Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Sandy

Given that my mind is on the four last things -- heaven, hell, judgment, death -- I really appreciated this post on keeping Sandy in perspective.

God bless.


Happy All Hallow's Eve! We're not doing much at all, not even carving pumpkins, because it's been busy with sports and such. Our gourds from last year have lost their color; I should've thrown them out months ago. My daughter put some fall things out -- leaves, plastic pumpkins. I do love the bright colors, and our maple tree is turning red. Sandy brought a cold snap and that ought to speed up the process.

We'd debated not going out at all, but the kids want their candy. Heaven forbid they should go trick-or-treating as Saints or Angels. They said, "nobody will know who we're supposed to be." Well, wouldn't it be a great way to bring the story of a couple of Saints to folks in the neighborhood? But my children are far too embarrassed to speak of saints to the general public. That is sad on just too many levels.

As converts to Catholicism, we now bear the burden of having to undo things, and some things we simply cannot seem to. After years of being part of the secular culture, it is very difficult to give some of it up. Halloween was all about ghosts and goblins, pumpkins and candy. And that's pretty much what we transmitted to our children. When they were little, they dressed as cars or cats or tigers or mad scientists. That's all fine and good, but we missed the boat on something far deeper and spiritual. I can only thank God that Nov. 1st is the Feast of All Saints!

This year, my son wants to be Mitt Romney. We have some great oven mitts for him, and the political jokes are flying ... I suspect my son has been reading a bit too much Mark Steyn. My daughter wants to be a witch. A good one, I presume. I remember the longing to have powers ... Shh, I still do! And I'll probably don my cat ears. Meow. 

My children may never dress up as a Saint, but I pray they become saints.

Do click on the links if your girls or boys are interested in dressing up as a saint.

Good luck and God bless!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Feast Day!

This Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ our King in the traditional Latin Mass! Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 in response to growing nationalism and secularism. After Vatican II, this feast was shifted to the last Sunday before Advent, so most of you will celebrate it in a month.

Here is a link to Christus vincit, Christus Regnat.

Given that it's an election year, I couldn't be more pleased to celebrate this feast before the elections. What a great reminder. We have the laws of the land, but they can never, ever supersede God's laws. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Although economics might be high on most people's minds, I hope folks will look to Our Father ...

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  

Interestingly, the first Latin Mass we ever attended was in Seattle at the Church of North American Martyrs, and it was at the Feast of Christ our King. I was transported to a different plane with that High Mass. Although I *know* Mass is heaven on earth, it took the beautiful Gregorian music and incense for me to be utterly lost in it. Now that we sing in the choir, I find that I can get distracted by having to keep place, mark time, and making sure I don't butcher the Latin, but I try to remind myself I am joining angels in worship even if I mess up. And I think the Lord looks with affection at his servants who try hard.

We are preparing Faure's Requiem Mass for All Souls Day. Here's an excerpt of the Sanctus. I realize many of you might have heard this in a concert, but it is unbelievable to hear this during Mass. I hope you get a chance. Pray for all our beloved dead. And given Hurricane Sandy's destructive path, I can't help but say, prepare and pray. Not just for safety but also for death. We could all disappear from earth in a blink. Are we ready to meet our Maker?
May the Lord bless and protect us all, and grant us mercy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Editors

Have you said "thank you" to your editor recently?

Just this week, I finished a project that made me very appreciative of the good editors I've been blessed to work with. I started out writing for magazines and pretty much took my editors for granted ... until the time I worked with an editor who wasn't so very good. It made me realize how valuable and essential they are in helping me become a better writer, guiding me to say what I mean to say, untangling the messes I get myself into at time. Some of my favorites are ones I've worked with over and over again, like Paula Morrow, Beth Lindstrom, Marileta Robinson, Matthew Broadhurst, Sue Thies, and Mel Boring (RIP). Others I've worked with on only a single project, like Mary Jo Gediman, Sarah Schuette, Marianne Knowles, and others. Every one of them has taught me so much. If you ever get a chance to work with them, think of it as a great gift. Some of them are freelancing, so if you're in need of one, check them out. 

Thank you, my dear editors.

Here I am working with one of my dream editors, Stephen Roxburgh, at Chautauqua. He's the only one I've ever met. Others I'd like to work with some day -- Molly O'Neill, Cheryl Klein, Andrew Karre, and Sharyn November.

And here's a book that every children's writer should read: Dear Genius: the Letters of  Ursula Nordstrom. Great wit and wisdom.

In the meantime, do you have a favorite editor? Do share.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


We all need courage from time to time ... I'm passing on this lovely quote my friend found in The Poem of the Man God.

Jesus said, "...remember this: if you always wish to do the will of God, where the creature cannot persist, God comes with his angel to support the exhausted hero. When you are in anguish, do not be afraid of falling into cowardice or abjuration, if you persist in wanting what God wants. God will make you giants of heroism, if you remain faithful to his will. Remember that!"

God bless you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cotton Picking

Seventh and eighth graders at school got to go cotton picking! They learned all about the cotton gin, separating the cotton from the seed, and so much more. We have a little bag full of cotton, and my daughter and I will make some pillows for the dolls. My kids have loved the nonfiction books on all sorts of processes -- apple to pie, cotton to clothes -- but nothing beats seeing and doing for oneself. Thank you, Mrs. Hughes, for setting up this wonderful field trip.


I missed this event due to pressing deadlines and the need to get back to revisions on my historical YA, but you'll be sure I won't miss it the next time it is offered. Who knows, maybe I'll get to drive this thing ...

Have a great weekend.

Monday, October 15, 2012

On Russia

We had a visiting priest from Vladivostok, Russia this Sunday at Mass. Sometimes it takes an outsider to preach the truth, we are so complacent about the rights we take for granted in this country.

Fr. Myron spoke about the terrible toll abortion-on-demand takes, not just on the babies who lose their lives, but on the women. He cited the statistics. An audible gasp came when we heard the number eight. The average woman in Russia has eight abortions. He asked, what does this do to a woman? To kill her own child. It destroys marriages. It destroys society. It destroys her soul. And men are not immune. Right now older men have the highest rate of suicide. Why? Because 80% of marriages fail and the men get old and have nobody to take care of  them. There is no family. Oh, the government talks about social policies and what-not, but family is the unit of society and with the destruction of family life, old men commit suicide. He spoke about China's one-child policy and Europe's contraceptive mentality and how these societies are dying ... dying because they have no children.

He spoke about the lack of religious freedom and I'm so glad he made clear that it's not about freedom to believe whatever you want in your head. You can do that in any oppressive regime. But in a free society, one must be able to practice faith in the public square. You cannot say, go worship in your temple and mosques and churches, but don't bring it out into public. No, religious freedom means that you can gather in schools and places of work and talk about God and religion. That you should be able to pray at a football game. Those who do not wish to pray do not need to. It means you should not be forced to do things that go against religion.

This is where I am surprised at people who say they are Catholics, and say they accept the teachings of the Church, but do not practice it. There should be no disconnect between your faith and your life. If you believe that life begins at conception and is sacred, how can you support a law that says it is okay for a woman to snuff out that life?

Fr. Myron asked, you don't think we could become a country like Russia, with abortion-on-demand, where you cannot practice your religion? Think again. Politicians slowly eroded all religion from a nation that was Christian for 900 years. It can happen here, too. If we let it. If we elect leaders who do not have our country's best interest at heart. Vote carefully, with your conscience. Do not simply choose the leader because you belong to a particular party or race. Choose the leaders that will preserve your basic rights. The first of which is the right to life. All other rights stem from this first principle.


Choose life.

Here is a beautiful song by Matt Maher about turning around.

Below is help for those who are suffering:

And know that you can go to your parish priest for confession and absolution. It is one of the sacraments of healing. It can restore you to a full life.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.


Thursday, October 11, 2012


My daughter brought home a pretty red envelope from school. Imagine my surprise and delight at seeing a stack of thank you notes from school children (Grades 5-8). I did a little writing workshop for them the day before. Never before have I received such heartfelt appreciation from the students. My heart is full. Grateful. They especially loved the quote from Patti Gauch: A writer's heart must beat. A reader's heart must hear it. I can hear some of their hearts on the page.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hunting Island

Fall is such a beautiful time of the year. We went camping at Hunting Island this past weekend and it was wonderful to take a break from the usual routine and just enjoy the outdoors. We went through the lovely little town of Beaufort. There's a Marine Air Base nearby.

We had a fire, baked potatoes, the best chicken, bacon, and lots of junk food to eat. I tell you ... life is gooood!

The water was deliciously cool. I had a migraine, but floating and soaking up the sunshine made it better. Apparently I drifted quite a ways away. The children kept their eagle eyes on me, calling me ashore. The dog romped through the waves. She was born on Whidbey Island and when we first saw her, she was wading in the water with her grandmother. I wonder if any ancient memories were rekindled.  

There was time to relax, take walks, fish, collect shells, admire the driftwood and so much more ...

We ate at the Shrimp Shack after Sat. vigil Mass and was it ever good (both Mass and food).

We left footprints in the sand, drew pictures, wrote, and headed home ...

to a gorgeous sunset ...

I might disappear for a while as I hunker down to finish revisions as well as meet some of my other deadlines. I hope you will take the time to enjoy fall ... wherever you are.
God bless you.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Carolinas Conference Tid Bits

Kelly Starling Lyons gave a retrospective of multicultural fiction. I wasn’t even aware of some of the dreadful books featuring black children. It’s a painful past. We’ve come a long way from Black Sambo, but we still need to explore the depth and breadth of stories of the people of color. Altogether, less than 10% of all children’s books star children of color. Kelly was all grown up when she read her first PB with a black child on the cover – Something Beautiful. She was instantly drawn to it. Her advice: write authentic stories, promote the sharing of books and story-telling within the communities of color.

I had a chance to talk to Steve Mooser about the multicultural grant (WIP) and a new opportunity for writers of color – On the Verge Emerging Voices Award. It’s heartening to see SCBWI supporting and promoting the education and funding for these under-represented voices.

Agent Panel: Jen Rofe, Sarah LaPolla, Liza Pulitzer-Voges

Jen’s sweet spot is middle grade, and she thinks there’s a need for all kinds of books, just like we need vegetables, fruits and cookies. And true to form, I saw her nibbling some cookies.

Sarah comes from the adult literary side, but it’s hard to sell. She’s focusing on YA (both literary and commercial).

Liza is a veteran and likes it all (vegetables and cookies) – she does the gamut (PB through YA) and you should see her impressive list of clients.

Susan Chang from TOR (Sci/Fi/F) gave a very entertaining talk about trends and what she’d like to see more of. Basically, you can take any episode of Twilight or Star Trek and run with it. Let stories in Popular Science, Archeology, National Geographic, and Lives of the Saints inspire you. Laurence Yep, Kiki Hamilton, PJ Hoover are all TOR authors. Check them out.

Trends: Horror is coming back, paranormal romance is on its way out, dystopian is reaching saturation. But fear not! If you’ve written a spectacular SFF book, she’ll want to read it.

Quote: Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Everything is in the execution.

Books to help you on this writing journey:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
On Writing by Stephen King

Joan Holub talked about series books. She is a queen of it, having started on the illustration/design side to writing them. A good series will have main characters that readers can relate to. Think Junie B., Ramona, Percy. They have adventures, goals and stakes. They don’t necessarily have to save the world. For instance, her Goddess Girls series is about surviving middle school. So put on your thinking cap and go.

She didn’t speak much about nonfiction, but there is huge series potential here. Most of my books fall into that category. Concepts, biographies, etc.

Stephanie Greene, author of the Sophie books, spoke about revision. But first, it’s critical you finish the first draft. After, let structure guide you. Make sure your plot makes logical sense. Think dominoes – cause and effect. Plot will usually come out of your character’s motivation, conflict, personality. Work on pacing deliberately to build tension and conflict. It all takes practice. Stephanie encourages writers to print out a hard copy and do the actual restructuring by cutting, pasting, and discarding bits.

One thing she commented on was voice. You cannot superimpose it upon the story. It arises out of the book you are writing. However, in revision, you can strengthen the voice.

Molly O’Neill gave a wonderful talk on being an apprentice. She has a blog (TenBlockWalk) and posts about many aspects of book-making.

Read, read, read. Know where you’re coming from and how your story fits in the existing body of literature. What hasn’t been said before? Dig deeper.

You never stop learning when you have a career in writing. You learn something from every book you write. Each one presents new challenges, highs and lows.

Pursue things that fascinate you – art, music, science. What haunts you, what scares you? Be an apprentice to your own curiosity.

She quoted from the greats: Katherine Paterson (Gates of Excellence), Joan Lowery Nixon (Making of a Writer0, Ursuala Nordstrom (Letters). Ahhh!

That’s all folks. Happy reading, writing, living, and loving.

I leave you with a quote from Madeleine L'Engle: A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Okay, if you are expecting conference tidbits, you'll just have to wait ... because Faith tagged me and I can't pass up a chance to talk about my book. This is the same one that got the third prize in the Carolinas writing contest.

What is your working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I lived through this period in India (1975-76) without really understanding what happened. Political opponents were imprisoned, journalists were censored, and personal freedoms of common citizens were severely restricted, and I just went along with whatever I was told to do. Years later, when I was a post-doc at Purdue, I picked up Rohinton Mistry’s A FINE BALANCE. I avoided reading it. But when I was finally ready, I could not stop reading and remembering and putting pieces of the puzzle together. I still think about those characters and their lives … and so it was very natural for me to turn to this period to ask the questions I am still struggling to answer.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical Fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I see all my stories as movies in my head, so I have definite ideas. I don’t watch many Bollywood films, nor do I know the names of various actors and actresses, but I’d love an Indian Kate Winslet, someone like Madhubala and Gopi Krishna (in their prime). I looked up some current leads and I’m leaning towards Kareena Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan. And if you’ve never watched Bollywood movies, go check some out. They are almost all musicals with tried and true plots.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

More than anything, Reshma wants to become independent, but the political climate in India forces her to endure toxic relationships until she finds the courage to not only escape, but take her family with her.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Traditional route.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ahem, I don’t rightly know. This is a book that I wrote in fits and starts, because I was doing lots of magazine work and work-for-hire. I also scrapped the original draft midway because it had everything in it – political unrest, industrial accidents, prime ministerial assassination, along with love and betrayal, and religious conflicts. Did I mention time travel? It had that too. Thud! When I finally ironed out the plot, it took me a couple of years (yes, still sporadically) to write it. By the way, any writers out there looking for advice, this is how-not-to-write-a-novel.

May we see an intro?

Of course!

I left my childhood dolls behind and became a woman the year Faisal thundered into our lives on his blood-red Honda.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmmm, the only fiction set in this time period I know of is Rohinton Mistry’s book and it’s an adult book, not YA. The closest would be Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. However, if you like the books of these other authors as well – Arundhati Roy, Jodi Piccoult, Sara Zarr, and Khaled Hosseini – you will like my book.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Rohinton Mistry! I didn’t even know I was going to be a writer until I had my babies, but he (along with AJ Cronin) planted the seeds. Shortly after I bought his book, I took out a half-used biochemistry notebook and started writing random thoughts.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Aspects of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Oh, and food. I have lots of food in my book. In fact, I am incapable of writing a book without food in it. Bring on the samosas, the jilebees, the naan, and curries.

I am tagging these five writers to have a peek into their books:

Marcia Hoehne

Bish Denham

Molly Blaisdell

Mystery Robin

Nelsa Roberto

Please play! And let us know when you do. Thank you. 

Conference tidbits coming soon! I promise.


Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
May we see an intro?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?


Monday, October 1, 2012

Carolinas SCBWI Conference

Below are some pictures from the Carolinas conference. I had such a good time meeting some old friends, Blueboard friends, and making some new ones. I love discovering the works of authors I did not know and talking shop with other writers. Here's Donna with her new books! Right beside them are Kelly's books. She gave a fantastic talk on the history of multicultural fiction in the US. It made me realize how different the reading experience of African Americans are, compared to other people of color. I grew up in India and read plenty of Hindi stories featuring families like mine, folktales, etc. I also read a ton of British literature and tended to gravitate towards it -- Enid Blyton was my favorite author growing up. Sadly, African American children do not get to experience the depth and breadth of their own culture. Only 4% of all children's books feature a black child. Better than before, but still ... we have much work to do.


Below, Donna, Deana and I goof off for a minute at the agent panel. My room-mate Samatha Bell stayed up well past her bedtime, no doubt goofing off as well. We had early morning chats while I drank minty tea. She's got energy! She's a homeschooling mom of four who writes as well as illustrates. Check out her gorgeous drawings!

Stephanie Green talks about revision and she used Pat Schmatz's Bluefish as an example of a perfect first page. 
Joan Holub is one of my favorite authors (my kids' too) so it was wonderful to hear her speak about series. If you click on her website, you'll be astounded at all the covers! Which one to choose? You can't just pick one ...

Do I look as though I have a halo? Thanks to J. Ro for snapping this picture. Josh Adams presented the awards in the novel category. And I finally feel as though I'm breaking out of my non-fiction pigeon-hole with one complete YA and another nearly done.

Deana and I went to Mass at St. Vincent's Catholic Church. It really was lovely to have this respite on a busy Saturday.

Conference tidbits will follow this week as I catch up. Thank you to all the organizers for putting on a terrific 20th anniversary party! I'll be back ...