Thursday, November 8, 2018

November Tidbits

It's been so beautiful with hurricane season gone, the temperature dropping off enough to send the mosquitoes packing, and some of our annual traditions--Faure Requiem Mass for All Souls, potluck, the upcoming Marian Eucharistic conference. And this year is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice so Stella Maris will be commemorating a couple of our own fallen--Alexander Izlar and Marion Keenan--on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Our bell ringing tower room is named in honor of the Keenan family! He was only five years old and one of the "sponsors" of the first bell (installed in 1894). I love learning all these interesting tidbits.


 

I took some pictures while Father read the names of the people who died this year. You can see Michael ready to sing and our organist, Steve Collins, who loves ringing bells whenever he can, and our wonderful new choir director, Huey Waldon, and a couple of the amazing soloists. We are so very blessed to have a reverent and beautiful Requiem Mass.

These were the last of the okra and peppers. Doesn't it look like a family of okra in my hand? Michael has become the expert at food processing. He pickled the peppers. This is our second batch! He's also master brewer. In the background you can see the kombucha bubbling.

It's always nice to see Dagny engaged in making art. I hope she always makes time for it. To really see things. I realize how few pictures I have of our outdoors. I should make more effort to remember to bring my phone on my walks. I've seen gators sunning themselves, turtles, herons, pelicans, egrets, too, and the ever-present squirrels who taunt Sunny. I find even the beetles, spiders, and ants fascinating. What interesting homes they make! Which reminds me, I have a little book I want to write. Kitties will help! Ah, life here is good! Very good! I hope you all are having a beautiful and blessed autumn.

 



 



 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reading





There is no shortage of books to read. This is just one pile--I do try to keep my library books separate so as not to incur fines. Somehow I don't mind them though...I'm always dropping in a couple of bucks into the Friends box because I always manage to find books I want to buy and keep. The latest was The Cat Who Came in off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt (translated by David Colmer). What a find! I saw the movie--Miss Minou--that it's based on and loved it. Highly recommend it to all cat lovers. It's rare to see such charming adult characters in a children's book. I'd not known about this author until I found the book. She is the Dutch Queen of Children's Literature.

I'll come back to this list again but first I want to mention the books on my Kindle that I've enjoyed very much. It's easy to forget about them because they aren't taking up physical space. I have a paperwhite that's easy on the eyes and I often read it in bed (without disturbing Michael).

No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler is a book I kept putting off because of those library books. What an interesting story about a Chamorro boy whose path intersects with that of a Japanese straggler on the island of Guam. This is based on a true story (that of the Japanese soldier who did not surrender at the end of WWII but instead lived undetected on Guam for nearly 30 years). I've read about Japanese honor and pride and it pained me to feel his anguish and shame. The author has excellent command of the research and weaves a tale in alternating voices of what it means to forgive, how the sorrows of war don't end for many. I especially enjoyed a story set in a culture I don't know much about but the family values are universal--taking care of one another, especially the elderly, boys becoming men, and friendship. I was surprised to learn that Kiko and his family and community were Catholic. 

Christine Kohler also has a writing book--Words Alive! Christian Writers' Skills and Prompts--that's a real gem. I've not done all the exercises but she uses examples from Scripture to guide a writer to explore poetry and prose. Given this is a teaching guide, I would've preferred a paperback. I hope she will make one. It is a perfect addition to any writing curriculum in a Christian home or school.  

I really loved You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins. I know lots of writers who are putting the cart before the horse, who do not invest the time in the craft but are eager to publish and with self-publishing becoming easier and easier, there is a temptation to rush into it. This book is a wonderful little gem that reminds you to focus first on the craft and then take it to market. Learn by doing. And what comes first is Writing! You can't miss this advice for 99 cents.

Praying for Your Special Needs Child by David and Mercedes Rizzo is a book that helps you to not only pray for and appreciate your special needs child but is full of practical advice for maintaining calm when chaos threatens, dealing with the needs of all your children when one needs so much more, dealing with doctors, schools, and other people who have a part in caring for your child. The Rizzos are unflinchingly honest, sharing many examples from their own lives. It is a book that will bring peace as parents learn to abandon themselves to God's Holy Will. Highly recommended.




You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins was such a joy to read. Isn't the cover gorgeous?!!! It's written in alternating voices of two sisters, and their daughters. So much resonated because I, too, arrived in the US as a teenager and there was so much to learn living in a culture so different than my own, balancing my dreams with expectations of my family, discovering who I really was. I've loved Mitali's books for a looooong time now and so happy she dipped into her own past to write this book. Brew a cup of tea and enjoy! The title is from a Tagore poem and it really tells you how to honor your heritage when you are caught in the middle. 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was a book I did not want to read. There's so much hate in this world and to have a book with "hate" in the title was a total turnoff. But my roommate at the Carolinas conference, Becky Shillington, said it was a powerful book. Indeed it is. And timely too with the Black Lives Matter movement. I had very mixed feelings about this because I do not like books with so much profanity. I don't mind a well-placed f- or sh- bomb. However, the lives the author depicts are incredibly violent so I'm not surprised that this is the result. I've never had to see a best friend killed, yet, Starr, the main character has lost two friends in her short life. It is tragic. What occurs after the grand jury delivers its verdict is terrible. I remember so well the riots in LA back in the 90s and can say that nothing good has come out of rioting. You cannot fight evil with evil. It only escalates the cycle of violence and retribution. There are no easy answers. However, I have hope. I was very happy to see portrayals of intact black families and what a positive difference they make in the lives of their children. We need to do everything we can to strengthen the family. As the family goes, so goes society. 

In contrast, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, despite its bleakness is joyful. It comes from his mother, a most unconventional woman, who passed on her can-do attitude to Trevor. What a woman! I loved this book so much; his mother reminded me so much of my own, in her devotion, her no nonsense attitude, her love. I liked the way the book was organized--in between his personal recollections, he gives a little history lesson, some context. It was a crime for him to even exist! He compares apartheid to the American practice of "forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid."


The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty was such a fun book to read, with the typical obstacles that middle-school children face, except Lucy isn't very typical at all. She's a math whiz, homeschooled by her grandmother, who is forcing her to attend school for a year before Lucy embarks on a college career. I thought it especially cruel, yet Lucy not only rises to the occasion but surpasses her grandmother's wishes. There's also cool math stuff... The author is an engineer-turned-writer and has numerous picture books and chapter books out but this is her first middle-grade novel. I had a chance to see Stacy in action at the Carolinas conference. She is lightning fast on her feet and her team (paired with a librarian) won the pyramid game designed by Alan Gratz! Fun, fun, fun.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw is a beautifully crafted tale based on the author's mother's time in Hiroshima when the atom bomb was dropped. Again, we get a window into Japanese culture through the eyes of 12-year-old Yuriko and the incredible resilience of these people who went through unimaginable sorrow seeing everything decimated. Yet, life finds a way to go on as exemplified by the cherry blossom. The first-person narrative is lovely, so un-American. Yuriko is polite, even when annoyed by her little cousin-brother. There is also a family secret woven in, which I found fascinating. Japanese pride and honor again take center stage when the women consider committing suicide rather than fall into American hands. Oh how I wanted to wrap Yuriko in a blanket to preserve her from the horror of war, and to tell her how much Jesus loves her. I first met Kathleen at the Carolinas conference six or seven years ago. She'd won a prize for this same manuscript so what joy to see it turn into a book! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Biography in Books

 
This weekend I did a little writing workshop with a mom's group. It was so lovely; gosh, I miss teaching on a regular basis and I'm thinking I will start offering these again when Dagny too, flies the nest. We spoke about mining our own lives and the books that impacted us. When I took the Magazine course (2002-2004) at the Institute of Children's Literature, I was asked to write a biography. This is what came out. I remember my life through the books I was reading at the time. When I took the Book course (2009-2011), I used the same biography, slightly amended regarding goals and such. Here is the biographical portion:

I am the youngest of four children, born and raised in India. My oldest brother died before I was born but lives on through stories that my mother told me about him. I’ve always thought of him as my guardian angel. My father went to Germany and then to the US for graduate studies. When I was six, we all moved to Cincinnati, OH. But my parents didn’t get along and my mother wanted to return to India, so she brought my sister and me back with her. My brother was fourteen at the time and he wanted to stay in the US. So we were a divided family, a family of letter-writers from a very young age. 

Our life in India was hard, especially for my mother. We were poor. My mother insisted on us girls having a good education, especially since she herself had been denied one. I did well. I enjoyed it. And I knew it was a privilege. I had a few chores at home. Then I was free to play.

My mother had a small collection of books and we went to the library regularly. I loved reading and books opened up the world for me. My favorite children’s author was Enid Blyton. Dickens was a close second. I read my first adult novel when I was twelve –  Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas. It is based upon the sentence in the Bible – let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. And I understood my mother’s charity, in spite of our own poverty. The physician-turned-writer, A. J. Cronin, was also a favorite. I dreamed that I would be like him one day. But it was not to be.

We moved to the US again when I was fourteen. This time to Pullman, WA, a small college town. My father was a professor there in the engineering department. But my parents’ marriage dissolved within a year. They had grown apart. My mother got a divorce and set up a babysitting business. My sister and I did odd jobs and helped out. We lived simply. When I was sixteen I started taking piano lessons and we saved enough money in a year to buy a used piano. I still have it! I quit taking lessons when I started college – I went full-time on scholarships and worked half-time and there just wasn’t time for serious study of the piano. Science became more important. I was focused on becoming a doctor. I graduated from college in 1987.


Alone.

Devastated.

Free.

My mother died after suffering from stomach cancer for six months. My sister got married and had a baby and moved to Greece with her new family. It was the loneliest time for me. I never knew that I would miss them so much. And when the acceptance for medical school came, I was terrified. My faith eroded. There was no buffer. How could I borrow such a huge amount of money just to go to school? So I did the most practical thing I knew. I got a job.

In college I met the love of my life and after ten years, we married. Michael and I had a long-distance relationship. Both of us were independent and selfish and it took us that long to actually become ready for the commitment of marriage. After my mother died, I moved to California because that’s where Michael was. I lived there for two years, working as a microbiologist in a research laboratory. I did a bit of cancer research too and decided that I had to get an advanced degree. I didn’t like living there – I am a small town girl and I disliked the hustle and bustle and the bad air. But I did enjoy going fishing with Michael and reading tons of books. One book stands out in particular – Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Powerful book. It gave me a moral compass at a time when I had turned my back on God. Our daughter, Dagny, is named after the heroine in that book!

I went back to Pullman for my PhD. It was rich time for me. I missed Michael terribly but thoroughly enjoyed my intellectual growth. I had a terrific mentor (this is one dept. where I’ve always been blessed). I didn’t just learn science. I learned to think, design experiments, critically evaluate data. It was a heady time, solving puzzles about the nature of life, of battles fought at the molecular level. And I got introduced to fine dining and dance.

Michael and I got married the last year I was in graduate school (after a rough patch – another long story :). He was working for a Belgian machine tool company and had to write some technical manuals. So he worked from home in Pullman. I got my PhD in Biochemistry and Biophysics, studying protein folding and protein export in the lowly bacterium, Escherichia coli. But I decided that last year that I would prefer to work on plant-microbe interactions at the molecular level in the future. Plants don’t scream and they make a wonderful addition to the bench.

Michael and I moved to Belgium for two years. He worked for the same Belgian company and I worked at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany. I examined the very early events in plant-fungus interactions and how a plant resists infections. And I learned a bit of French and German. We traveled and ate wonderful food and drank cheap French wine and enjoyed our pan-European stay. Three outstanding books that I read during that time are  Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.

Michael and I made a trip to India at the end of our European stay. When we got out of customs and made our way outside, I smelled the humid air, touched the soil and I wept. It had been 18 years since I’d left. We never had the money to go back and once I started working, never had the time. How I long to take my children there, to show them a piece of their history. Soon, soon …

I started a new job at Purdue University in Indiana. This time I examined wheat-virus interactions. And I put off reading a book – A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – because it dredged up so many memories. Especially since I had just returned from India. But I read it eventually. Nancy, I now realize that this is the book that propelled me to write later. I bought Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott on a lark. My first writing book J   I was in Indiana only six months – Michael didn’t find any suitable work in the Midwest. He did get two good offers in Seattle and so we moved. All of his family is around here. On our long drive to the beautiful Northwest, I found out I was pregnant!  So I never bothered looking for a new job. I stayed home with my baby.

And how these babies grow! I will never regret staying at home. Max is almost ten now. And Dagny almost eight. I wish I could slow down time. I’m very aware of how little time we actually do have together, so I try to make the most of it by including the children in everything I do. In fact, when I said that I will need more help since I’m taking this book course, everybody chimed in and said that they’ll write a chapter for me! What a hoot! They’re terrific! All of them, including the pets. Wouldn’t know what I would do without them. Katherine Paterson in Gates of Excellence says, “For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.This resonates deeply for me. Because if it weren’t for my kids, I’d still be a lab rat. And if I hadn’t stayed home, I wouldn’t have found my second calling – to be a writer.

It’s strange to write an *all about me* letter after I’ve already met you. Feels terribly self-centered. But it is a good exercise. Looking back at this letter, I see that I define my growth through the books I’ve read. I have been transformed, Nancy, by some of these books. And that’s what I hope for my books, that they are that powerful, compelling. I know, too lofty, but I’ve always dreamed big. Jesse Winchester said, “If you’re skating on thin ice, you might as well dance.” Yeah!

A most recent development is my return to God and the Catholic Church. It has changed everything for me, including my writing. I won’t say more right now because this letter is already too long …  Your turn: tell me the books that shaped you.
My babies! Wouldn't have started writing without them
Easter Vigil, Apr. 11, 2009
 

Friday, October 19, 2018

I Love Librarians

Lookie what's on the YA shelf in Neill Public Library in Pullman, WA!!! Thank you, Kathleen Ahern. To have Bound in a place where I spent so many happy hours reading and picking out books and albums to take home, brings me great joy. Libraries are truly the great equalizers. But it is very difficult for a self-published title to get into libraries. Why? There's no vetting process for them. They aren't reviewed in the various journals that librarians read to decide what books to carry. So unlike my other books that magically appear in schools and libraries all over the country, Bound is going to have to find its way into the hands of librarians through a different route. The one I'm planning is to apply for awards presented by the ALA. If Bound can win or be on the honor list, I'm sure it will get picked up by many libraries. So wish me luck! 
However, winning the Printz (a dream) isn't going to be so easy because I cannot even nominate my own book. So please, my friends, ask your local library to order Bound. Libraries are truly the best route because then the book is available to all in the community. And unless you request it, librarians will not know that it even exists. And perhaps a librarian will nominate my book. Why yes, I'm already dreaming of what I might want to wear...my mother's sari, most definitely.

A friend alerted me to these Instagram posts from a librarian, BarbinNebraska. Aren't her caricatures expressive?! I was so tickled to see Bound rubbing shoulders with Jada Jones!!! Note that Barb's nail-polish matches the books. This has to be the ultimate in cool. I really do love librarians!!! If I weren't a scientist or a writer, I'd be a librarian. Funny, I think Rebecca feels the same way :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Max the Writer

Max BodachI completely missed the article Max wrote for the Daniel Island newspaper because we were down in FL for the Gregorian Chant workshop. Here's A Capitol Experience.

Max is also working as an investigative reporter for The Gyrene Gazette. Looking forward to reading them. It's this article on his work with the SGA that led to his appointment: https://sga.avemaria.edu/news/2018/gazette-sga-changes He's going to AZ to learn more. 

He sent me a link about the physician who's trying to bring healthcare to rural areas in FL: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/us/rural-florida-hospital.html It shocks me when big companies try to stop these ventures. Shame on them. When I think of what Indian doctors accomplish on a shoestring in India, and how affordable healthcare can be, it makes me mad how inflated our own system is.

Anyway, I hope to archive some of Max's writing on my blog. So proud of him. I still remember him banging out his Magic Basketball Shoes story when he was in 4th grade. He was so utterly engrossed, the short story became a novella. I should try to find it and digitize it. Over the past decade, it's the stuff on my blog that hasn't been lost.

The weekend I was in Charlotte, NC he was in DC at the American Enterprise Institute. He's their Executive Council Chairman down in Ave Maria. I think it means he organizes events for them. Boy these kids clean up nicely! 


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Reading

These reviews are long overdue but between book deadlines and the Carolinas conference reviewing these new books fell to the side. So without further ado:  

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork was a deeply moving story told through the alternate viewpoints of a brother and sister, who are involved in exposing the disappearance of beautiful girls in Juarez, and who now must disappear themselves, because their lives are in danger. My heart broke for their mother, but I have hope that they will be reunited. The boy, Emiliano, has to make many difficult choices. I love characters like this who do the right thing eventually, but struggle throughout. It took me a few chapters to get used to third-person present tense narrative, but the story is so compelling, it was no longer a distraction. He's an author I've followed closely since he published Marcelo in the Real World because at the heart of each of his books is a moral dilemma.  

Mr. Stork also read my book! It is so wonderful when an author you admire reads your work. He said, "Bound is a realistic, honest, portrayal of a young woman's struggle to overcome physical, emotional and social burdens. Her journey toward the growth that is found at the heart of those burdens is one we should all make. A courageous book about courage." 


The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr was such a joy to read. I think the lessons of music can be applied to writing. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story is about Lucy, a concert pianist before the age of 14, but who is now trying to live a more typical life (as if there's any such thing) going to school, having friends, etc. This is another family story, with the weight of expectations weighing down its young characters, but I found the parents strangely absent, both physically and emotionally. It's the grandfather who has the big personality. Lucy's return to the piano via the younger brother's piano teacher is a road to healing. I don't typically go for stories about the rich and famous, but Zarr is an amazing storyteller, her characters unique and flawed, and it's always satisfying to accompany them on their journey.

I don't often talk about book design but I really liked how scenes were separated by quarter notes, flashbacks in the Intermezzo, and the different sections of the book labelled: Tempo Rubato, Free Cadenza, Con Brio Con Fusco, Da Capo





So, at the top of the book it says: Play like no one is listening. How do you write? Do you write with an ideal reader in mind? Or just for yourself? Do you write to the market? Would you write if you knew nobody would publish your work?   

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a book that focuses on four characters out of the thousands of refugees who are desperate to board the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff. I didn't know this piece of WWII history in which Poles, Prussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Germans evacuated because the Russian troops were advancing. The Russians torpedoed the Wilhelm Gustloff and over 9,000 people perished. I must admit that I'd have preferred a nonfiction book over the fictionalized version. Jumping back and forth from these four characters' viewpoints (the chapters are really, really short so you don't inhabit any one character for more than 2 minutes) was disorienting. Perhaps that was the author's intent. Yet, Ruta is an amazing storyteller because I kept reading in spite of my annoyance. She quotes Primo Levi at the beginning: "We the survivors are not the true witnesses. The true witnesses, those in possession of the unspeakable truth, are the drowned, the dead, the disappeared." She exhorts us to think about how we remember history and to not let the truth disappear when the survivors are gone. I knew Ruta from the Blueboard and still remember when she sold her first book, which remains a favorite: Between Shades of Gray



Second Nature: A Love Story was compared to Bound in a review, so I had to check it out, especially since it's written by one of my favorite writers, Jacquelyn Mitchard. I was immediately drawn into Sicily Coyne's story. Burned and left without a face at the age of 13, in the same fire that cost her father his life, the story continues with Sicily engaged to be married to her childhood sweetheart, only to discover a terrible secret. She walks away from the marriage and agrees to a face transplant (still in its infancy) to begin a new life. She embraces it fully and with it come consequences that force her to make even more difficult choices. I loved how Sicily's life meshes with those of the Cappadoras (I knew them from The Deep End of the Ocean), how detailed all the medical descriptions are. They never feel forced because Sicily is an artist, specializing in drawing the human body in all its glory. I've always loved the intersection between art and science and this book delivers. It also brings many ethical questions to mind, including the entire medical transplant industry. What I found extraordinary was the beauty of the statistically impossible. Miracles, really.

What all these four authors have in common is...me. If you like their writing, you will enjoy mine. If you like mine, you will enjoy theirs. When I was in queryland, I often used both Francisco Stork's and Sara Zarr's books as comp. titles. I think it really helps to know where your book fits with others. 

A friend and I were discussing what constitutes a YA book. He felt that Bound is for adults. It's true enough that adults can enjoy it and get tremendous satisfaction. However, the story is solely from Rebecca's point of view and she's still not grown up. It's a very different matter when you have a character like Scout looking back at events from long ago as Harper Lee does in To Kill a Mockingbird. So, it's the sensibility that makes one book YA and another adult. That said, I knew that Bound would have a crossover appeal to adults. I think the best stories don't have an age limit or barrier. I'm still reading beautiful picture books.  

Monday, October 8, 2018

Credo: I Believe

Our priest, Msgr. McInerny, is doing a series of homilies on the Nicene Creed, which we recite every Sunday. You can listen to them by clicking on Latin Mass homilies. He packs a lot just in 10 minutes. Here are some notes I took on the first four words: 

I believe...

What is belief?
1. It is accepting something is true on the authority of someone else.
2. Belief is not the same as understanding. We might not understand how electricity works but we believe that if we toggle the light switch, the light will come on. 
3. Belief is a free act of the will. It has a basis in trust. Can we trust God? He is the author of Truth. He cannot deceive. 
4. It is reasonable to believe. Faith without reason is superstition.
5. It is for everybody. You don't have to be educated or smart to have it. It is free. 
6. You'll never understand everything. There is a supernatural mystery. 
Paganism is trying to reach God through imagination. In Catholicism, God unveils Himself. He opens Himself to us. Jesus Christ comes down to us, becoming completely vulnerable. He suffers and dies to save us. We are fallen creatures, redeemed.  

St. Augustine said, "I believe, that I might understand." 

I believe in God...
We can believe in the Creator by looking at creation. It is reasonable. 
Here I must recommend an amazing book by Fr. Thomas Dubay: The Evidential Power of Beauty.  
Goodness points to God, the fact that we have a sense of right and wrong. 
Philosophical pride--the temptation to put God into a science box.

Obstacles to faith: our own sin and that of others, that which causes scandal (ex. clergy sex abuse).
Tell me about the God you do not believe in.--when our spiritual fathers fail us. 

Evelyn Waugh used to very caustic in his remarks. People asked, "How can you be Catholic?" And he'd reply, "I'd be so much worse if I weren't." That always makes me smile because whenever anybody grumbled about me, I'd say, "I could be much worse." As a recent convert, I can assure you I really was much, much worse.

Today, many have no interest in religion at all. We are surrounded by Unbelief. 

Atheism on the rise. No reference to God at all. When asked, "What religion do you practice?" the answer is often, "None." Unbelief grows as more and more people are born into it. Yet, young people are hungry for what's missing and religion is being restored into their lives. And if they don't fill that hole in their heart with God, they'll fill it with something else. 

It's as Augustine says, "My heart is restless until it rests in You, O Lord." 

We can counter unbelief if we meditate upon the mystery of our own existence. 
What does it mean to be born, to live and to die as a human being? 

I love our church so much. Even the architecture points to God. Michael and I love to make a date for nocturnal Adoration. It is a peaceful and beautiful time, two hearts to Heart.
Let me close with Missa Brevis in F--I hope we get to sing it again. This is often called the Credo Mass for the many times we sing Credo Credo Credo during the Credo. I believe! I believe! I believe! Lord, help my unbelief.