Sunday, July 30, 2017

Family Fun

My side of the family is scattered far and wide, though at several times my brother and sister have lived in the same area. I was always so jealous because they'd get together frequently. For nearly a dozen years we enjoyed living within driving distance to Michael's parents and siblings and it was so lovely to grow closer together. I always appreciated the time and effort my in-laws took to visit us at least once a month, if not more. And since we've moved away to SC, we've still managed to visit them, thanks to their generosity.

My parents have lived the academic life, full of students and colleagues, with trips to deliver papers all over the world. They'd come to visit us or we'd visit them, but it was typical to let 5+ years go by, which most people think is terrible. However, we were a fractured family from my childhood, so absence was the norm, rather than the exception. It is rather sad we have so few shared memories. But it is what it is, and perhaps even a part of the reason for having a writing life, for we all are a family of letter writers. We express ourselves best through letters. By chance I came across a box of letters and this envelope with a letter and some pictures from our time in Belgium was right on top. It brought back memories of our happy time visiting with both sets of parents. I am very, very thankful to be able to spend several days with my parents after the Catholic Writing Conference. And I hope we won't let another 5 yrs pass by before making a visit. I am determined to make this happen again next year. Wish me luck! I must sell a book or two :)

My father is no longer hale and hearty as he used to be. He had a bad fall two years ago; he broke his femur, so now has a metallic half-hip. He lives in a lot of pain but remains cheerful, taking pleasure in all the small things life has to offer. My parents have established a routine that allows them to have interaction with people and given that they are both professors, enjoy sharing their wisdom with young people. I was so heartened to see how kind people are everywhere they went, at the grocery store, restaurant, library.

Here are some scenes. I must admit that my father reminded me very much of Ove from the book and movie, A Man Called Ove :)  Also, any time I visit a new library, I check to see whether my books are available and here, they carried the Spanish translations of my Capstone books too!!! Fun to see them. And isn't it funny that my step-mother could be my biological mother? We have the same curly hair and round faces. I love her. She makes wonderful Mexican and Indian food and dotes on my dad. I finally got to share Ten Easter Eggs with them!  


Friday, July 28, 2017

Dialogue -- It's Not Just Talk

You all must think I'm a blogging maniac (3 posts in as many days :) but I needed to refer to this article and discovered it still wasn't live. So resurrecting this from the web archives: Dialogue -- It’s Not Just Talk


“Molly’s gone!”

“That can’t be right.”

These are the first lines of three different stories.  Notice anything?  They all start with a child talking.  Forget setting and description.  Open the child’s mouth and hear what that child has to say.

 Three Ways to Use Dialogue

“Stop!” yelled Tim.  Amy whirled around.  “You left your stuff.”

“Thanks,” said Amy, taking her backpack.  She felt silly for running down the hall.  She’d already missed the bus.

Let conversation carry the plot.  There is time for narration and back-story.  Why was Amy running down the hall?  Maybe Tim and Amy will take a walk together and discover something.  So will the reader.  Weave action and description with dialogue.  Your readers should be able to see and hear the characters in their heads.

Too often, we start our stories too early.  By the time we understand our character’s background, the reader is yawning and reaching for something else to do.  Chances are, if you involve the reader immediately in the story, he or she will understand our character’s motivation by the end of the story.

I don’t mean that you should always start your stories with people talking.  Sometimes, a sentence or paragraph is required to set the mood.  But just as an exercise, try writing a scene beginning with talk.  Take your story-child to a park, a zoo or a bus-station.  Let the child talk and find out what happens.  You may be amazed at how fast the story unfolds.  Let dialogue quicken the pace your story.

Watch children at a library or a bookstore.  They will flip through a book and select a snippet to read.  And more often than not, they are reading dialogue.  Dialogue means at least two people talking.  It is not idle chit-chat, unless you want to show that the character is concerned with the trivial.  Dialogue moves the story forward.  And it gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters you have created first-hand.

Give everybody talking a unique voice.  For that, you have to let your characters talk in your head.  A young child may speak of being scared of the dark or loving the whoosh of the slide.  An older child may complain about homework.  A teenaged girl may agonize over and over-analyze the actions of a boy she likes.  Foreign kids may pepper their speech with their native language.  Let your characters talk to YOU.  I do that and sometimes the chattering in my head is so loud that I cannot sleep at night.  Although this may seem like an insane thing to do, you won’t regret it.  My characters love to talk and they do things that surprise me.  I pick up my pencil and scribble down what they’re saying as fast as I can.  Let dialogue bring a flat, puppet-like character to life!

Dialogue: What It’s Not

Staying true to your characters doesn’t mean that you must use slang, bad language or dialects.  It is distracting, difficult and entirely unnecessary.  Readers will supply the accent when they read it.  Dialogue is meant to resemble people talking, not a literal transcription.  My very first writing teacher, Peggy King Anderson, said, “Dialogue is the illusion of conversation.” 

Five Rules to Remember:

Dialogue is one place where your mechanics can get sloppy.  So brush up.  You don’t want to have a great story sent back because the editor is wary of working with someone who is careless. 

Rule 1.  Always change paragraphs when you change speakers.

“Molly’s gone!” said Tim.

“She’s in big trouble,” said Mom, glaring.

Rule 2.  Tag your dialogue. 

It isn’t always clear who said what in a long exchange or when the characters first start talking.  Help the reader, especially the beginning reader.  It’s enough to say, Tim said, said Mom, etc.  Keep it simple.  You’ll bring attention to the tags if you use perfectly correct verbs like, responded, answered.  Use them sparingly.

Rule 3.  Make sure your characters say, speak, yell or shout those words.  The words will NOT glare, laugh or blink.

Wrong:  “She’s in big trouble,” glared Mom.

Right:    “She’s in big trouble,” said Mom, glaring.

Right:    “She’s in big trouble.” Mom glared.

Rule 4.  Use correct punctuation.

Spoken words and punctuation marks, like commas, periods, question marks, dashes and exclamation points go inside the quotation marks.  Do not capitalize the beginnings of tags unless you start a new sentence.  Here is a scene containing several examples of correctly punctuated dialogue.

“That can’t be right.”  I think aloud in my math class.

“What?” asks Mr. Hatch, turning around.

“You can’t divide by a minus b,” I say slowly, “because earlier you had set them equal to each other and division by zero ...”

“ illegal.”  Mr. Hatch completes my sentence.  I hate that.

Rule 5.  Read it aloud.

I always read my stories out loud to see where I stumble.  But reading dialogue aloud will help you to hear whether the speech sounds natural.

Dialogue:  it’s not just people talking.  Let it carry the plot, quicken the pace and bring your characters to life.  Lee Wyndham said it best.  “Let them do the talking!”

For a master class on Dialogue check out Barbara Linn Probst's article on WriterUnboxed: A Dozen Solutions to the “Dialogue Tag” – Writer Unboxed 


1.     John C. Hodges et. al.  1994.  Harbrace College Handbook (Twelfth Edition).  Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

2.     Vincent F. Hopper et. al.  2000.  Essentials of English (Fifth Edition).  Barron’s Educational Series.

3.     Lee Wyndham and Arnold Madison.  1989.  Writing for Children & Teenagers (Third Edition).  Writer’s Digest Books.

"Dialogue: It's Not Just Talk" was first published in the Oct. 2003 issue of ICL's Rx for Writers.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Belmont Abbey and Summer Fun

While I was in Chicago at the Catholic Writing Conference, Dagny was at Belmont Abbey for their summer schola program. She had a wonderful time reading great books, discussing them, and enjoying the sights in Charlotte, NC. We had the opportunity to all go together to drop her off. Enroute, we stopped at St. Ann's for high Mass. That's what I call a perfect date!!!



We're having a lovely summer, full of wonderful opportunities for work and play. Dagny designed the tee-shirt for the youth group mission week. Max took time off work to participate and I'm so glad he had the opportunity to serve in a sustained manner. They had a day off for July 4th and you can see what fun they had playing in the lake!



Here she is riding off to work at Publix. We just love seeing our kids in the wild.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Catholic Writing Conference Part I -- Meeting Old Friends; Making New Friends

This was in the entrance of the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg. My friend Anne Bingham, whom I've known on the Blueboards for years offered to pick me up from O'Hare. It's not a short drive at all but Midwesterners are a hardy lot and she showed not a single sign of fatigue. She gave me a hug and said she brought me a present. And Marcia Hoehne jumped out of nowhere. I couldn't believe my eyes. It couldn't be! She had family visiting. But that hug was very real, as real as the enormous sandwiches we ate in the hotel restaurant. It was great to talk shop and family. I couldn't stop staring into their blue-blue eyes!!! Before they left, Marcia prayed over my head and I had an amazing time--completely headache free for the whole week I was in the Chicago area. It's a miracle!!! Praise God!!!



I've been a member of the Catholic Writer's Guild for three years. Only last year did I begin to get to know some of the members because the guild has a private Facebook place where we can share prayer intentions and writing stuff. It is one of the reasons I joined FB because this seems to be the way how a group of people with common interests communicate. So, what a pleasure to finally meet some of these folks and more while at the conference. What's brilliant is that they hold it in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network trade show where vendors and retailers can get together to see all the latest goodies.

So it was especially fun to listen to Mike Aquilina talk about his newest book that he wrote with his daughter: A History of the Church in 100 Objects. Many people read their way into Church, but most people don't care about theology or history; they want St. Joseph's statue and know how to bury it properly. Most Catholics are not scholars, but they practice the faith. And throughout much of history, the believers were illiterate. Their faith came from stuff rather than philosophy. Our faith is encoded in stuff. Matter matters to us. Our God gets mixed up with humans--He becomes Incarnate. He wrought miracles through the material. Biblical religion dares us to check the facts about the Ark, the Crucifixion, Resurrection, St. Peter's Basilica. Catholicism is a religion of stuff--sacramental.

Aquilina quotes Andrew Greeley from the Catholic Imagination: "Catholics live in an enchanted world: a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are merely hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility that inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. The world of the Catholic is haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of Grace."

I thoroughly enjoyed the trade show as well and wished I weren't flying because I would've loved to pick up even more things, not just books. As it is, I ended up mailing a box to myself and I can't wait to dive into all these beautiful new books.

Daily Mass, Adoration and Confession were offered. And the CMN set up pilgrimages. I was so torn because I'd just finished a little home retreat with Archbishop Fulton Sheen and the Little Flower but I have a great attraction to St. Maximilian Kolbe (born on his birthday, married on his Feast Day, and named my firstborn Max). I chose to go to Marytown, the national shrine of this great saint. It's a jewel in the diocese of Illinois. The pictures don't do justice. I had such a good time visiting with Deanna Klingel on the bus to Marytown and Brother Augustine was a wonderful narrator. I notice that monks and nuns everywhere are incredibly happy people!





Here are two wonderful gentlemen I got to meet, Bud McFarlane, one of the founding members of the CMN, and Amar Patel, mathematician/writer, who was inspired to write after he read Bud's books! He was just asking me whether I knew of him, and I did not, and there walked Bud out of a classroom. Amar fan-boyed over Bud. It was great! We got to talking and I lamented the loss of my favorite wooden rosary that I've touched to various relics and Bud was so kind, he gave me a St. Francis/St. Anthony medal that's been touched to different relics, including the True Cross!

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more. Part 2 HERE.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Love Story

Several years ago, I wrote a short piece for Catholic Digest on our conversion. I've always wanted to say more because I'm a woman in love and I can't stop thinking about my first Love: Jesus Christ.

Baptism: I'm like the paralytic brought to Jesus

There's only one baby picture of me, I suspect because I was the fourth and last child of my parents, born in Khandwa, India. Although my mother was raised in the Anglican Church (her father was a priest who went on to become a Bishop) she brought me to Jesus at a Methodist Church, probably because the pastor there, Rev. Sham Rao, was a family friend. He baptized me when I was 2 months old, on the Feast of St. Patrick, March 17. My soul was marked as belonging to Jesus. I will always be grateful to my parents for my life, but especially for baptism.

And so began my life in Christ. I do not have a memory of not being in conversation with Him as a small child. He was ever present in my mind and I remember falling off chairs and tables because I was making space for him on those chairs and tables. I was already in love, thanks to all the Bible stories my mother shared. I was also aware of my guardian angel and had complete confidence of his protection. I lived without any sort of fear. My mother suffered greatly because of this. She tried to tell me cautionary tales but to no avail. I also had no fear of death because I knew that then I'd get to be with Jesus forever, just like my older brother, Arun.  

And so I grew. We moved to Bhopal when I was still an infant and there I went to St. Joseph's Convent School when I turned four years old. I loved the sisters and was sure I'd be a nun some day, a doctor-nun.

My father went to Germany to study and it was a shock to realize I'd forgotten him upon his return. I was five when he left again, to the US, and it was a very difficult time for my mother, managing everything on her own and not having any money after my other brother had a case of rheumatoid arthritis as well as several abdominal operations. I wrote about this in A Feast for Christmas. One thing that amazed me was my mother's faith in God's providence. And He did provide.

We moved to the US shortly thereafter, but returned to India a year later with my sister and mother when my parents' marriage began to fail. My brother stayed behind with my father in the US. And although I didn't know it at the time, this would be disastrous for my faith. I only knew that after we returned to India, I'd not only lost half my family, I'd also lost my best friend, Jesus. I no longer enjoyed the same closeness as I once did.

Eroding Faith: the Necessity of a Father

I was ten years old when I read the Diary of Anne Frank. I wept over what I learned was the holocaust. I couldn't believe that God would allow such carnage, and to His chosen people! This problem of suffering was one that my mother couldn't answer. She told me to have faith, but I was losing it. By that time, I was also aware of the suffering around me--the poor, the sick, the destitute. It seemed God didn't care for His creation at all, that only people like Mother Teresa, Damien of Molokai, and Albert Schweitzer did anything to alleviate suffering. They became my role models. By the time I turned twelve, I made a conscious decision not to pray because it seemed useless. I wanted to be a doer, not realizing that the great works of the saints had a foundation of prayer. But the day I made my decision, I cried buckets because I had truly lost my best Friend.

The absence of my father loomed large and I decided to rely upon myself, become self-sufficient. I enjoyed my studies and dreamed big dreams, of ministering to the sick, and in my old age, writing about the many adventures I would have. And as I grew and matured, I was puffed up with myself and missed Jesus less and less, until I didn't think of Him at all. I filled my time with studies and work and music. I think perhaps music and science are the two subjects of my curiosity and delight that still made me think, Oh how beautiful! There must be a God.

Where Sin Abounds so does Grace

I broke my poor mother's heart by being utterly willful and unrepentant of anything. She, of great faith, couldn't understand how she could've raised a child who actively chose not to have faith. I went to church, only to sing in the choir and make us both happy. I met the love of my life (now my husband) and reveled in the lust. We joked about how eager I was to be corrupted.  

When my mother died, there was no longer a reason to go to church and I didn't after the funeral. I was finishing up my studies in microbiology and was thinking about getting a job. Dreams of medical school vaporized; I was utterly alone and desolate. For the first time I felt fear. Fear of debt. Fear of failure. Fear of myself. When the acceptance letter finally came, I declined.

I spent more than a decade of my life in decadence. I didn't give a thought to the poor or suffering. I lived for myself and for pleasures. I thank my guardian angel for protecting me because surely had I died in my 20s I'd be in hell. I would've rejected God's mercy because frankly, I didn't think I needed it. I'd lost all sense of sin.

A Softening of the Heart

Michael and I finally married after ten years of pursuing our own dreams separately. That was the first step in living not just for myself, but for him too. I thought I'd given my all to him but it wasn't so. I withheld my fertility. Only five years later did we decide to grow our family. Max and Dagny taught me (still teaching :) even more about how to love, but just as quickly we closed that door, and this time permanently, with a vasectomy (we joked it was his 40th birthday present--and I write about those regrets in Contraception, Infertility and a Faith Journey).    

I quit working as a research scientist and embraced the life of being a homemaker. That old buried dream of writing surfaced. While still pregnant with Dagny, I looked into taking a writing class at the community college and as luck would have it, Peggy King Anderson was offering a class weeknights on children's writing and best of all it was offered at the local high school, just 10 min away. I didn't know the first thing about children's literature but I loved it, especially since I was discovering a wealth of it with Max, who adored being read to.

Some of the women in this writing class and the next one I took a couple of years later became my critique partners. I grew with them thanks to their many secret prayers. Molly and I would stay late talking books and faith and it was she who told me I was the world's worst atheist. She could see the little flame of God inside me, even if I was unaware.

My journey of faith is tied to Michael's. He had grown up with no faith at all and sometimes I think my loss of faith was necessary for us to be together. Tragedy struck American soil on 9/11 and it shook Michael to the core. He started examining his values and reading more conservative literature. We often talked about the things he was reading and I was writing. Our hearts were softening. 

The kids started school and with it came several bad influences, though the good far outweighed the bad. We didn't know how to counter the permissive culture, the complete insanity of rejecting natural law. I thought about my own childhood and the wonderful assurance that Jesus gave me but I couldn't be a hypocrite and send the kids to Sunday school when we did not believe. So we tried our best to love and raise the children with an emphasis on having a sense of right and wrong that is indeed written upon our hearts.

But one Christmas I was compelled to buy a children's Bible (You gotta love Amazon. I just checked on the link and it was Dec. 5, 2006 :) and Michael was so enamored by it, he offered to read the stories to the children. So began a love affair night after night as we read stories.

Church: Which One? 

But how we resisted going to church. I liked the Jesus and me theology. It was simple and uncomplicated. Also, every church we looked into didn't seem right. A group of people met to worship at the elementary school, but it felt too casual. I know that when two or three gather in His Name, He's there, but I wanted a sense of the sacred. Then there was a big church at the bottom of our hill that advertised "No Weird Stuff." What were they implying? That there's weird stuff in other churches? I went online to investigate the Anglican church, the one where I had some roots. But it was no longer the same church even. There were women priests and even homosexual priests. How could it be? It's as if people made the church in their own image. Whatever they liked in the Bible, they kept, and whatever they didn't (like the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, remember Henry VIII?), they just threw out. Finally, after much grumbling, it made sense to go to the first church that Jesus established, which was the Catholic Church.

It was Fall 2008. Max and Dagny were already in school and had begun playing organized sports. Michael thought it might be good to wait until after football season ended but that didn't make any sense to me because faith shouldn't depend upon any season. So we went one Sunday in October to St. Jude Parish, just 10 min away, near the high school.

I cried and cried because I was home. My kids had never seen me cry like this so I had to assure them it was because I was happy. Later Michael told me it all seemed very strange because the only thing he knew about the Catholic Mass came from movies like The Godfather :) 

After Mass, I tried to enroll the kids in Sunday school but Mary, the very nice lady in-charge asked about the childrens' ages and when they were baptized and I said, "never," she told me I needed to speak to Deacon Karl about RCIA. What in the heck, I thought. She said it was a Rite of Christian Initiation. Boy, I thought, why can't you just join a Catholic Church; why all the fuss? Any other church would welcome us with open arms, but not Catholics; they made it hard with all their rules. But I am glad they do.

RCIA: Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults

So I took my complaints and questions to Deacon Karl and he was wonderful about explaining everything. We enrolled in RCIA, which had already begun. We all went to morning Mass on Sunday but Michael and I and the others who were inquiring about the Catholic faith were dismissed after the homily so that we could more deeply ponder the Gospel. The kids stayed in church with our sponsors. I will always be grateful to the donut ministry that kept my kids sugared up and Knights of Columbus for keeping an eye on our kids while our sponsors joined us for RCIA. We'd go home for a few hours, then returned for the children's RCIA, led by Mary. Then it was time for Mass and this time, the children were dismissed for lectio divina. Deacon Karl worried about us burning out and suggested we do this over a couple of years, first the parents, then the children or vice versa, but I am so glad we made this journey of faith together. I now hear that it's very rare for entire families to enter the Church so but God granted us all the graces. Our Sundays automatically became reserved for Church, given we only had a few hours in the afternoon. And our conversations often revolved around the Catholic faith. But it wasn't smooth sailing at all. My health took a dive. Migraines became more frequent and vicious. I had to reverse every single position I held that went against the faith. It definitely bruised my pride but I'd rather live with Truth. It is both good and beautiful, though not always easy.

RCIA helped me to fall in love again. At any point in the journey, any of us could've dropped out. In fact, in our adult class, two Protestant women left before the Rite of Acceptance. During Lent, there were scrutinies and minor exorcisms. I almost lost it all on Palm Sunday. After reading the Passion during Mass, I felt unworthy. I knew I deserved death, not life. But Jesus drew me to Himself and showered all His tender mercies upon me. I wanted nothing more than to be in the shelter of His Cross, to be washed clean in His Blood. Our entire family was received into the Holy Roman Catholic Church at Easter Vigil--April 11, 2009, the feast of St. Gemma Galgani. I know all heaven was rejoicing, and especially my mother and brother and all our beloved dead. Many friends here on earth were also praying for us and I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them.

A New Creation

We are no longer the same. We are new creations in Christ. We might look the same, keep the same job, have the same hobbies, but we are no longer the same people and we could no longer keep on living the way we used to. Michael and I opened our marriage again to new life. We made sacrifices for the children to be able to attend Catholic schools. And thanks to The Godfather, Michael searched out the Mass of the Ages and we happily attend the Latin Mass. We prayed for more faith and God opened doors that we simply had to walk through. Our move to SC was that of fleeing Egypt, says Michael. I find myself writing about the saints or other treasures of the Church--her wealth inexhaustible. For the first time, I will attend a Catholic writing conference. I find myself returning to the childhood state of being in conversation with Jesus throughout the day. And the fire that was ignited at baptism burns so hot, I want to light the whole world on fire. This is my love story. It has no ending because it will continue through all eternity.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


My sister-in-law and her family came to visit last week so we took the opportunity to be tourists in our own town! All pictures taken by Max. I love his eye for the details.