Thursday, August 10, 2017

Catholic Writing Conference Part 2

I don't know how deadlines have crept up (I blame these books!) but thought I'd better finish my recap of the Catholic Writer's Conference before my brain turns to mush. Part 1 is HERE.

Fr. Andrew Apostoli knew Ap. Fulton Sheen and is his advocate for canonization. He is also the spiritual director for the CMN and celebrated Mass. At Wed. morning Mass, he spoke about how the Catholic Church is caught in a spiritual battle and what's at stake is the Catholic culture that has built up civilization. It's the right to life from conception until natural death. It's marriage. Proclaim these truths, live them, spread the message, and be an apostle of our Lady. She comes to help with all the best gifts. Pray for peace and conversion of sinners. Let her Immaculate Heart triumph. Let Christ reign in every heart.

Joe Wetterling is the current president of CWG. He went over the pursuit of our common goals, which is to rebuild a vibrant Catholic literary and artistic culture.

Donna Marie Cooper O'Boyle had an arresting title for her lecture: 10 Tips for Writing your Bestseller; however, the talk was very basic in that there are no secrets (write the book you want to write, give it your all, protect your writing space and time, develop your craft and style by studying and writing a lot, be objective, be a ruthless editor, pray, hope and don't worry). It's not that she set out to write a best-seller, but she wrote from her heart for other Catholic mothers and it resonated with her readers. Her writing is born out of her desire to serve.

Barbara Golder ( gave the most interesting lecture and it's borne out of her interesting life. She spoke about Catholic Imagination and Evangelization. She too quoted from Fr. Andrew Greeley's book (I'll have to get a copy) and showed how a Catholic sensibility allows us to see the holy in this material world. The Protestant imagination, in contrast, is in deep conflict with the material world, making pilgrims out of us (paraphrased from Runar Eldebo). And the thoroughly secular people see man as a blight of creation.

Barbara spoke about the Wizard of Oz as a very Catholic journey of the soul. It's funny, but I never picked up on the good witch as the Mary-type, or that Oz, an actual man, is a type of Jesus. The wicked witch is, of course, a type of the devil (I wasn't too dense to pick that up even as a kid). Now this is not necessarily what the author intended but this is what she saw given she's a cradle Catholic and how she views the world.

She described what imagination is: it is literally image-ing--picturing oneself in relationship with something new, a new creation, be it a book or jewelry or a piece of art. The Catholic imagination brings light to the world; it touches the God-shaped hole in our hearts. It allows us to hear, to be heard, to be accepted, to belong, and to be valued, whether we are rich or poor, in society or in the margins. It reminds me very much of the artist statement I made in response to Mitali Perkins' Why do you write? My answer: to give a voice to the voiceless. No wonder Barbara's lecture resonated so deeply within me.

Quote from a pillow: Live in such a way that those who know you but don't know God will come to know God because they know you.

Lisa Mladinich gave a very practical lecture on How to Talk about your Book. She is a founding member of CWG and so beautiful and wise. Actually, I thought this of all the people I met -- how beautiful and authentically Catholic they are, how enmeshed in the faith, and they didn't have to run away from God to realize what they're missing. There's a lot to be said for people who are raised in the faith and who begin to own it as adults. They are rich beyond compare. 

Lisa is on radio and TV and the perfect person to give this talk. In fact, there was an opportunity for people who had new books out to be interviewed and I'm gleefully going through many of them since it's impossible to listen to all the speakers you want to. Here's the link:

On with the tips: have a press kit ready, let people know, know the show or venue (watch for tone), be organized (don't read your notes), prepare (materials, space, mentally, physically, spiritually). Her point on spiritual warfare was spot on. Expect difficulties--the devil likes to mess with you. Be on guard and turn to God. You wouldn't be suffering if you weren't doing something of value. Bonus tip: pay it forward. Practice generosity. 

Many of us are introverts and it's difficult to promote our work, but this is part and parcel of being a writer. She recommended The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard Johnson. 

By the way, she has a lovely new book perfect for teachers and homeschooling moms and dads beginning the new school year: Heads Bowed.

John Desjarlais gave a lecture on literary vs. commercial fiction and where the two meet. What they both have in common is that they're hard to write :) He shared a quote from Gaudium et Spes by Pope Paul VI: " ________ seeks to probe the true nature of man, his problems, and experiences, as he strives to know and perfect himself. and the world, to discover his place in history and the universe, to portray his miseries and joys, his needs and strengths, with a view to a better future." You could literally fill in your own name or the name of your book.

Ann Lewis was another practical writer who gave tips on pitching books to publishers. I met her at the noon Angelus and I just knew she does everything to make things smooth for others. So imagine my delight in hearing she was recognized for her hard work.

So the tips. Finish the manuscript or proposal. Do the research. #1 reason for rejections is that your story is a bad fit for the publisher. Be prepared with your hook/premise of story.

Here's a little fill-in-the-blank to help you with the elevator pitch: MC is a [brief description] who [standard state of affairs] until [name your inciting incident of the story]. Now [this is the MC's problem] and [this is what MC must do to solve it].

Have synopsis ready and yes, that means giving away the ending. Categorize your book (fiction, NF, inspirational, devotional, historical, etc.), your experience and platform. Address the publishers needs.

I had a good pitch session with the editor at Ignatius. They publish very little fiction but she asked for the full of my novel anyway. The editor was very interested in the conversion story so it looks I have a book I need to write! It was so providential to have written the blog post earlier because I could give that to her. Some day I hope my books will be displayed in this booth!

Thursday Breakfast was sponsored by Ignatius Press. Daniel Matson spoke about his new book: Why I Don't Call Myself Gay. He talked about being a young man and wondering what plans God had for him. Jeremiah 29:11 was always on his mind: For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. He said that anybody who struggles with same sex attraction should be in the Catholic Church because it's the safest place to be, where you can recognize your dignity as a child of God. He quotes one of my favorites verses John 10:10: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. That's what the Church offers. It helps people with same sex attraction to carry this cross of suffering and unite it to Christ's. It's a book about being chaste (which is for everybody!) in all stages of your life, whether single, married, divorced, widowed.

Edward Sri gave the keynote. He spoke about the crisis facing our children today. They might have received a Catholic education but the vast majority go off to college and lose the faith. He gave the example of his neighbor's raspberry plants that crept up underneath his fence and grew and bore fruit. But after the neighbor left, the plants withered. Sri watered them, but they didn't survive. They were literally being choked by bindweed. And this is what is happening to our children. The culture (ie, the soil in which they are exposed to) chokes them. It's not enough to just water them, we have to have tools to strip away the weeds of confusion. His latest book, Who Am I to Judge: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love, is an answer to the questions we face. Young people, especially want to be loving and nice. They don't want to discuss the difficult issues with their friends for fear of being ridiculed or God-forbid--be accused of being judgmental. However, we need to make a distinction between judging actions vs. judging the state of somebody's soul. He gave the example of judging what the weather is so we can choose whether we want to take an umbrella. We also judge what the traffic is like on our street, whether we give permission for our children to play there. It isn't very loving to allow our children to play on the street. In the same way, it's not very loving to not say anything to your friends if they are engaging in immoral behavior. After all, it's going to hurt them. The opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference. Many young people start adding two little words after they state their position. Ex. Abortion is wrong "for me." As if truth were a flavor of ice cream, a preference. Truth is a Person.

Fr. Don Calloway reminded us to use our rosaries--it is the weapon of choice. Many difficult battles have been fought and won with the aid of the rosary. He has written 26 Champions of the Rosary. I didn't know that Sr. Lucia asked for the rosary to be made into a liturgical prayer.

Marie Bellet sang songs for us and later that night, we had an impromptu gathering with her and several others in the hotel lobby: Tom, Tony, Cesar, Alyssa, Ann, Virginia, Lisa. We sang songs and it reminded me so much of my college days when we had musical evenings at our home. Marie is a wife and mother of nine children and sings about the very ordinary made extraordinary through grace. I loved her song she wrote for her husband: He's a Daddy

I signed up for Fiction Critique with Arthur Powers and was so impressed with the quality of the writing and the stories themselves. It was a fruitful time spent with Cathleen Calhoun, Dennis Lambert, Monique OcampoBetty Scheetz (1st century expert!) and Janet Tamez.

Later there was a panel discussion on what it means to be a deeply Catholic artist with Arthur, Ellen and Lisa. All three recommended reading Pope Saint John Paul II's Letter to Artists and writing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, beginning first with a prayer. I often pray: dear Jesus, write with me. Lisa made me laugh with how she asks the Blessed Mother to aid her in her needs, first being a literary agent, then a booking agent, and now even a travel agent. But our Lady never disappoints. Also it's important to pray for discernment in the work we do. Another simple prayer: Lord, let it be yours. If not, take it away. God is very responsive when we are eager to do His will, live in His Divine Will.

Ellen Gable was such a delight to listen to. She spoke about being patient, letting things unfold in God's time. And also allowing God to make good things out of suffering and losses. It's funny but we've had her Live the Fast books for a while but didn't get serious about it until this year. It's been phenomenal to pray AND fast. It's packs a one-two punch, the best spiritual warfare ever. That's what was so great about this conference. We've been building our Catholic library bit by bit and so already had a feeling of knowing some of the authors a little bit. We prayed the Litany of Humility. This is so very hard for me because of my big, fat ego but these beautiful women and men reminded me that we are praying for the grace to desire these virtues. And yes, when you pray, you are tested. Ouchie.

Evening Mass was celebrated by Fr. Frank Pavone and what an important ministry he has in fighting abortion, the greatest evil of our time. There are many rights to be defended but they all depend on the right to life. So many politicians speak about the right to kill. They must understand the difference between defending the public and killing the public. He mentioned how we were on the brink of falling off the cliff last year. Today we are in a different place. We are moving in the right direction in favor of defending life and we should support our leaders. He made an excellent point about the separation of church and state. The state shouldn't endorse any particular religion, but the clergy must be able to preach the Word of God and apply it to the circumstances of the day. Freedom of speech doesn't stop at the steps of the cathedral.  We were reading the account when Moses gets his mission, how overwhelmed he is, how he doesn't feel like he can do it. But God qualifies the people He chooses. He spoke about the name of God--I AM--and how He promises to be with His people. It is a name that saves. He saves His people who are enslaved and oppressed and in exile.

I began and ended the conference with a visit with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I'm already plotting how best to get to Chicago next summer!

So lovely to have met you all. I'm here with Carmela Martino. She has a new book coming out from Vinspire! Amy Cattapan, Teresita Ong, me, Monique and Cesar Chacon. And Cathy Gilmore, me, Amanda Lauer, Virginia Pillars and Meggie Daly. God bless you and I hope to see you next year! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Birthday and a Death Day

Today I celebrate my brother's birthday, a brother whom I never met. He died before I was born. I knew him only through stories my mother told me. Oh, the power of story to linger in our memories! I long to meet him and I know I will when I get to heaven. My mother, when she was dying, told us she could see her father and her son, who had both preceded her in death. The veil between heaven and earth had parted. She must've had a very holy death.

Today I happened upon the sad news of a dear friend dying (yesterday, the Feast of the Transfiguration). She is the most courageous woman I know. She fought cancer for the five years I knew her. And with a smile. She prayed a lot, offering up her suffering to God for her husband, her two beautiful girls, her many relatives and friends. I was one of the blessed recipients. I'm afraid I wasn't a very good friend though. Forgive me.

Liberty dear, in the short time I knew you, you taught me to suffer well, to accept everything, and to love well. May you enjoy the company of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all in heaven. Pray for me even as I pray for thee. And I promise to pick up the phone more often. Requiem aeternam!

Doesn't this picture made by her daughter light up the screen?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Jesus, we thank You for the sweat

We got a lovely surprise in the mail today--this poem published in our parish newsletter. How is it that this young man of 18 understands redemptive suffering when even I, a grown woman of 52, struggle mightily with it? Deo gratias!!!   

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Family Fun

My side of the family is scattered far and wide, though at several times my brother and sister have lived in the same area. I was always so jealous because they'd get together frequently. For nearly a dozen years we enjoyed living within driving distance to Michael's parents and siblings and it was so lovely to grow closer together. I always appreciated the time and effort my in-laws took to visit us at least once a month, if not more. And since we've moved away to SC, we've still managed to visit them, thanks to their generosity.

My parents have lived the academic life, full of students and colleagues, with trips to deliver papers all over the world. They'd come to visit us or we'd visit them, but it was typical to let 5+ years go by, which most people think is terrible. However, we were a fractured family from my childhood, so absence was the norm, rather than the exception. It is rather sad we have so few shared memories. But it is what it is, and perhaps even a part of the reason for having a writing life, for we all are a family of letter writers. We express ourselves best through letters. By chance I came across a box of letters and this envelope with a letter and some pictures from our time in Belgium was right on top. It brought back memories of our happy time visiting with both sets of parents. I am very, very thankful to be able to spend several days with my parents after the Catholic Writing Conference. And I hope we won't let another 5 yrs pass by before making a visit. I am determined to make this happen again next year. Wish me luck! I must sell a book or two :)

My father is no longer hale and hearty as he used to be. He had a bad fall two years ago; he broke his femur, so now has a metallic half-hip. He lives in a lot of pain but remains cheerful, taking pleasure in all the small things life has to offer. My parents have established a routine that allows them to have interaction with people and given that they are both professors, enjoy sharing their wisdom with young people. I was so heartened to see how kind people are everywhere they went, at the grocery store, restaurant, library.

Here are some scenes. I must admit that my father reminded me very much of Ove from the book and movie, A Man Called Ove :)  Also, any time I visit a new library, I check to see whether my books are available and here, they carried the Spanish translations of my Capstone books too!!! Fun to see them. And isn't it funny that my step-mother could be my biological mother? We have the same curly hair and round faces. I love her. She makes wonderful Mexican and Indian food and dotes on my dad. I finally got to share Ten Easter Eggs with them!  


Friday, July 28, 2017

Dialogue -- It's Not Just Talk

You all must think I'm a blogging maniac (3 posts in as many days :) but I needed to refer to this article and discovered it still wasn't live. So resurrecting this from the web archives: Dialogue -- It’s Not Just Talk


“Molly’s gone!”

“That can’t be right.”

These are the first lines of three different stories.  Notice anything?  They all start with a child talking.  Forget setting and description.  Open the child’s mouth and hear what that child has to say.

 Three Ways to Use Dialogue

“Stop!” yelled Tim.  Amy whirled around.  “You left your stuff.”

“Thanks,” said Amy, taking her backpack.  She felt silly for running down the hall.  She’d already missed the bus.

Let conversation carry the plot.  There is time for narration and back-story.  Why was Amy running down the hall?  Maybe Tim and Amy will take a walk together and discover something.  So will the reader.  Weave action and description with dialogue.  Your readers should be able to see and hear the characters in their heads.

Too often, we start our stories too early.  By the time we understand our character’s background, the reader is yawning and reaching for something else to do.  Chances are, if you involve the reader immediately in the story, he or she will understand our character’s motivation by the end of the story.

I don’t mean that you should always start your stories with people talking.  Sometimes, a sentence or paragraph is required to set the mood.  But just as an exercise, try writing a scene beginning with talk.  Take your story-child to a park, a zoo or a bus-station.  Let the child talk and find out what happens.  You may be amazed at how fast the story unfolds.  Let dialogue quicken the pace your story.

Watch children at a library or a bookstore.  They will flip through a book and select a snippet to read.  And more often than not, they are reading dialogue.  Dialogue means at least two people talking.  It is not idle chit-chat, unless you want to show that the character is concerned with the trivial.  Dialogue moves the story forward.  And it gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters you have created first-hand.

Give everybody talking a unique voice.  For that, you have to let your characters talk in your head.  A young child may speak of being scared of the dark or loving the whoosh of the slide.  An older child may complain about homework.  A teenaged girl may agonize over and over-analyze the actions of a boy she likes.  Foreign kids may pepper their speech with their native language.  Let your characters talk to YOU.  I do that and sometimes the chattering in my head is so loud that I cannot sleep at night.  Although this may seem like an insane thing to do, you won’t regret it.  My characters love to talk and they do things that surprise me.  I pick up my pencil and scribble down what they’re saying as fast as I can.  Let dialogue bring a flat, puppet-like character to life!

Dialogue: What It’s Not

Staying true to your characters doesn’t mean that you must use slang, bad language or dialects.  It is distracting, difficult and entirely unnecessary.  Readers will supply the accent when they read it.  Dialogue is meant to resemble people talking, not a literal transcription.  My very first writing teacher, Peggy King Anderson, said, “Dialogue is the illusion of conversation.” 

Five Rules to Remember:

Dialogue is one place where your mechanics can get sloppy.  So brush up.  You don’t want to have a great story sent back because the editor is wary of working with someone who is careless. 

Rule 1.  Always change paragraphs when you change speakers.

“Molly’s gone!” said Tim.

“She’s in big trouble,” said Mom, glaring.

Rule 2.  Tag your dialogue. 

It isn’t always clear who said what in a long exchange or when the characters first start talking.  Help the reader, especially the beginning reader.  It’s enough to say, Tim said, said Mom, etc.  Keep it simple.  You’ll bring attention to the tags if you use perfectly correct verbs like, responded, answered.  Use them sparingly.

Rule 3.  Make sure your characters say, speak, yell or shout those words.  The words will NOT glare, laugh or blink.

Wrong:  “She’s in big trouble,” glared Mom.

Right:    “She’s in big trouble,” said Mom, glaring.

Right:    “She’s in big trouble.” Mom glared.

Rule 4.  Use correct punctuation.

Spoken words and punctuation marks, like commas, periods, question marks, dashes and exclamation points go inside the quotation marks.  Do not capitalize the beginnings of tags unless you start a new sentence.  Here is a scene containing several examples of correctly punctuated dialogue.

“That can’t be right.”  I think aloud in my math class.

“What?” asks Mr. Hatch, turning around.

“You can’t divide by a minus b,” I say slowly, “because earlier you had set them equal to each other and division by zero ...”

“ illegal.”  Mr. Hatch completes my sentence.  I hate that.

Rule 5.  Read it aloud.

I always read my stories out loud to see where I stumble.  But reading dialogue aloud will help you to hear whether the speech sounds natural.

Dialogue:  it’s not just people talking.  Let it carry the plot, quicken the pace and bring your characters to life.  Lee Wyndham said it best.  “Let them do the talking!” 


1.     John C. Hodges et. al.  1994.  Harbrace College Handbook (Twelfth Edition).  Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

2.     Vincent F. Hopper et. al.  2000.  Essentials of English (Fifth Edition).  Barron’s Educational Series.

3.     Lee Wyndham and Arnold Madison.  1989.  Writing for Children & Teenagers (Third Edition).  Writer’s Digest Books.

"Dialogue: It's Not Just Talk" was first published in the Oct. 2003 issue of ICL's Rx for Writers.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Belmont Abbey and Summer Fun

While I was in Chicago at the Catholic Writing Conference, Dagny was at Belmont Abbey for their summer schola program. She had a wonderful time reading great books, discussing them, and enjoying the sights in Charlotte, NC. We had the opportunity to all go together to drop her off. Enroute, we stopped at St. Ann's for high Mass. That's what I call a perfect date!!!



We're having a lovely summer, full of wonderful opportunities for work and play. Dagny designed the tee-shirt for the youth group mission week. Max took time off work to participate and I'm so glad he had the opportunity to serve in a sustained manner. They had a day off for July 4th and you can see what fun they had playing in the lake!



Here she is riding off to work at Publix. We just love seeing our kids in the wild.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Catholic Writing Conference Part I -- Meeting Old Friends; Making New Friends

This was in the entrance of the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg. My friend Anne Bingham, whom I've known on the Blueboards for years offered to pick me up from O'Hare. It's not a short drive at all but Midwesterners are a hardy lot and she showed not a single sign of fatigue. She gave me a hug and said she brought me a present. And Marcia Hoehne jumped out of nowhere. I couldn't believe my eyes. It couldn't be! She had family visiting. But that hug was very real, as real as the enormous sandwiches we ate in the hotel restaurant. It was great to talk shop and family. I couldn't stop staring into their blue-blue eyes!!! Before they left, Marcia prayed over my head and I had an amazing time--completely headache free for the whole week I was in the Chicago area. It's a miracle!!! Praise God!!!



I've been a member of the Catholic Writer's Guild for three years. Only last year did I begin to get to know some of the members because the guild has a private Facebook place where we can share prayer intentions and writing stuff. It is one of the reasons I joined FB because this seems to be the way how a group of people with common interests communicate. So, what a pleasure to finally meet some of these folks and more while at the conference. What's brilliant is that they hold it in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network trade show where vendors and retailers can get together to see all the latest goodies.

So it was especially fun to listen to Mike Aquilina talk about his newest book that he wrote with his daughter: A History of the Church in 100 Objects. Many people read their way into Church, but most people don't care about theology or history; they want St. Joseph's statue and know how to bury it properly. Most Catholics are not scholars, but they practice the faith. And throughout much of history, the believers were illiterate. Their faith came from stuff rather than philosophy. Our faith is encoded in stuff. Matter matters to us. Our God gets mixed up with humans--He becomes Incarnate. He wrought miracles through the material. Biblical religion dares us to check the facts about the Ark, the Crucifixion, Resurrection, St. Peter's Basilica. Catholicism is a religion of stuff--sacramental.

Aquilina quotes Andrew Greeley from the Catholic Imagination: "Catholics live in an enchanted world: a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are merely hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility that inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. The world of the Catholic is haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of Grace."

I thoroughly enjoyed the trade show as well and wished I weren't flying because I would've loved to pick up even more things, not just books. As it is, I ended up mailing a box to myself and I can't wait to dive into all these beautiful new books.

Daily Mass, Adoration and Confession were offered. And the CMN set up pilgrimages. I was so torn because I'd just finished a little home retreat with Archbishop Fulton Sheen and the Little Flower but I have a great attraction to St. Maximilian Kolbe (born on his birthday, married on his Feast Day, and named my firstborn Max). I chose to go to Marytown, the national shrine of this great saint. It's a jewel in the diocese of Illinois. The pictures don't do justice. I had such a good time visiting with Deanna Klingel on the bus to Marytown and Brother Augustine was a wonderful narrator. I notice that monks and nuns everywhere are incredibly happy people!





Here are two wonderful gentlemen I got to meet, Bud McFarlane, one of the founding members of the CMN, and Amar Patel, mathematician/writer, who was inspired to write after he read Bud's books! He was just asking me whether I knew of him, and I did not, and there walked Bud out of a classroom. Amar fan-boyed over Bud. It was great! We got to talking and I lamented the loss of my favorite wooden rosary that I've touched to various relics and Bud was so kind, he gave me a St. Francis/St. Anthony medal that's been touched to different relics, including the True Cross!

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more. Part 2 HERE.