For this week’s Sunday post, I had planned to share my reflections on “shifts in being” needed for deep adaptation to our planetary climate and ecological existential crises unraveling in real time. While regions of our planet face heat waves, wildfires, droughts, floods, and other Acts of God, our political leaders fumble, grumble, and stumble to implement the solutions proposed and agreed upon at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences held since its establishment in 1992.
I could not find the right framework to put my reflections into words. By the end of my workday on Friday evening, I had scrapped four unsuccessful attempts. After clearing my mind with a touching father-daughter movie, Don’t Make Me Go (Prime Video, 2022), I returned to my writing task shortly after 10:00 p.m. At 2:24 a.m. of a new day, with frustration taking hold, I scrapped another four drafts and went to bed.
Since March, fifteen months after putting my current writing project on hold, I have been struggling to get back on track. Lots of false starts. Wasted words. Is my writer’s block an aftereffect of my first encounter in January with the coronavirus? Is it the new medication that my doctor has prescribed to lower my high blood pressure? So much has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March 2020. Our world has changed. I have changed.
I suffered yet another blow with the discouraging news from the United Nations about our slow global response to reducing carbon emissions. Instead of working to cut our emissions by levels recommended by the global climate science community, we continue to release carbon dioxide at renewed speed into Earth’s atmosphere. A more recent report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), released on May 10th, presents an even more dire situation for humanity. We face a 50:50 chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5°C [2.7℉] above the pre-industrial level for at least one of the next five years – and the likelihood is increasing with time. What’s more, there is a 93% likelihood of at least one year between 2022-2026 becoming the warmest on record and dislodging 2016 from the top ranking.
Faced with this reality of life on Earth, my writing project about the woman as a social construct seems meaningless. Is this the best way of living out my elder years during this cycle of life? Should I focus more on our global existential climate and ecological crisis? That night I went to bed filled with anxiety and doubt about my path ahead.
What a year! With the global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 still upending our lives, the year 2021 has taught me that, with constant adaptation to ever-changing conditions, I can endure. The coronavirus had already taken over 385,000 American lives when I watched in disbelief the live TV broadcast of the January 6th assault on the US Capitol building. Terrorism had come home to American soil. Future generations may come to regard that day as the meltdown of our global War on Terror.
Nature’s ever-mutating, coronavirus terrorist has thrown our divided forces into disarray. When you cannot see the enemy, you are unaware of any imminent danger of a stealth attack. Underestimating the strength of the enemy can also lead to defeat and possible death. Instead of confronting our common enemy, we have turned on each other. Unable to agree on proven scientific strategies of defense against this formidable foe, we have sustained thousands of casualties within our ranks, especially among our weakest and most vulnerable members.
As the mother of an anti-masker and anti-vaxxer, I have learned to stay afloat amidst the tsunami of distrust, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. A mother’s love should not be conditional. Our adult offspring should be free to make their own choices. To reduce my chances of contracting the virus and suffering from its worst effects, I got both doses of the vaccine and, more recently, the booster shot. I continue to wear my face mask in public indoor spaces and maintain the recommended six-foot distance from others outside my household, where possible. Overcoming my fear of contamination when using the bus is a work in progress.
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.