Wednesday, August 30, 2017


I've been remiss in posting book reviews because this summer has been a gobble-fest. So now I share the ones I really enjoyed. 

A Harvest of Thorns by Corban Addison exposed the clothing industry and its evils. Addison has done extensive research to show through story what it's like to work in the factories that are outsourced in poor countries, how the laborers are exploited and often abused, and the greed that makes this happen. The characters are richly drawn and each storyline is equally engrossing. How it made me want to do my own sewing because I wouldn't want to be a party to the exploitation of people in the poor countries. But I am torn--no pun intended. Having lived in India and seen what the options are, I would rather see them sewing under harsh conditions than become sexual slaves or worse. How I wish that corporations wouldn't just look at the bottom line. I don't know what the solution is. I tend to buy clothes at thrift stores because I don't like the fashions or the prices. All I can say is that thank God for divine justice. Thanks to BookLook for a review copy. I look forward to reading more from this author.

I've been reading a LOT of books on FORMED on my Kindle (the best $10/mo we spend!!!). I love snuggling up with Michael to read but he goes to bed early, so the kindle is great because I don't even have to use the bedside lamp. Michael can sleep and I can read and snuggle. And it's funny how books come onto your radar. I've been reading a lot of conversion stories even before I knew I wanted to write mine. Isn't God so very good to us?

Something Other than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. I've known a bit of Jen's story through her blog and CD but it was great to read her book for all the details. She has a very logical mind and was taught to always pursue truth. And so she did in her very logical manner when she began asking the important questions about life, death, purpose. The answers led her to Jesus. I found her thought process similar to mine in that once you find the truth, there is no compromising. You have to live what you believe, otherwise there's a cognitive dissonance.

Not God's Type by Holly Ordway is another story of reason leading one to Christ. Holly was an academic atheist and a fencing enthusiast. She laid down her sword for Christ. I loved the little detail of where her sword rests now. And no, I'm not spoiling it. Read the book. It's yet another example of there being no coincidences, just God-cidences.

Subverted by Sue Ellen Browder was an interesting book by someone who not only bought the myths and lies about the sexual revolution but also promoted them. The women's movement didn't get taken over by the sexual revolution by accident; it was orchestrated. One can see the terrible effects of it--divorce, abortion, neglected children--and now the very breakdown between the sexes. Evil. Yet, when Sue Ellen began questioning her own values, she was, by the grace of God, able to extricate herself from the pit and begin to live a grace-filled life.

Night's Bright Darkness by Sally Read is a beautifully written book. Without knowing a thing about her, I thought, she's a poet. She is, and so much more. A feminist and an atheist, she was doing research for an article on women's sexuality and she happened to interview a priest. The rest is history. I don't think she ever finished that piece on sex. I especially loved the tender friendship between her and a Catholic neighbor who seemed to have a new baby every year. How this echoes my own gratitude for the numerous Catholic friends near and far who patiently answered the thousand questions I had, who still walk and talk and laugh and cry with me. 

Abba vs. Allah by Scott Hahn. This was an audio lecture and the book that has much of this material is A Father Who Keeps His Promises: Covenant Love in Scripture. Scott Hahn is an incredible teacher. I could sit and listen to him for hours as he breaks open Scripture. For some reason I didn't take notes so I cannot share all the beautiful details but this is definitely a lecture to listen to again. Jews, Christians, and Muslims share a belief in the God of Abraham. But how we perceive God makes all the difference in the world. We Christians call Him "Daddy" because we have an understanding of Him as a loving Father, one who forgives us, one who will do anything to bring us back home, to the point of sacrificing His only Son. We'd taken a class on Genesis and still I'm discovering the wealth in it. I never picked up on God saying "only son" in reference to Isaac even though Abraham had two biological children, the other one being from the slave-woman, Hagar. And God creates a covenant with Abraham and God never, ever breaks His promises. We can believe! 

95 Questions for Protestants by Roger and Karen Saelstrom is a timely book for the 500th anniversary of the schism in the Church brought about by Martin Luther. The questions Luther posed have been answered. The Church reformed, but it's been catastrophic for those who separated from the Barque of Peter. Where is Christian unity? The Saelstroms answer the questions many Protestants have because they do not understand what Catholicism is, so far have many Christians moved away from the doctrines of Holy Mother Church. It's a great step towards bridging the schism because of how well researched it is. Cardinal Newman observed, "To be steeped in history is indeed to cease being Protestant." My only complaint with this book is that just like Luther was repetitive in his 95 questions, so are the Saelstroms, but it's a minor quibble, given how useful this book is.

St. Thomas Aquinas by Raissa Maritain is a beautifully written biography of the Angelic Doctor for children. It's really an introduction to philosophy as well. 

Twenty Tales of Irish Saints by Alice Curtayne was such a delight to read. I've only really known the story of St. Patrick so what joy to discover these exciting stories of other saints. A great winner for boys and girls who are reading independently.

As you know I have a great pile of books from the Catholic Writing Conference and sometimes it's hard to decide what to pick up first. My new friend Amar was bold enough to say, "read mine first" and so I did. The Joy of the Lord is a great story of one family's spiritual warfare as they grow in holiness. The main character, 12-yr-old Regina, gets visions of the Joyful Mysteries throughout the book, accompanied by the Angel Gabriel. My biggest criticism is that the pacing is slow due to over-writing and over-explaining things. But all in all, a great story. I look forward to reading more from Amar.

When I was at my parents' place in Chicago, I raided their home library as if I didn't have enough new books to read. I discovered a gem of a book: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. What a treasure! What wisdom! Do me a favor and get a copy for yourself and your critique partners. It's a book you will turn to again and again when you need to think about love and marriage and writing and children and creativity and silence. It's a perfect book for when you make a little writing retreat for yourself, whether at home or away.

I also read Kitchen Privileges by Mary Higgins Clark, a memoir of her growing up and becoming a writer and supporting her family when she becomes a young widow. She lived during the Depression and over and over I see how the beautiful Catholic faith has sustained generations of people throughout their lives.

The book I just finished is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I've heard of this classic numerous times but never read it myself until now. What a treasure! A book that you can read again and again. And I must again say what a surprise it is to see a deeply Catholic book without being heavy handed or preachy! This is the type of fiction I long to write and read. Since it's a classic, and I'm probably the last writer on earth to read this book, I'll share some of the lines that resonated within me.

“It doesn’t take long to write things of which you know nothing. When you write of actual things, it takes longer, because you have to live them first.”

“Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first time or last time: Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”
“If you ever find a man you love, don’t waste time hanging your head and simpering. Go right up to him and say, ‘I love you. How about getting married?’”

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing … something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”
“Dear God, let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well-dressed. Let me be sincere— be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
As you can see, I'm rich beyond compare. Please do share in the comments the good books you are reading.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Mass for Peace

Our pastor offered a Mass for Peace at the request of our Bishop. I imagine all of SC united in these prayers. Give peace, O Lord, to them that patiently wait for Thee, that Thy prophets may be found faithful; hear the prayers of Thy servant, and of Thy people Israel. I rejoiced at the things that were said to me; we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be ... 

Here is a summary of the very beautiful homily Mgsr. McInerney gave: The Bishop asked for this Mass because of the increasing civil discord in our country, the threat of war, and acts of terror around the world. We must understand the necessity of prayer to accomplish anything. We aren't just experiencing a grave political problem, but a deep spiritual problem, which goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, and their fall from grace. It's the problem of Original Sin. Satan always divides. You can see how sin affected Adam and Eve. 1) They were separated from God. Remember how they hide and cover themselves because now they are ashamed. 2) They separated from each other. They blame each other. That woman, which YOU gave me, gave me the fruit. 3) And in the very next generation, we have the first murder. The spirit of evil will exploit any little difference, and will divide us from God, from each other, and even ourselves.

People take offense where none is intended and some people are addicted to their anger and hate, the way they seem to thrive on it, on discord. As in any 12-step program, the first step in recovery is to turn to a higher power for help.

In our culture, religion has a bad connotation. People like to say things like, "I'm spiritual, not religious." But people have forgotten what the root of religion is. It is religare--to bind fast. It is to connect with God, with others, and with ourselves. The word ligament, which binds muscle to bone, also derives from this. Religion begins with respect for God and then we are able to see others as God sees them and so respect them too.

We pray for unity. This doesn't mean we have to be uniform. The Church is a great example of people of different ethnicities, ages, stations in life, etc. but we are all unified in our faith. Today tolerance is preached in the public square but it seems that the very people who preach it are not very tolerant themselves. 

Father brought an image that went viral: a defender of the monuments hugging a protestor who was shaking. I've not seen this picture but what a beautiful testament to assuring the protestor she's safe and loved. Two years ago, Charleston suffered a terrible tragedy at Mother Emmanuel. The shooter wanted to fan the flames of racial hatred. But Charleston was united in offering prayers of peace and the families of the victims all forgave the shooter. This is the closest we can come to God.

Pax Christi.


This is an aerial shot of Ave Maria Univ. taken by Michel Shahid, Max's room-mate, or more properly, suite-mate. I'm so glad our sons are there together. I can't help but notice the wet pavement and the water in the tomato field. It looks like Florida got a lot of rain as well from the outer bands of Harvey. We are praying for safety for all in its path and especially for our poor brothers and sisters in Texas. Yesterday was also the Feast of St. Monica. How I love her. She models the steadfast prayer of mothers everywhere for their children. Today we celebrate the Feast of her son--St. Augustine. His Confessions are a gift to all of us and a model for those of us who are writing about how God has acted in our lives. Pray for us. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Solar Eclipse 2017

 The solar eclipse feels momentous. The end of an era. The beginning of another. Of course, Max has left for college (wipes tears), and Dagny is the only child at home, so it's only natural to think these things but it feels somehow more important.

Is it any coincidence that this great American eclipse fell during the Octave of Mary's Assumption into heaven? I think not. Today we celebrate the Queenship of Mary. She is the Queen of heaven and earth, Empress of the Americas, and in the still moments when the sky darkened, I could hear in my heart, "Do whatever He tells you." I'm so full of my own ideas; I need to listen to Him, pay attention to what He would have me do. We need Mary's gentle but sure guidance leading us to her Son.

My phone camera doesn't quite capture the soft hues, but it never got as dark as I expected, I suppose because the corona still throws off tremendous amounts of light. I loved that what looked like the crescent moon, was actually the sun. My favorite part was when a tiny arc of the corona shone like a diamond. And the stillness/silence during the eclipse. The birds, frogs, and even crickets stopped chirping. All of us in wonder and awe of God's creation. There was a good article on this:

Some beautiful pictures on the NASA website:

And here are some random pictures from our summer. Michael and I typically go to the beach in the evenings after his work. The kids were usually working. It's very pleasant with not too many people and it isn't overly hot either. It was a rare evening that Max wasn't working so he joined us.

The cats are no longer kittens but own this space completely. They follow me around but keep their distance. The only time I can pet them is when they are terribly sleepy on my desk. So yes, precisely during writing time :) They are still frightened easily and disappear whenever the dog barks, which can be often with our neighbors doing a big landscaping project. I hope this winter I can train them to be lap cats.

Our summer's come to an end and it's a time of new adventures for all of us. And that's definitely momentous!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Catholic Writing Conference Part 2

I don't know how deadlines have crept up (I blame these books!) but thought I'd better finish my recap of the Catholic Writer's Conference before my brain turns to mush. Part 1 is HERE.

Fr. Andrew Apostoli knew Ap. Fulton Sheen and is his advocate for canonization. He is also the spiritual director for the CMN and celebrated Mass. At Wed. morning Mass, he spoke about how the Catholic Church is caught in a spiritual battle and what's at stake is the Catholic culture that has built up civilization. It's the right to life from conception until natural death. It's marriage. Proclaim these truths, live them, spread the message, and be an apostle of our Lady. She comes to help with all the best gifts. Pray for peace and conversion of sinners. Let her Immaculate Heart triumph. Let Christ reign in every heart.

Joe Wetterling is the current president of CWG. He went over the pursuit of our common goals, which is to rebuild a vibrant Catholic literary and artistic culture.

Donna Marie Cooper O'Boyle had an arresting title for her lecture: 10 Tips for Writing your Bestseller; however, the talk was very basic in that there are no secrets (write the book you want to write, give it your all, protect your writing space and time, develop your craft and style by studying and writing a lot, be objective, be a ruthless editor, pray, hope and don't worry). It's not that she set out to write a best-seller, but she wrote from her heart for other Catholic mothers and it resonated with her readers. Her writing is born out of her desire to serve.

Barbara Golder ( gave the most interesting lecture and it's borne out of her interesting life. She spoke about Catholic Imagination and Evangelization. She too quoted from Fr. Andrew Greeley's book (I'll have to get a copy) and showed how a Catholic sensibility allows us to see the holy in this material world. The Protestant imagination, in contrast, is in deep conflict with the material world, making pilgrims out of us (paraphrased from Runar Eldebo). And the thoroughly secular people see man as a blight of creation.

Barbara spoke about the Wizard of Oz as a very Catholic journey of the soul. It's funny, but I never picked up on the good witch as the Mary-type, or that Oz, an actual man, is a type of Jesus. The wicked witch is, of course, a type of the devil (I wasn't too dense to pick that up even as a kid). Now this is not necessarily what the author intended but this is what she saw given she's a cradle Catholic and how she views the world.

She described what imagination is: it is literally image-ing--picturing oneself in relationship with something new, a new creation, be it a book or jewelry or a piece of art. The Catholic imagination brings light to the world; it touches the God-shaped hole in our hearts. It allows us to hear, to be heard, to be accepted, to belong, and to be valued, whether we are rich or poor, in society or in the margins. It reminds me very much of the artist statement I made in response to Mitali Perkins' Why do you write? My answer: to give a voice to the voiceless. No wonder Barbara's lecture resonated so deeply within me.

Quote from a pillow: Live in such a way that those who know you but don't know God will come to know God because they know you.

Lisa Mladinich gave a very practical lecture on How to Talk about your Book. She is a founding member of CWG and so beautiful and wise. Actually, I thought this of all the people I met -- how beautiful and authentically Catholic they are, how enmeshed in the faith, and they didn't have to run away from God to realize what they're missing. There's a lot to be said for people who are raised in the faith and who begin to own it as adults. They are rich beyond compare. 

Lisa is on radio and TV and the perfect person to give this talk. In fact, there was an opportunity for people who had new books out to be interviewed and I'm gleefully going through many of them since it's impossible to listen to all the speakers you want to. Here's the link:

On with the tips: have a press kit ready, let people know, know the show or venue (watch for tone), be organized (don't read your notes), prepare (materials, space, mentally, physically, spiritually). Her point on spiritual warfare was spot on. Expect difficulties--the devil likes to mess with you. Be on guard and turn to God. You wouldn't be suffering if you weren't doing something of value. Bonus tip: pay it forward. Practice generosity. 

Many of us are introverts and it's difficult to promote our work, but this is part and parcel of being a writer. She recommended The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard Johnson. 

By the way, she has a lovely new book perfect for teachers and homeschooling moms and dads beginning the new school year: Heads Bowed.

John Desjarlais gave a lecture on literary vs. commercial fiction and where the two meet. What they both have in common is that they're hard to write :) He shared a quote from Gaudium et Spes by Pope Paul VI: " ________ seeks to probe the true nature of man, his problems, and experiences, as he strives to know and perfect himself. and the world, to discover his place in history and the universe, to portray his miseries and joys, his needs and strengths, with a view to a better future." You could literally fill in your own name or the name of your book.

Ann Lewis was another practical writer who gave tips on pitching books to publishers. I met her at the noon Angelus and I just knew she does everything to make things smooth for others. So imagine my delight in hearing she was recognized for her hard work.

So the tips. Finish the manuscript or proposal. Do the research. #1 reason for rejections is that your story is a bad fit for the publisher. Be prepared with your hook/premise of story.

Here's a little fill-in-the-blank to help you with the elevator pitch: MC is a [brief description] who [standard state of affairs] until [name your inciting incident of the story]. Now [this is the MC's problem] and [this is what MC must do to solve it].

Have synopsis ready and yes, that means giving away the ending. Categorize your book (fiction, NF, inspirational, devotional, historical, etc.), your experience and platform. Address the publishers needs.

I had a good pitch session with the editor at Ignatius. They publish very little fiction but she asked for the full of my novel anyway. The editor was very interested in the conversion story so it looks I have a book I need to write! It was so providential to have written the blog post earlier because I could give that to her. Some day I hope my books will be displayed in this booth!

Thursday Breakfast was sponsored by Ignatius Press. Daniel Matson spoke about his new book: Why I Don't Call Myself Gay. He talked about being a young man and wondering what plans God had for him. Jeremiah 29:11 was always on his mind: For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. He said that anybody who struggles with same sex attraction should be in the Catholic Church because it's the safest place to be, where you can recognize your dignity as a child of God. He quotes one of my favorites verses John 10:10: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. That's what the Church offers. It helps people with same sex attraction to carry this cross of suffering and unite it to Christ's. It's a book about being chaste (which is for everybody!) in all stages of your life, whether single, married, divorced, widowed.

Edward Sri gave the keynote. He spoke about the crisis facing our children today. They might have received a Catholic education but the vast majority go off to college and lose the faith. He gave the example of his neighbor's raspberry plants that crept up underneath his fence and grew and bore fruit. But after the neighbor left, the plants withered. Sri watered them, but they didn't survive. They were literally being choked by bindweed. And this is what is happening to our children. The culture (ie, the soil in which they are exposed to) chokes them. It's not enough to just water them, we have to have tools to strip away the weeds of confusion. His latest book, Who Am I to Judge: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love, is an answer to the questions we face. Young people, especially want to be loving and nice. They don't want to discuss the difficult issues with their friends for fear of being ridiculed or God-forbid--be accused of being judgmental. However, we need to make a distinction between judging actions vs. judging the state of somebody's soul. He gave the example of judging what the weather is so we can choose whether we want to take an umbrella. We also judge what the traffic is like on our street, whether we give permission for our children to play there. It isn't very loving to allow our children to play on the street. In the same way, it's not very loving to not say anything to your friends if they are engaging in immoral behavior. After all, it's going to hurt them. The opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference. Many young people start adding two little words after they state their position. Ex. Abortion is wrong "for me." As if truth were a flavor of ice cream, a preference. Truth is a Person.

Fr. Don Calloway reminded us to use our rosaries--it is the weapon of choice. Many difficult battles have been fought and won with the aid of the rosary. He has written 26 Champions of the Rosary. I didn't know that Sr. Lucia asked for the rosary to be made into a liturgical prayer.

Marie Bellet sang songs for us and later that night, we had an impromptu gathering with her and several others in the hotel lobby: Tom, Tony, Cesar, Alyssa, Ann, Virginia, Lisa. We sang songs and it reminded me so much of my college days when we had musical evenings at our home. Marie is a wife and mother of nine children and sings about the very ordinary made extraordinary through grace. I loved her song she wrote for her husband: He's a Daddy

I signed up for Fiction Critique with Arthur Powers and was so impressed with the quality of the writing and the stories themselves. It was a fruitful time spent with Cathleen Calhoun, Dennis Lambert, Monique OcampoBetty Scheetz (1st century expert!) and Janet Tamez.

Later there was a panel discussion on what it means to be a deeply Catholic artist with Arthur, Ellen and Lisa. All three recommended reading Pope Saint John Paul II's Letter to Artists and writing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, beginning first with a prayer. I often pray: dear Jesus, write with me. Lisa made me laugh with how she asks the Blessed Mother to aid her in her needs, first being a literary agent, then a booking agent, and now even a travel agent. But our Lady never disappoints. Also it's important to pray for discernment in the work we do. Another simple prayer: Lord, let it be yours. If not, take it away. God is very responsive when we are eager to do His will, live in His Divine Will.

Ellen Gable was such a delight to listen to. She spoke about being patient, letting things unfold in God's time. And also allowing God to make good things out of suffering and losses. It's funny but we've had her Live the Fast books for a while but didn't get serious about it until this year. It's been phenomenal to pray AND fast. It's packs a one-two punch, the best spiritual warfare ever. That's what was so great about this conference. We've been building our Catholic library bit by bit and so already had a feeling of knowing some of the authors a little bit. We prayed the Litany of Humility. This is so very hard for me because of my big, fat ego but these beautiful women and men reminded me that we are praying for the grace to desire these virtues. And yes, when you pray, you are tested. Ouchie.

Evening Mass was celebrated by Fr. Frank Pavone and what an important ministry he has in fighting abortion, the greatest evil of our time. There are many rights to be defended but they all depend on the right to life. So many politicians speak about the right to kill. They must understand the difference between defending the public and killing the public. He mentioned how we were on the brink of falling off the cliff last year. Today we are in a different place. We are moving in the right direction in favor of defending life and we should support our leaders. He made an excellent point about the separation of church and state. The state shouldn't endorse any particular religion, but the clergy must be able to preach the Word of God and apply it to the circumstances of the day. Freedom of speech doesn't stop at the steps of the cathedral.  We were reading the account when Moses gets his mission, how overwhelmed he is, how he doesn't feel like he can do it. But God qualifies the people He chooses. He spoke about the name of God--I AM--and how He promises to be with His people. It is a name that saves. He saves His people who are enslaved and oppressed and in exile.

I began and ended the conference with a visit with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I'm already plotting how best to get to Chicago next summer!

So lovely to have met you all. I'm here with Carmela Martino. She has a new book coming out from Vinspire! Amy Cattapan, Teresita Ong, me, Monique and Cesar Chacon. And Cathy Gilmore, me, Amanda Lauer, Virginia Pillars and Meggie Daly. God bless you and I hope to see you next year! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Birthday and a Death Day

Today I celebrate my brother's birthday, a brother whom I never met. He died before I was born. I knew him only through stories my mother told me. Oh, the power of story to linger in our memories! I long to meet him and I know I will when I get to heaven. My mother, when she was dying, told us she could see her father and her son, who had both preceded her in death. The veil between heaven and earth had parted. She must've had a very holy death.

Today I happened upon the sad news of a dear friend dying (yesterday, the Feast of the Transfiguration). She is the most courageous woman I know. She fought cancer for the five years I knew her. And with a smile. She prayed a lot, offering up her suffering to God for her husband, her two beautiful girls, her many relatives and friends. I was one of the blessed recipients. I'm afraid I wasn't a very good friend though. Forgive me.

Liberty dear, in the short time I knew you, you taught me to suffer well, to accept everything, and to love well. May you enjoy the company of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all in heaven. Pray for me even as I pray for thee. And I promise to pick up the phone more often. Requiem aeternam!

Doesn't this picture made by her daughter light up the screen?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Jesus, we thank You for the sweat

We got a lovely surprise in the mail today--this poem published in our parish newsletter. How is it that this young man of 18 understands redemptive suffering when even I, a grown woman of 52, struggle mightily with it? Deo gratias!!!