Thursday, June 27, 2013

Happy Critter News

I started my blog several years ago because there was so much good news spilling out of my critique group (my first post in 2008). And this week has been another one of those weeks.

My dear friend, Marcia Hoehne, has just signed with literary agent Peter Knapp. He's such a perfect fit. Read about her journey and be inspired by her perseverance. She is also starting up her private critique service, so keep her in mind if you need one. She's thorough, careful and caring, with questions and suggestions that will make you dig deeper. If you read her blog, you'll get a sense of what a well-balanced life she leads, writing, teaching, taking care of her family, praying, and enjoying everything to the fullest.

Today another dear friend, Allyson Valentine, was featured on Cynsations. Her debut novel, How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend is finally out! Two years ago, when we were moving to SC, I learned about her contract and the devastating events going on in her family. But Allyson persevered. You can read her amazing story at Cynsations. I am so proud of her. And it inspires me to keep on working when the work is hard, when life is not ideal.

Last week I reconnected with an old friend, Shelley Souza. I saw her picture on Writer Unboxed, but the name beside it was Sevigne. It had to be Shelley, I thought. So I wrote to her. She called me back. We talked for four hours. I kid you not. And if you know me, you know how much I dislike this contraption called the telephone. But it was lovely to catch up on our writing lives, and what pleasure it was to listen to her read a short story and excerpts from her current work. She is a beautiful writer, and I cannot wait for her books to be on the shelf, just like my other critters. And if you're wondering about her alter-ego Sevigne, it is her mother's and grandmother's name. Lovely.

I am so rich for having these brave and beautiful women in my life. May God bless them and all their endeavors abundantly.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Our Summer House Guest

Our bedroom looks as if a toddler has taken over it. Meet bad-to-the-bone, bad-ass, bad-kitty Lewey. But we love having him ... he brings much joy as he chases a plastic ball with a bell inside, or tosses a catnip mouse in the air. Watching him leap, do 360 degree turns in the air, and pounce upon a fishing toy, you can't help but think how perfectly he is made -- to hunt.

He's very affectionate and staked his claim on me the first night, crawling up to my chin and purring and nuzzling me until he decided to bite and claw me. I suppose this is all part of the ownership ritual. 

Our 15-year old tortie is no match for this sleek 1-year old who is determined to dominate everybody and everything. Now of course, cats do own everything, but when there are multiple cats in a family, it is easier to establish hierarchy when the newcomer is a kitten. The first chance Lewey got, he sunk his claws into the old cat's hindquarters. Drew blood. It happened so quickly, I could barely react.

I had hoped that Lewey could have free run of the house by now (we've had him for almost three weeks now) but there is too much animosity between the cats. So Lewey is free to roam and explore when our older cat is snoozing on the porch or in one of the bedrooms upstairs (we keep the door closed). The rest of the time he is king of our bedroom and bath.

Even though nocturnal house pets adjust their routine to fit with the humans they live with, cats prowl at night. Lewey is very busy playing until around midnight. I often read and write in bed and he comes to attack my moving hand. Every morning, I hear him crunching his kibble and then he's ready for another madcap play session, after which he comes for a heavy petting session and then proceeds to bite me. I keep a fishing pole nearby to dangle in my half-asleep state. I realize I'm going to be sleep deprived the rest of this summer unless I start taking afternoon naps with the naughty fellow.

Lewey gets lots of playtime but we have many closed doors in our home now. Our bedroom, for one. The dog sleeps alone now ... you should've heard her whimpering the first two nights. The hamster is in my office (it has a door I can close). The first day Lewey got a whiff of the rodent, he was determined to get the little guy.
On family movie nights, my heart breaks a little bit for Lewey because he cannot join us, but then I remember that his sweet mews can mean, "I want to be with you and bite your hand," just as much as "Oooh, hamster on the menu?" or "That old cat has to go."
We're having a good summer, punctuated with shouts of: "Shut the door," which sounds exactly like "Je t'adore."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On Fathers

Blessings to all the fathers, who bear the most awesome responsibility for leading their families to heaven. Where would we be without you? Where would the bacon come from?

This is the card my daughter made for my husband. You've got to love her sense of humor (I think she picked it up from Gary Larson).



She also made this homemade bread all from scratch, which makes the best French toast, laden with fruit, which is what we had for Father's Day. Later we went to the beach to play in the sun and sand. Today, my son is mowing the grass. As you can tell, we're all pretty service oriented in our language of love.

Update: I just found out that Papa Francis  issued a decree to add the name of St. Joseph to all Eucharistic prayers. This makes me so happy. He is the ultimate role model for father -- loving, guiding, protecting. Pray for all fathers, dear St. Joseph.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rufus Goes to School

Photo taken by Paula Morrow
As I begin to create a summer writing routine with children and pets, I return to the memories of the people who made the Highlights Workshop unforgettable.

I had met Kim Griswell several years ago, and didn't think she'd remember me, but how lovely it was when she flung her arms around me Sat. evening. We had a great time catching up. Here she is proudly holding her first picture book: Rufus Goes to School. He is an adorable character and I was delighted to learn he is based on her younger self. Kim is a character herself and I'm not surprised she's working for Uncle John's Bathroom Readers. She showed us their latest books, and I'm itching to write for them too.

I wish I could return to the serenity of the cabins, especially when life gets chaotic. Below is Julia, a modern-day psalmist enjoying the fresh air and a good book. She graciously shared a couple of prayers that I keep close to my heart. One day I hope to buy a copy of her books. In the meantime, we continue to pursue our writing dreams amidst the joyful chaos of family life.

Happy reading and writing, all. And remember, don't give up!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Highlights and Boyds Mills Press

We got a lovely tour of Highlights the day we arrived. Their offices are spacious and full of cover art and yes, even this replica of a dinosaur skull. Of course, I missed some of what the editors spoke because I wanted to spend more time sticking my head in its jaws. A part of me will never grow up ... 

It was great to meet some of the new editors  at Highlights and Boyds Mills Press, and to reconnect with my old ones. It's been a great pleasure to work with them. I encourage you to write for this crème de la crème of children's magazines. And the best way to get a feel for it is to read it. Get a subscription, check it out from the library, or go to the pediatrician's office.

Current fiction needs: holiday stories with religious significance, esp. Easter; folktales, rebus stories, mysteries, historical, and always: humor. Current nonfiction: poetry, career profiles (subjects must be squeaky clean), and religious nonfiction. I asked about lives of the saints, given that so many were teenagers, but I'll need to pick and choose carefully because the readership of the magazine is for 2-12 and being impaled, roasted alive, and drawn and quartered are not exactly appropriate fare for young children. Read complete guidelines on their website.

And for those of us anxiously waiting to hear about the annual contest results, Joelle said that they'll make the final decision by the end of June. Happy writing, all!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Heaven on Earth

I thought I'd died and gone to heaven, so beautiful was the liturgy for both ordination (photo gallery at the Catholic Miscellany) and first Solemn High Mass of Fr. Renaurd West. Beautiful Gregorian chant and Monteverdi polyphonic music, with all the smells and bells. I have always loved incense and the first time I was at a High Mass, it was the incense that evoked memories of long ago of a cathedral in India.

Even though these Masses were crowded, I did not have that usual sense of wanting to get away from everybody. I've noticed that since we were received into the Church, I am becoming more and more comfortable being with people I do not know. I see them all as children of God. Even the ones who annoy me. This is a great transformation, and must be a gift from the Holy Spirit. Of course, my natural inclination is still to be alone, but I do find myself enjoying fellowship with others. I am looking forward to a quiet and restful Sunday, and Mass, of course.

My friend, Marcia Hoehne, a terrific writer with an analytical brain, developed recovery times for introverts. How do my fellow-introverts cope with large crowds, speaking engagements, etc.?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sacred Heart and Corpus Christi

Photo from Wikipedia
Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Please pray for Renaurd West as he is ordained to the Sacred Priesthood this evening at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in downtown Charleston. Tomorrow he will offer his first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A Solemn High Mass.
Last weekend, I was grateful to attend Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi. I picked up an 8x10 image of the Divine Mercy. The priest gave a lovely homily on the real presence of Christ and used the example of kissing between lovers or the nibbling of baby toes to express what this love is. God offers Himself to us and we eat Him up. Oh, I'm not doing justice ...
The folks at Highlights are wonderful. I had requested a ride and they arranged one. However, three of the four ladies pictured below also wanted to go, one with a car, so we went on our own. Kristi was on a roll, talking about self-care, but she took a break so that we could attend Mass. This is the atmosphere at a Highlights Foundation workshop. Relaxed. Flexible. Gracious. I know Paula would've liked to come, but she was busy doing critiques. 
My husband had taken the children downtown for Corpus Christi and told me of the wonderful procession from the Cathedral to the oldest Catholic Church, St. Mary of the Annunciation, in Charleston. How beautiful it is to confess Christ as King in public and adore Him in His humble form -- that of a wafer. I know that for many, it is just a symbol, and indeed, Mass is full of symbolism, but Catholics believe that through the action of the priest, the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. It's not magic or hocus-pocus, which is a parody of "hoc est corpus meum" (this is my body), the words spoken during consecration. Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ are in consecrated Bread and Wine.
Photo swiped from Paula Morrow
I do have a few more thoughts on this. Years ago, when I was a neophyte Catholic, we had a Presbyterian couple who wanted to come to Mass with us. And they wanted to receive Holy Communion. They didn't want to be left out. My first question was: then why aren't you Catholic? But my second question was full of doubt. Who am I to deny Jesus to anybody? And so I didn't press the issue, given that the man was actually a minister.
I do not understand a great many things, but I do believe that in everything the Catholic Church teaches. It is what I professed four years ago and I am happy to tell you that obedience does lead to understanding. I always tell the children that Mary is our model. She didn't argue with the angel Gabriel or ask for complete understanding. No. She obeyed. Fiat!
Now I realize that it is a grave sin to receive Christ unworthily. Now, if we have not fasted or not had a chance to go to confession, we abstain. We still receive the graces from going to Mass and being in the presence of Christ, but we do not receive His Body. I am acutely aware of this deprivation, but this knowledge orders our lives. It makes me want to be good and pleasing to God so that I may receive Him.
So non-Catholics. Do not be offended if a Catholic asks you not to partake in Holy Communion. You can make a spiritual communion. I do invite you to study what Catholics believe. I didn't realize how many misconceptions there are about Catholics. On the trip up to Honesdale I met a lovely young woman with a zeal to evangelize. She was saddened that Catholics were praying to statues, that they had forgotten about Jesus and were too focused on Mary and the saints. I had to let her know that we do ask for the saints in heaven to pray for us, just as I would a friend here on earth. And there is also that hocus pocus I spoke of before.
There is a term that is bandied about: Cafeteria Catholic. It is an oxymoron. You are either Catholic or not. You cannot pick and choose the teachings you do not like and still call yourself Catholic. Of course, we have free will, so we may doubt or disagree, but in the end, to be Catholic, one must have total belief in all the Church teaches. And I can tell you that many times it is not easy to be so terribly counter-cultural. But it is the best thing that happened to us.
Kristi made an interesting observation. When she realized that Jesus died for her and saved her, she wondered why everybody isn't a Christian. I wonder this too. When you come to know Christ through the Word and the sacraments, it is so powerful, you cannot help but fall in love. In a gathering of Christians, His presence is palpable.
Oh, I hope Christian children's writing workshops will continue to grow. Right now, I only know of three: Highlights Foundation, Write 2 Ignite, and Katherine Grace Bond's Call and Response writing workshop. There is a great need to bring the light of Christ in a world that is increasingly dark and in despair.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hard Work Pays Off

Yesterday was the last day of school!!! We went to the awards ceremony and I was struck at how some children walked away with the majority of the awards, my daughter among them. There is a tendency to say, oh, they're just smart. Well, that's true. However, I know that it's not all smarts, but rather hard work. These kids work hard and rise to the top. So I was delighted that she has received a merit scholarship for next year. Thank you to the anonymous donor who has made this possible. I expect the competition to be fierce next year as the children work their hardest and be their best. What a great lesson to learn, that hard work pays off! Most of my education was funded through grants, scholarships, and hard work.
And so to all young readers: work hard.
To my writer-friends: don't think too much about publication. Write deeply from the heart. Practice the craft. Read lots. Take classes. Help one another to become better writers. And publication will follow.
My girl, I pray you will always strive to use your God-given gifts to become the person He created you to be. May our Lady guide you always to do our heavenly Father's will. God bless you.
An aside: I found Wind Rider by Susan Williams in my cabin at Honesdale. I ate it up! But this picture my daughter drew reminded me of that book. Shhhhh ... she's getting it as a gift.
Summer vacation has officially begun!!! I love this time with my kids.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

On Writing and Editing

I found it extremely instructive to have both a writer and editor leading this workshop: Sharing our Hope. Kristi Holl has written a boatload of books and over the years has amassed a wealth of knowledge on how to write books, during good times and bad, even during the most uncertain of times. She puts her faith in God and lets Him guide her. Her honesty was so uplifting. It made me cry because I also write during difficult times and sometimes it takes a lot of courage to put words on the page. She is one of the first people who wrote a book on the writing life -- Writer's First Aid. Her blog is one of the most helpful because it teaches writers how to have a writing life, how to sustain it. I highly recommend it. I discovered Kristi through ICL and she's been a great blessing. Her books on the writing life and techniques are worth every penny. So go check them out on her website.

Kristi spoke on characters -- strong, believable, and flawed characters. She spoke about creating ordinary but complex and unique characters. She hit the nail on the head with "interesting." By the way, she commented that she receives many manuscripts with a character having one brown eye and one blue. We laughed about it. Although I wanted to interrupt her very much to talk about my cat, I exhibited tremendous self-control. You can see why ...
So, characters: they must have strong goals, worthy goals, with high stakes. This doesn't mean that every character has to save the world, but we need to think of what the consequences are if the main character does not get what he or she wants. I call it the "So what?" factor. Kristi recommends that we examine the motives of each of our characters. And don't make the character do something on page 50 just because the plot demands it. The plot -- the what happens -- should grow organically out of the characters' strength and weaknesses.

She recommends Creating Characters that Kids will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin. I have not read it, but I've read many of Alphin's books and they are a delight. Paula is holding one of her books that she edited: Ghost Cadet. I must also mention now that she has her own publishing company: Boxing Day Books. I've had the pleasure of owning some of these books, the latest on Rose O'Neill: the Girl who Loved to Draw by Linda Brewster. What a gem of a book. I completely agree with Paula that it needs to be a movie! And Polly Wants a Poem is adorable.

I got to know Paula because she was my editor at Ladybug. I have always appreciated her astute advice. She is logical, thoughtful, and leaves no stones unturned. A writer's best friend. She asks the tough questions that writers must answer, and because of her, I'm a better writer. I've been so blessed in the editor department, and Paula is one of the best. If you need a book doctor, check out her services. She'll grill you, and make you work hard, but you'll be happy.

Paula spoke about the business of writing -- the editor's perspective -- because to get to your intended audience, you have to think about the others -- the editors, the parents who buy books for children. She asked us to think about this quote:

In Essentials, Unity
In Non-essentials, Liberty
In all things, Charity.

We spoke about the essentials. What in our life is non-negotiable? That will be the bedrock of our writing. What are we flexible about? It can open up possibilities.

We discussed the why of this workshop. And it is to share our hope that no matter how dark this world might be at times, there is goodness. It is a Christian worldview. Although this workshop was designed for people of all faiths, we were all Christian. We confess Jesus Christ to be Lord and God, and this unity brought us closer. We could open up and discuss why we write, how faith informs our writing. And of course, how we can plant seeds of faith in others, give hope to young readers in a world that often glorifies the anti-hero.

We discussed the various markets -- secular, religious, inspirational, and crossover. What's odd is that what is called "crossover" now used to the be the norm.

This is getting to be a long post. I have much more to share, but I'll circle back to writing and editing and say this. After meeting these two women whom I've known from afar, I am struck by how well their personalities match their professions. Kristi is emotional, with a great desire to share, and she brings that to her writing. The bottom line is that we read to feel. And Paula, reserved and private, brings her logic to the revision process. Both women are passionate about what they do. And as writers, we need both qualities.

Ciao meow. Only for now.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sharing Our Hope ... Pictures First

I have returned (a day later than expected) from a Highlights Foundation Workshop led by Paula Morrow and Kristi Holl on Sharing Our Hope: Writing for Religious and Inspirational Markets. I have a great deal to process, laundry to catch up on, and get used to the new computer that my husband and children set up in my absence. I'm a sour grape, only loving new technology once I get used to it.

So, for now, let me just share a few pictures with you ... this place is a writer's paradise. Everyone there, from the woman who was dusting the windows, to the wonderful chefs, the drivers, the office personnel who take care of the logistics, do their work efficiently and with joy, so that you can really focus on relaxing and rejuvenating yourself. I needed this on so many levels and although I did not work on my novel revisions much, save to make some notes, I followed my muse ... I worked on some picture books, read the books available in our cabins (rustic but with all the modern conveniences!), and wrote in my journal. I had such a good time and if it weren't for my family, I wouldn't want to leave.



We were a small group, ideal really, because we got to know each other, and we're praying for one another, so that by the grace of God, our writing dreams and goals might sprout like these cheerful johnny jump-ups.
Stay tuned for more ...