Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!!!

 I love putting up the Christmas tree because almost all the ornaments are gifts and I enjoy remembering all my family and friends who've made the present possible. And then there's the wonderful, fresh piney smell!!!

This year was a different sort of Christmas, with a homecoming, more busy than usual with Christmas Eve falling on the 4th Sunday of Advent, feeling like we're not having enough time to practice all the music.

Today, we're lounging about in pajamas, eating Christmas treats, reading new books, and enjoying the gorgeous sunshine. Even though it's pretty as can be, we just want to stay home instead of going to the beach. What makes Christmas special though is always the Mass, the beautiful hymns and readings, and remembering how much God loves us. I was thinking of how people talk about the different ways to reach God, but in the Christian faith, God reaches down to us, not as a mighty warrior but as a helpless Baby. I suppose it had to be this way because it's so easy to fall in love with a baby! Our two wonderful priests gave beautiful homilies.

Fr. Antony Gaspar asked us to contemplate the Nativity. Who are we? Are we the shepherds who come to adore the Lord Jesus? Are we the Magi who seek Truth and are steadfast in their journey? Are we like the Angel Gabriel who announces the good news? Msgr. McInerney spoke about silence and how God comes to us in the silence and quiet of our hearts. He is Love Himself. A Merry Christmas to all of you and may God bless you all abundantly in the New Year!!! I leave you with some pictures and O Magnum Mysterium!!!



Friday, December 22, 2017


I read so many good books but there's never enough time to mention them all. But with Christmas right around the corner and many looking for last-minute gifts I wanted share a few reviews. Perhaps you'll receive a gift card to splurge on yourself. Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age by Bishop Robert Barron with John Allen Jr. is a book that shares many of Bishop Barron's personal stories of engaging people in discussions of faith. He emphasizes the need to lead with beauty, then goodness, and finally truth of the Catholic faith. Allen is a journalist who brings a framework to the many interviews and discussions Bishop Barron has given in his quest to re-evangelize the West. Still, I found the constant, "Barron says this... Barron says that... " a bit tedious. I loved Catholicism; it is the better book. And the video series is very beautiful, something to watch over and over. Bishop Barron has another series: The Pivotal Players that looks wonderful. Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing a review copy of To Light a Fire on the Earth.

I'm a sucker for immigration stories and Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was such a delight. Set in the 1950s, it portrays the journey of a young Irish woman, Eilis, who emigrates to Brooklyn to make a better life. Because Toibin spends a goodly chunk of the novel in Ireland itself, with colorful characters, you feel homesick with Eilis, her awareness of the sacrifices her family has made, and her blossoming. She meets an Italian fellow at a parish dance and their romance is so beautiful. A death in the family brings her home and now she faces the hardest choice--between the old and the new. How I wish I could write as simply and eloquently as Colm Toibin. This is the first book of his I've read, and only because I saw a trailer for the movie, and the screen adaptation looks beautiful.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie is a beautiful and raw memoir (and he sees that it's a partial anagram for mom noir) about the complicated relationship he had with his mother. A mix of prose and poetry, some so heartbreaking (Ancestry), you can't help but cry. I read this book at the same time my daughter was reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and I enjoyed our discussions on poverty and racism so very much. I found myself praying for his parents and for him too. May he find the peace and truth he's searching for.

Please remember,
As I weep
My verse,
That nearly every Indian kid
I knew
Had it worse.

We worship
the salmon
because we
eat salmon

Even as I deny the idea of God,
The idea of God interrogates me.
Even as I pretend that my love
For my mother is conflicted,
It's my mother who, in my dreams,
Emerges from a door marked "adore"
An image so overtly self-subversive
That it drops me--laughing
And praying--to the floor.

Many people have problems with many aspects of Catholicism, from why women cannot be priests to why homosexuality is considered immoral. Christopher Sparks turned to Facebook to get the questions people have and then answered them in: How Can You Still Be Catholic? It's a wonderful little book and reminds me always by this quote by Ap. Fulton Sheen: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” I recommend this both for Catholics and non-Catholics because so many Catholics do not know why the Church teaches what she does.

Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay is a most essential book for anybody interested in becoming a saint. He observes that more people turn away from evil to become good, but far fewer people go from good to better. He remarks on the extraordinary resistance we face in our journey towards holiness and he gives practical suggestions to combat moral mediocrity.


The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney is such a satisfying Christmas story. Three characters' lives that begin separately become entwined at the end. I love how the author captures the longings of each heart. 

Another one of my favorite picture books is Great Joy by Kate diCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. This story captures the love and compassion of a little girl for a monkey and the organ-grinder at Christmas. The sparse text and luminous illustrations convey it perfectly. I find myself holding my breath at the lines: "The world was quiet. Everyone waited." And tears fall when I turn the page. This is Christmas!

May these last couple of days before Christmas be filled with joy and peace as we await the coming of our blessed Lord Jesus in our hearts.

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.