Friday, December 15, 2017

Two Poems

Poetry is the hardest to write but such a delight to read. I've been savoring Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce--it's a book I read slowly because there are so many gems--and these poems by Maurice Baring capture my feelings of a body that betrays. He was very upset by not being able to attend his friend G. K. Chesterton's funeral due to Parkinson's. He wrote to Chesterton's wife, Frances, "I wish I could come down tomorrow, but I cannot even go to Mass here on Sundays...O Frances, I feel as if a tower of strength had vanished and our crutch in life had broken." A year later (1937), he wrote this poem:

My body is a broken toy
Which nobody can mend
Unfit for either play or ploy
My body is a broken toy;
But all things end.
The siege of Troy
Came one day to an end.
My body is a broken toy
Which nobody can mend.

I can only imagine the terrible deterioration, but instead of giving in to the desolation, he makes an act of hope with this parallel poem written in 1941.

My soul is an immortal toy
Which nobody can mar,
An instrument of praise and joy;
My soul is an immortal toy;
Though rusted from the world's alloy
It glitters like a star;
My soul is an immortal toy
Which nobody can mar.

How these poems speak to my heart! Never lose hope in the trials of life. Never let anybody or anything take away God's peace and joy. It is our inheritance. Gaudete Sunday is almost here!

I've been thinking about some of my struggles with writing lately and it has to do with not having the right words to convey emotion. All my words fall flat. Perhaps poetry will be the answer. I'm often singing my favorite hymns or psalms and they say everything in my heart. Along with Pearce's book, I'm re-reading Brightest and Best: Stories of Hymns by Fr. George Rutler. I hope immersing myself in poetry will help me write better. I'd appreciate if you would please share your recommendations for reading and writing poems.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Conversation with Carmela Martino

I really enjoyed the ARC of Playing by Heart. You bring to life the lives of remarkable women, lives I imagined poorly in the past because not much is known except for the more famous ones like Mozart’s sister.
I’ve not heard of many women composers. Do you think there are more of these whose music is lost to history? Did you uncover any more gems?
Oh, yes, there have been many little-known but highly accomplished women composers through the years. A number of them are listed in one of the first books I consulted on the subject: Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950, edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. I recently discovered a newer book you may also find of interest: Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music by Anna Beer. Interestingly, neither book mentions Maria Teresa Agnesi, the composer who inspired my main character. I include a reference in the Author’s Note to Playing by Heart that does contain information about Agnesi: the 8-volume work Women Composers: Music through the Ages edited by Martha Furman Schleifer and Sylvia Glickman.
For specific examples, I suggest you look at the list of “10 Female Composers You Should Know” put together by BBC Music Magazine
( ) It includes two female composers who lived in the shadow of famous male relatives, Fanny Mendolssohn, sister of Felix, and Clara Schumann, wife of Robert.
I read that you went to Italy for your research. Were you able to see the Agnesi villa? Or a representative one?
I have been to Italy several times, but I didn’t decide to write Playing by Heart until after my last visit. So, no, I didn’t research the novel there. Fortunately, I have been to Milan and seen the Duomo, so I feel I have a sense of the city. I was also able to see photographs and drawings of some of the buildings mentioned in the novel that I haven’t visited in person. I used those images as well as written descriptions to imagine what the Agnesi villa and the other palazzos referred to in the novel must have been like. Unfortunately, the actual Agnesi villa in Milan was destroyed during World War II.
Please tell us something about the class system in that period. I was fascinated at how hungry for a title the story-father, Salvini, was, and how easily he could become a nobleman. He clearly had the wealth, which I noted in your descriptions of their home, and their ability to hire tutors, carriage drivers, cooks, etc. Did it ever occur to Salvini that his highly educated daughters could become servants as well?
This topic interests me because India is a very class and caste conscious society and marriage above or below one’s station is considered highly inappropriate.
As I understand it, even if Salvini had not become a nobleman, his daughters would never have become servants. At that time in the Duchy of Milan, daughters from wealthy households had only two acceptable “career paths” as it were: marriage or the convent. (There’s an old Italian saying to that effect, though I can’t quite recall the phrasing of it now.) Any other choice, including getting a job, would have been considered scandalous. So, if Salvini hadn’t been a nobleman, he would have arranged for his daughters to marry men of the merchant class, or sent them to a convent. I believe the girls could possibly even have married minor noblemen. Maria Teresa Agnesi, the composer who inspired my character, is an example of this. She married a minor nobleman before her father’s nobility was officially recognized, and as far as I know, that fact didn’t cause any scandal.
We see the world through Emilia’s eyes. How did you develop her voice? Did you hear it clearly from the beginning or did you have to hone it? I would enjoy hearing your process on developing voice.
Developing Emilia’s voice was a great challenge indeed! I wanted her language to sound appropriate to the time, place, and her station in life. However, I didn’t want the voice to be off-putting for modern readers, especially teens. The challenge was compounded by the fact that Emilia’s native language is Italian and not English.
I’m a fan of historical fiction, so rereading some of my all-time favorites, including Pride and Prejudice, helped me tune into the voice I wanted to achieve, as did reading excerpts from several published travel journals written around that time. Since the story is in first person, I tried very hard to focus on how my character viewed her world. She’s a composer and lyricist, so I felt her voice would be somewhat poetic and strived for that in my writing. With the help of my critique group and the etymology section of the Oxford English Dictionary, I weeded out any words or phrases that weren’t appropriate to the time. I also interspersed Italian words to occasionally remind the reader that my character was actually thinking and speaking in Italian and not English.
This was a very Catholic book in that you depict the very sacramental nature of the lives they led, praying the rosary, hearing Mass, the artwork in their home, composing music for the glory of God, etc. It was refreshing to read a book wherein the religion of the characters isn’t ignored and actually plays an important role in the plot. How did you go about making these choices?
Carmela holding her book in her hand
for the very first time!
I did lots of research related to life in general during the Enlightenment, and religious practices in particular. One book was of immense help to me: The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God, by Massimo Mazzotti. The book reveals a great deal about the practice of Catholicism in the Duchy of Milan at that time and especially the role it played in Maria Gaetana Agnesi’s life and family. The Salvini household in Playing by Heart is modeled on hers.
I especially enjoyed the lack of 21st century anachronisms. Your story people ring true to their time and place. Is this something you had to work hard at, given the customs and mores of 18th century Milan?
Definitely. One of my pet peeves when I read historical fiction is when the characters’ actions and attitudes aren’t true to the time and setting. I think being the daughter of Italian immigrants who came from a small rural village was a great help. Despite being born in the 20th century, my parents grew up without electricity or telephones. My mother told me stories of doing laundry in a stream, cooking meals in a fireplace, and taking bread to be baked in the village baker’s oven. Her family’s traditions and beliefs were more in tuned with those of past centuries than with modern times. I think exposure to those ideas—and visiting her village myself as a girl—helped me better relate to what life might have been like in 18th-century Italy.
PBH is a very clean book even though it is romantic. There wasn’t one heaving bosom! Please tell us how you developed the romance and if 21st century attitudes crept in your earlier drafts.
Well, the greater challenge was to avoid the “heaving bosoms” often found in stories—both fiction and true—set in 18th-century Europe. From what I’ve read, much of the upper-class lived rather licentiously at that time, especially in the Republic of Venice. However, based on what I read about the Duchy of Milan and in Mazzotti’s book, the girls in the Agnesi household lived sheltered lives, so I used that as the foundation for the depictions of romance in my novel.
Your formal training is in mathematics. Do you play any musical instruments? Your depictions of the music really capture the spirit? I’m fishing for tips J
I’ve always loved music. When I was six, we moved into a house that had an old upright piano in the basement. I used to pick out simple tunes on it, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I longed to study piano, but that wasn’t one of the instruments my Catholic elementary school offered for instruction. Instead, I studied the clarinet. I played clarinet in high school marching band and orchestra, but haven’t touched it in decades. I never lost my desire to learn piano though, and even considered studying it as an adult. But I never did.
To connect with my character Emilia, I tapped into the longing I’d felt as a young girl wanting to learn how to play the piano. I imagined that Emilia had a similar longing to play the harpsichord. And after she suffers a terrible loss, she turns to composing music for consolation in the same way I sometimes do with writing. Emilia is a singer, too. I could relate to that since I sang in our church choir during my teen and young adult years. I used to make up my own songs, too, though I never wrote them down. In a way, writing Emilia’s story allowed me to indulge my fantasy of being a keyboard musician and composer.
That's really lovely. I know that PBH came about because you were working on a biography of the older sister, Maria Gaetana Agnesi and became interested in the younger one’s life story. Are you close to finishing those projects? I, for one, would love to see picture book biographies of these amazing women.
At this point, I wouldn’t attempt a biography of composer Maria Teresa Agnesi because too little is known about her. I do have a solid draft of a biography of her older sister, mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi, and a publisher has said they’d be interested in seeing a revision based on some specific guidelines. Working on that revision is high on my to-do list right now.
Your first book, Rosa Sola, has a new edition. Please tell us how you went about it.
Rosa, Sola was originally published by Candlewick Press in hardback only. When the book went out of print, I got the rights back. After researching self-publishing and cover design, I hired a designer to create a new cover and a professional formatter to format the book for both ebook and print. I added a “Discussion Questions” section for classroom use and self-published the new edition in paperback and ebook format in 2016. That edition won a Catholic Press Association Award in the Children’s Books category.
Thank you for your time and for writing such a wonderful book that will be an inspiration to girls everywhere to follow their calling. Is there anything else you would like your readers to know?
Thanks so much for this opportunity, Vijaya. Your questions really made me think!
Readers might like to also know that I’m currently working on a short story set in the same world as Playing by Heart that I plan to give away to my Creativity Newsletter subscribers. The monthly newsletter includes updates about my publishing news and writing classes as well as creativity tips. I invite readers to subscribe to the newsletter via the box in the right sidebar of the home page of my website: . They’ll also find a link there to my last newsletter if they’d like to read a sample first.
Readers can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Those links can be found in the left sidebar of the same page.
Finally, if readers are looking for other engaging young-adult books that feature Catholic characters and themes, I encourage them to visit the CatholicTeenBooks website. A number of our books, including my own Playing by Heart, are recommended reads in the Virtue Works Media TOTALLY Feminine GENIUS (TFG) Generations Book Club™ Guide:

 Some linkylove:

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Shortest Advent

This year has the shortest Advent season with Christmas falling on a Monday. Just three weeks really. I can't believe how quickly this year went. Time to repent and prepare our hearts for the birth of our Savior. We are again singing the Mass of the Infant Jesus by Marsh. This was the first High Mass we sang six years ago and I still remember how nervous I felt with the Latin not rolling off my tongue and worried about not sounding good enough. You want everything to be beautiful for Mass because worship should be perfect. But somehow, despite our deficiencies, it was beautiful. Truly, the angels come to assist. We sang the same Mass for Epiphany and it felt easier. I love that we have all of Advent to prepare.   

Here's my girl wearing my mother's jacket--could this count as a relic? And here are two naughty kitties NOT on my lap.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Marian Eucharistic Conference Notes: Part 2

Even though there were 400 people at this conference, the venue sold out, when Al Kresta spoke it was as if he were speaking personally to you. He spoke on Romans 12:2 Be Not Conformed To This World. This means, don't let the world dictate your agenda. 1 John 2:15 reiterates. Do not love the world or the things in it. World refers to the things under the sun, as ruled by Satan, money, sex, power. For the practical atheist, the world is the end of all things. In Ecclesiastes, the author evaluates life under the sun and comes to the conclusion that it is all vanity, ie meaningless. But we are meaning-seeking creatures. We are made for God and if we do not have Him, we fill our hearts with other things. We replace the love of Father God with lust of the flesh, pride of life. 

Lust of the flesh refers to finite, bodily life--food, sex, pleasure, comforts, carnality. Most advertisements aim at this. They manipulate you into thinking that having a certain product will give you what you need. But now advertisers are turning customers into true believers. They try to evoke feelings of transcendence, love, global community, etc. There are kids who now have emotional ties to Nike or Apple. Kresta shared the story of a 17-year-old who was murdered for his Nike shoes.

Pride of life refers to your own importance and ego. He focused it on info-tainment: information as entertainment. We got a little history of the news business. It's not just the reporting of public occurrences but the manufacturing of a product. The creator of a Boston newspaper said it's a commercial enterprise designed to hold an audience. Kresta gave the example of the missing plane. There was no news to report because the plane wasn't found but reporters were talking nonstop about it for 40 days and most of it was self-referential.

Christians are barely tolerated nowadays. There is common misconception that faith is a private matter and we should keep it to ourselves. In our lifetime, we've seen the collapse of Christian civilization, sometimes abetted by Christians. For ex.:

1. We ignore the Lord's Day. Pope Saint John Paul II thought it important enough to write an encyclical on this: Dies Domini. God's grace gives us what we need. We need to observe the Lord's Day.

2. Non Catholic Christians have redefined marriage. Once divorce became commonplace, it paved the way for homosexual marriage. Marriage has become something for adults to express their feelings. But the words of Christ can never be changed.

3. We adopt American emphasis on individualism. Sunday Mass attendance does not correlate to those who proclaim to be Catholic. Of the ones attending Sunday Mass, only 6-8% are engaged. JPII said that Catholics are baptized and sacramentalized but not evangelized. The new evangelization is driven by the laity, which is one of the fruits of Vatican II.

Kresta encourages us to proclaim the Gospel. Many people attribute "Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary" to St. Francis but he never said it. We need words!!! Jesus preached and told stories. It was a life-changing announcement about the Kingdom of God. He is calling us to repent and to faith. This news is different than anything else. It's God coming down to us as a lowly Babe, who suffers and dies for us to save us from sin and death. His resurrection points to our eternal life with Him. The Gospel demands a response. It is obedience. He says, "Follow Me." Jesus should rule your life, your work, your leisure, your finances, your entertainment, your relationships, etc. Everything in life becomes secondary. What are you going to lose? Nothing! He has conquered death. So seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be added.

Be a saint! Leon Bly said, "The only tragedy is not to be a saint." Nothing impure shall enter heaven. We are perfected in Christ.

The question is, why are so many Catholics lukewarm? Why do they fall away? And Kresta thinks it's because they don't catch the vision of what God wants for their lives. Catholicism is transformative. It's not just a bunch of rules to follow, rather it gives a framework to live your life in a way that is pleasing to God. People looked at the earliest Christians and were amazed, "See how they love each other!" And there is no love without sacrifice, no resurrection without the crucifixion. The Kingdom of God is hidden behind suffering. It's the opposite of what the world tells you.

Patrick Madrid gave a wonderful lecture on apologetics: Answers to Lies Society Tells Us. He began by reminding us that apologetics isn't apologizing for being Catholic, but rather a defense. So what are these lies:

1. If it feels good, do it. This was a bumper sticker from the 60s and unfortunately many people follow this lie, giving rise to the Hollywood culture of using people. What does "good" mean? We know experientially that if it feels good doesn't necessarily mean it *is* good. Ex. eating a gallon of ice cream. Conversely, there are many things that don't feel good that are good for you. Ex. forgoing lunch to feed a hungry person. This can open a conversation about sacrifice vs. selfishness. 

2. Religion causes violence. I thought this was true but Madrid pointed that the historical data disagrees. Someone took the time to study this and catalogued 1,763 wars in The Encyclopedia of War. Of those, only 123 were of religious origins, which is 7%. Of those 7%, 50% were Muslim. I haven't checked this source but it's a far cry from religion causing violence. More people killed by atheist regimes.

3. Christianity is anti-science. As a scientist, I can say with great confidence how bogus that is. Copernicus, Mendel, Lemaitre, and the list goes on. Science is natural revelation but there isn't a telescope powerful enough to see God. There's physics and then there's metaphysics.

He answered these and many other lies. He gave a second, very sobering lecture on Global Aging. Because we live now in a culture of death caused by contraception and abortion, the natural pyramidal shape with the youngest at the bottom and the oldest at the top is slowly shifting so that we have fewer and fewer younger people to support the large numbers of older people. This is already leading to forced euthanasia because the right to die is turning into an obligation to die.

We are facing the possibility of extinction. The fertility rate is so far below replacement (2.1), it's causing huge problems in countries like Japan, Russia, and Western Europe. China has begun to recognize that their one-child policy was suicide so now they are encouraging women to have two children. But it might already be too late for them. Immigration and robots cannot solve these deep-seated problems.

We have to be the solution. God's command was to "be fruitful and multiply." We have to pray, live the faith. Don't contracept--it's a sin. Don't be afraid to speak the truth. Don't be afraid to suffer for the truth. He's a man of his word. He shared a beautiful story about going to a restaurant with his wife and newborn baby. The waitress asked if this was their first. Nope--'tis the 11th. There was a very negative reaction and then three waitresses came by to speak about their environmental impact. But Nancy, Patrick Madrid's wife, said, "children are a gift from God and being open to life has blessed our marriage." These simple words were the truth. When they were leaving the parking lot, the first waitress came running to them and thanked them for those words. She was going to change her ways.

Take a look at his books here: I believe Al Kresta's reversion to the Catholic Faith is in Surprised by Truth :)


Fr. Chris Alar gave a wonderful lecture on Catholicism. He was so funny, quizzing us on the faith, and teasing us when we got it wrong. I'd love to see him in a classroom because he is so lively and when I sum up his talk, I will not confess which points I got wrong :)

For 1,500 years the Church Fathers spoke and wrote extensively on Mary and the Eucharist. We only had the Catholic Church. It has the fullness of the truth. Think about it. Can you have thousands of different truths? No. All religions have a piece of the truth.

Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Peter is the rock. Would He not guide it for 1,500 years until Martin Luther's arrival? The reformation is not of God. Division is always from the evil one. He cited the founding members of various sects. For the Mormons, it's Joseph Smith; Baptists, John Smith; 7th Day Adventists, Ellen White; etc. It reminds me of this cartoon.

Only in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is there apostolic succession, meaning that every priest has had hands laid upon him that can be traced back to one of the 12 Apostles. It's the oldest running institution. Empires come and go, but we have the promise of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail.

The Catholic Church is responsible for the formation of universities, hospitals, schools, charities. It has formed many saints.

It's true that the Catholic Church has had many bad priests, bishops, and even popes. But that's because they are human and subject to all the same temptations as everybody else. Being Catholic doesn't mean you're immune. The sex abuse scandal that broke in the 2000s hit the Church hard. But I was gratified to hear the statistics. Jenkins studied criminal records and found roughly 1% of Catholic priests guilty and that's 1% too many. Non-Catholic Christians 3%, Jewish 5%, Muslim 8%, public schools 9%. Statistically speaking, your kid is safest with a Catholic priest.

People say Catholics don't read the Bible. Every Sunday Mass has more Scripture than any Protestant service. Until fairly recent in Church history, 90% of the population was illiterate. They received the faith through tradition, hearing Mass. The Bible was written for the Mass. Mass predates the Bible. The Catholic Church guided by the Holy Spirit, decided what books would be in the Canon of Sacred Scripture. It's true that after the invention of the printing press the Catholic Church burned Bibles. They did so because some of them were heretical. Ex. Luther removed seven books from the Canon and added words. However in Rev 22:19 it warns that "if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from these things that are written in this book." This is pretty important stuff.

The Catholic Church has 3 legs: Scripture, Tradition, Magesterium, which is the teaching authority. We follow the Jewish tradition. After all, Jesus tells us that He didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Matt 5:17.

They chained Bibles to rocks to prevent stealing. It took a monk 3 years to copy a Bible. It was in Latin, not so nobody could read it, but because it was the language of the educated people. So if you read the Bible and accept it as authority, then you are accepting the authority of the Church.

On the forgiveness of sins. When I was an Episcopalean, I liked to say that we had a direct line to Jesus. And of course, we do. But Jesus gave us an organized religion and gave the power to His priests to absolve sins. So when you are contrite and confess your sins, the priest forgives by virtue of his ordination. When the priest forgives, Jesus forgives. You can be assured of this after you make your penance. You again have sanctifying grace. 

Fr. Chris spoke about many other things that even Catholics get wrong, like Marian dogmas, Crusades, salvation, relics, etc. but I wanted to share a couple of theological beauties without resorting to Part 3 (but maybe I should've).

Holy Matrimony and the family reflects the Trinitarian nature of God. We say, God is love. But to have love, you must have a lover (God/Husband) and a beloved (Son/Wife) and the love between them is so great, it results in a third Person (Holy Spirit/Child). And this is why it is insanity to think that two men or two women can marry.

The Church teaches that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Christ's Body is the Church and vice versa. However, sitting in the front pew doesn't guarantee heaven, nor does being a pygmy in Africa mean he goes to hell. Judgment is dependent on what you know. The pygmy is judged according to natural law based on what he knows. But a Catholic who knows the Truth but does not accept it is judged by the higher standard. To whom much is given, much is expected. Lumen Gentium makes it clear how we will be judged. Those who are truly searching will find Jesus as their end. At this point Fr. Chris choked up because he is the godfather for a nephew who is now questioning and unbelieving and Fr. Chris is liable for the soul of his nephew. And so we pray for him.

So thankful to Michael for taking the time to go to this marvelous conference. Please note we are not worshipping Mary or the saints, but asking them to pray for us :) They had a relic of Saint Faustina, the saint who gave us the Divine Mercy Chaplet and this picture of Jesus. And thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me to the end. God bless you.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Marian Eucharistic Conference Notes: Part 1

Fr. Dwight Longenecker began the best ever Marian Eucharistic conference with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. This year marked the 500th anniversary of the reformation begun by Martin Luther. Alas, it shattered the unity of the Church. Of course, the church needed reform--there was widespread corruption and widespread ignorance of the faith--but instead of reforming from the inside, he broke away and the result has been terrible: a deformation of the faith outside the Church.

Enter Charles Borromeo, who had a true reformer's heart and brought the Church back to its true mission, which is to bring our Lord Jesus Christ to all people so that they might be saved through Him.

Look around. We have the same problems as 500 years ago. Lots of sins, bad priests, lax Catholics, etc. The poor we'll always have with us, but now it's more than material poverty. We see people who are spiritually poor or dead. We see lack of virtue. Do not despair. Take heart. We need to follow the example of St. Charles Borromeo, who did what he could, where he was, with what he had, and God blessed it enormously.

Father Longenecker also gave a lecture on praying the rosary for spiritual warfare. He begins with the basics. What is prayer? The childish notion can be that of a vending machine. But our Lord Jesus Himself taught us how to pray. The core and heart of every prayer is: Thy will be done. C. S. Lewis said there are two types of people. Those who say, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "thy will be done." They reject God and God will never force Himself upon anybody.

We don't become God's mindless little robots when we pray: Thy will be done. Our will is very important. We have been created in God's image. Look at the attributes of God and ask how those same attributes are reflected in us. Our free will is a smidge of His omnipotence. We can do what we want within the limitations of our life. We can choose God or choose to sin. We can choose to repent, etc. Prayer is the way we hitch our will to God's.

What is evil? It is the distortion or destruction of the good, beautiful, and true. The devil cannot create anything. He can only destroy. He only breaks, twists, tears things. He presents what he's doing as good. Dresses up the rat poison. Just like darkness is the absence of light, cold the absence of heat, so evil is the absence of good, true, and beautiful.

People say Catholics are obsessed with sex. Why are we against pornography, adultery, fornication, etc.? Those things are evil because they break marriage. Marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman to nurture love that has the capacity to create a new life for all eternity. Satan hates this.

All this to say that the rosary is us praying with Mary. She tramples down evil and when we pray the rosary we fight with her. All the saints recommend this because it is a way to enter more deeply into prayer. One way to counter evil is to pray for all the good. It follows the saying: Better to light a candle than curse the dark.

He has another book: The Mystery of the Magi that sounds fascinating.



Father Wade Menezes has a new book out on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. But his lecture was on the 1917 message of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherd children. He calls it CPR: a call to conversion, prayer, penance, reparation, repentance. The message still reverberates and is as relevant as before.  

2016 was the Jubilee Year of Mercy. We need mercy because of sin. Baptism wipes away original sin but its effects remain.

God is more interested in the person you can become than the person you were. No matter what your sins are, they can be forgiven. But you have to admit your fault before God, then you receive mercy. Sin wounds you; mercy heals you. Jesus wants to give us His peace; He doesn't want you to fall to pieces. So repent and confess your sins. Jesus showed us His wounds so that we will not be afraid to show Him ours, both physical and moral. The root of all problems is sin. So we must pray and make sacrifices. Personal conversion and amendment of life leads to social change. Yes, we change the world by changing ourselves.

Fatima is the most prophetic modern-day Marian apparition and it is approved by the Holy See. It showed the frightening reality of hell, and if prayers and penance not offered, an even greater evil. Communism will spread. Cities will be annihilated (could this refer to nuclear war?). Now we have a widespread culture of death, not only on a global level with genocide, terrorism, suicide attacks, chemical, biological weapons, etc. but also at the personal level. The five non-negotiables are: abortion, euthanasia, contraception, cloning, unnatural marriage (adultery, fornication, divorce & remarriage, cohabitation, homosexual acts). When sin becomes the law of the land, you have to wonder how--it's rooted in personal sin.

An interesting tidbit. Our Lady warned of evil fashions. This was 1917. Clearly it was referring to the future. If only flapper dresses and coquettish hats were fashionable now. 

Fr. Wade also talked about the recently deceased Cardinal Caffara's communication with Sister Lucia. He had asked for prayers for the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family and she wrote him back: "the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, she added, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. And then she concluded: however, Our Lady has already crushed its head."

We had supper on Friday night at Swad -- best dosa I've had since our days in WA. This was the sunrise from our hotel and best of all, zero headaches. Like I said, best Marian Eucharistic Conference ever.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!!! How's everybody? Stuffed with turkey and cranberries and pie, I hope. I'm having deja vu. Five years ago, my family took a trip to Disney World and I stayed home with the pets for a writing retreat. This year, Michael and Dagny went down to Ave Maria to be with Max and I'm supposed to be having a writing retreat, working on my Nano book, but I've been bested by a horrid migraine. Believe me, I am thankful to stay home to soak in the quiet. I've been praying with my new rosary Dagny made, enjoying my furry friends, the lovely fall colors. This year, Thanksgiving falls on my mother's birthday so it is extra-special. She would've been 82 but because she died so young, I am now older than her.


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,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 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: 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.
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