Thursday, November 7, 2019

Picture Books to Delight

 I am soooo thankful for all the wonderful books in my life and the people who write them. I picked up Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Marlena Myles at the Carolinas SCBWI. What a delight to read so many of my favorite writers in this anthology. Both Becky Shillington and Megan Hoyt signed my copy. Aren't the math poems brilliant? And Megan's biography on St. Hildegard is beautifully written and illustrated. 

And at the end of the book, there's a section on poetic forms and literary devices--great for home or classroom use. Since gratitude is my first emotion upon waking, this is a book I'll reach for again and again. Thanku, indeed! 

I went to Ben Pogue's book launch party on Daniel Island and had to have a copy of A Walk Along the Sea after I saw the gorgeous illustrations by Johanna Hughes. It's a lovely book, sure to become a family keepsake. We have so many wonderful memories of walking along the beach with our children, collecting shells, playing in the waves, or just sitting and enjoying the sunset. 

I love living in Charleston! It's so great to be a tourist in your hometown and Very Charleston: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Lowcountry Charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler is another keepsake/reference book. 

You're welcome! 

Monday, October 28, 2019


Image result for st. simon and jude
Today is the Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude and what fondness I feel for St. Jude since it was the church named in his honor that we were received in and how fitting--he's a patron of impossible causes, but all is possible through Christ Jesus! All the Apostles were martyred except for John and it fills me with awe--Christians everywhere, especially in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa are being martyred every day. I wonder if we in the West could be as brave.

I've not been well but even that's been a blessing because there's been more time to spend contemplating God. We celebrated the Feast of Christ the King yesterday and it fills me with so much joy just knowing He is King of all and to surrender my life into His care. 

For Respect Life month, the pastor of St. Clare of Assisi invited me to sell BOUND after Mass. It was so lovely to be able to tell parishioners why I wrote the book. I'm praying it will spark many discussions about choosing life when it's hard. Fr. West had two posters showing the latest progress on the building itself. I was bowled over by the beautiful stained glass windows we'll be getting and also the High Altar! Check out this short video about it. It's going to be such a beautiful house of God!  

We picked that shiny eggplant and I made a ratatouille. And wonder of wonders, there are four more baby eggplants! Good thing we'll be having a potluck supper after the Requiem Mass. Doesn't Michael look like a proud papa?!

Finally, an unexpected gift from Pearl Meaker. She composed the layout with the photograph, Hebrew writing, and calligraphy of a hymn verse. I have her permission to share it. May it bless you too! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Peppers! Okra! Eggplant!

The garden is still producing! Hot peppers, sweet peppers, all different kinds of pepper grow well. We've been eating a lot of bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese+garlic+onions. They're so decadent--I feel almost sinful, but I only want to freeze enough to last us through the winter months. Below, all the pets are begging for a bite :)

Despite the grasshoppers eating all the okra leaves, we're still picking so many okra that Michael made soup to have a change from the usual bhindi bhaji (Indian style okra).

And finally, finally, we have an eggplant. It's still a baby though :) We don't know why we never got fruit earlier because it's such a healthy plant and makes lots of flowers. We even hand-pollinated it just in case the bees didn't get around to it. I predict a ratatouille in our future! Too bad our squash and cucumbers stopped producing--we got some sort of powdery mildew and that was the end of that.
Gardening is so very much like the writing life. It takes sowing, patience, constant practice, weeding, throwing out bad stuff, but in time there's fruit. Now that I've consolidated most of my notes from the conference, tidied my desk, I'm settling into revising a couple of manuscripts (with help from my cats >^-^< they tried to type this post as well) but also sowing seeds of some new ones. How do your stories grow?
And please note, that it's Michael who has the green thumb, not me. I pick all the fresh goodness from our garden and eat it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Carolinas SCBWI Recap

Image result for carolinas scbwi pictures
I try to go to one writing conference each year and this year was no exception, except that I was presenting, so I left a day early so that I could attend the illustration intensive offered by Mallory Grigg (she loves postcards :). She covered all the basics of the picture book in a short slideshow, but hearing her critique of each person's work was very educational, as well as the comments by the other artists, who are so accomplished, so beautiful. Not once was I made to feel like I didn't belong. I was encouraged to take an art class and to think about a story to go with my Indian folk art. Once upon a time... A big shoutout to Mo (Maureen Morris of Momo Collections) for driving there and back--it's always so fun to share a ride with writer friends.

Afternoon brought critique sessions and I was so pleased to see again, how exceptional they were. All were publishable and I could immediately think of a handful of publishers for each. I'm always so happy to have a part in another writer's success. Evening brought the faculty dinner (I got cozy with Donna Earnhardt and Samantha Bell) and don't you just love my new cup! Logo designed by Bonnie Adamson. I'm all about facing our dragons!!!  

I enjoyed visiting with old friends and making new ones and excited to see some of them this weekend--our Charleston critique group is growing. I love best that we have both writers and illustrators in our group because artists bring a completely different perspective to stories.


I loved Cynthia Surrisi's keynote: The Abstraction of Curiosity. Given that my whole life I've been driven by curiosity, her words resonated deeply with me. She shared her path to publication. She spoke about being overeducated (JD, MFA); however, it's the pursuit of excellence that matters as we make our "beautiful thing." There are as many paths up the slope as people and conferences like these really help exchange of information. We see "how to get your beautiful thing to fit." She advised to keep writing, try not to go insane, and to remain curious.

Do check out Jane Friedman's 2019-2020 Key Book Publishing Paths. Having published in many different ways, I will repeat that it's a great time to be writing and publishing because the Big 5 isn't our only option.

I loved the session on creating complex characters by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill. Again, because I like to read and write character-driven stories (in fact, every story begins for me with a character in a plot and character have always been inextricably linked) this workshop was very enjoyable. Stephanie taught using great examples. She emphasized mining our own past and remembering how we felt, how conflicted we were. We can bring that emotional depth and complexity to our characters and stories. Oh, Stephanie likes character-driven literary fiction (I know some of you who are reading this write what she likes, so what are you waiting for?). 

Another favorite workshop was one on the Picture Book Biography offered by Lina Maslo and Alice Ratterree. I can't wait to read her biography of C. S. Lewis. Such a treat to get a sneak peek. Lina typically starts with the defining moment in her subject's life and then backtracks to share the moments that lead up to that point. She ends with the impact her subject has. I especially loved Alice's story about her brother and H. A. Rey--it would make a wonderful story for Highlights. What I loved is how the little details really make a piece of work authentic. However, that's not how you begin--it's just the opposite. Alice says to first research the era of your subject, then spiral in closer to the places he or she inhabited, and finally the clothing, the furniture, the telling details. A great piece of advice: put your reader first.

My workshop on Writing Memoir for Kids went well. Several people came to find me to tell me about the stories they want to write, so I'm happy that they'll take home some tools to craft their personal stories. I spent some time on marketing as well because I really want to see you all published. I cannot emphasize the value of writing for magazines. It's how I got my start, and although I know we each have our own path to navigate, magazine writing is a faster way to build your portfolio. 

I didn't make it to the illustrator Draw Off but I took some pictures the next day. We've got talent!

First Pages are always entertaining with Alan Gratz reading them, complete with sound effects!!! Plus, he keeps the editors on time. I am pretty sure Nothing Eats a Hyena will be a proper book very soon! Great voice!

Alan also gave us the closing keynote and it was brilliant. He started from the beginning from his birth in a sporty family (and it's true, the ball always manages to find you) but his gift was in telling stories. I loved that his mother edited his first story and made him rewrite it. Talk about getting trained early for editorial feedback! He used the Marvel comic book heros to illustrate his point about their Origin stories (the things that happen that define who you are and how you act). And what is brilliant is that when new information emerges, we can reinterpret them. This is called Retroactive-Continuity (in the world of comic books) and it's great for character development. The present defines the past. I loved this so much because it made me feel as though I were close to seeing myself as God sees me. I am becoming who I was created to be. It was that profound! Alan closed with: "Who are you? You *are* a writer or illustrator. Take this room with you."  What is Your Origin Story?  

This was an emotionally charged conference because our indefatigable RA, Teresa Fannin is retiring. She's been wonderful all the years I've known her and she's passing on the baton to Donna and Kelly. I was also preparing for Michaelmas. Mo got me to church with enough time to spot check the difficult bits and although I was tired, dousing my head in cold water was enough to refresh me. The moment I opened my mouth to sing--Benedicite Domine omnes Angeli--a peace descended upon me. The presence of countless angels and saints and our Blessed Lord Himself is palpable. It was a fitting way to end the conference. But for Robyn Campbell, it was the end of her life on this earth. I learned this on Monday and could picture her soul brought to heaven (painting by Bougeaureau, 1878). Mo had gone to her workshop on voice and remarked that Robyn hadn't been feeling well. Oh, how my heart breaks for her family. Requiescat in pace, Robyn. I will sing the Requiem Mass for you.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Respect Life BOUND Sale

October is Respect Life month and I am having a sale both for the e-book (on all platforms) for 99 cents and paperback of BOUND for $10.99 this entire month. This is a perfect time to get multiple copies for your classroom or book group discussion. I hear it has provoked many thoughtful discussions, especially when it's hard to choose life. Please contact me if you want me to come speak to your class or book group. It would be a great pleasure.

I am a few days late but September has been a busy month with two writing conferences, deadlines to meet, and preparing for two High Masses (JOY!). I hope you will share this with your friends. Also, I hate to beg, but if you've read the book, I would really appreciate a quick review on Amazon--this is not like the book review you had to do in school; rather the best and easiest way is to just express your honest reaction. Perhaps it made you think. Maybe you want to spend more time with Rebecca and Joy (I do!) or you hated the ending. It's really okay. Once a book is published it belongs to the reader. I am thankful for all my readers, whether or not they have reservations about leaving reviews.

Here's the most recent review:

August 9, 2019
This is a page turner with multidimensional characters and realistic, compelling choices for the main character. The metaphor of the possibility of alternate realities is apt as Rebecca navigates a series of tough decisions and revelations to ultimately make up her own mind in a way that is satisfying and believable.

One of the things I've learned is that Amazon gives a boost to your book if it has more than 50 reviews. So my heartfelt thanks to all who've read AND reviewed BOUND. I keep praying it will fall into the hands of those who need to read it.

I've not done any marketing for my other books, except for a school visit or two the years they came out. At the Write2Ignite conference, quite a few people were astounded that I have a lot of books and I don't market any of them. But I have no need when teachers and librarians see them listed in industry journals. Alas, most self-published books have the problem of discoverability; they do not get seen and they sink into oblivion. Actually, the vast majority of trade books tank too, so I don't feel too terrible. It's the bestsellers that keep a publishing house in business, that allows them to purchase books that they love that only 500 other people might love. So I'm very thankful for the bestselling celebrity books because I've read so many wonderful books that otherwise wouldn't be published. 

In any case, this is a great time to be writing. You have more options than you think. Don't let the rejections get you down. Persevere. Here's something I wrote on rejections for Write 2 Ignite.  

Happy reading, writing AND submitting, folks! 

Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Write 2 Ignite: A True Witness Conference Recap

"Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it." My Gospel Reflection for today is up on CatholicMom

I've missed going to Write2Ignite, but with school and sports, it was a busy time in our lives. But this weekend Michael accompanied me and it was so lovely to be amongst faithful Christian writers. The conference team put together a great conference with a useful booklet containing all the conference information along with room to write, a notebook, pen, and chocolate! All in this pretty bag. I enjoyed all the keynotes so very much and delighted that the topics on my mind: writing memoir, the conversion story, and writing a controversial book all tied into the theme of being a true witness. I know I'll be back next year. Save the dates: Sept. 18-19th, 2020.

Even though I was busy most of Saturday, I had the chance to listen to a couple of workshops. The first was by Todd Williams, Editor-in-Chief of Union Gospel Press. He spoke about how God's Word gives us helpful insights about writing that's engaging. We have doctrine, commands, poems, letters, appeals, stories, mysteries, and so much more. He explained the five parts of effective communication--collecting ideas, organizing them, expressing them, must be understood by others, and finally the reader is changed. I will not forget that writing *is* Logos. He is looking to assign good children's writers for Sunday school materials. He emphasized how difficult it is to find people who can write for children. So, if this interests you, contact him. I like how precise he is--the qualities necessary in a good editor.

I also enjoyed Daniel Blackaby's lecture on Tolkein, Lewis, and the Christian Imagination. I've read much about the Inklings but it's always a delight to listen to people who've studied their works in far greater depth than I have. I'd forgotten how much Tolkein disliked Lewis' Narnia, saying they were "almost worthless--carelessly written jumble of unrelated mythologies." Talk about a scathing critique. Now that I understand my faith better, I might actually agree. Michael O'Brien gives a good account in his book: A Landscape with Dragons. I no longer read much fantasy, but if that's what you like check out Blackaby's books

Nancy Lohr, Acquisitions Editor at JourneyForth Books, gave such an inspiring keynote on Truth-FULL Writing. She spoke about the culture of relativism, how truth is a moving target. She quoted George Orwell: "In a time of deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary." We live in such times now and should look at this as an opportunity to share the truth. She reminded us that we cannot give what we do not possess already; we can only write what's within our gifts; write the felt needs; write to be light and salt. It was an excellent primer for my workshop later in the afternoon on writing controversial books. I would love to work with her on a book, except I've not written anything that meets their guidelines closing keynote was from Edie Melson on the New Paradigm of Social Media. I was sitting near a group of youngsters and they were chuckling over us old folks getting instructions on using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as they scrolled over their feeds. Edie mentioned that the majority of social media is conducted over a mobile device. She's not just an expert on this and other internetty things (she has a top notch blog called The Write Conversation) but a writer of inspirational books for creatives as well as novels. Her latest, Unruffled, is out today! Edie is wonderful, reminding us that perhaps the world of social media might be the darkest, that we need to be light and salt. I couldn't agree more... if that is your gift.

Here are some fun pictures of old friends and new, and the beautiful campus of Northern Greenville University. Glory, Glory to God!!!