Thursday, October 27, 2016

Catch a Judge's Eye

It's only fitting I post a picture of myself with my best helper. Hmmm, I think here I was judging a school writing contest.

From the web archive: Catch a Judge's Eye

Last year (2007), I had the pleasure of serving as one of the judges for the Magazine Merit Awards to recognize outstanding works of writers and illustrators published in 2006. Over Christmas vacation, after the deadline for nominations had passed, I read by genre, made notes and concluded that all stories aren’t created equally.  Some were merely competent.  Many were good.  But there were the exceptional few that stayed with me, transformed me, wowed me.  It was truly an educational and eye-opening experience for me as a writer.

What caught this judge’s eye?  Stories and articles that surprised, educated, and entertained me.  Poems that begged to be read out loud and illustrations that leaped off the page and into my imagination.  Let me give you some examples.


What separates a good story from an award-winning one?  Voice.  It’s seems so elusive, but voice is how you or your characters say things, see the world, choose what to pay attention to, and ignore. 

Consider Rosie the dog, narrator of “Stinky Treasure” by Jacqueline Adams (Highlights, Apr. 2006).  Rosie’s (mis)interpretations drive the story.  She thinks: “Garbage is so special that no one is allowed to touch it.”  In the end Rosie concludes: “A dump must be a place where people store their garbage after it gets stinky.  So a dump is ... the most wonderful place of all!”  You’ll have to agree that Rosie’s voice is unique, fresh and funny. 

Highlights for Children editor, Marileta Robinson, remembered this piece fondly.  “It was our fiction contest winner, which means that it rose to the top amongst 1,500 entries.  We all enjoyed the sly good humor of this lovable character.”

There are no new stories, right?  Only old stories told in a new way.  Consider folktales.  What makes them fresh?  Evocative language.  A new setting.  A different viewpoint.  In Patricia Bridgman’s retold Chinese folktale, “One Thousand Dragons,” (Cricket, July 2006), a young girl discovers her power and uses it to escape an evil emperor.  I literally felt ten thousand dragon wings flap as they came to life when Ling painted their eyes.  Deborah Vetter, Editor at Cricket, said, “It reflects a powerful folktale motif in which the character brings a painting to life and escapes death or slavery.”  She added, “At Cricket we love folktales, and we love seeing the same motifs crop up in stories from all over the world.”

“The Wednesday Club” by Anna Levine (Cicada, Jan./Feb. 2006) touched all of our hearts with its honest and hopeful portrayal of a young girl whose mother battles cancer.  Later, I discovered that Levine’s sister had passed away from breast cancer.  The story was written in her honor. Vetter said, “Anna was determined to get it right.  She and I worked through several revisions, and I was so proud of her when she nailed it.  She poured herself into the story.”

Passion.  It’s the heart of a story.  Revision.  It’s work that lets the reader feel your heart.


The best nonfiction articles were highly focused.  “Treasures in a Pinecone” by Jan Black won my heart (Highlights, Dec. 2006). The author wondered, like a child, why pinecones are sometimes closed and sometimes open. It was a personal account, simply told, a great introduction to science and to the power of observation.  Melanie Hope Greenberg, my co-judge said, “Lovely visual language, calling seeds ‘treasures’, hearing pinecones ‘crackling’ open.”  Robinson summed it up in one word: “enthusiastic.”

Children enjoy reading about famous people.  And little-known facts about them make great magazine articles.  Both Trish Early and Barbara Kerley wrote focused articles about famous people: “Ben Franklin: Fit for Life” (Highlights, July 2006) and “Josiah, the White House Badger,” (Highlights, Apr. 2006) respectively.  Both articles were meticulously researched, evidenced by their vivid and telling details.

Many articles started off with a bang, then lost steam and momentum shortly afterwards.  Compelling nonfiction grabs you by the throat and reels you in with every tasty morsel.  Two outstanding articles that succeeded in keeping my interest to the very end were “Libby or Liberty” by Tracey E. Fern (Cricket, July 2006) and “The Town Underground” by Claudia Cangilla McAdam (Cricket, Apr. 2006).  Cricket’s Vetter remembered these pieces vividly.  “Tracey Fern is an author who knows how to find the ‘story’ in ‘history’,” said Vetter who also commented on how astounded everybody was by the idea of an underground town.  She said, “What ingenuity, what novelty, what an exotic life in the Australian desert!”

A great magazine piece keeps the excitement, the sense of awe and discovery, no matter its length.  Vetter said, “We look for a premise, excellent research, the ability to explain difficult concepts, and a creative approach that will bring the topic alive for young readers.” 


Pictures that jumped off the page were my favorites.  I could literally feel “Winter Clothes” (poem by Karla Kuskin) that Mary Bono illustrated (Highlights, Jan. 2006).  It had texture.  Robinson remarked that Bono had knitted all the adorable little clothes herself.  

Judge Greenberg, herself a visual artist, said of Karen Lee’s cover art for Highlights for Children: “Delightful characters that are alive, everything is in motion, not static.”


Anna Levine’s “Saxophone Summer” (Cicada, May/June 2006) sizzled.  We loved the syncopated rhythm that sounded like red hot jazz.  In contrast, Cynthia Porter’s “How Many Moons?” (Spider, Feb. 2006) was quiet and reflective.  Natalie Rosinsky, my co-judge said, “A small gem, where every word is aptly chosen and emotions of awe, appreciation, recognition of fleeting time, and a sense of place are conveyed so vividly and economically.”

Both Robinson and Vetter confirmed our gut reactions.  Poetry is the shortest, most precise form of writing, and you either get it or don’t.  There seems to be no middle ground. “Editors tend to disagree wildly on any manuscript submission.  Poetry is especially subjective; so is humor.  What makes me laugh out loud can leave my Editor-in-Chief scratching her head – and vice versa!” said Vetter.


My favorite pieces stayed fresh even after repeated readings.  The passion for the topic shone through.  Months later, I’m still thinking about them.  So, write what you love, what piques your interest, and publication and recognition will surely follow.

"Catch a Judge's Eye" was first published in the Jan-Feb. 2008 Bulletin.

Cover art by Thacher Hurd.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Story Genius by Lisa Cron STORY GENIUS: howto use brain science to go beyond outlining and write a riveting novel* [*beforeyou waste three years writing 327 pages that go nowhere] by Lisa Cron is a gem of a craft book. I think it’s the first book I’ve read where I’ve been privy to the actual process because Lisa Cron gets her friend Jennie Nash to work on her new novel. That itself was fascinating to see. The Story Genius is built on the foundation that what we write is the second half of the story, that everything the characters do is based upon who they are (this seems obvious but so often goes missing) and their motivations. The thing that has hit pay-dirt for me is the notion of the “misbelief.”

Cron says, “all protagonists stand on the threshold of the novel they’re about to be flung into with two things about to burn a hole their pockets:
1.       A deep-seated desire – something they’ve wanted for a very long time.
2.      A defining misbelief that stands in the way of achieving that desire. This is where the fear that’s holding them back comes from.
Taken together, these two warring elements will become your novel’s third rail, the live wire that everything that happens must touch, creating the emotional jolt that forces your protagonist to struggle as he tries to figure out what to do.”

The SG method is organic. This is sort of how I write a big book. I usually write an outline AFTER I write a first draft. And this is where SG comes in handy as well. The scene cards that Lisa Cron has developed make sure that your plot will follow a logical progression of events. Not predictable. Logical.
I could make a template to show you her scene card but it’s best if you get yourself a copy of this book. I highly recommend it both for developing your story and for revising it.
Some criticisms. I wish Lisa Cron wouldn’t call this brain science because it isn’t. Just because you can measure some dopamine does not make this science. This is art folks. And I wish artists would own up to it. Also, she spend the first part of the book dismissing other methods like writing by the seat of your pants or outlining. The craft books I have sitting on my shelf all have something that resonates. The Story Genius method is about getting to know your characters first and a lot of that happens by the seat of your pants and the structure comes from outlining. Normally, I'll dock off a star for something like this but I make an exception here because the merits of the book far outweigh these quibbles. I’ve already marked my copy extensively and will use not just to revise but to write new books. Thanks Lisa for writing a wonderful craft book and to Jennie for sharing her work-in-progress. And thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a review copy. I've cross-posted this review on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On Generational Spirits

I spent a most enjoyable hour petting the kittens as I listened to Fr. Chad Rippenger (sorry, but I can't seem to make a direct audio link)expand upon the article he'd written a couple of years ago in the Latin Mass Magazine on generational spirits through the last hundred years. It's a fascinating account of both social and spiritual history, and a reasonable explanation of how we've managed to sink so low. Here's a summary as part of Fr. Anderson's homily.

The generation that came of age during WWI suffered a great deal but did not express it, especially talking about the virtue of embracing the cross. Their children, who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in WWII are called the Greatest Generation (remember Tom Brokow's book?) and although they did what had to be done, they lacked a "spirit of mortification." They never wanted their children to suffer as they had and so they indulged their children. These are the Baby Boomers (Michael and I are both in this generation and the way we spent our 20s and 30s reflects what follows). Their parents “did not pass on the traditions of their fathers which required discipline and self-denial," which led to lack of temperance. This made them indocile (not following authority, people who know more, their betters). Yup. That was definitely us: we were our own gods. 

The children of Baby Boomers are known as Generation X and Y (born in the 70s and 80s), also called the 'me-generation' because they are noted for sense of entitlement. They are not necessarily immoral, but rather, amoral. Their children are known as Generation Z (our children fall in this category given that we had our kids later). "It is the generation that has gone without a coherent moral code, religious doctrine, or societal norms." This describes our children up until the time of our conversion and in fact, it was the lack of anything authoritative beyond us that made us realize we needed God desperately. Thank GOD! However, we still suffer from all the generational sins because it is very difficult to uproot what you've sown. Only by the grace of God are we growing in faith and virtue. And we hope and pray to keep the faith until the very end.

I will never forget this pivotal moment in our lives: Michael and the children receiving baptism and with it sanctifying grace. Tears of joy!

The Sixth Generation is the one being born now. “This generation will have a spirit that is not like any of the other generations. It is a spirit of paganism, fueled by the licentiousness and depravity passed down from the last couple of generations."

Depressing, no?

As you can see, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree for a reason, and the sins are compounded. From a "spirit on non-communication" we have reached a "spirit of depravity." Note that not everyone is affected by these. Those who try to live a sacramental life, doing their duty in their state of life, obedient to God do not succumb to the spirit of the ages.

Have hope.

Fr. Anderson says: "The Holy Spirit is at work among the young generation today. Many who are coming of age today recognize the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith in all its richness. They readily see how the rejection of traditional, orthodox Catholicism has deprived them of their spiritual inheritance, but they are claiming it back. Each generation is called by God to accomplish certain tasks, to fight off certain evils, and to achieve certain perfection. The Holy Spirit is now giving this generation what was not passed down to them. They are receiving Catholic tradition and they love it."

I have copied a prayer from Sensus Tradionis website. They have others as well.

Binding Prayer

Spirit of N., I bind you in the Name of Jesus, by the power of the most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael the Archangel, the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul and all of the saints, and I command you to leave N. (Name of person or object) and go to the foot of the Holy Cross to receive your sentence, in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I like to sing St. Patrick's Breastplate and I hope someone will sing it for me when I die.

Three generations of Bodachs -- Greatest, Baby Boomers, and Gen X, Y, Z. Parce Domine! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

On Voting, Conscience, and Holy Communion

I have refrained from discussing politics here mostly because I found a new avenue: Facebook :) But I want to share a homily from a Catholic priest, who concerned with our souls, tells us not to present ourselves to receive the most Holy Body and Blood or our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ if we vote for certain political party that promotes abortion. This is serious folks. Listen to him.   

Today is the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood's existence, which is responsible for the majority of abortions in the US. And our tax dollars fund this. We are all complicit in this evil. It is the leading cause of death (not heart disease). Each day 3,000 babies are slaughtered in our abortuaries under the guise of women's rights and choice. We should weep.

What we sow, we reap. Now the children are killing the parents. It's called euthanasia. Mercy killing. "And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?" asked Mother Teresa, now a canonized saint! Indeed. The entire transcript of her speech given at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 is worth reading.

Even if abortion were the only non-negotiable item, what many people think amounts to single-issue voting, you have to consider that the right to life precedes any other right. The Catholic Church has listed five non-negotiables because they are intrinsically evil. This means we cannot support any political party that advocates abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and same-sex "marriage." The DNC espouses all of these. One has to wonder whether the leaders of the DNC are sleeping with the devil himself.

Wake up Catholics! We can make a difference. We can change the course this country has taken. Remember there is a vacant Supreme Court seat and several of the justices are old. Whom you vote for will have consequences that will last many decades. Even if you have voted for the DNC in the past, it's time to take a hard look at the issues now and awaken your conscience. Don't be a bad Catholic.

I have made my choice. I will vote for Trump/Pence. From the time I turned 18, I have always voted for the GOP because of their policies: pro-life, pro-family, fiscally conservative, smaller govt., stronger military. But now, as a convert I find it even more important to do my part in defeating the DNC.

But above all, I pray for our country. I know that whoever is elected reflects the will of the people. May God help us. Parce Domine.

Friday, October 14, 2016


About a month ago, fathers and sons gathered for a meal. They each shared letters with one another. Yesterday evening, mothers and sons shared dinner catered by Iacofanos.

I am so proud of Max for sticking with football. I still remember the year he began, when he was nine, how worried I was given the football injuries I'd read about. I told him: protect your head. A year later after our conversion, I quit worrying and placed him under Mary's protection. I am so thankful to the wonderful coaches and teammates he's had throughout the years.

Many of my friends are surprised to learn he plays because he's more known for his brains. But he loves the game and has grown so much, both in stature and character. I love you Max and I hope you will always use your strength, both moral and physical, to care for the ones who are weaker.

Tonight: Homecoming. Bishops are undefeated. Pray they are victorious!


Monday, October 10, 2016

Greater than Gold
GREATER THAN GOLD: From Olympic Heartbreak toUltimate Redemption by David Boudia and Tim Ellsworth was such a joy to read, especially since we watched some of the 2016 Olympics, including diving. It is astonishing to me that someone would choose to hurtle towards the water from 10 meters (3-story building). Yikes! David recounts his life in an easy and engaging manner. I enjoyed learning about his family, how much his parents sacrificed for him so that he could pursue his passion (he switched from gymnastics to diving). Ultimately though, it was a story about spiritual awakening. Until he had a personal relationship with Christ, David was pursuing Olympic gold for his own glory. He doesn’t shy away from telling us the kind of person he was: self-serving. But all the material things, praise from others, left him hollow. In fact, so empty, that he even considered ending his life. But a call to his coach changed it all. They introduced him to Jesus and for the first time David was praying to God, not just going through the motions. Of course, it’s not all hunky-dory once you meet Jesus. Every day is a battle. And David wrote about those too, how to keep his eyes fixed on Jesus when all he wanted was to keep his focus on himself. It really showed me the importance of having a spiritual director, of surrounding yourself with friends who also know Jesus, who can pray with you and for you when you are weak. You all know the results. He won GOLD. But what he possesses is something greater than gold, and that is Jesus! I highly recommend this book to any teenager who is interested in sports and the Olympics (it gives an insider’s view of what it’s like being a star athlete). Thanks to BookLook for a review copy. I've also crossposted this on Amazon 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hanging Out at Home with Hurricane Matthew Raging Outside

The cooler waters of the Carolinas lessened Matthew's impact. Water level got to the grass yesterday evening but even with high tide at 1 pm today, with the wind direction changing, it looks much like yesterday. Water is being pushed out to sea. Daniel island will not be flooded. Thank God. Of course, downtown Charleston and other lowlying areas are again flooded. Praying for all for a safe journey home.

We had a relaxing time at home. A fish fry dinner, movie, rosary, music, and kitty-cuddles.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

The calm before the storm. Hello, my bloggy friends. You might appreciate a break from all that I post ... thanks to Matthew :) We are preparing as best as we can. Michael is grilling some chicken and after another lovely meal outside, we'll button up the porch, sit tight, read, write, play and pray. We are so thankful to live in the US. I feel especially bad for the poor in Haiti, Cuba and Bahamas. And it looks like Florida is going to be nailed just as hard. We are praying for all to be safe in Matthew's path. Please pray for us too. And if I drop off the web, it's probably because we lost power. Please do not worry. Sending you all our love and prayers. NB: the satellite image is beautiful though, no, despite the destruction it causes?


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reading and Writing

I've been reading a LOT of great books: DAD IS FAT by Jim Gaffigan is such a hoot. I was thinking, the guy is crazy living in NYC with his big family, but he loves it. I propose you get this for the fathers in your lives.  

Thanks to Faith Hough for introducing me to historical fiction by Michaela McColl. Prisoners of the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel was especially good. I learned so much about the teenaged Victoria from her diaries! Can you imagine having to write in pencil before your mother approves it? I have some of her other books but they need to wait ...

I purchased a couple of books for my research for a little book I'm working on and loving it. My head is full of little facts that I've been telling Michael and the kids and they know just to say uh-huh. I've taken to reading to the kittens as well. But working on a manuscript is hard with them demanding attention, sitting on my notes and pouncing upon the screen. I have come upon a trick since they prefer to sit on my papers where my attention is, instead of the blanket -- I have two sets of papers, one from on old research project and the one I currently need and get them settled on the old papers :) 

And last but not least, I am loving Lisa Cron's Story Genius. A proper review will follow, but for now, I just want to say that if you are writing a novel, do yourself a favor and get a copy (because I am not parting with mine). I love her method of identifying misbeliefs of a character early on. I've been using it to revise my historical and it's given me so much more to think about with regard to my main character's emotional arc, her belief system. 

Wishing you all happy reading and writing days. Remember: everything is research :)