When I finished my first complete draft of The Twisted Circle: A Novel in 2016, the total word count of 92,602 had exceeded the desired 80,000 words that literary agents and publishers require for newbie authors. Subsequent revisions in tightening sentences and scenes did not achieve the magical number. In 2017, I took the undesirable and difficult step of removing a beloved minor character. This is known as ‘killing your darlings.’
Over the years, the phrase ‘to kill your darlings’ has been attributed to many famous writers: Oscar Wilde, G.K. Chesterton, and William Faulkner. But many literary scholars credit British writer and University of Cambridge Professor Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. In his 1916 book On the Art of Writing, he recommended writers to “murder your darlings.”
After spending over a month researching details of her background, I killed off Sylvia Flores since her character played a negligible role in my story’s main plot line. It hurt. This fictional character was my way of memorializing a Filipino woman whose tragic, premature death in Guyana’s northwest rainforest region has stayed with me after all these years.
The real-life woman was the wife of the Filipino resident doctor in charge of the Mabaruma Hospital at the time I lived and worked in the region. Owing to the isolation of the region and lack of proper medical facilities, Guyanese doctors then and now avoid the post like a death trap for their medical career.
While The Twisted Circle is a work of fiction, it has been inspired by real events that occurred during my final year in a Catholic convent in my native land of Guyana. This presented a challenge when creating unique characters who did not mirror the true-life individuals. To distance myself from the protagonist, Sister Barbara Lovell, I made her a dougla—a person of African and East Indian ancestry, the country’s two major racial and ethnic populations. With a family background much different from mine, her journey led to its own resolution for the character.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1 when readers first meet Sister Barbara:
SISTER BARBARA LOVELL’S life was unraveling like the thread in the hem of her habit. Seated under the mid-morning September sky at the passengers’ waiting area at the Ogle Airstrip, she squeezed her thighs together and adjusted her habit hanging over her knees.
What had she done for Father Andrew Peterson to make his hands fast with her? She was just a plain dougla woman—a mixture of African and East Indian, descendants of slaves and indentured laborers fighting each other for supremacy in Guyana. Their thirteen-year-old independent nation still suffered from the hangover of British colonial rule.
Father Peterson, her parish priest and local-born son of a former British sugar plantation owner, was pale skinned like cow’s milk and tough like cane stalk. Her family had raised her to revere white priests like him.
Her Vow of Chastity was a personal choice. Perhaps, the same was not true for Father Peterson. Catholic Church law dictated that clergymen practice celibacy, yet the law did not stop him from forcing himself on her.
She tucked her sandaled feet beneath the three-seat wooden bench. Beside her on the left, Sister Angela, who had insisted on driving her to Ogle, chatted with a buxom, black woman. From snippets of their conversation, Barbara learned that the woman’s seventeen-year-old daughter had run off with a married man.
In her late forties, the white American nun had been her favorite teacher at St. John’s Catholic High School for girls. Those were the days before the government took over the church-run schools and turned them into co-ed public schools.
As a twelve-year-old in Form One, Barbara had difficulty understanding Sister Angela’s fast-spoken American English, different from British English. In the years that followed, the nun’s firm but kind and generous personality attracted her to joining the Religious Sisters of Christ the Redeemer—an American order with its Provincialate in Cleveland, Ohio.
Though Angela had become her religious mentor and friend, Barbara did not tell Angela what had driven her to move to their isolated sister-convent in Guyana’s North West District. Angela worshipped Father Peterson.
Only Hazel knew.
Seven years ago, in January 1972, she and Hazel, three years older, had entered the convent together. Hazel, too, had grown up in the countryside along the East Coast Demerara where sugarcane and rice lands jostled for sunshine and rain. As a black woman, Hazel understood how intimidating it was for Barbara to confront a white priest—and an older man at that.
Barbara wanted to report the incident to the Bishop; Hazel had disagreed.
“Anybody see him grab you?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then is his word against yours. And you know, in this country, the white man tongue never lie, much less a priest.”
When I began working on The Twisted Circle, over forty-seven years had passed since the year I had worked in Guyana’s northwest region. Yet, I could still visualize the convent in Santa Cruz (fictitious name) and the secondary school in Mabaruma, the administrative center of what is now known as the Barima-Waini Region. I recall the lethargy I felt during the first month or so as my body adjusted to the high humidity of the tropical rainforest. I recall awakening to the howls of baboons on my first morning in my new home. Later, I learned to discern the groans of the jaguars.
At the time, there was no electricity in the Santa Cruz Amerindian village. When darkness descended at six o’clock, our two Jesuit parish priests in the presbytery, located on the top of the Santa Cruz hill, turned on their generator that supplied energy to the presbytery, church, and convent. Lights went out at ten o’clock at night. The convent had a refrigerator that ran on kerosene oil. It was so old that it did not preserve food very well. Potable water came from a large wooden cistern in the backyard.
My only existing record of the year I spent at the Santa Cruz convent is an unlined school notebook with crayon drawings of the variety of moths that visited my room at nighttime. The setting would not be complete without them. Below are a few of my drawings of my nightly visitors.
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Aggrieved, angered, and ashamed by the revelations in the documentary film, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, author Rosaliene Bacchus breaks her silence as a former Catholic nun in her novel, The Twisted Circle, and adds her voice for victims of sexual abuse by predatory priests in the patriarchal Catholic Church….
Click on the above link (Rosaliene Bacchus) to read the full Press Release.
I’m happy to announce that the print copy of my novel, The Twisted Circle, is now available at the following booksellers:
The second proof copy of my novel The Twisted Circle arrived on July 26th. I rejoiced that I had succeeded in aligning all the elements on the back cover and in centering the book title on the spine. After I confirmed the fourth and final revised version, Lulu has approved my book for global distribution. I jump up in exhilaration.
I must now endure an eight-week waiting process while retailers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram—access if my book production files meet their standards. Lulu alerted that the ISBN barcode on the back cover is a big issue for global distributors. My barcode differs from those printed on books by major book publishers. Apprehension has moved in.
The process for creating an eBook demands a different formatting process. I rejoiced on learning that there is no need for those pesky headers and footers used in printed books. Instead, I must contend with creating headings: Heading 1 for the title and Heading 2 for each chapter. Little did I know that there are so many rules for formatting headings! When done correctly, the Table of Contents is automatically created when the MS DOCX file is uploaded to the EPUB file format. Like the ISBN barcode, the Table of Contents is crucial for acceptance in the global book distribution network. With guidance received from a member of Lulu’s customer support team, I’ll be spending this week grinding my teeth as I work with the MS Word program for generating chapter headings.
All is not bleak. The printed version of The Twisted Circle is available for sale on Lulu.com at Rosaliene’s Shop. You can order your copy now. If all goes well, the book’s official release date will be in late September when the printed book would also be available in the global book distribution network.
There’s more good news. I’ve received my first book review from Guyanese American author Stella Bagot, a retired English professor who lives in Maryland. Bagot’s review is of special significance for me as she is also a former Catholic nun. She writes:
[T]he author successfully conveys the austerity, religious and sisterly practices, and the complexity of living in a religious community with a variety of personalities. She also captures the tensions that arise in a small (rural) community rife with gossip and overshadowed by a culture of fear of authoritarianism.
Her characters, both the religious and the laity, are realistically drawn and are consistent. Her main characters are rounded, exhibiting both positive and negative traits, with even the antagonist being sympathetically portrayed at times. One cannot but be struck by the realism of the novel…. The rich and smooth dialogue also deserves mention…
Bacchus succeeds in evoking an emotional response in the reader…. All in all, The Twisted Circle is an engaging read…
When I left the convent in December 1977, my career as an art and geography high school teacher smashed against the boulders defending Guyana’s coastline. Broken and lost, I was set adrift—without purpose or direction for my return to secular life. Inspiration for my creative artistic expression vanished with the prevailing winds. Never to return…until now.
On completion of my second novel, The Twisted Circle, I had contacted two artists I knew about designing my front cover. Both declined to take on the project. Book cover design was not part of their expertise. In 2019, I considered contracting the services of a book cover designer on Fivver.com. Then something peculiar happened during the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown. Amid the doldrums of anxiety and uncertainty, inspiration for taking on the project myself surfaced like a bubble from the ocean floor. Our subconscious mind works in mysterious ways.
Inspired by real events, The Twisted Circle tells the story of two religious women, Guyanese Sister Barbara Lovell and American Sister Frances Adler, torn apart by obsession and entitlement. Within the confines of the community’s Santa Cruz convent, isolated in Guyana’s northwest rain forest region, they are ensnared in a twisted circle of deceit. The symbiotic relationship between the nuns and predatory priests is brought into the light. The Forest Spirits guard dark secrets. Raven knows.
On Tuesday, June 1st, after I failed to access my business e-mail account at rosalienebacchus.com, I called Tech Support. My tone must have been belligerent, because the guy at the other end of the line kept saying, “I’m trying to help you, Ma’am.” I snapped when he told me to download the Google Chrome browser. Another browser was the last thing I needed. I refused to comply and ended the call.
How wrong I was to believe that I was coping well with my frustrations over the past seven weeks!
Following my action plan, I contacted Lulu Publishing on April 15th to begin the self-publication process of my second novel, The Twisted Circle. Their reply was devastating. The One-on-One Author Support Plan that I had used when publishing my debut novel, Under the Tamarind Tree, ended in July 2020. I assume that this service was yet another victim of the 2020 pandemic lock-down.
It took me a week to get my bearings. The prospect of working with another self-publishing service provider was not at all appealing. Besides, I am very satisfied with the services that Lulu provides for the global distribution and sales control of my first novel, Under the Tamarind Tree. I made my decision: I would proceed on my own with the help of Lulu’s Book Creation Guide. Their Knowledge Base also provides helpful resources throughout the process.
During my years working in international trade, the computer and I have had a shaky relationship. I mastered only the essential. Book design and production demand new software skills. I can do this, I reassured myself. Just take one step at a time at my own pace. No pressure.
I am no computer systems geek. So, imagine my consternation on January 25th when I received an email from Yahoo Small Business regarding the latest change in their webhosting services. Since 2007, I have been using their Yahoo SiteBuilder to power my business website, rosalienebacchus.com. The monthly fee for their webhosting services is a good fit for my super-tight budget. With the assistance of Richard Wagner’s book, Yahoo! SiteBuilder for Dummies, I managed to create and maintain my own website. Whatever it lacked in professional appearance, my website attracted numerous visitors for its rich content for those interested in doing business with the United States and Brazil.
Over the years, I survived the disruption and frustration of each upgrade to the Yahoo SiteBuilder editor. That is all in the past now. Beginning this coming March 31, Yahoo will discontinue support for the system powering my website. While I still clung to the old and familiar, the company had moved on to newer website creation tools. They are putting the old editor to rest. My website will become an orphan.
After D-Day, I will no longer be able to edit or update my website. “You must create a new website,” Yahoo informed me. They provided me with two options: make a new business website myself or use a team of experts to build my website. Neither option appealed to me.
After nine days of resisting the inevitable, I emailed Yahoo Small Business enquiring about maintaining my domain name and links to the vast content on my soon-to-be-orphaned website. Both needless concerns: I have received no response to date.
With trepidation a week later, I clicked the link provided to learn more about creating my own website. Fear of the unfamiliar is a terrible master. I can do this, I assured myself. Each breakthrough was cause for celebration. As I got better at creating new pages, I even had fun with the creative process. I had to let go of my international trade content and focus on creating an author’s website. For over six years now, I no longer provide international trade services. The time to move on had long passed.
On February 26th, carefully following Yahoo’s information guide, I successfully published my website using the same domain: www.rosalienebacchus.com. My new author’s website is filled with photographs and empty spaces. The website Menu is also not fixed, which I find a nuisance. My son, an electronic games designer, explained that these features facilitate viewing on the smaller laptops and smart phones.
My Home Page features my journey to becoming a writer as well as a link to an interview with Guyanese-Canadian author Ken Puddicombe in which I share my writing process. I hope that the reviews and praise provided on the page promoting my debut novel, Under the Tamarind Tree, will entice more readers to buy my book. For those readers wishing to learn more, my website also offers “Behind the Scenes” information about my debut novel.
Snapshots and links to my Short Stories, published on the Guyana Journal website, are also available for free reading. I have yet to determine how I will archive my monthly featured poets on my Poetry Corner. I am still in the learning process. Creating the dropdown box for “Behind the Scenes” was a major achievement. Yay!
Seven months have now passed since I first posted about life during the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time in May, more than 67,000 of our loved ones were taken from us. With our collaboration, this formidable foe continues to contaminate, maim, and kill. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as at December 5, 2020, a total of 277,825 Americans have lost their lives. Their grieving families are devastated.
Here in California, America’s most populous state, we now rank in top place with more than 1.2 million infected individuals. Over 19,400 people have died. A recent surge in new infections have heightened the threat. In just 24 hours last week, 18,591 people were infected. COVID-19 does not suffer from battle fatigue. Our weapon to counter this coronavirus will soon be deployed. Relief is on the horizon, but, until then, we must counter its rapid spread.
Concerned that our hospitals would be overwhelmed, putting more lives at risk, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on December 3rd a Regional Stay at Home Order, to take effect on December 5th. Another three weeks! Severity of the lock-down will depend about the capacity of Intensive Care Units (ICU) in each region. On Friday, ICU capacity in Southern California dropped to 13.1 percent.
“By invoking a Stay at Home Order for regions where ICU capacity falls below 15 percent,” said Governor Newsom, “we can flatten the curve as we’ve done before and reduce stress on our health care system…. If we stay home as much as possible, and wear masks when we have to go to the doctor, shop for groceries or go for a hike, California can come out of this in a way that saves lives and puts us on a path toward economic recovery.”
Today marks the fifty-third day of my home isolation under our statewide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. Though I’m used to working at home, the fallout of this global pandemic has unsettled my creative writing process. I can no longer focus. Our federal government’s chaotic mishandling of this health disaster has scrambled my brain cells. Each day brings new shocks that demand processing.
Attempts to write the fourteenth chapter of my third book have proved futile. Instead, I focus on completing the essential research required to add legitimacy and depth to the profiles of women I plan to feature in this book. More than ever, men and women must work together as equal partners to find solutions for the existential crises the human species now face. No more name calling. No more putting down. No more cries to lock her up.
After my initial consideration to postpone the 2020 release of my second novel, The Twisted Circle, I’ve decided to go ahead with its publication. I’m now ticking off each step completed of the process for submission of my complete manuscript from cover to cover. More about the cover art at a future date. Continue reading →