Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Conversation with Bryn Fleming

Cassie and Jasper to the Rescue is the first book in the Range Riders series by Bryn Fleming. I am so proud of her!!! She was one of my star students, writing heart-stopping stories about animals. I first met her main character, a feisty cowgirl, in Lesson 2. Bryn revised the story and it made the cover of Cricket magazine. Later, she envisioned a series of books with these characters and I am so happy she found the perfect home for them with Westwind.

From the publisher: Time is short. A horse is in danger. Can cowgirl Cassie and her sidekick Jasper rescue the horse from the owner’s villainous son? Or will the mare go to the local auction and meet a bad end? The ranch kids, raised on rodeos and cattle drives, resurrect the dilapidated corral and barn of an abandoned homestead to house the soon‑to‑be‑rescued mare.

The kids hide, sneak, and spy on the neglectful horse owners. Then, in a desperate night ride, Cassie and Jasper attempt to lead the rescued horse to safety. Danger trails close behind them on a roaring four‑wheeler. Jasper musters his courage and risks all for the horse and his friend. Along the way a new friendship and understanding develops as Cassie and Jasper help the neglected horse’s elderly owner to care for her properly.

At the abandoned ranch, the pursuer reappears, forcing Cassie into a dangerous game of hide‑and‑seek in the old ranch buildings. She’s trapped in the old barn, along with the mare. Will Jasper return in time? Are the kids’ cowboy skills enough to save them all?

I received an ARC several months ago and later received a print copy in the mail. My daughter dreams of a life on a farm with animals and reading a book like this makes her realize the dream can be a reality. Bryn's own life is a huge inspiration. We had a little conversation we'd like to share:

Dear Bryn, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Congratulations on your debut! And I’m thrilled to bits knowing this is going to be a series. I’ve known Cassie for some time now. Tell me, is Cassie anything like you? I loved that she came from a functional family, and was full of fire and dash. It is a joy to be with her.
Cassie has a lot of the 12-year-old Bryn in her, most especially her deep-felt connection with animals and her independence.
Not only did I love my dogs, cats, hamster, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, horse, etc. more than any other beings in my world, but I loved all animals and felt called to defend them and care for them at every opportunity.
When I read about how modern farm animals are raised in inhumane conditions, I became a vegetarian. When I learned how mink and rabbits and others were raised for their fur, I marched on Fur-Free-Friday. When I found an opossum on the road, I gathered up the scattered babies and carried them home in my sweater.
I didn’t understand how anyone could harm an animal. To me, they were always good and innocent. Like Cassie, I cared more about doing the right thing than about anyone’s opinion of me or about the usual pre-teen concerns of fashion and cliques and popularity. 
Your love and passion for animals is beautiful. I can just imagine you with a clutch of baby possums. I imagine you had very supportive parents, but you still got into trouble. Which brings me to: character and plot are closely intertwined. How do you go about imagining the troubles Cassie will get into and out of?  
Actually, Cassie’s and Jasper’s own character traits determine the plot entanglements they get themselves into. Once the characters had formed sufficiently, they seemed to find their own way. Their compassion and protectiveness for animals lead them to rescue Glory.
Given Cassie’s bond with her own horse, Rowdy, and her strong individuality and courage, she would never have turned her back on a horse in trouble.
In the second book, Jasper’s being the victim of bullying leads him to empathize with a down-and-out shelter dog. He and the dog, Willie, act courageously when a raging wildfire threatens a lost girl because of their compassion and bravery.
I remember you have several rescued animals. Have they inspired some of the stories?
Yes, definitely. I have known several neglected horses and have done what I could for them, whether it was donating hay or reporting their neglectful owners to law enforcement. I think it is part of being a good community member to watch out for the well-being of those who can’t speak for themselves.
The second book features an older dog I adopted from a rescue organization. Willie was a ten-year-old, one-hundred-pound Giant Schnauzer, totally blind from cataracts in both eyes when he was abandoned by his previous family. When I saw his face on PetFinder.com, it was love at first sight. I knew he belonged with me. In fact, I was afraid that someone else would see this amazing dog and get there first!
Since adopting Willie, I’ve “specialized” in making the final years of senior dogs as comfortable and happy as possible. I’ve since shared my home with oldster shelter dogs Harley, Summer and Bandit. Although it is hard to lose them after a few short years, I will probably always have a rescued senior dog in my home.
Bless your heart for taking care of these animals. Please tell us something about the work you nature preservation and how you balance that with your writing.
I write in the morning, before work, usually from 6 A.M. to 7 or 8, depending on when I need to meet my team for my fish job, which depends on the projects we’re working on and the season and weather. I feel fresh and energetic and full of new ideas in the morning.
As a fish biology field technician, I gather data for biologists working on restoring endangered steelhead to the Columbia River Basin.
Three times a year, we spend several weeks netting and micro-chipping fish to track their numbers and migration patterns. We also work cooperatively with beavers to improve fish-spawning habitat in local streams by building “beaver-dam-support-structures.”  The beavers build dams which form ponds and riparian areas that are good for fish.
It is strenuous outdoor work in all weather conditions, but I love that we’re helping to increase steelhead populations. I also love spending most of my time outdoors.  I feel very blessed to have a job where I can see beautiful country filled with bighorn sheep, bears, antelope, elk, bald eagles, coyotes, and wild horses.
It sounds like you have the best of both worlds, Bryn. It is good being so close to the earth and being a good steward of it. Please tell us whether writing different now than when you first began? Do you have free rein over the stories or do you work closely with your editor in the planning stages?
After working on the first book alongside my amazing editor, I feel like I’ve become a much better writer. Crafting a middle-grade adventure novel is a very precise thing. I have a much better handle on how to pace each chapter and the overall plot, how to bring out character traits, set scenes, etc.
I usually have a full story ready before I submit it and begin working with my editor. We work together to shape and hone it.
I do a lot of studying of writing techniques as well as working directly on the books. There are so many really good, detailed fiction-writing books out now that a writer can learn from; books on creating suspense, crafting dialogue, setting scenes.  I’m very disciplined and motivated about learning, so I actually love to edit my work and improve my writing skills.
You were always a good student, Bryn, and now an editor’s dream. How did you find your publisher? It is a great fit.
My agent had professional connections with one of the staff at Graphic Arts Books. She saw the potential for a good fit there with my style and subject matter and got my manuscript read.
What advice would you give writers on writing and publishing?
These days, having an agent present your work seems almost essential. Many publishing companies have pared down their staff and will only accept agented manuscripts for consideration. An agent now does that first line of filtering out potentially publishable works and submitting them. I think the publishers just don’t have time or staff to go through vast piles of manuscripts like they used to.
Yours was the first modern Western I read. Every other book was a historical. Did you purposely choose to set the characters in current time? It has worked beautifully. Kids can get an idea of a life outside cities and suburbia.
I did very purposefully choose the “New-Old- West” as my setting. 
For me, reading has always been a way to “travel” to other places, times and cultures. I wanted to open that door to young readers.
When I moved to Central Oregon six years ago, I was struck by the old west flavor that lingers here. Abandoned  homesteads still stand in sagebrush fields, cowboys still move herds of cattle from summer to winter grazing grounds and back, and kids still spend summers working on the family ranch moving irrigation pipe and baling hay.
The school in my town has just over 60 kids from kindergarten through high-school.  Some of them live here in town (population 120) and some on outlying ranches. It’s a very different world than most of my readers will get to experience in person.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just that it is a pleasure to share Cassie and Jasper’s world and adventures with young readers across the country. I also hope that the books inspire kids to believe in themselves and their ability to make the world a better, kinder place by helping animals.
I am so thankful our paths crossed at ICL. It was such a pleasure to work with you and to see you grow and succeed in this venture. I do believe you are making a huge difference in children’s lives sharing the natural beauty of the world and inspiring them to protect it. God bless you and all your endeavors, Bryn.

Friday, July 25, 2014

On Obedience

Summer is flying ... it's nearly the end of July. And St. Alphonsus has yet another virtue -- that of obedience -- for us to practice.

You are my friends, if you do the things I command you. John 15:14

When one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "Yes, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." Luke 11:28

I pray often for the gift of obedience and by the grace of God, I am learning to pay attention to what He might have me do, instead of dashing off to do what I would like. I see this in my own children, how difficult it is for them to be obedient, but they do so much better than I ever did at their age. No matter the grousing and complaining, they do obey. Like an old-fashioned wife, I am also obedient to my husband. It is something that I vowed when I got married and it has served us very well. And my husband takes my wishes into consideration. One very concrete thing that has helped me is veiling myself at Church -- not just to hide my beauty, but because it instantly puts me in an obedient frame of mind.

St. Alphonsus says, "Perfection consists in the conformity of our will to the Will of God. Now what is the surest means of knowing God's Will, and of regulating our lives according to it? It is obedience towards our lawful superiors." In my case, my husband.

"The greatest sacrifice that a soul can make to God consists in obedience to lawfully constituted superiors; for as, in the opinion of St. Thomas, "nothing is dearer to us than the liberty of our will," we can offer to God no more acceptable gift than this very liberty."

"Obedience is better than sacrifices," says the Holy Ghost (1 Kings 15:22); that is to say, God prefers obedience to all other sacrifices.

"As St. Gregory says, "By other virtues we give to God what belongs to us; by obedience we give Him ourselves."

"St. Augustine says that while Adam through disobedience brought destruction upon himself and all this posterity, the Son of God became man to redeem us and to teach us true wisdom by His life of obedience. For this reason He began as a child to practice obedience when He was subject to Mary and Joseph: He was subject to them, says St. Luke (2:51). What our Savior began as a child He continued His whole life, so that St. Paul could say: He was obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross (Phil 2:8).

"To increase our merit, Our Lord desires us to be guided by faith. Therefore, instead of speaking to us Himself, He makes His Will known to us by means of our superiors.

"When Jesus appeared to St. Paul and converted him on the road to Damascus, the future Apostle said: Lord what wilt Thou have me to do? The Lord could easily have instructed him then and there, but He did not; He merely said: Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do (Act 9:7).

Of course, the great saint reminds us that we are not obliged to commit a sin in obedience to our superiors. Hence, it is vital we form our conscience according to the teachings of the Church. She remains true to her Divine Spouse.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Please Pray for Persecuted Christians in the Middle East

Copied from Rorate Caeli:

In solidarity with our Persecuted Brethren in Iraq and Syria
Nun (ن), the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet (the equivalent of letter N in our Roman alphabet), is the first letter of the word Nasara (نصارى : Nazarenes), the way Muslims have called Christians since the beginning of their invasion of the Christian world in the 7th century -- Christians under Muslim rule never called themselves thus, since the intent of Muslims was to portray Christians as a contemptible and disobedient sect.

In their genocidal physical elimination of Christians from the Mesopotamian city of Mosul, Muslim terrorists marked each Christian-owned institution and building with this letter, for the extermination of holdouts and expropriation of their belongings.
Friday, August 1, 2014
This was the day chosen by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) for a worldwide day of Public Adoration of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in supplication for our persecuted brethren in Iraq, Syria, and the Middle East:
The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter asks all of its apostolates around the world to dedicate Friday, August 1 to a day of prayer and penance for the Christians who are suffering terrible persecution in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
August 1 is the First Friday of the month and the Feast of St. Peter in Chains, which is celebrated as a Third Class Feast in FSSP houses and apostolates. It is the feast in which we read of the great power of the persevering prayer of members of the Church: “Peter therefore was kept in Prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for him.” (Acts 12:5)
This feast of our Patron should be an invitation to the faithful to join us in Holy Hours and other fitting prayers to beg the Most Holy Trinity that these members of the Mystical Body may persevere in the faith, and that, like St. Peter, they may be delivered from this terrible persecution. May such a day serve as a reminder to us of the stark contrast that stands between our days of vacation and ease, and their daily struggle for survival as they are killed or exiled from their homes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer School

I usually try to minimize everything in the summer, but this year I've signed up for Nerdy Chicks Summer School offered by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Kami Kinard. Thank you, ladies, and all the faculty.

Character in a pickle is how my stories start so their workshops on building character sounds like a great way for me to get back into the writing groove before school starts. This is the easiest summer I've had in many ways. My health is good and I've been enjoying the downtime with the kids. We've been reading lots, going to the pool, the beach, and I'm scribbling, scribbling when I get a chance.

So now for a little structure. Class starts Monday! Of course, I might have to play hooky once in a while ... because I'm all grown up! So, who's coming with me? To summer school, silly, not the beach.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Air Academy

Max is involved in First Robotics (an intense competition for high school students -- see their team page). Mentors in the industry help the students build the robots and it's a great learning experience for all -- both for students and mentors (my husband is a mentor). Through this group, Max had the wonderful opportunity to go to Oshkosh, WI for Air Academy. He had a great time learning about the history and science of flight, building airplanes, and flying them! Thanks to our sponsor, who also presented each child a flight log book!

Even though physical sciences cover flying, nothing prepares you for that magical moment when you first lift off the ground. I can't explain it, but I feel the same wonder and awe as I see a bird take flight.



The kids got to see some old planes up close and personal. Fun times. Since we are part of the Boeing family, we've had the pleasure of going to the Museum of Flight many times in Seattle. I wonder whether they will build one here in SC. We are so thankful for the work that Michael has at Boeing. He feels like a small cog at times, but it his work that allows us the comforts of life. A career in aviation is fun too. Just like microbiology allows you to peer into the depths of a cell, aviation allows you to peer at the world through a bigger lens. 



But as always, I'm happy to have my ducklings under my roof. It's great they are old enough to fly away and have an adventure, but there's nothing like seeing your kid flying back home. Thank you, God!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gone Fishing

We went camping and fishing at Lake Wateree. Alas, we didn't get even a single bite, but I had plenty of time to just read and scribble in my notebook. It was a very relaxing trip, not too far from our home ... and for the first time in 15 years my husband and I snuggled together in our tent without the kids. Our daughter was in a hammock and our son was in Wisconsin. It brought back memories of going camping with them as toddlers, how we had to watch them constantly and how sleep was nearly nonexistent. I convinced everybody to do backyard camping because it was so much easier. But a little change of scenery is refreshing for the body and soul.



This little guy left foot prints on our cooler.



Michael and Dagny went fishing again while I played in the fire ... They didn't catch any fish but the corn was sweet. And we had some brats to go with them :)


Fun to swim in the lake. It's been so long I didn't remember that the bottom is muddy. I have a preference for sandy beaches. Good thing we live so close to the ocean. These turkey vultures were busy with a catfish ...


Peaceful ... actually fishing was just an excuse to read, write and pray. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Conversation with Nandini Bajpai

Congratulations on the publication of your historical romance, STARCURSED. I saw your inspiration for this book on your blog and was blown away by how little detail there was about Leelavati. But you ran with the idea … did her character come fully formed to you?

Thank you, Vijaya! Yes, Leela was one of those rare characters that showed up fully formed and started sharing her story. There were many things I struggled with while writing the story but I never lost a sense of who she was. Maybe because I had the idea for the story and had thought about it for quite some time before I started writing it.
I loved how the plot seemed to come organically from the characters. You surprised me many times with the twists and turns in this book, yet everything that happened seemed inevitable. How did you accomplish this? Did you ever make false turns and write yourself into a corner? Did you outline the plot first or just let the characters dictate the story?
I didn’t start outlining until about mid-way into the story, and it did change a little bit in revision. I tried hard to listen to the characters and make sure that the decisions they made felt true to them. Some of them had worldviews very different to mine and I wanted their actions to be authentic for them and not impose authorial choices on people from a different time and place.
I think this is one of the best historical romances out there for teens. Did you know from the beginning the outcome you would have and worked towards it, or did you wrestle with it?
I wrestled with it! I wanted so much for the legend to have a different outcome than what I had heard, but I did not want to impose a deus ex machina that felt alien to the story. I hope the ending works and is both satisfying and believable. 
It is nail-bitingly brilliant! The swayamvara was fantastic!!! My dear readers, go ahead and click on the link ... Aren't you excited to read this book even more now?

Nandini, I loved how well you described everything. The debate was exciting and I wondered whether you had to brush up on any math for this or if you pulled all this out of a hat?
I was a math major in my freshman year of college, but I had to do my research to make sure that the debate reflected the knowledge of the time. It was pretty interesting, actually!
I was also curious whether you ever had a chance to see a water clock in a museum? My readers, I hope your curiosity is whetted even more.
Thanks! I did not see a water clock in person but I saw videos of it during my research.
Many of my readers are writer-mamas like you. Can you share a little bit about how you juggle writing and family life, travelling and book promotion?
It isn’t easy, is it? But it is very helpful to have a supportive writing community. I have been very lucky in my writing friends both online and in my local SCBWI community. When facing rejection, revisions, reviews, and work-life balance issues they’ve always had my back. It also helps to have a supportive family. My husband, kids, parents, siblings, and in-laws have all been great! I try to make a little time for writing and writing related tasks if not every day then at least every week. I was able to bring my kids along for my India book tour last year and it was wonderful to be able to share that experience with them.
You are one lucky lady for having such a supportive family. Reading the acknowledgements made me smile. You and your sisters are just like Indian Little Women. What it was like to share pages with your sisters? Was it hard being separated by time and space?
It’s pretty hard to be so far away from my sisters, but I’m thankful for modern technology that lets us stay in touch in spite of it. It’s great to be able to share pages with them. My sister Padmini is a great taskmaster and insisted on seeing pages every weekend when I was writing Starcursed. If I didn’t have her nagging me I’m not sure I would have finished this ms! My sister Anuja is a bestselling author and was a great sounding board for plot and big picture issues. She also gave me great advice on who to sub to in India. And my sister Rohini is the biggest cheerleader for us and has breathed confidence into me when I did not believe in myself. They are amazing!      
Of course, I have to ask. Do you believe in fate, the stars, horoscopes? Did your parents have a star chart prepared? I know even today many people have birth charts drawn up and they are consulted for important events, particularly marriage.
Not at all. Yes, my parents did have a star chart prepared when I was little, but they pretty much forgot about it. I found it interesting to look at and decipher as a child, in a museum artifact kind of way. Many people do still believe in and plan life events based on star charts and horoscopes even today.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions. What are you working on now?
I have a middle grade novel, Rishi and the Karmic Cat, out soon. I’m expecting revisions for it soon. I’m also working on a YA fantasy about a warrior girl set in an India inspired world. Really excited about that one!
I think congratulations are again in order!!!
Thanks so much for having me here and for reading and reviewing the book, Vijaya!!!
The pleasure is all mine, Nandini. I hope this gem of a book will find it's way into many hands.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


It's high time I shared a few of the books I've been reading. As always, a pattern emerges. For some reason, I've been compelled to study slave narratives: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs; and others compiled by state. Many of these are free on the kindle and I am so thankful that this material, this bearing of witness shall not be lost. The language is formal and the writers take great pains to spare the reader their sufferings from the most violent atrocities committed against them. Contrast that with the tell-all memoirs of today. I remember reading Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen and not being able to finish it because it was so harrowing. And I thought, someone has taken the trouble to record this so that we may never forget; how can I be such a coward as to stop halfway?

Some of the things that struck me: Faith in God. These slaves trusted in God; they gave their lives over to Him. They entrusted their children -- who were also slaves and weren't necessarily kept with the family. How many mothers and fathers have mourned the loss of their children? What surprised me over and over is how callous the owners were towards their own flesh. Many beget children through the slave women, but they thought of them as property, not children, and sold them to other plantations. I have a hard time understanding a Christian nation upholding slavery for as long as it did, but I am beginning to see how the Word in the Bible can be taken out of context to suit your own purposes. And finally, how these slaves gave thanks for the most simple joys -- of having a mug of water, or the smile upon their babies' faces, or a warm fire at night. I have always loved the spirituals but reading their stories makes them even more poignant.

In the end notes of the slave narratives, I learned that many were compelled to write so that they could help end slavery. The very first book though, that I ever read on the topic was Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It held me captive. And it goes to show the power of fiction. It is a book that changed the American landscape. This mother of seven, she was passionate about ending slavery and did what she could do! Write a best-selling novel!

Do you think about changing the world with your words? I do. They seem like lofty dreams but I know that even if one life is changed for the better from one of my stories, the effort would have been worthwhile.

So tell me, what are you passionate about?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness

I am always astounded at the wisdom of our founding fathers. Surely the hand of God was upon us because they got all the important things right, about the right to life and liberty. It's true we have horrific stains as well, that of slavery and abortion, but we squashed one evil and we will squash the other as well. God help us. Mary pray for us.

Wishing all Americans near and far a very happy Independence Day!!! I am especially pleased that our highest court has ruled in favor of religious liberty. That's definitely something to celebrate. But what a shock to learn it was won by a slim margin of 5-4. Sobering. Monsignor Pope has an excellent reflection on this: Wake up America: your liberty is on the line.

I love Eternal Father, strong to save and we sing it often at our parish.

Photos from last year, taken by Max :)