I just digested a rather dense essay that speaks to some of the themes running through my forthcoming book, Displaced: A Darkening Path. In this essay, Russell Hittinger, who holds the Warren Chair of Catholic Studies and is Research Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa, traces Catholic teachings on how people live in the contexts of family, polity, and Church, and how these teachings have responded to competing ideologies. You can find it here.
Hittinger explains that the Church has long held that a person must live justly within the domestic, political, and ecclesial societies to achieve human happiness. He then traces the threats posed to family, political life, and religious institutions by the French Revolution and – in our times – by both the cultural revolution of the 1960s and what Pope Francis has called the techno-economic revolution of the global economy and global communications.
The former revolution shook the ground under the three necessary societies, upending political forms, subverting the Church’s authority and slackening familial ties with measures like no-fault divorce (yes, Napoleon started that).
The revolutions of the last 50 years have made out these necessary societies to be all but optional. Marriage and children, political action and affiliation, and religious devotion are now seen as mere lifestyle choices rather than frameworks within which a person may discover and then become what he was made to be.
Throughout these events, the Church has sought to teach “in light of a non-negotiable principle . . . that we are domestic, political, and ecclesial animals who achieve perfections by rightly dwelling in the perennial societies.”
“But,” Hittinger concludes, “sowing and harvesting the daily bread of this social principle remains a difficult labor.”
For Frank Smith, the protagonist of the Displaced series, these ties are at best duties he begrudgingly fulfills. At his worst, he disregards or wantonly violates them.
And that’s only before his world falls apart.
It’s official! Volume I is headed to the presses.
Or: “What the Heck Have You Been Up To?”
Yes, it’s been awhile. But I have not been idle. As you can see from the word count on the right sidebar of the main page, novel number two is well underway, with a sequel planned, too. Sooooo….what’s this one about? Well, I’ll give you hint.
In a previous post, I discussed the process of character creation, and shared a fully-fleshed out character description for Jerrod Beams, main character of The Point of Escape: A 4-Hour Novel. Here’s the same kind of thing for a secondary character in Displaced, the first of a planned trilogy about a particularly hellish departure from Suburban Hell:
Name (Role): Mindi Overbeck Lane (Frank’s mistress)
Age: (DOB) 23 June 1981
Motivation (abstract want): Affection and relief from boredom
Goal (concrete want): A good lay and some pillow talk with Frank every couple of days.
Conflict (Preventing him/her reaching goal): Both are married and have jobs, which get in the way.
Epiphany (What he/she learns; how he/she changes): Nothing. She’s a static character, and other than unwillingly assisting the FBI investigators, she largely disappears from the story after the robbery.
General physical description: A hottie: slim and toned, but not petite (5”5’, 120 lbs), bleach blond (but well done) nice skin and teeth. Perfect nails. No kids, so her figure is still youthful. Her (ahem) intimate grooming is also carefully attended to, something her husband appreciates even as he fails to grasp that it’s not for his benefit.
Hometown: Pasadena, MD, now lives in Wheaton, MD
Relationship status: Married to John “Johnny” Lane. Mistress to Frank Smith.
Family background (parents, previous marriages, etc.): Grew up in the “Shithouse” side of Maryland, lower middle-class sprawl. Parents – Joe and Marla – are still together and have moved to a trailer park in central Florida. She visits only rarely. One sister – June – died in childhood.
Friends: She and Karen Lane will share a lunch date on occasion, usually at Karen’s suggestion (she mothers Mindi somewhat). Mindi has a few girlfriends, but, being childless, lacks the usual suburban social circle of fellow moms.
Relationship with men: She isn’t a serial adulteress yet, but will be. Men are sites of raw emotional and – what is much more – physical pleasure. She blames Johnny for her lack of emotional fulfillment, but he would complain just as much about her essential distance from him. Other men are evaluated according to wealth and – more importantly – physique. Playfulness, though, is also an important criterion (this may be brought out in a conversation with Karen about some man they both know).
Relationship with women: In general she is bored with them, having no lesbian proclivities and therefore no real use for the fairer sex. With Karen she opens up a bit, and appreciates the opportunity, but isn’t really equipped to enjoy the full benefits of emotional intimacy.
Education: High school diploma, continuing the working class family cycle.
Job: Administrative assistant at retirement home company headquarters where Frank Smith works.
Dress style: Office sexy (short skirts and low-cut blouses) for work, sexier on her own time. Her miniskirt, for example, raises eyebrows at the Lanes’ pool party, as does the bikini it covers.
Religion: Raised Lutheran, and her parents are still regular churchgoers. Mindi was never “religious” and stopped attending church when she moved out.
Attitude to religion: Some bitterness over her younger sister’s death, and the ways she saw others grieve and make sense of it. But this is in the distant past now, as she sees it. What remains is a distaste and, as said, bitterness that is unarticulated.
Favorite pastimes: Shopping, working out and – on occasion – bar hopping.
Hobbies: (is there a difference?) Vacationing in warm, beachy places. At least twice a year.
Favorite sports: She’s a runner, having competed in cross country in high school, but also does a good amount of resistance training. As a fan, she does the usual DC-area things, though having grown up in Pasadena, she’s an Orioles and Ravens fan.
Favorite foods: She loves all the bad stuff – chocolate and beer and fries… – but sticks to low-carb meals most of the time. Health conscious. A good salad with oil and vinegar is a usual lunch choice, eaten with the thought of how her body will look to her lover in mind.
Strongest positive personality trait: She is an enthusiastic lover, both in body and in voice.
Strongest negative personality trait: Essentially selfish. What can look to some like healthy self-care is really self-regard. She readily discards things and people who don’t meet immediate needs.
Sense of humor: Crass and playful. Tones in down in public, though not enough. Known in the office for having a raunchy sense of humor just under the surface….or just above.
Temper: More simmering resentment than anger. Not the bubbly type at all. Choleric without the flashes of expressed anger.
Biggest fear: Being controlled.
Consideration for others: Means to various ends, including emotional. She isn’t Machiavellian, or at least not self-consciously so. But her actions are far from charitable.
How other people see him/her: Sexy, saucy, brash, playful, fun but not to be crossed or aspired to lightly. Some women resentfully whisper “Slut.”
Opinion of him/herself: That she meets all the needs for others that she wants met for herself: a friendly conversation with Karen or a sweaty, breathless romp with Frank.
Other traits, especially those to be brought out in story: She has great disdain for her husband and his suburban ilk; she does not hide the former, but makes a point of broadcasting the latter, a sort of proxy criticism. She would never think in these terms (she enjoys the freedom of childlessness), but some of her antipathy may stem from his inability to get her pregnant.
Ambitions: Unclear, especially as her pursuits “lack roots,” for want of a better term. She wants happiness, like everyone, but seeks it in unsatisfying places. At the story’s close, she is seeking a new lover in a bar.
Philosophy of life: Love me or leave me. Perhaps this is another source of her disdain for her husband, who just hangs on, moving in neither direction.
Most important thing to know about this character: She is in some ways the perfect mistress: hot, playful, low-maintenance, discrete, and somewhat detached.
Will readers like or dislike this character, and why?: They’ll be turned on but ultimately judge her unfavorably.
One-Paragraph POV Summary
What we had was the tingling rush of meat plunged into meat, and the lazy afterglow. A couple time a week: lunch hours, stolen afternoons, even a weekend or two when we could arrange some rouse or our asshole spouses got themselves out of the way. I loved fucking Frank. I loved being fucked by Frank. All the sweaty, sticky, aching, moaning, growling of it all. And I loved the way we would rest after, no burden of “Will this convince him to clean the raingutters?” Just that lovely loosened and chafed feeling. Sounds shallow, doesn’t it, just getting laid? And cheating? Yeah. Cheating. A. D. U. L. T. E. R. Y. I get it. But you have no idea the agony of the suburban life. The whole earn-spend-marry-procreate-dry up-die treadmill. God, what a life-killer. Enough to drive you to cheat. To drive you mad. I guess that’s what finally got to Frank.
Needless to say, this book is a little rougher and a lot darker than the previous one, though not so much as the previous paragraph suggests (Mindi doesn’t get to narrate, for obvious reasons). And I will tell you that despite treading a darkening path, the main character is ultimately led on a hopeful journey, and a hopeful theme underlies the whole. So, hope this sneak peek whets your reader’s appetite!