Unpublished Short Story Makes it into the Quarterfinals of the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition

An unpublished short story that I wrote, Consequences, has made it into the Quarterfinals of the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition. The quarterfinals represent the top 356 stories out of over 1,500 submissions.

Consequences is historical fiction that tells the story of a real-life event in the life of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy religious order. Before she became a Sister, Catherine used her inheritance to build a refuge for poor women and children called the House of Mercy across from the Bank of Ireland in Dublin. One day while the House was still being constructed, a young domestic servant who was “in moral peril” due to poor treatment by her master came to Catherine seeking refuge. Catherine did everything she could to find a place for this girl to go, but failed. Instead of taking her into her own home, for some reason that has been lost to history, Catherine, a normally overly accommodating woman, turned the servant away. She never saw the girl again and it haunted her for the rest of her life. (Catherine is now on the path to sainthood in the Catholic church, being declared Venerable – step 1 of 3 to becoming a saint – in 1990.)

Consequences is the servant’s story or at least what I imagine it to be. I first heard about this story nearly 20 years ago and the paradox of Catherine’s normally charitable and saintly life with her actions in this incident has long stuck in my mind. I knew it was something I had to explore. Consequences was written for an anthology that has not taken shape. Hopefully I will be able to share it with you in the future, but I don’t want to put it online because then it would be considered published.

This is the best short story I’ve ever written, so I’m really proud of it. We’ll see if it goes anywhere in this competition. It looks like the semifinalists will be announced some time next month.

Open for Submissions: Anthology to Benefit Female Human Trafficking Recovery

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

This morning I participated in an online (for me at least) tea and chat event with #StrongWomenWrite founder and author Khrys Vaughan, who I’ve known for years in the St. Louis writing community. (In fact I don’t think I ever mentioned the interview I did with her back in March. Here’s the link if you want to hear me and author Sheri Fink talking about writing strong female characters.)

Anyway, Khrys has since moved to Atlanta. She surprised all of us with announcing a multi-step, multi-year plan to help women who have escaped human trafficking in St. Louis and Atlanta, two of the biggest hubs for this crime in the country.

The Plan
1. It begins with a book authored by women about women. Half of it will be the true stories of women who have experienced human trafficking and managed to escape their captors. Each of these profiles will be paired with a fictional short story (2-3 pages) written by a participating author. That story can be anything except erotica or gore and does not have to have anything to do with the profile it is paired with. But it must feature a strong female character. Participation is free to the author other than what you choose to spend on marketing it when the book comes out. Anticipated publication is September 1, 2020.

2. Proceeds from the anthology will help fund the next part of the project which includes a tea room and a tiny home outside of Atlanta. It will also be a place where they can recover and learn a trade/skill. Khrys has a location in mind. The hope is that the tiny home can be located  on the same property as the tea room or on nearby land. The location will be determined by what Georgia law permits.

3. There will eventually be more than one house (one for women, one for orphans, etc.) and the land will be self-sustaining. It takes five years for a tea plant to mature. Tea can be grown in Atlanta, but the soil could be a problem. If so Khrys will draw on experience and contacts from her previous social enterprise projects for the best solution to help women here, but possibly abroad. 

Why I’m Participating
I am so all over this project for several reasons:

1. I used to want to be a nun/sister but none of the ministries of the orders I looked at interested me. I realized after watching several documentaries on human trafficking and prostitution when I was in my teens and 20s, that helping those women is something I would love to be involved with. If I could have found a religious order where that was their ministry, I would have been all over it. As a lay person, I knew being a social worker wasn’t for me (I don’t have the personality for it), so I didn’t know how I could help. And now with this project, I do.

Me at the House of Mercy in Dublin in 2012. The statue behind me depicts Catherine as a Sister helping a woman in need.

2. I ended up working for a non-profit Catholic health care organization (I’ve been there almost 16 years). Our ministry traces its roots to Dublin, Ireland, in 1827 when a woman named Catherine McAuley (now on her way to sainthood in the Catholic Church) opened a refuge for poor women and children called the House of Mercy. She was a lay person and wanted her ministry to involve other lay women. At the House, they gave shelter to poor women, those running from abuse, and orphaned children. They also gave them an education and taught them a trade. (Which sounds an awful lot like Khrys’ plan.

Eventually, the Church forced Catherine to become a nun (because in those days, lay women performing that kind of ministry was unthinkable). She ended up founding the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 to ensure her ministry endured.

Catherine’s tea cup in the House of Mercy archives in Dublin.

One of the earliest symbols of the Sisters was a cup of tea because it reflected the hospitality for all they were vowed to provide. (Plus, tea time was a tradition in Ireland.) On her deathbed, Catherine said about her fellow Sisters, “Make sure they have a comfortable cup of tea when I am gone.” She wanted them to have a way to deal with their grief and the bonding that takes place over a cup of tea was part of it.

To this day, each year on September 24, the date Catherine opened the House of Mercy, we celebrate Mercy Day with a cup of tea and cookies, among other celebrations. Interestingly, just yesterday, I was working on materials for our Mercy Day celebrations this year, and at dinner, one of my friends who also works for the same company said to me, “I think you are a Catherine McAuley.” She said it twice.

3. Since 2006 when I first visited the U.N. and became interested in what Angelia Jolie (and now Emma Watson) were doing with U.N. Women, I’ve said that when I become rich and famous, I want to be a U.N. ambassador. My goal was to travel around the world with a photographer and tell the stories of the women I met. I feel like this project is God’s way of letting me do this now on a smaller scale.

4. I’m all about telling the stories of women in danger of being forgotten. Who is more vulnerable or likely to be overlooked than a woman in sexual slavery? No one wants to think about such a thing or admit that this very lucrative trade exists in the 21st century. I’m hoping to be involved in the interviewing and writing of the profiles of the women, and Khrys just asked me to write the forward, which is an honor.

Meant to Be
For me, the parallels between these things and the project that Khrys is starting are too strong to ignore. I don’t believe in coincidences; I think everything happens for a reason and I feel like God and Catherine are guiding me to this project.

I actually already know what my short story is going to be about. I won’t give it away, but it comes from the life of Catherine and involves a domestic who was trying to escape an abusive master.

As I said, Khrys is looking for additional female authors (sorry guys, this is a women-only project) who would like to contribute. You can email her at ikhrys [at] gmail.com or I can try to answer your questions, but she obviously knows things better.

I’ll keep everyone updated as things progress. This may be the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. Thank you, Khrys, for inviting me to be a part of it.

Publication Day! A Vanderbilt Christmas: a Short Story Starring Victoria Woodhull

It’s publication day!

So by now you likely know that I’m part of a Christmas anthology called Tangled Lights and Silent Nights. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.

There are several cool aspects to this anthology:

  1. All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured inMadame Presidentess.
  2. It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
  3. All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas
Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)

Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.

As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)

I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts… (Thank you to Pat Wahler for some of those ideas.)

As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.

Pick up your copy of Tangled Lights and Silent Nights today! And please, leave a review when you’re done!

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https://books2read.com/TangledLights  (includes international links)

Tangled Lights Anthology Now Available for Pre-Order at Barnes and Noble and iBooks

Hi everyone. Sorry to bother you twice in one day. Just wanted to let you know that Tangled Lights is up on Barnes & Noble and iBooks for pre-order now.

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It’s also on Goodreads if you want to add it to your TBR shelf.

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I apologize for the piecemeal information. I probably should have waited until today to announce. Lesson learned for the future!

Get More Victoria Woodhull in The Tangled Lights and Silent Nights Holiday Anthology

Surprise! I’ve got a short story (the first one I’ve ever successfully completed) in an anthology, which is a dream come true for this writer.

Here’s all the official info:

Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology

Publication Date: November 4

Wonder
This holiday season, twenty talented, award-winning, and bestselling authors have crafted never before released Yuletide-themed tales about their most beloved characters.

Magic
From murder to magic, love to loss, the past and the future, this multi-genre collection of poems and stories has something for everyone.

Charity
In the spirit of giving, the authors have generously opted to donate all profits to The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project, whose passion is to shatter the stigma and spread awareness to three taboo topics that underscore society today: Suicide, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence.

Nicole Evelina’s story:

A Vanderbilt Christmas 
A companion story to the award-winning novel Madame Presidentess.

In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

Pre-order now
Some pre-order links are still going live, and paperback is yet to come, but you can pre-order the ebook here: https://www.books2read.com/tangledlights/.

Don’t forget – All proceeds go to charity!

Want a sneak peak? Since the story is so short, all I can give you is the first few paragraphs…

December 1868

If anyone had told me a year ago that I would be spending Christmas Eve at the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the country, I would have booked them a room at Blackwell’s Island with the other lunatics. Me? The guttersnipe daughter of a confidence man and a religious zealot whose favorite hobby was blackmailing people? Even with my gift of clairvoyance, it would have been too much to believe.

But then again, much had changed over the last year. When my sister Tennie and I moved to New York at the direction of my spirit guide, Demosthenes, we had no idea the good fortune that awaited us. Our Pa, no doubt sensing a way to make a quick buck, had arranged an introduction to Commodore Vanderbilt in the hopes he would employ us as mediums and magnetic healers. But the tycoon did him one better. After I successfully channeled the spirit of his long-dead mother and gave an accurate prediction of the stock market, he took us in as his assistants. Although, this may have had more to do with my sister’s beauty than our skill.

No matter. We were here now. An invitation to Christmas Eve dinner was a rare honor, one much coveted by New York society. Ma and Pa would be fit-to-be-tied when they found out we were invited but they were not; but I thanked God their troublesome selves were back in the slums of Five Points where they belonged.

No matter. We were here now. An invitation to Christmas Eve dinner was a rare honor, one much coveted by New York society. Ma and Pa would be fit-to-be-tied when they found out we were invited but they were not; but I thanked God their troublesome selves were back in the slums of Five Points where they belonged.

My husband, James, Tennie, and I, on the other hand, were seated along one side of a massive dining table that could easily seat twenty and was laden with china, crystal, and silver. The other chairs were occupied by a handful of the Commodore’s close friends and business associates – including his rival Mr. Fisk – plus several generations of his family. Around us, wreaths of evergreen and holly decorated the damask covered walls and pine boughs dripped from an elegant gold chandelier, while wreaths of orange, bay, and cinnamon perfumed the air.

Across the table, the eldest Vanderbilt son, William, shot daggers at me and Tennie. Clearly his disposition toward us hadn’t warmed any with time, nor had he grown in trust of us.

“Tell me, what will be your parlor trick tonight?” He picked at one of the starched white lace napkins. “Will you channel the angel who announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds, or perhaps even the baby Jesus himself?”

“If you are so certain you know, perhaps you should place a bet on it,” I shot back, referencing William’s secret vice of gambling.

—–

You can also check out the Pinterest board I created while writing it.