Monday, April 29, 2013

Spontaneous Combustion

I have quite a collection of writing books at home. Some are how-to books on plotting or characterization, staying organized. Others are inspirational, but my favorites are books on living the writing life specifically. They are part memoir-part how-to, part inspiration, all rolled into one. These are perfect for intermediate writers -- those who already have a writing career but need a friendly companion on the journey. So imagine my delight when Nancy Butts wrote to me about what she was up to the past few months ... Spontaneous Combustion! Reading it was like sitting with her on my back porch, sharing sun-tea. I admit I am completely biased. Nancy was my novel-writing instructor at ICL and I have missed her since I graduated. Oh, we touch base and exchange a flurry of emails over a period of a couple of weeks and then disappear into our writing caves, but it's a different relationship now. And I do miss that hand-holding. Without her detailed instruction and encouragement, I wouldn't be where I am now -- a writer who has finished not one, but two novels.

I have not sold either of them. In fact, six months ago, I started sending one baby out into the world, full of hope and optimism. But I confess that even the good rejections drained me of my natural enthusiasm. My solution -- stop submitting. I am focusing on writing again, returning to my love of story. Revising is one of my favorite things to do and I'm enjoying it.

So this quote, which I am sure Nancy shared with me when I was her student jumped out at me.
Take your writing seriously— even when nobody else does. Especially when nobody else does. 

And this is what Nancy has set out to do in this book. She's a professional writer, teacher, and editor, and she's been through a lot of ups and downs, and above all, she has persevered. She has numerous tips and tricks to share for the long haul. Consider some of these chapter titles: Why write?; Clothes are entirely optional (you'll have to read this delightful chapter); Stoke the fires; Converting the demons of doubt; Faking it. All these pose immediate questions and suggestions, don't they? And Nancy walks us through them, showing us with examples from her own life an those of others. It's a slim book ... I read it quickly in two chunks.

I wasn't having a hard writing day, but just like I cannot leave a manuscript that needs correction alone, I cannot leave a new book alone. I decided to sit on the porch and give myself a little TLC, and before I knew it, I'd read half the book, so I thought, why not? Indulge. And so I did. But you'd better believe the next day I sat and pounded the keys, remembering Nancy's words: Be inflamed again with passion for what you do. Write.

I recommend Spontaneous Combustion to writers who are experiencing resistance to writing. Nancy wrote this book for her students, and I am grateful she did. If I get into a writing slump (as all writers do from time to time), I can read this book again for a writerly revival. Thank you, Nancy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book and Author Love

We finally rented Life of Pi -- this was one movie that I wanted to see on the big screen because I have loved Ang Lee's films, but it wasn't in theatres long and we were busy last Christmas. It was so well done, and of course, I had to re-read the book by Yann Martel. What a treasure! I liked the meandering pace, the great attention to detail, and of course, the ambiguous ending. Both my son and I liked the conceit of it, but my husband and daughter wanted to know for certain. But what is the better story? I echoed Pi's question. The one with the tiger, of course. Yup. And the book has a happy ending. Pi goes on to live, to study, to work, to marry, and to have a family. He had great joy.

I've also been on a Kathi Appelt reading marathon. My kids grew up on her books. And we all loved The Underneath. Made us laugh. Made us cry. A true American folk-tale. I've also read her memoir. She's a poet through and through. Her prose sings. Every word is just perfect. So I was delighted to come across a book of short stories by her: Kissing Tennessee. All the characters are eighth graders who are going to their graduation dance. I am a big fan of connected short stories and enjoyed each and every one of them. The ending of a couple took my breath away.

Between Heaven and Mirth by Fr. James Martin was a great read. He quotes Pierre Tielhard de Chardin: Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. This is so true. Even in the midst of great suffering or hardships, Christians have peace and joy. The premise of this book is that joy, humor and laughter are at the heart of a spiritual life. This book, as you might expect, is also peppered with jokes and stories about the saints. Let me share a couple:

Once, when St. Teresa de Avila was travelling to one of her convents, she was knocked off by her donkey, injuring her leg. "Lord," she said, "you couldn't have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?" The response she heard in prayer was, "That is how I treat my friends." Teresa answered, "And that is why you have so few of them!"

One of her famous lines is: "From somber devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us."

One sister asked Mother Teresa how she could become a saint. She probably expected an answer about living a holy life, serving the poor, and praying. Instead, Mother Teresa laughed and said, "If you want to be a saint, die now. The pope is canonizing everyone!" She was referring to Pope John Paul II, who during his pontificate canonized an unprecedented number of saints.

Rejoice always! The Bible tells us so. And share a funny joke in the comments. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Divine Mercy

Many of you know that I suffer from intractable migraines. I've tried many preventatives, without much success. Although it's hard for me to call this a blessing, in many ways, it is. I have learned to pray, to have compassion for others who are chronically ill, who have no one to share their suffering with, to work without complaining, to let go what I cannot do, to be more accepting, if not embracing the cross. I'm not there yet in my journey. I still argue, plead, wheedle, cry, get angry that God allows this.

Thank you to all who pray for me, and help me get through my weak periods, who do not leave me alone in my misery, but lift me up to the Lord. I am blessed. I am grateful. My sister sent me this lovely Divine Mercy prayer.

Eternal God,
in whom mercy is endless
and the treasury of compassion
- inexhaustible,
look kindly upon us
and increase Your mercy in us,
that in difficult moments
we might not despair
nor become despondent,
but with great confidence
submit ourselves to Your holy will,
which is Love and Mercy itself.


A helpful resource that addresses the problem of suffering is CS Lewis' The Problem of Pain.
If you have other books you can recommend, I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kermit Gosnell on Trial

Kermit Gosnell is a late term abortionist. I don’t remember reading about him when he got arrested a couple of years ago, but now he is on trial. Women have died under his care – though the word care – is not appropriate. How can this be any sort of health care? The grand jury report is horrifying (do not read it if you cannot handle gruesome details). He damaged women. He killed babies who could have survived. He cut off baby parts to keep as trophies. It’s sick, sick, sick.

Yet, this trial brings to light the utter absurdity of how we define life. Why does the baby become a patient once outside the womb but is allowed to be butchered inside? Isn't the baby worth saving the moment it comes into being? This so-called reproductive health care always ends badly for the baby. I am appalled that we can ignore this holocaust (more than 3,000 babies killed in the womb every single day in the US alone). And no, contraception does not lead to fewer abortions, as is typically thought. Read this insightful article to see what contraception really leads to. But I digress. This issue has too many dimensions to cover in a blog post.

If ever I was in favor of death penalty, this case would be it. But my faith doesn’t allow me to do this. We cannot take someone’s life. No matter how evil. It’s in God’s hands. Let Gosnell live out his life in prison, where he can hopefully come to realize the gravity of what he has done. Just maybe, he will repent and ask for mercy.

Of course, each and every one of us is culpable, because without our collective madness, we wouldn't have gone down the slippery slope of death as a solution to social problems. We can climb out of this pit by strengthening the family, practicing charity, but first and foremost, recognizing evil for what it is. 
Holy Innocents, pray for us.
St. Michael, pray for us.
Mary, pray for us.

Domine, miserere nobis.

Edited to add: Torture inflicted by Gosnell a perfect picture of abortion in America

Thursday, April 11, 2013


April 11th, 2009 is seared into my memory -- we became new creations in Christ. I will always be Catholic, just like I will always be a wife and mother. And so it is with great fondness I read this article by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Yes, we're on fire! We're fools for Christ! We're crazy in love! All thanks to God!

I looked back in my archives, but see I didn't write much then. Too much to process. But a couple of years later, I did write a condensed conversion account, which was published in Catholic Digest. Here it is:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Back on the Hamster Wheel of Revision

The Easter chocolate's been eaten and lookie! Robo is finding a way to escape his new little cage ... It was fun to watch him eat some popcorn in there, up close and personal. He will sometimes sit in our cupped palms and nibble on a seed or popcorn, but this is so much more relaxing, given his penchant for escaping.

After a very relaxing Easter vacation, I am ready to get back to work. I read the historical in one fell swoop and happy to discover it wasn't as bad as I thought it was. But it needs a lot of work -- my seams are showing and I seem to forget that readers cannot read my mind. My narrative arc needs to be tied to the emotional state of my main character. This is a very happy place for me though. Revising. I'm armed with sticky notes, colored pens, a notebook, index cards -- hello office supplies! -- but most importantly, a great love for this story. I hope I won't be on the hamster wheel for too long. Actually, I have a deadline. Seven weeks. Before school lets out for the summer holidays.

Here are some of my favorite books/tools on revision -- some pages it seems I have to read over and over again.
Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison (her website is very helpful too)
Second Sight by Cheryl Klein
Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

Please share some of your favorite books and tools for revising a novel.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Decorating my Blog

I've been spending a fair bit of time blogging and something seemed amiss. And it hit me. No Catholic sacramentals. This is my online *home* and I wanted to have some beautiful reminders of my faith. I was half-tempted to copy some of the artwork in the new Campion Missal, but there are a number of free symbols available. You can see my choice -- it reflects my love of the traditional Roman Catholic rites. I even catch myself dreaming in Latin sometimes, singing the Gloria or Credo, or a bit of text from the Introit. I'm at Mass, where heaven and earth meet. I can no longer separate myself from my faith. By grace, it continues to grow.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Walking and Running

I much prefer my walks alone covering about three miles in an hour than running. I can enjoy the flowers, bunnies, and gators. Hmm, I'm thinking my writing is a lot like my walking as well.

However, I am immensely proud of my family for participating in the Cooper River Bridge Run. It's 10K. My son said he made it in just about an hour and my daughter and husband were about 10 min behind him. It was a gorgeous day for it. I'm glad they don't mind being with 40,000 people. And thankful they are home again. Don't they look pleased?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sunshine and Kids

It's been sunny and the weekend I was in Tigerville, my family had a great time lounging around on the back porch. The week after there was the state archery tournament. There were probably 600 kids and a hundred archers at a time would shoot. There's a very satisfying "thwick" sound when the arrow hits the target. Multiply that by a 100 ...                 


Now that archery is done, my daughter is on a campaign to get horse-back riding lessons. I tell you, that kid needs a JOB! See that drawing below of the horse? It's also gracing my wall. The other one was made by her friend. Talented kids, no? Maybe we ought to sell these drawings to generate some income for those lessons ...

Is it my imagination or are my kids growing up too fast?


As you can see, my head is full of stuff. I suppose if I were to remain quiet, I'd appear a whole lot enigmatic, just like my cat.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Books and Unexpected Good News

March was a good month for books. Pocket Hamster is published by Compass Media. The illustrations by Janet Samuel are darling. This was a book I wrote for my daughter and her friend in WA who had a dwarf hamster. I love the challenge of being creative within constraints. Dare I compare it to poetry? In this case, there are word limits, word choices (easy readers for non-native English speakers), sentence length and structure. But the first draft just poured out and once I had my story, I could tweak it to fit the guidelines. I've written several books for Compass Media, and they were all such fun to write. I can't wait to see them all in print.

I'm holding Poems to Go! It's an anthology of poems published by Highlights and one of my poems, April Snow, is in it. Shannon Grogan alerted me because they were being sold at Target for a dollar!!! She mailed me a couple of copies and I went to the local Target and bought more. Such fun to have these to share with my young friends. They also had a book of rebuses, and I picked those up too. These are great for beginning readers.

I do love the Blueboard community I belong to. Another woman, Amanda Coppedge, a writer- librarian, told me that my book ROOTS, is in the Collaborative Summer Library Program manual -- aka the manual used by most libraries in the United States. I didn't even understand the significance of this until she told me that my book is one of the top five gardening books chosen for preschoolers. Wow! My little book. It's part of a series, so check them all out, especially if you have preK-Grade 2 kids.

When I told my children, they were completely unimpressed. "Those books are for illiterate kids."
Grin! If I ever have another child, I will teach him to say, "I'm illiterate" until he learns to read. Hee hee.