Month: July 2013

Stepping up to the pitcher’s mound…

I’m getting ready to pitch my next novel at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference next week.  The novel is about one of the first saints with whom I cultivated a relationship:  St. Catherine of Alexandria.

It has been a loooooong time since I’ve pitched at a conference.  I used to pitch annually, but I never got anything more than a nibble from those, so take this with a grain of salt.  Each pitch is a learning experience.  Some were lessons in humility more than anything else.  Anyway, I’m going through the manuscript to give it some more polish.  I’m also reading through various blogs and such to refresh my dusty memory.  Since there’s no better way to learn (or re-learn) something than to teach it to others, I’m putting my little “pitching checklist” out here for the world to see.

  1. First, make sure your manuscript is complete.  Don’t go pitching something you haven’t finished.  Why not?  If the editor really loves your idea, he/she may ask for the full MS.  If you don’t have one of those, you’re wasting the editor’s time, you’re giving yourself a bad reputation for wasting others’ time, and you’re stealing a pitch slot from another writer who may have something completed.  In short, it’s just bad manners.  If you want the experience of talking with editors but you don’t have a pitch-ready manuscript, by all means, go to writing conferences anyway.  Volunteer to time pitch sessions, bring speakers drinks and other comfort items, and otherwise just put your face out there as a professional, caring person.  However, don’t pitch until you’re at least a little bit ready.  (BTW, I finished the first draft of Catherine, Princess of Alexandria during National Novel Writing Month 2012.)
  2. You’ll need what I’m calling your “concept sentence.”  This is your book in a one-sentence nutshell.  Since mine is a YA historical novel, I had to make that clear in mine.  A noble pagan girl with everything to lose defies her family and an empire to be with the One she loves.”  This is the sentence that lets the editor across from you decide whether or not he/she wants to hear more.  If he/she does…
  3. Then you’ll need your “elevator speech.”  This is a three-sentence summary of your novel, like you’d share with an editor whom you’d cornered in an elevator.  Your elevator speech shows that you have a finished work that’s worth asking to see.  You’ll show there’s a beginning (hook), middle (conflict) and end (resolution).  “Spoilers for your story to someone who hasn’t read it yet?”  In this case, yes; remember, you’re showing that your book is drafted, not a work-in-progress.  Aikaterina, the governor’s daughter, has three loves in her life:  luxury, logic, and her own good looks.  When she refuses to marry anyone who is less “fair and wise” than she, her parents exile her to the desert to learn obedience.  Her logic turns on her when she meets The One who not only softens her cold heart but pits her against her comfortable upbringing, her superstitious pagan family… and even the emperor himself.  [I’m not happy with that one yet; still working on it.]
  4. Identify your audience.  Who would want to read this book?  More specifically, who would benefit from reading this book.  Mine is painfully easy:  Girls, ages 12-18, as they are  learning how to be the women God made them to be while dodging pressures to be “normal” and “comfortable.”  There’s humor.  There’s drama.  There’s a smart, sassy girl making fun of boy after boy.  It makes a perfect confirmation gift.  It’s great for the girl who just came back from a Steubenville conference or World Youth Day, wanting to live for Jesus but who just can’t imagine having the courage to do so in a world so hostile to her love.
  5. Be ready to talk about yourself and what makes you the person to write this story.  See my bio for my writing credentials, but on a personal note, even when I was an atheist and then an agnostic, I still had a devotion to my confirmation saint, Catherine of Alexandria.  I’m convinced she’s been instrumental in Jesus using me to help the man I love most, my husband, find Truth.
  6. Expect the unexpected.  This editor may ask for more or less than this.  Know your project.  Know the publisher.  Most of all, know what I always told my PREP kids getting ready for their First Penance:  there is only one mistake you can make that is so bad that nobody can help you out of it, and that mistake is being disrespectful.
  7. You’ll also need your big girl panties.  There’s every chance that your work isn’t as polished yet as the publisher needs it to be.  There’s also every chance that, in spite of researching  the publisher, your MS is just a bad fit for them, or they just signed on someone with a project too similar to yours.  There are a million reasons the publisher may turn you down.  As long as you have been respectful and professional, none of those reasons are personal.  You’re allowed to cry in the bathroom, but you’re not allowed to put yourself down or give up.  Sorry.  You’re just not.  You’re human.  So are the editors.  Accept and move on.

So, as I said before, caveat emptor, but I hope you find reading these points as helpful as I did writing them!


7 Quick Takes Friday: It’s NFP Week!

Join Jennifer and other zany souls like her over at Conversion Diary for Seven Quick Takes Friday!

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This week we had the honor and privilege of attending the funeral Mass for Sister Michael Marie, OP, one of the nuns at the monastery where my Dominican laity chapter meets.


She went into the seclusion of the monastery at the age of sixteen in 1943. The large chapel was PACKED with mourners–family, yes, but others whose lives Sister had touched from behind the grille. I had all three kids with me, and they behaved surprisingly well. Granted, they were being bribed with a trip to a local diner/dairy with an ice cream bar, playground and petting zoo. Call it piety or love of ice cream, but either way, we got lots of compliments on their behavior.

I pointed out to the kids that this was our our second funeral in about as many months. The last had been for a laywoman, the mother of former neighbors of ours, whose funeral had been somewhat sparsely attended. Now that’s neither here nor there, but I pointed out to the girls that our culture tells us that cloistered life is oppressively lonely and anything like it should be avoided at all costs, while life with a spouse and children is the way to banish loneliness. Then I pointed out to them that the funeral of a nun who hardly ever stepped out of the walls of her cloister was more well attended than the funeral of the woman whom society tells us should have had it all. The point being, it’s not the vocation God chooses for you that guarantees you’ll reach people on this side; it’s the life you live that matters in the end.


One funeral attendee asked our three girls, “Which one of you will become a nun?” I responded, “That’s for them to find out from God. If He wants nuns now, he’ll get them. He may still need more devout Catholic mommies and daddies, though, to raise up those nuns before He can start filling up more convents.” Something like that. Those weren’t my exact words. You get the idea. I hope.




Just in time to cap off NFP Awareness Week.  (Check out that link.  The little rattle graphic is adorable.)  A year ago, when Full Quiver Publishing was looking at the earliest consumable draft of DYFAM, I went to the CMN/CWG/CNM event and told people I had written “an NFP murder mystery.”  What could the two possibly have in common?  Ah, you’ll have to stay tuned for teasers, the book trailer, and the book itself, to be released on November 1.


Speaking of Conversion Diary way up there at the top of this post, I read her post this week on “How We Built Our Village.” It was indeed another beautiful, funny post. For my part, I read it with… well, not jealousy, exactly, but I sure did fall into a self-pity spiral out of which I’m trying to swim. It was a timely post, though. Building a community is activity that is partly intentional, partly providential. The long range plan, however, has to be that this here is not my actual village. Our village is supposed to be heaven. Some earthly communities, like Jennifer’s, are a taste of the glory that awaits us on the other side. Other earthly communities remind us that… well, this is not where we want to stay! Either way, if you look for the good, you’ll find it.


Oh! I almost forgot! I finally got around to reading The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman.

Oooohhh… this was some dark chocolate for my brain: bitter in all the right ways, sweet in all the others, and just enough good-for-you antioxidants, by which I mean spiritually uplifting goodness, to hit all the spots on my little bookwormy palate. Byronic heroes, dreadlocks, pretty clothes from thrift stores, and one of the minor heroines is a Dominican sister. What’s not to love? HIGHLY recommended!


Fun Erin-Fact: for somebody who’s given chastity talks to college students, I’m actually quite the introvert.


If I meet you at CWG in a little over a week, and I seem mean or stand-offish or say something incredibly stupid, please try to understand: my Small Talk Energy Allowance has probably bottomed out.  For my part, I’ll try very hard not to do any of those things even when my STEA has disappeared.


Yesterday was the Feast of St. James the Apostle. I explained to the kids about Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and about the pilgrims’ way and how many hike it on their knees in penance. We celebrated this feast with tapas–a.k.a. “snacks for dinner.” My favorite was chorizo with a little dollop of goat cheese…


…. um, yes, on a Club cracker. We were supposed to go pick up some actual tortas, but then there was a trip to a creek and three muddy kids and… well, you can figure out the rest. Don’t you judge me!

7 Quick Takes Friday

Join Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

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Let the fun begin!


Less than three weeks until the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and Catholic Writers Guild Live.

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I’ll be surfing for swag and celebrity sightings at the former and talking on a panel and introducing speakers at the latter. I’ll get to hang with AnnMarie Creedon again! And Ellen Gable! And Margaret Realy! And (hopefully? pretty please?) Laura at Green4God! And FranciscanMom! Anybody else?


I can’t believe it’s Friday, because it’s the week of VBS at our parish. Our parish runs VBS Sunday-Thursday, so because my brain is a creature of habit, it is always telling me during VBS week that Sunday is Monday, and Thursday is Friday… and now I’m confused. You may be, too.


We live in Amish country. This means we are in the middle of a heat wave with high humidity… and our neighbors consider this prime time to lay down the manure on their fields. In principle, I’m all about organic farming. In reality… well, I’ll just wipe my eyes, pinch my nostrils and move on.


Speaking of CMN/CWG, I’ll be bringing a stash of these beauties along with me!

If you’re going and want to pick up a hard copy, come find me at just about all of the CWG talks, and I’ll hook you up.


Speaking of dystopic novels written by Catholics, I just yesterday finished Death Panels by Michelle Buckman.

It was gripping, page-turning, and surprisingly satisfying at the end. I’m going to be bold and call it our Handmaid’s Tale. Well done, Michelle.


And now for something completely different! Our family recently discovered how to make “instant” lemonade! Fill a tall Tupperware tumbler with ice, pour in about 2-3 tsp of lemon juice (juice of one lemon, if you have it), sugar to taste, then almost fill it with water. Secure the tumbler’s lid, and shake the bejeezus out of it. It keeps the kids busy, teaches them about how agitation helps dissolve solvents into solutes (did I get that right), and it is downright delicious!

For no good reason, here is a picutre of my awesome Rat Terrier.


Recommendation: Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits, A Patria Novel

THIS BOOK IS AN ANSWER TO PRAYER!  I kid.  You.  Not.  As alluded to in a previous post, about how hard it is to find suitable reading material for young kids with high Lexile scores… well, it’s really hard to find reading material suitable for young kids with high Lexile scores!  I once put my then-eight year-old’s score into a Lexile “find a book” page, and the first recommendation to come up was Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.  FOR AN EIGHT YEAR-OLD?!?  I won’t even let them read The Hunger Games yet (someday, just not yet), precisely because they are old enough to understand what is going on in the story… and have a month of nightmares because of it.  Thanks, but no thanks.

And then… along came Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits: A Patria Novel by Daniel McInerney

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We have Oliver, a young American hero who accidentally finds himself in the middle of a war.  There’s Farnsworth, a wisecracking, biscuit-shooting prince from the country in conflict, who we absolutely know will never be friends with American Oliver Stoop.  Like, neverrrr.  Then there’s Princess Rose, who is a hilarious combination of Princess Giselle and (a far more mentally stable) River Tam.   The plot zips along with just the right pacing and just the right level of complications to keep minds young and old working for their entertainment.  There are just enough “go get your dictionary” words in there to provide a nice stretch for the younger reader and to prove that the novel is never dumbed down.  I laughed out loud through the whole reading of it, and am I very excited to pass it along to my kids old enough to read independently.

If there were six stars on Amazon, I’d give them to Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits.  Alas, there are not.  There is, however, a brilliant Web site for all things Patria, where kids (adults too, why not?) can explore Patria, interact with Oliver, Farnsworth, and Princess Rose, and buy the next book in the series.  I hope it’s the next of many, many more.

7 Quick Takes Friday: You stress? Eustress!

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Join me for 7 Quick Takes Friday, hosted by that nice lady Jennifer over at Conversion Diary!


Getting a book to print is stressful.  It’s my lifelong dream, and it’s exciting, but it’s stressful.


Don’t get me wrong, working with the incredibly kind, incredibly honest, incredibly collaborative folks at Full Quiver Publishing has been an absolute dream.  But a deadline of any kind is still a deadline, and perhaps my inner perfectionist pushes me harder than is reasonable.  It’s a fine line between being a daughter of the King who wants to give Him quality work… and just being a perfectionist out of pride.


As we speak (read? type? communicate in general?), I believe Don’t You Forget About Me is on its way to proofs/galleys/whatever you’d like to call them.  Look soon for a link to the book’s Web site.


I’ve done this before, make a book, so there really have been very few surprises along the way.  I guess it’s like having a second pregnancy, though.  Each time is different.  Each time is stressful.  Each time is exciting.


In the midst of this, our minivan seems to have acquired a death rattle.  Please pray it can be fixed.  While it was in the shop yesterday, we were at home without transportation.  I had already turned in my last round of edits on DYFAM, and we had nowhere to go, so I made pakora and naan.

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It was a week and a day late for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, but any reason is a good reason to make Indian food. If you’re looking for a meatless Friday recipe, try one of those or any of the others at my food blog.


The cover of DYFAM is almost done.  It features tall poppies and Philadelphia-style tomato pie.


Nom.  Corropolese’s is my favorite.  I wish we lived closer to one.  We got a pie from one of their bakeries a few weeks ago while visiting a friend, and I invited another tomato pie-loving friend over to share it with us.  Second Shift, who also loves tomato pie, said, “Don’t invite them over!  They’ll eat it all!”  Ahem.  Perhaps we need to work on the virtue of generosity.


A cover almost done means a book trailer almost ready to be done.  That is my next task.  I am  hopeful that next week I’ll meet with the video guy and get it all finished and ready for its premier at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show at the Catholic Writers Guild Booth on Wednesday, August 7 at approximately 12noon.

Review: Sons of Cain by Val Bianco

Ahh, a cozy summer read to bring poolside….  Those would not be the words to describe Sons of Cain by Val Bianco.  On the recommendations of many friends, I finally got around to getting a copy to read for myself.  I first opened it up on my Nook, saw the page count, and then proceeded to say, “I’m never going to finish a book this long, not with the other deadlines I’m facing!”  Fear not, though.  Don’t let the page numbers fool you:  it’s a speedy read.  It has everything:  Catholic clerics behaving badly, conservative hypocrites, secret societies ruling the world from behind closed doors… wait, what?!    Didn’t that book already get written, like, a bazillion times over?  Not like this, my friends, nothing like this.


I really liked how the author drew up a world where not only demonic influence was portrayed realistically, but angelic influence was as well.  What I liked even more, however, was that the characters didn’t fall into the typical mainstream biases, where all liberals are good and all Catholics are bad.  On the same note, however, Bianco avoided the pitfall into which so many Christian writers tumble headlong:  that is, where all the liberals are bad and all the Christians (in this case Catholics especially) are good.  Bianco made a courageous choice in showing how depraved people can be and that “faith” can indeed be used  to garner power to evil ends. He also drew a female lead who was far more dimensional than the average chick in an action-packed, blood-guts-and-guns thriller like Sons of Cain.  Considering I’m more of an Austen and Bronte girl than a Clancy or Brown girl, that’s a pretty huge compliment.  I was impressed especially by how Bianco handled the resolution of the novel’s romantic tension without violating anyone’s vows.

I recommend Sons of Cain with the following caveats.  If you, like me, tend to skim over long, detailed scenes of violence, you may find yourself skimming a bit more than expected.   Also, towards the end, the editing seemed to need a great deal more polish than it got–not enough to make me stop reading, because the storyline was compelling, but still, enough for me to mention it as a caveat.  Lastly, I had some trouble with the vigilante-ish leanings of the good guys.  Yes, I understood where they were coming from, and their violence was never, ever poorly motivated; I was just uncomfortable, morally-speaking, with how it was justified in the text.  Perhaps a better moral theologian than I could address that better, but I didn’t want to recommend the book without mentioning that issue.

I’m trying to figure out if Val Bianco is our Dan Brown or Neal Stephenson.  Either way, Sons of Cain did get me thinking–and praying–and those are always good things.