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! 


Meggie K. Daly said...

What a great summary! How wonderful for you to have provided this for those of us that went and for those who could not make it. Many blessing to you, your family, and upon your literary endeavors. :-)

Mirka Breen said...

I recognized the ceramics display as Jerusalem ceramics.

Vijaya said...

Thanks Meggie. I do this as much for myself as for others. My blog has become a great resource for when I need to look up stuff.

Mirka, you've got good eyes! There were a couple of vendors from the Holy Land and it is just terrible how difficult their lives are with the persecution they face. I like to support them in any small way we can.