weeks after I heard the news.  On a flight to Los Angeles, during intermission at a Broadway show, and late at night when I stared at my computer screen trying to make progress on the latest round of edits to the manuscript that would become my debut novel: The Shepherd’s Calculus, a political thriller in which a journalist and his sidekick take on very powerful institutions to seek justice for the victims hurt by them.  The irony of my past behavior towards my former classmate given the topic of my book didn’t escape me.  My husband and high school friends listened patiently while I lamented my past actions and we traded tales of humiliation that had stuck with us.  What, I thought, was the critical difference between feeling embarrassed and being humiliated?  Why was it possible, even easy to overcome the former while the latter could live on so strongly, lingering in malicious ways?

That’s when Billy the Accountant took up residence in my computer.  Despite looming deadlines for work on The Shepherd’s Calculus, the meandering tale of Billy and his journey to a critical moment of damaging humiliation, ate up precious time that I should have been spending on other things.  But even if I’d told myself to stop wasting time on a different story when I needed to focus on my manuscript, it wouldn’t have worked.  Guilt was taking up that space in my head.  Trying to focus on the manuscript would’ve been futile.  So instead, I spent my evenings with Billy attempting to do what fiction writers seek to: temporarily step into the life of another person, see, experience, and understand the world the way they do, and write about it in way that makes readers do so, too.  

None of this is to say that my short story about Billy the Accountant was any good. It wasn’t.  It was a stream of consciousness jumble that isn’t fit for public consumption, which is why it lives on only as one of several files in a Miscellaneous Writing folder on my desktop.  It sits in that folder with any number of other files like it.  Projects that I started in a fit of productivity, spitting out 20 pages in one sitting, only to read it after a good night’s sleep and dismiss it as being directionless, or simply not very good.  Ill-advised attempts at poetry. Chapters and screenplays that I began at a different point in my life that seem too far away from who I am now to finish. 

But it’s important that they’re there.  These files, some poorly written, others unfinished, keep me writing when I find it difficult to and remind me that I write because I like the challenge of trying to find the right words, best phrasing, or perfect dialogue to convey an experience or feeling, not because every one of my sentences is perfection. The act of writing can be arduous and lonely.  And what follows completion of a project – the vulnerability of letting others read it for feedback, the struggle to convince editors to publish it, worrying that no one will want to read it – can be an exercise in disappointment and humiliation.   In between, everyday life or memories of being a jerk in high school, can get in the way. 

There’s a certain power and pride that I take in my collection of projects that have withered on the vine.  They remind me that I force myself to keep putting something down on paper, even when I’ve been up all night with a sick child and had to go to work the next day.  They remind me that I’m self-aware enough to look at something I’ve written and recognize when it doesn’t have enough shape to be salvaged.  But most importantly, they remind me that whenever I’ve given up on a project, it’s been my choice to because I wanted to focus on something better, not because someone else told me to.  They are the bang to Billy’s whimper: my reminder to keep writing because I enjoy it, my pathway to taking chances on formats or styles I don’t usually use, or in the case of Billy, a way to make peace with the past. 

So I’ll end with a question for you, my fellow readers and writers:  What do you do to keep moving forward on something when you’ve hit a wall or are struggling to make progress? 

Publisher: Cavan Bridge Press (September 28, 2017)
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
ISBN-10: 0998749303
ISBN-13: 978-0998749303
ASIN: B072M2KZ3G
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository

the-shepherd-s-calculus

When journalist Peter Merrick is asked to write a eulogy for his mentor, Jesuit priest James Ingram, his biggest concern is doing right by the man. But when his routine research reveals disturbing ties to cases of abuse and clues to a shadowy deal that trades justice for power, everything he believed about his friend is called into question. With the US presidential election looming, incumbent Arthur Wyncott is quickly losing ground among religious voters. Meanwhile, Owen Feeney, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is facing nearly a billion dollars in payments to victims of sex abuse. When Feeney hits on a solution to both men’s problems, it seems the stars have aligned. That is until Ally Larkin—Wyncott’s brilliant campaign aide—starts to piece together the shocking details. As the election draws closer and the stakes get higher, each choice becomes a calculation: Your faith, or your church? Your principles, or your candidate? The person you most respect, or the truth that could destroy their legacy? When the line between right and wrong is blurred, how do you act, and whom do you save?

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for C.S. Farrelly.

There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Giftcard.

The giveaway begins on February 1, 2018 and runs through April 2, 2018.
Void where prohibited.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

C.S. Farrelly was raised in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. A graduate of Fordham University (BA, English), her eclectic career has spanned a Manhattan investment bank, the NYC Department of Education and, most recently, the British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was a 2015 Presidential Leadership Scholar and obtained a master’s degree from Trinity College Dublin, where she was a George J. Mitchell scholar.

She has lived in New York City, Washington, D.C., Ireland, and England. An avid hiker, she camped her way through East Africa, from Victoria Falls to Nairobi. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

The Shepherd’s Calculus is her first novel.

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Excerpt ~

When Peter Merrick’s cell phone rang around ten on a Monday morning, his first instinct was to ignore it. Anyone who knew him well enough to call that number would know he had a deadline for the last of a three-part series he was working on for the Economist. It was his first foray into magazine writing in some time, and he’d made it clear to his wife, his editors, and even the family dog that he wasn’t to be disturbed until after the last piece was done and delivered.

Several months had passed since his return from an extended and harrowing assignment tracking UN peacekeeping operations on the Kashmiri border with Pakistan, where violent protests had erupted following the death of a local Hizbul Mujahideen military commander. The assignment had left him with what his wife, Emma, solemnly declared to be post-traumatic stress disorder. It was, in his opinion, a dubious diagnosis she’d made based on nothing more than an Internet search, and he felt those covering the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan deserved greater sympathy. He’d been a bystander to tragedy, he told anyone who asked, not a victim.

One morning as he’d stood drinking strong Turkish coffee on the terrace of his apartment in Jammu, he watched as a car bomb detonated in front of the school across the road. No children were killed. It was a Saturday, and teachers had gathered there to meet with members of a French NGO dedicated to training staff at schools in developing nations. The arm landed on his terrace with a loud thud before Peter realized what it was. Pinned to the shoulder of what remained of its shirt was a name tag identifying Sheeraza Akhtar, presumably one of the teachers. At the time, he marveled at his complete lack of reaction to the torn limb, at the way his response was to read the letters on the tag, grab a pen, and start writing down details of the event—a description of jewelry on the woman’s hand, the streak of half-cauterized flesh running from where it tore from the arm socket to the bottom of her palm, the way smoke curled from the remains of the school’s front entrance, and the pitiful two-ambulance response that limped its way to the scene nearly twenty minutes after the explosion.

Even now as he recalled the moment, he wouldn’t describe what he felt as horror or disgust, just a complete separation from everything around him, an encompassing numbness. His wife kept telling him he needed to talk to someone about what he was feeling. But that was just the point, he thought, even if he couldn’t say it to her. He couldn’t quite articulate what he was feeling, beyond paralysis. Making the most rudimentary decisions had been excruciating since his return. It required shaking off the dull fog he’d come to prefer, the one that rescued him from having to connect to anything. The pangs of anxiety constricting his chest as he glanced from the screen of the laptop to his jangling cell phone were the most palpable emotional response he’d had in recent memory. The interruption required a decision of some kind. He wasn’t certain he could comply.

But in keeping with the career he had chosen, curiosity got the better of him. He looked at the incoming number. The area code matched that of his hometown in central Connecticut, less than an hour from where he and Emma now lived in Tarrytown, but his parents had long since retired to South Carolina. He made his decision to answer just as the call went to voice mail, which infuriated him even more than the interruption. For Peter, missing something by mere minutes or seconds was the sign of a journalist who didn’t do his job, who failed to act in time. Worse, he’d allowed a good number of calls to go to voice mail while under his deadline, and the thought of having to sift through them all made him weary. The phone buzzed to announce a new message. He looked again from his screen to the phone, paralyzed by the uncertainty and all-consuming indecision he’d begun exhibiting upon his return from Kashmir. After several minutes of failed progress on his article, the right words refusing to come to him, he committed to the message.

He grabbed the phone and dialed, browsing online news sites as inconsequential voices droned on. His editor. His sister. His roommate from college asking if he’d heard the news and to call him back. Finally, a message from Patricia Roedlin in the Office of Public Affairs at his alma mater, Ignatius University in Greenwich, Connecticut. Father Ingram, the president of the university, had passed away unexpectedly, and the university
would be delighted if one of their most successful graduates would be willing to write a piece celebrating his life for the Hartford Courant.

The news failed to register. Again, a somewhat common experience since his return. He tapped his fingers on the desk and spotted the newspaper on the floor where Emma had slipped it under the door. In the course of their ten-year marriage, Peter had almost never closed his office door. “If I can write an article with mortar shells falling around me, I think I can handle the sound of a food processor,” he had joked. But lately that had changed, and Emma had responded without comment, politely leaving him alone when the door was shut and sliding pieces of the outside world in to him with silent cooperation. He picked up the newspaper, scanned the front page, and moved on to the local news. There it was, in a small blurb on page three. “Pedestrian Killed in Aftermath of Ice Storm.” The aging president of a local university was the victim of an accident after leaving a diner in Bronxville. His body was found near the car he’d parked on a side street. Wounds to the back of his head were consistent with a fall on the ice, and hypothermia was believed to be the cause of death.

To Peter’s eye the name of the victim, James Ingram, stuck out in bold print. An optical illusion, he knew, but it felt real. He reached for the second drawer on the right side of his desk and opened it. A pile of envelopes rested within. He rooted around and grasped one. The stamp was American but the destination was Peter’s address in Jammu. The script was at once shaky and assured, flourishes on the ending consonants with trembling hesitation in the middle. Folded linen paper fell from the opened envelope with little prompting. He scanned the contents of the letter, front and back, until his eyes landed on the closing lines.

 

“Well, Peter my boy, it’s time for me to close this missive. You may well be on your way to Kabul or Beirut by the time this reaches you, but I have no small belief that the comfort it is meant to bring will find its way to you regardless of borders.
You do God’s work, Peter. Remember, the point of faith isn’t to explain away all the evil in this world. It’s
meant to help you live here in spite of it.
Benedictum Nomen Iesu,
Ingram, SJ

 

Peter dialed Patricia Roedlin’s number. She was so happy to hear from him it made him uncomfortable. “I’d be honored to write a piece,” he spoke into the phone. “He talked about you to anyone who would listen, you know,” she said. “I think he would be pleased. Really proud.” He heard her breath catch in her throat, the stifled sobs that had likely stricken her since she’d heard the news.

“It’s okay,” he found himself saying to this complete stranger, an effort to head off her tears. “I can’t imagine what I’d be doing now if it weren’t for him.” He hoped it would give her time to recover. “He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding teacher.”

Patricia’s breathing slowed as she regained control. “I hope to do him justice,” Peter finished. It was only when he hung up the phone that he noticed them, the drops of liquid that had accumulated on the desk where he’d been leaning forward as he talked. He lifted a hand to his face and felt the moisture line from his eye to his chin. After several long months at home, the tears had finally come.

***

Excerpt from The Shepherd’s Calculus by C.S. Farrelly. Copyright © 2017 by C.S. Farrelly. Reproduced with permission from C.S. Farrelly. All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. Such a poignant post!!

  2. Della Williamson says:

    Looks like a fantastic read. Looking forward to it. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Thanks so much for the chance to offer my observations about writing and for sharing information about The Shepherd's Calculus!  I hope you and your readers enjoy it!

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