Thursday, January 31, 2013

Don't Give Up

So, a big storm blew through yesterday ... from the south because it was warm. An alligator (five-footer) was basking, looking awfully hungry. I wish I'd taken my camera along but I've gotten out of the habit. I usually pray the rosary on my walks. A couple of little dogs came running out of the apartment building, and I'm glad the owners leashed them promptly. These gators can move fast, even when they lay quiet as statues. They don't even register on my dog's radar ...

I finished my Highlights story and put it in the mailbox. Last year, I was deep in revisions (YA contemp.), and did not enter the annual fiction contest. This year, I cut it close. I was so discouraged yesterday as I kept reworking the ending -- flat, flat, flat. But inspiration hit during a basketball game and I knew just how to fix it. So writers, if you are close, don't give up. Think outside the box. Let your imagination take you places. Be preposterous! What I struggle with most is making the ending both inevitable and surprising. I hope I nailed it.

And just so you know, if you put your manuscript in the mailbox, it will be postmarked today, which is acceptable as per the guidelines.

I have a couple of other shorts to work on, but they will go as regular submissions. My procrastination level is quite high right now because I recognize the mountain of work  my historical YA requires to get it submission-worthy. What I need is a real deadline, some discipline, some courage ...

Or perhaps Kristi's FREE e-book! She's giving it away tomorrow ... so be sure to check it out.

Have a great weekend, y'all. Enjoy the weather, whatever it may be. Can you believe how quickly this month has gone by? If you have not started on the writing life you dream of, it is not too late. Begin ... breathe, pray, write!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Catholic Schools

The New Year's champagne (homemade gift) has been consumed, Christmas is put away. This little house, lovingly painted, was a gift from my son to his little sister ... and I've been itching to put the dwarf hamster in it, but my daughter said NO ... and with good reason, since I've lost the little guy. It's always funny when the roles are reversed. But I digress. I'm so excited about the ALA awards -- very, very pleased with the choices. We're back into the regular school/sports routine, and I finished Emergency! I'm giving it a rest until next week, when I go back to do a final polish.

Eighth graders get to be teachers for a day as a way of giving their wonderful teachers a break in honor of Catholic schools week. My son is taking over reading and writing for the middle school. Although he's a voracious reader, he dislikes parsing sentences and analyzing them, nor does he enjoy dissecting books. He prefers to devour them. I tell him over and over that analysis can help him to better appreciate the stories as well as help him to become a better writer, but my words fall on deaf ears. But teaching reading and writing analytically will do the trick. I know from experience that any time I teach, I finally learn the subject! He is a good teacher -- I've seen him in action helping my daughter as well as other children in math or reading. Though he has also promised to send his sister to stand in a corner. Thud!

I've been thinking about the state of our Catholic schools, because although I'm a big fan of them (and a product of a Convent-based education), I realize that more and more Catholics choose to homeschool. Why is that? Is it the expense? Is it the intrusion of secular culture within the Catholic schools? And what can we do about it?

Certainly we would benefit from having more priests, nuns, and brothers. Our only Catholic high school in the diocese has a priest who can only be there part-time because he has so many other responsibilities. Although he offers daily Mass in the little chapel twice a week, unless there's a big sporting event, very few students attend. Somehow we have failed to teach our children that Mass is the most important thing in the world. If they haven't grasped it by high school, I doubt they will get it when they're out in the world where they are bombarded with the lure of power, money, sex, and prestige. First things first.

We are so very pleased with the small parish school our children attend. It is truly a model of a successful Catholic school. By many standards, it is old fashioned and decidely untrendy. You won't see kids here with iPads or cell phones. But what you will see is excellent instruction in all areas -- reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, science, history, geography, physical education. The teachers are dedicated and devoted. The children get plenty of face-time with them, which is the best way to learn. And the school, being small, is intimate, an extension of the family. Many parents volunteer -- again it is required. Even grown-ups don't always choose the best part, and we have to be coerced into helping, only to discover what a great joy it is. Most of the families know each other and the needs of other families. Best of all, the priest offers twice weekly mandatory Mass for all the students. We all know that left to their own devices, children do not always choose the best part, so developing this habit is essential. On any given daily Mass, you'll see several families in attendance. This is the life of the church. What makes a wonderful Catholic school.

Please pray for our Catholic schools, our homeschooling families, and for more vocations!

Friday, January 25, 2013

On the Anniversary of My Mother's Death

Today is the 26th anniversary of my mother's death. Oh, how much grief I gave her -- she attributed all her gray hair to me, but I argued that she already had them before I was born and I reminded her the story of her hair going white with the death of her first-born near his fifth birthday, and she said, "Oh, don't give me your logic. You know you given me countless gray hairs."

Why, yes, I admit. It's hard to raise a willful child, and for my devout mother, her biggest grief was that I lost my faith. Her answers were never sufficient for me when I asked her about the problem of evil and suffering and why God allowed it. Just have faith, she said. But I didn't. And she couldn't magically transfer hers to me. No, it is something that grieved her until her death. She knew I only went to church to sing the beautiful music, and I liked the Bible stories because some of them were good.

I am grateful to my uncle who scanned and sent this to me a few years before his death.
My aunt (his wife) is on the left and my mother (his sister) is on the right. 

So I like to think that today she is wearing a crown of glory in heaven, in the company of Jesus, Mary and her little boy, her parents, her brothers and sisters, and all the saints and angels in heaven. Of course, I do not *know* she's in heaven, so I do pray for her soul, but my gut feeling is that she is. How else can I explain our miraculous conversion? It is not as dramatic as St. Paul's on the road to Damascus, but the miracle is still present. Truth reveals Himself and you cannot do anything else but fall on your face and declare in the words of St. Thomas (the doubter), "My Lord and my God!"

And so, on this Feast of St. Paul's conversion and my mother's heavenly birthday, I do not have a hard time imagining the two of them praying for all the necessary graces we need to come join them. And perhaps her salt-and-pepper hair is now black as night again.

Pax Christi.

*I wrote more about why one ought to pray for the dead here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Great Speech from our President

The words of Mr. Obama, the most pro-abortion president ever, are surprisingly pro-life in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, CT. Our children must come first. It follows that we ought not to kill them in the womb, before they even have a chance to take their first breaths. They have a right to a mother and a father, to growing up in a stable family. They are not a commodity. Yes, let's think of the children and do right by them. Our society is only as good as how we treat its most vulnerable members.

Please do not let these be empty words, Mr. Obama. Our children's lives depend on it.

My readers, make a difference and pray to end abortion.
Mgsr. Charles Pope has written a powerful reflection comparing the events of 1865 (second inaugural address of Lincoln) to that of 2013 (second inaugural address of Obama).

O Mary, Protectress of the Americas, pray for us!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Dystopian Books

I've been reading a lot of good books, mostly biographies, memoirs, and reflections of the Church Fathers. But I want to write about a dystopian book. I don’t read much in this genre, but some are too beautiful to ignore. Isn't the cover gorgeous? Light and airy with silky threads. I was so intrigued by the idea of weaving time and realities that I picked up Crewel by Jennifer Albin. I thought it could be like the Matrix, reality upon reality, or Ember, and it does have elements of both. I have not been disappointed. Albin has woven an interesting tale and world. I especially loved the idea of weaving a moment, a bubble of time.
Crewel (Crewel World)
I think the first dystopian I ever read was The Giver. And of course, in all these books, it is presented first as a utopia. People don’t get sick. There is no suffering. Everything is carefully controlled, etc. Then the layers are peeled back to show what a façade all of it is. I suppose as humans we have always struggled between security and risk, and most of these stories show what happens when we love our comforts a bit too much, when we’d rather be taken care of, than take risks. Young people need to read these books to make them think. We are getting dangerously close to socialist Europe, where the government takes care of everything. Personal charity has gone out the window, because after all, the state redistributes wealth. I am not against a central government but the proper use of it. For infrastructure, for protection of the most vulnerable, but unfortunately, our government is not looking out for the welfare of its most vulnerable -- children, unborn, and old and infirm.

The common thread in all these dystopian novels is an absence of God, even if words like “blessings” are used. Blessed by whom? In a society devoid of God, humans play at being gods, and it’s been shown over and over again, that we are not good at it. It's the hubris of man to think he can be like God. We should all try abandoning ourselves to God's will. Thy kingdom come!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On Children

I finally wrote my Christmas letter -- and chose this picture and a poem to go with it.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing Goals

I love January, not only because it's the start of a new year, but also because it's my birthday month (that's right, in our family, we celebrate the whole month, like Christmas -- I'll put it away after Feb 2, which is Candlemas).

We've had a lovely visit with my in-laws, but I'm looking forward to our regular routine. My husband is back at work, the children at school, and my in-laws are flying back home. I'm getting reorganized and will finally crack open my manuscript again, which I regret I did not finish before Christmas. But there's always January!

January -- a month full of possibilities, goals, dreams. I can't believe how wonderful 2012 was for our whole family -- swimming, a change to an old-fashioned parish school, greater ease in singing Latin Mass, my first novel out on submission, consecration of our family to the Sacred Heart. Only two things can top 2012 -- baby news and book news. And so we pray. For both! Because I believe in miracles.

Here are my writing goals. Please feel free to add yours in the comments.
1. Finish revising and polishing YA historical
2. Write a couple of short stories that have been noodling around in my head\
3. Polish upcoming presentations on magazine and nonfiction writing
4. Start new novel (three are vying for attention -- pick the right one!)
5. Take on as much work-for-hire without sacrificing pet projects and family
6. Get the right agent who will sell my books (this is not wholly in my control but I'm listing it here anyway).

My friend (and editor extraordinaire), Paula Morrow, sent the Daily Routines of Writers to me. Of course I have to share. I hope you will be entertained and inspired. I'm sorry to say although I met my goals for 2012, sometimes my days went like this: A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. ~ Don DeLillo

I wish you a happy writing year. May you write with joy and abandon. God bless you.