Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Two Debuts: HIGH FIVE and THE STAR

This is the type of mail I love!!! My poem in Highlights High Five and a book review in the parish newsletter!!! I confess I feel like a *star* though most people will say, crazy cat lady. But I hope many people pick up ATGIB. This particular issue is a keeper not just because I wrote in here but for the goodbye pictures of Jack and our new parish choir and youth group directors' stories. Feeling so very blessed for our Stella Maris Church family.
 
 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Gosnell: the untold story of America's most prolific serial killer

https://www.amazon.com/Gosnell-Untold-Americas-Prolific-Serial/dp/1621574555/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509472079&sr=8-1&keywords=gosnell+the+untold+story+of+america%27s+most+prolific+serial+killer&dpID=41fPtspiUWL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srchGosnell is one of the most important and most difficult books I've ever read. That this book has been written by an Irish couple is interesting. Are Americans so in love with abortion that they cannot write honestly about it? I wonder.

I thank Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer for doing the horrendous and horrific research to write Gosnell and the law enforcement officials like Jim Woods, who did not forget what they saw at a drug raid, and went back to investigate. I wish that along with Gosnell, the government officials who abdicated their responsibility and purposefully neglected their duties could also be incarcerated.

This book has so many different layers. There's Gosnell's story, how he looked like a pillar of society, providing a "necessary service" for the poor women in his community, and then there's the story of the people in their nice offices in Harrisburg, PA, who shrugged their shoulders at the complaints coming about Gosnell's practice. "People die," one government official said. I wonder if this could've happened in a rich suburb in PA. We have stories of the women who were in dire straits, who mistakenly thought there was no other way, women who were forced by their mothers or boyfriends, and we have the stories of the short lives of the babies who were in effect beheaded (their spinal cords were snipped): the baby who curled up because he was cold, the baby who tried to swim in the toilet, the baby who cried out. 

The grand jury report was damning. For decades, patients and employees sent written complaints to the Department of Health but the clinic at 3801 Lancaster was not inspected. No matter what Gosnell did, butchering both women and babies as late as 34 weeks, there were no consequences. The governor himself "put a blanket of invincibility around the doctor and his house of horrors."

The judge did not want the grand jury's report to become fodder for anti-abortion activists. The case wasn't about abortion, which is barbaric even when done right. It was to interpret the born-alive law. Gosnell didn't do a plea bargain; he was sure of his acquittal given that the judge and jury were pro-abortion. The District Attorney's office was frustrated about spending taxpayer money putting a man on trial for murdering babies that their mothers didn't want in the first place. Did they even have a case?

Ann and Phelim ask the hard questions. "So many in the pro-life world fear to ask this: If abortion is murder, then why weren't the mothers prosecuted too? Weren't they at the very least accessories to the crime? Like getaway car driver for bank robbery. The mothers were paying for the killing. They had to make the evidence of Gosnell's guilt so overwhelming that the jury would ignore the possible culpability of the mothers in the crime."

What's chilling is that Gosnell was convicted of murder because he killed the babies after they were born. We only know about 50 or so because investigators found their frozen or refrigerated remains, but one can imagine how many thousands of babies Gosnell killed over a period of 30 years. However, had he killed them inside the mother's womb, it is legal. This should make us all stop and think.

Why?

Why is the baby in the womb not a person?
Why is he or she not afforded protection?
Why do we want to keep abortion legal at all costs?

Ann and Phelim aren't extraordinarily religious, nor were they ever interested in the pro-life cause, but in examining Gosnell, they were changed. Ann said that words failed her. How does one write about such evil? The only thing she could compare it to is Auschwitz--the place where man forgot his humanity.

I wept reading this book. So will you. Pray to end abortion. Parce Domine. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Not Reading

I hate posting negative reviews because this is a subjective business. However, when you receive books for reviews, you are obligated to post a review and I've procrastinated for months. So let's just say that I really wanted to enjoy STILL HERE by Lara Vapnyar. I happen to enjoy a wide variety of immigrant stories. I was also expecting something funny from the flap copy. One of the characters, Sergey, is making an app to preserve your online presence after your death. It's a good premise and I was expecting some commentary on our virtual selves, what we present to the world, and what happens after we die. Will my blog remain in perpetuity? Will Facebook keep sending memories? Does it even matter? However, the novel focuses more on the relationships between the four Russian characters trying to make it in New York. And I would gladly have followed these characters around if I liked them, but I did not connect to them, nor cared about their future. I couldn't finish this book. I do thank Blogging for Books for a review copy and I'm cross-posting this to Amazon. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dappled Things and a Contest


Dappled Things: a quarterly of ideas, art & faith is a beautiful literary Catholic magazine. The three issues I perused were lovely and I kept thinking a subscription would make a lovely Christmas gift for a Catholic writer with poetry, articles, fiction, and art to inspire their own. My favorites in the sample issues were Daniel Mitsui's article about medieval art and his own gorgeous art, Michael Rennier's interview with Sally Read, author of Night's Bright Darkness, which I'd reviewed earlier. Lots of good poems.



They hold two annual writing contests and the deadline for fiction is coming up -- Nov. 24th. See submission guidelines here. No entry fee. Nice prizes! Good luck, all y'all.



 


 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Conversation with Katie Kennedy


I have yet to meet Katie Kennedy in person but I can't wait until our paths cross in a corn-field or at a writing retreat. It's been great getting to know her behind the curtain on the SCBWI Message Board where we both serve as moderators and where she brings a lot of levity to even serious topics. A professor of history, she's also the author of WHAT GOES UP as well as LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA (a title I will steal someday because it's true :), both action-packed stories of smart kids who save the world. Please join me with a cup of tea for a chat with Katie.
Katie, I loved WHAT GOES UP, your sophomore novel. And I must say you bested yourself. Way to go! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
Thank you!
What I don’t know is how you managed to write such a fast-paced book with some weighty subjects like parallel universes and extra-dimensions along with many philosophical implications in just a little over 300 pages!
I’ve always been fascinated by ethical issues, so including trolleyology in WHAT GOES UP was natural for me. My first book, LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA, was sparked by an Immanuel Kant quotation: Do what is right, though the world should perish. I thought, What if it really would perish? So I tend to include a little philosophy in with the sci fi hijinks, because that’s what catches my own imagination.
These are the questions that matter and it makes your books that much richer. For readers who don’t know what trolleyology is, here’s a video showing a toddler solving this moral dilemma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N_RZJUAQY4. There are variations, like throwing a fat man off a bridge to stop the trolley. But I was really impressed with how you solved the problem, Katie.
There’s a LOT of action in your books. I’d love some tips for writing believable action scenes.
One thing to remember is that people don’t have long conversations while they’re falling out a window. The character’s focus will be pretty sharply on the action.
Got it!
It helps to have cooperative children, too. When I was doing revisions for LTSIA I knocked on our son’s door.
Me: Got a minute?
Him: What for?
Me: I want to dangle you off a bridge.
Him: Yeah, okay.
When I was revising WGU we had the same conversation, only with me asking to throw him down a staircase. I’m a little concerned at how readily he agreed.
Laughing. You do have cooperative children!
Of course I didn’t really do those things, but it did help to have him hang off our staircase railing—with his feet a couple of inches off the floor—so I could see if Dovie really could haul Yuri off the bridge the way I said, or for WGU, if the staircase tumble scene would work. In both cases I changed something slightly, because it turns out the human arm isn’t long enough for what I had written. Stupid arms.
You always make me laugh, Katie. Did you have the most fun making up the competition? I loved Schroedinger's Scorpion!!! Pure genius. 
I sure did! I thought about what would be fun and I always enjoy reading about tests or trials, so I thought I’d write some. It was a blast! I came up with more tests than I could use in about an hour—the brainstorming was a breeze.
So now you have some challenges for future characters!
Your characters came alive for me from the beginning. I loved that you didn’t make Rosa act like a guy. I get so tired of the trope with smart girls relegated to acting like boys. Not only is she pretty and feminine and has a purse that she carries to the parallel universe, she even bleeds like a regular girl. Please tell me how she developed for you.
Sometimes characters just present themselves to you, but Rosa wasn’t one of them. So I sat down to try to figure her out, got frustrated, but pressed on, spending hours going through character-development worksheets, and…no, I’m just kidding. I got on Facebook.
And a friend had just posted a photo of her daughter as a bridesmaid, walking with the bride in a garden after the service. They had their heads together and were looking down, laughing—it was such a sweet moment, and it was all magazine-level beautiful. I looked at my friend’s daughter and thought, That’s Rosa! I made her shorter, but it was that photo that gave me the starting point for the character. Some of Rosa’s femininity may spring from that—because they were wearing gorgeous dresses and carrying flowers, and that may have spilled over into her character.
Lovely story! Next is Eddie with Daddy issues. I didn’t expect the twists and turns you took with him, but everywhere you took me, it felt right. Did you know from the start the complications with his Dad? Or did you make it up as you went along?
Eddie is one of those characters who came to me pretty much in his entirety right from the beginning. Once I realized his name was Eddie, I knew almost everything about him—and his father was a big part of that.
That is fascinating, how he came fully formed to you, whereas Rosa needed some work. They’re both extremely believable and such a joy to spend time with.

With November right around the corner, I must ask if you are a pantser or a plotter, and if you have any tips for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month--the goal being to write a 50K novel in the month of Nov.)?  
I’m a hybrid. I need to have the hook—what’s it about?—and some idea of the midpoint, the end, and what I like about it. I just spent two days of really hard work outlining a book in more detail than usual, and when I looked at the outline it had all the elements—character arcs, stakes, etc. But it didn’t look fun, so I scrapped it and came up with another idea. I don’t have it outlined as well—and I know I’ll hate myself when I hit the spot I always have in my outlines where it says, “Write something interesting for a hundred pages,”—but I’m excited about writing this one.
Yay!   
I guess my advice for Nanowrimo is to remember your goal. The word count is a task, but the goal is to come up with a first draft. If you know a scene isn’t working or you have to spend a day rethinking something, it’s okay to go backward a little if it brings you closer to the goal. It’s like taking a coat off a hook—sometimes you can’t get it down until it’s gone up a little.
Good distinctions. I love the stage when everything is possible. But hate when the middle sags and I'm easily distracted by every shiny new idea.
How long does it take for you to write a first draft? Revisions?
It takes four or five months for a draft for me. Revisions depend a lot on what is being requested, but it's usually fairly fast because there are people waiting. One thing I find very helpful is not to read the editor's letter on my phone or at work even though the suspense is deadly. I wait till I'm home, and alone, and get a clipboard and lots of clean paper and as I read her letter I write down absolutely everything that occurs to me. Dancing kangaroos? I write it down. There's something about that first burst of creativity when you get a revision letter that's incredibly fruitful. I looked back at my tangle of clipboard notes after I'd revised LTSIA--and she had me add ten thousand words--and every single change of any size came in that first spurt of imagination.
Great advice to not squander the creativity that comes with the editorial letter. Dancing kangaroos?!
Your father is a storyteller too. How about your children? Do you ever brainstorm with them? I wonder what your family gatherings are like.
Yeah, Dad is a very gifted oral storyteller and our family gatherings are full of stories. As for the kids, one is talkative and the other is quiet, but they both have a sly wit and are tremendously funny.
Aha! So humor runs in your family too. It is a great gift, my friend. And someday I hope you write a memoir of all your adventures.
I never brainstormed with anyone until the book I just wrote (the one after WHAT GOES UP)—I’m very secretive about my ideas, not because I don’t trust people, but just because I need to protect my creative space. But something wasn’t working and I was frustrated and ran into both kids in the kitchen as we converged for a late night snack. So I unloaded on them and they fired off ideas faster than I could write them down, and I realized they have an incredible understanding of story structure. I’ve been missing out by not asking for their advice before. Now part of my process will be to bake more pies so I can lure them into the kitchen for brainstorming sessions.
That sounds so good. Now you'll have all the neighbors coming over too. I agree with you about keeping works-in-progress, especially in the early stages, close to your heart, not talk it away. There's a delicious tension in carrying about an idea in secret, playing what if with it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I have a scene with an inflatable snake, and that was adapted from my own life. When I was in grad school I shared a house with a bunch of other students. A couple of the engineers got an extremely realistic inflatable snake and calculated its volume, how the temperature of my refrigerator would change its pressure, etc. Then they inflated it to the correct poundage, crammed it in my refrigerator, and studied in the dining room until I walked in and opened my refrigerator door. This lifelike cobra sprang out at me and oh, there was screaming.
Laughing!!! That's a great scene.
Think twice before you live with an engineer.
Too late for me. Who knows what's lurking in the attic? 
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this Katie. What’s next on the horizon?
I just finished one YA (young adult novel) and am starting another, revising a MG (middle grade), have a NF (nonfiction) proposal out, and am working on a secret book.
Boy, you are fast!!! And I love secret books!!! Any chance one of these is a historical? I’m always a little bit surprised you don’t have one out already, given your amazing background in history. Which brings me to another question—are you pegged as a sci fi writer? Does your editor only want those kinds of stories or would she look at something completely different?
The nonfiction proposal is historical and the MG I'm revising has a medieval setting, but I do think people expect something sciency from my novels--if not space, at least something STEM-related (science/technology/engineering/medicine). I have a fantasy outlined and ready to go if that ever seems like a viable project.
Ah yes, the power of the brand. I hope ALL your projects find good homes and faithful readers. Good luck!!! And thank you for sharing so much here. To learn more, visit Katie at http://www.katiekennedybooks.com/home.html 

 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Happy Fall Y'All and Happy 100th Anniversary of Fatima

It might be the season of spiders and pumpkins, but I am totally smitten with these Halloween kittens. It's taken them a long time to own us but now they demand to be petted (or else there's a love bite). It's such a comfort to have a cat in bed with me again. They still are terrified of new people and run away when they hear the dog bark, but discovering they are safe.
 


 



See how they help us? Whether it's cooking or writing or painting, they want to be a part of it. Dagny has been painting the drama sets for Sleepy Hollow with her friend.
 




 



I thought that perhaps our garden was finished--these were the last of the peppers I picked but Michael planted some lettuce and it's been so good to cut some to go with our supper every night. Ah, simple pleasures.



We still go to the beach in the evenings, but it's a bit chilly to go swimming. Not like this beach down in Florida. I have a feeling Max is having too good a time down at Ave Maria. 



 
 
Today is another Friday the 13th to celebrate! Another 100th anniversary! The first I wrote about here. A reminder to pray, pray, pray without ceasing for continual conversion. Oh Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Reading, Writing, and Praying

I can't believe how quickly this year is going. Already it's October, the month of Mary. I was so happy to sing Salve Regina after Mass. I wish we sang it all the time. At home, we always sing it but it's so lovely to have a hundred voices along with organ accompaniment.

I received a review copy of Bead by Bead: the Scriptural Rosary by Meggie K. Daly. Part memoir, part history, part prayer book, it is a perfect little companion for when it is difficult to pray and stay focused. It can be hard to meditate upon the Mystery and say the Hail Mary so I purchased a rosary book with pictures. Meggie takes it one step further and provides Scripture for each bead. With multiple readings, you will have these verses memorized so you can take them on a rosary-walk and allow yourself to enter into that contemplative stage.

I hope Meggie will write a similar book for the Divine Mercy chaplet. We sure do need it. Las Vegas. Need I say more? Parce Domine.



Pierced by a Sword by Bud Macfarlane was the first book I received at the Catholic Writing Conference. And if you write to St. Jude Media/Catholicity, you can receive your own copy for free. The story is set in modern times with breakdown of family and society. We meet people very much like ourselves who may be practicing Catholics or lukewarm ones or with no belief in God at all and how they play a role in God's plan of salvation. I've always wanted to write a story about prayer standing outside of time and space and Bud has shown this in his book, how the prayers of a poor woman are pouring out God's graces on another soul who needs them desperately. The book is both entertaining and spiritually enriching. My only critique is that the modern use of jump-cuts makes it difficult to enter into the psyche of the characters. But all in all, entertaining. I'm ordering the two other books in this apocalyptic series.
 
Playing by Heart by Carmela Martino is a lyrical historical based upon two real sisters in 18th century Milan who are given a private education to develop their natural talents. The older sister, Maria, is a mathematician and linguist, who longs to join a convent, whereas the second sister, Emilia, is a musician and composer. She's the narrator of this story, which by turns, is a story of striving for excellence, of persevering in love, and the willingness to sacrifice it all. It is, above all, a story of following your dreams that God has placed upon your heart. I enjoyed this book very much, especially as we've also been watching the lives of the great composers--Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven--and realizing how dependent musicians were upon the nobility who hired them. Carmela has compiled information about the two real sisters, Maria Gaetana and Maria Teresa Agnesi here where you can even listen to one of her compositions. 

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy is a wonderful follow up to her first book, Learning to Swear in America, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Some day I will steal that title :) I can just tell she had a blast writing this book about smart teenagers saving the world (again!). Fast-paced, fun, philosophical, and full of heart--this is a story you don't want to miss. Loved Schrodinger's Scorpion! 
 
I'm thinking Newbery for Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. It is a gorgeously written story about an orphan, Crow, who longs to know where she comes from (Does she come from Penikese, the leper colony?), who her people are (Is she the child of lepers? She might as well be the way some people treat her), and discovering who her family is. Towards the end of the book, Osh, the man who cares for her says, "You're the one worth finding." Yes!