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Sister Carmelita, The Fear of God and Me

June 15, 2017 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster, Writing tagged as , , , , , ,

The day I stood in the choir loft surrounded by my fourth grade peers I had no idea that I was about to learn a lesson in suspense, terror, fear, retribution and resolution that would lead me to a career as a thriller author.

The day was hot, air-conditioning was unheard of, and we wore our itchy, ugly, brown wool Catholic school uniforms year ‘round to save our parents money. I was a very good girl. I never drew attention to myself, folded my hands with fingers pointing heavenward when I prayed, picked up trash on the playground and helped pass out papers in class. But that day, I made a blunder that put me in Sister Carmelita’s crosshairs. As she raised her arms and positioned her baton in anticipation of another rousing chorus of a hymn I have long forgotten, I rolled my eyes. Yep, I rolled them to the back of my little ten-year-old head in frustration and exhaustion.

Sister Carmelita cut her own my way. I realize now that she had mastered the art of eye cutting because she couldn’t move her head given her the box-like wimple. Everyone stopped breathing. No one knew what I had done, only that I had done something very, very bad.

“Miss Forster.” Sister Carmelita’s voice was modulated appropriately for God’s house. “Wait after choir.”

My stomach lurched. I felt light headed. I was doomed.

Sister Carmelita is long gone. During her time on earth she faced changes in her church and her life, but I doubt she ever knew how that day changed me. So, if you’re listening, Sister, I want you to know that, 30 years later, that moment sealed my fate. I spend my days writing thrillers, trying to recapture the exquiste sense of suspense I experienced that day. Here is what you taught me:

1) Less is More: Your understated notice of me, the glitter in your eye, the sound of your voice was more intriguing, more compelling, more enthralling than screaming, railing or ranting.

2) Timing is Everything: All 29 of my classmates knew I was in trouble. I knew I was in trouble. I even knew why I was in trouble (disrespecting you, God, choir practice, country, family and all living creatures with a roll of my eyes), yet you didn’t nip things in the bud with a mere instantaneous admonition. My comeuppance was exquisitely timed. You threw in an extra hymn to extend practice, studiously ignored me, meticulously folded your sheet music as my classmates silently went down the stairs. You waited until the door of the church closed, clicked and locked us together in that big, shadowy church before you turned.

3) The Devil’s in the Details: You were taller than me (back then almost everyone was taller than me), but that wasn’t why I was afraid. It was your whole package, the details of your awesome being that were so formidable. Covered head to toe in black, your face framed by your wimple (which, by the way, looked like the vice used during the Spanish Inquisition), your hands buried beneath the scapular that fell in a perfect column to the tips of your shoes, made for quite a package. But there was more: The scent of nun-perfume (I think it was soap, but it smelled like nun-perfume to me), the clack of those huge rosary beads attached to your wide belt, the squish of your rubber soled shoes. I saw all this, I heard all this, I smelled all this and each sense was heightened because of the hush surrounding us.

I remember your methodical advance into my personal space. I remember you lowering your eyes as I raised mine. The suspense was heart-stopping, the anticipation of my penance almost unbearable. Quite frankly, you were terrifying.

But here’s the funny thing: I don’t remember how it ended. Did you scold me? Did you show mercy and forgiveness? I only remember being terrified. Like the brain of the seven year old Stephen King swears gives him inspiration for his horror books, you, Sister Carmelita, inspire every sentence I write in every thriller novel I pen. For that, I can’t thank you enough.

I also want you to know, I have never rolled my eyes at anything since then .


Rebecca Forster | A Slice of OrangeVisit me: http://rebeccaforster.com/

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Another Slice of Nature

June 13, 2017 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , ,

Sitting in my writing cabin in the woods I have the opportunity to watch nature in all of its richness. I usually play a CD softly while I write, and I allow it to repeat itself for hours on end. It is a loon CD, and I find those haunting voices calming, yet full of mystery. As in nature I never know what will flash by my windows. Most usually my two foxes will come, hoping to catch a meal of squirrel, chipmunk, or turkey. All of those little souls gather under my many bird feeders each morning. I do not necessarily like the thought of that, but we each instinctively do as we do.

When I see this, I always have a tug-of-war going on inside. Part of me understands the needs of the fox, and the other part of me wants the ‘little ones’ to be okay. But, the fox has to be the way he is. “Do not ask for mangoes in a shoe store,” I once read. This applies to us humans as well. Each of us is our own person. My Maine Coons like to hang out on my screened-in-porch and watch the action, but I would never let them out into the woods. Their instinct is to be with the other animals, and my instinct is to keep them safe. Oh my, the decisions we must make.


Whatever is important to us, go forward with commitment. Do not allow ourselves to be tossed to the wayside because of doubt. I have experienced indecision in so many of its ways, and it has kept me in its grips, but not anymore. Write, paint, or sing, with all the passion you have within. Make decisions regardless of the insecurity you might feel. It is a wonderful thing to witness the emergence of a more authentic self. I’ve learned to silence the voices of those who want to keep us narrowly defined, and although these awakenings are never gentle they lead to a process of finding out who we really are…




Sally Paradysz | A Slice of Orange


Sally Paradysz writes from a book-lined cabin in the woods beside the home she built from scratch. She is an ordained minister of the Assembly of the Word, founded in 1975. For two decades, she has provided spiritual counseling and ministerial assistance. Sally has completed undergraduate and graduate courses in business and journalism. She took courses at NOVA, and served as a hotline, hospital, and police interview volunteer in Bucks County, PA. She is definitely owned by her two Maine Coon cats, Kiva and Kodi.


Read Sally’s short story  This Business of Wood in ONCE AROUND THE SUN; available in paperback and ebook.



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Sew Up Your Novel

June 15, 2014 by in category Archives tagged as , , ,
It is true. I began writing on a crazy dare.
I was an account supervisor in a large advertising agency in San Francisco. My client was married to Danielle Steel. When I was told she was one of the most successful, most prolific authors of the day I uttered those ridiculous words, “I bet I could do that – I bet I could write a book.”
Well, my colleague dared me to do it so I dug in with both heels. At the very least, I would get a rejection and prove that I had tried. Maybe then she would stop laughing at my ridiculous boast. I tackled this challenge in the same way I tackled a marketing plan: by asking questions. How was a book published? Who did I have to talk to in order to get a book published? What kind of book had the greatest chance of being published? Finally, does one actually write a book?
The first three questions were easily answered. Even without the Internet (or computers) I was able to find out exactly how, who, and what. All the answers led to Harlequin. No agent needed, a synopsis and a partial submitted to editors directly and editorial guidelines were offered for each line. The only problem was that I had no idea how to write a book even though I had read hundreds. I could think of only one thing to do.
I would learn to write a book the same way I learned to sew – by studying and following a pattern.
It seemed appropriate that the pattern would be based on one of Danielle Steel’s novels. I can’t remember which book I chose, but I clearly remember three nights spent in front of a fireplace with that book, wine and a yellow marker. I read each page and highlighted the ‘seams’ of her work. 
  • ·      When was the reader introduced to the main characters
  • ·      Where were the dramatic plot points
  • ·      When and where were the emotional reveals
  • ·      How many pages were there of expository
  • ·      How many pages were there in the book, for that matter
  •      What role did secondary characters play and how often were they mentioned

When I was finished I had a simple, working plan – a pattern, if you will – and I was thrilled. I wrote for months and when I was done I had exactly the right number of pages, all the characters came in on cue and the plot was revealed appropriately.
Writing my book was like making a plain dress. Even I knew that, while I had meticulously followed the pattern, my work was lacking. My book was in dreadful need of buttons and bows to make it unique, to make every editorial head turn when I walked into the room via my novel.
When I understood this, I had the final piece of the pattern. Every book needs the right foundation – the proper pacing, a solid cast of characters, the right setting – but it also needs style. Style is what sets an artist apart from a painter, a fashion designer from a seamstress and a writer from an author.

I am writing my twenty-ninth book and I have learned a great deal but I still follow the pattern I created years ago after analyzing one of Danielle Steel’s books. Now I add on my own unique buttons and bows that are expressed through my voice, my observations and my personal inspiration. I can only hope that someday a writer will take one of my books, sit in front of the fireplace with a marker and ask, how did she do that? If she pays close attention, she will be able to see my pattern and then she will add her own buttons and bows.
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