Your Late April Church Update

Most of you are aware by now that we bought a church in our town and are now in the process of renovating it, and and I know many of you are curious about how that renovation is coming along. So, here’s a brief update: It’s coming along pretty well! Let me walk you through three of the biggest things currently under renovation.

First, and perhaps most significantly, the church now has a whole new roof. The previous roof was not a disaster, but it needed to be replaced, as there was some leakage and other issues that ultimately would have presented long-term problems if left unaddressed. The new roof is, I am told by my wife, whose professional experience is directly relevant to this information, a 50 year-colonial slate dimensional shingle, which basically means that this roof will almost certainly outlive me. There are flat surfaces on the roof which have been resealed, and masonry work which has been updated. This was all not inexpensive. On the other hand, now that it’s done, I probably don’t have to think about it again, and if I do, it’s very likely our insurer’s problem. Which is great.

Second, we are redoing the balconies of the church. The previous balconies were multi-level, to accommodate tiered rows of seating, and also, thanks to a cantilevered overhang, not exactly structurally sound; when we got the church, the (too-low) railing of the balconies were peeling away from the wall. We are making the balconies all one level, removed the cantilevered part and are going to be putting on a taller, rather more secured railing. The balcony areas are going to be my combination library and chill out area, and are going to be pretty awesome when they’re done. I’m really looking forward to this area being completed.

Third, we are redoing the concrete retaining walls that surrounded the church property, elevating it up from the street — here you can see, by way of a retaining wall that’s already been removed, how far up from the street the church is (Krissy, five foot ten, presented for scale). The retaining walls were as old as the church and were not designed to let water drain out, so over the decades they degraded and tilted. The new retaining walls will have seep holes and better general design, and will again last for decades.

(You may notice that the area where new wall will go through also appears to go on the property of the house next door to the church. That is the old parsonage for the church, and we also bought that when we bought the church. Why? Among other reasons, so that we wouldn’t have to ask anyone else’s permission to, say, tear up a crumbling retaining wall and replace it something more structurally sound. No, you can’t come live in the parsonage; the previous owners were already renting it out and we kept the tenants. They’re lovely.)

There’s more going in inside the church, particularly in the basement area where we’re revamping the kitchen and putting in another bathroom, but that’s for another update. For now, a lot of big things are getting done, and the church will be better than ever because of it. I’ll be happy when it’s all done.

— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Kali Wallace

Current events have had a hand in Kali Wallace’s newest novel Hunters of the Lost City, but as Wallace points out in this Big Idea, some elements of it are taken from facts that are perennial, for better or worse.


You ever have one of those ideas that you really, really wish you didn’t have to think about? Like maybe one day you’re just minding your own business, plugging away at a your next children’s book that’s full of monsters and magic and adventures–you know, fun things–and you look up from your desk and you realize, oh right, oh no, the world outside is still a flaming garbage fire and somehow that has infested everything you write.

I don’t want to get into how this is my pandemic book. Everybody is tired of hearing about pandemic books. I’m tired of it too. It can be a bit wearying to look at a book and think, “Yup, I sure was feeling some kind of way about the world when I wrote that.”

Hunters of the Lost City is, in fact, a fun kids’ book full of monsters and magic and adventure. It really is, I promise. It’s about a brave girl gets into a lot of scrapes and trouble trying to learn more about her home, her family, and herself. There’s magic. Monsters. A bakery. A lost city. Scheming sorcerers. You know. Everything a fantasy book needs!

But amidst all that fun is the big idea that underlies the story, the one that wormed its way in as I was writing and revising, the one that I now recognize is unstoppable bleed-over from the real world. And that is the fact that the stories we tell ourselves and our children about the history of our communities and our societies are very rarely the complete truth.

I always knew this was going to be a book about an isolated community, but what the meant evolved throughout the writing process. My initial idea was more of an aesthetic than an idea: a peaceful walled town in the mountains, bright and idyllic during the daytime, but both surrounded by danger when darkness falls and shadows by its own secrets. The story is told from the point of view of twelve-year-old Octavia, for whom the past events that resulted in the town believing they are alone in the world are distant history. She is concerned about the here and now, not about tragedies that happened decades before she was born.

But part of growing up is learning that everything is connected to what has come before–and that adults often lie through their teeth about what that means. Sometimes they don’t mean to, as they are only repeating what they have been taught. Sometimes they do it on purpose. It’s not always easy to tell the difference.

I love writing middle grade fiction precisely because it’s for and about an age group that is starting out on the frightening, confusing, and wonderful journey of figuring out what it means to be a person in a big, messy world. This means learning that your parents are fallible. Your teachers are not telling you everything. There are people whose lives are nothing like yours. There are people in power who make terrible choices. There are times when people can believe they are doing the right thing and still cause so much harm.

Octavia’s story is both a journey through a magical land and one through the tangled quagmire of her home’s history, one that has been clouded for a long time under the lie of safety and protection. I wish this didn’t end up being such a timely concept. I wish I wasn’t having to say, “Well, this book is in part about how adults fabricate lies about history for their own personal gain,” while school boards and politicians across the US having full-on histrionic freakouts over the idea that schoolchildren might learn uncomfortable truths about the world.

And I wish kids didn’t have to deal with all that adult stupidity, but they do. Because the other thing about being ten, eleven, twelve years old is that kids see and understand so much more than grown-ups give them credit for.

Hunters of the Lost City: Amazon|Barne&Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

There are an Educator Guide and Activity Kit available from Quirk Books.

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