Month: August 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday

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Join Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for The 7QT Experience!


This has been a rough week on many levels.  The first rough patch is in trying to finish a quilt for a family member.

I’m not a great quilter to begin with (and she asked me to do this in spite of my having made very clear that I’m not a great quilter).  The top is now pieced, and the sandwich made, so I’ve started machine quilting it… only to discover that my machine just does not deliver enough power to the feed dogs to make the stitches long enough, even… or even straight.  I’m on a deadline, baffled as to how to get through this.  My old department at college had industrial machines (not quilters, but they’d do in a pinch).  Alas, that department closed in the spring.


Second Shift of Kid has reached that stage where she has decided to test the limits of the limits she has already tested.  This looks like, “So, I’m not allowed to hit my family members without consequences?  Let’s see what happens when I hit perfect strangers–adults included.”  “I know I’m not supposed to yell during daily Mass, but what happens if I roll around on the floor?”  Etc.  I.  Am.  Fried.


I did read Patti Maguire Armstrong’s new kid fic piece, Dear God, I Don’t Get It.

It’s a sweet and honest moral tale for the 7-12 set.  In it, slightly-shy Aaron, age 12, has to move from beautiful Montana to the dreaded Bismark, North Dakota (seems it’d be like this Philly girl needing to move to –GAH!–NEW JERSEY!).  Whether defending himself or his faith, poor Aaron seems to be doing nothing but making enemies, and his efforts to turn things around are dubious at best.  Then his new life throws him new opportunities, both to fall into heroism and to choose playing the hero’s part.  What will he choose?  Read it and find out.

As a Catholic mom of readers in this age set, I had to love how Aaron’s family’s faith was woven into the story, not as a big deal, but as easy as breathing–asthmatic breathing sometimes, sure, as we see Aaron learn that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we’d like.  But even the questions and God’s responses to them through the plot were done with a light hand.  I highly recommend.


Here’s something I do but don’t talk about much here:  we do homeschool.  Yeah.  I’m a Catholic writer who homeschools and blogs.  Can we say, “Walking Sterotype?”


Speaking of homeschooling, this was the first week all our neighbors went back to school. We did our annual tradition of going to the movies!  There’s a little second-run theater nearby (when I say “nearby,” I mean “within an hour away,” because we live in a cornfield) that was showing Monsters University.  It was supposed to be a day off, but Second Shift asked if we could count it as hours.  “We can, if we talk about the literary character development in the story.”  So we did.  We talked about how both main characters were dynamic, in that they went from being “bossy and proud” to “cooperative and humble.”  We also talked about the concept of entitlement and how it makes us brats.


Speaking some more of homeschooling, This summer, we learned the books of the New Testament sung to the tune of “Camptown Races.”  Since I believe both are in the public domain, I’ll share our “song” with you:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts

Romans, both Corinthians

Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians

Both Thessalonians

Two Timothys, one Titus

Philemon, Hebrews, James

1st and 2nd Peter, 3 Johns

Jude and Revelation!

 [To “Shave and a Haircut”] That’s our Catholic [clap] NEW TESTAMENT!

Be sure to finish with “jazz hands.”  That’s key.


Oh!  Official reviews for Don’t You Forget About Me are coming in!  The first one I’ve seen so far was really, really wonderful.  I got the email with it literally SECONDS after praying what I like to call my “Hurley Victory Prayer.”

Yep, that Hurley.  Whenever things are going really badly, I turn to God and say those words from the ep, “Tricia Tanaka is Dead.”  “Look, I don’t know about you, but things have really sucked for me lately, and I could really use a victory. So let’s get one, dude! Let’s get this car started. Let’s look death in the face and say: ‘Whatever, man!'”

So, here’s to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  Click on that link to my book page to check when the first review goes live.


Review: Race with the Devil by Joseph Pearce

I who usually wax loquacious am left nearly speechless.  I don’t often make the time to read biography, much less autobiography, but when I do, I rarely enjoy it as much as I did Joseph Pearce‘s Race with the Devil.  Pearce told his own story of transformation from hate to love with candor, humility, and much good-natured humor.  I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I give it a three-Kleenex review, as it gets incredibly moving in the last chapters.  I highly recommend Race with the Devil.

Review: Classroom Management for Catechists

There are several great advantages to joining the Catholic Writers Guild, attending their live conference, and as a result, attending the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show. One is the free books sent home with attendees…


…just for the price of a review.

Another advantage? Getting to meet the authors of those books, one of whom is the very kind, down-to-earth Jennifer Fitz, author of the newly released Classroom Management for Catechists.

Classroom Management for Catechists

If you are facing down another year of volunteering with your parish religious education program, and you’re shaking in your boots, you know what you need? You need this book. I’ve been working in religious ed and youth ministry off and on since 1995. I wish I’d had Classroom Management for Catechists when I’d started. It would have saved me a lot of time and heartache, trying to balance all that it takes to have an effective classroom where the love of Christ is shared in an engaging but disciplined way. If you’re just starting out, I especially recommend this handy little book to you. If you’re a DRE, order in bulk and give a copy to your catechists and volunteers. Classroom Management is a sweet, quick read that will not waste a second of your time. It’s full of practical tips delivered with warmth, humor, humility, and encouragement from a catechist who learned the hard way and is trying to spare you all that drama. Thank you, Jennifer Fitz!


7QT: All Kinds of Writers Block (and Saints to Help)

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Join Jennifer and all the other cool papists over at Conversion Diary for Seven Quick Takes Friday!

As often happens to me after professional conferences, I’ve started getting ideas of what kinds of topics I would like to see covered at a future conference.  My mind is already cooking up an outline for a talk on beating back writers block using the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic.  In the meantime, though, here are some quick takes that I have developed over the years for battling several different species of The Block.


The Empty Kind: I believe it was Anne Lamott who pointed this one out in Bird by Bird.  You’re out of ideas.  You have nothing to write because your brain is just empty of anything worth writing about.  What to do?  Get out of your house.  Go experience something you’ve never done before.  Never been to a thrift store?  Go visit one.  Don’t know how to knit?  Take a class.  Read a book you’ve never read on a subject you don’t know.  Get a map and drive to some place you’ve never been and look for a rock or a flower or a strangely-shaped building–something solid.  Just pray to the Holy Spirit, then go shake up your brain by putting it in a place it’s never been.  That’ll force new ideas into it like spooning applesauce into a stubborn toddler’s mouth.

Then you go home, put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys, and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:  Mary the Mother of God happens to be the Queen of receiving something from nothing.  If you’re writing for her Son, she’ll be more than happy to lend a hand.


The Too Full Kind:  So you have an idea, and you’ve done hours and hours of thinking, hours and hours of research, and you have so much to write about that you don’t know where to begin. What if you leave out something important?  What if some researcher somewhere reads your book and wrinkles her nose, saying, “Wow, this writer sure left out all the vital information on this subject.”

Relax.  Narrow your focus.  Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests looking at children’s books on your subject to help you simplify (she suggests a bunch of other things I don’t encourage, but this one’s a good idea).  Then, you put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys, and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:  St. Ignatius of Loyola is an excellent example of how our faith can be used to make insurmountable problems manageable.  If anybody has “divide and conquer” down, it’s him.


The Fear of Failure Kind:  What if you put all this work into this book, and, GASP!  It never gets PUBLISHED!?!?!?!  What if it does get published and you get, GASP!  BAD REVIEWS?!?! has this awesome poster for sale:

Looking sharp is easy when you haven't done any work.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  An old friend of mine once said, “If you don’t face your fears, you’ll fear faces.”  Indeed.  So, accept that reality.  Then, you put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys, and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:   St. John Vianney was a terrible student–terrible!  Even after he did manage to get into seminary, he still couldn’t pass the test that would permit him to hear confessions.  But when God wants somebody to do something, He doesn’t let that person’s weaknesses stand in His way.  Ask the Cure of Ars for advice on how to let God turn your foibles to His purposes.


The Fear of More Failure Kind:  You’ve gotten your 116th rejection.  You’ve gotten bad reviews.  You overheard your own sweet, elderly aunt mocking your last book to her roommate in the nursing home–and then the roommate posted a bad review of it.  On Facebook.  And Twitter.  Really, who could go on after humiliation like this?  Maybe God is sending these trials your way to let you know that this writing thing is not really His idea , and that He thinks you’re more of a pastry school kind of person.

I won’t kid you.  That may be the message God wants you to hear.  Are you listening?  Are you spending time in prayer?  Are you meditating upon the crucifix, that concrete reminder of how Jesus suffered an excruciating death for you, GASP! not so you could be published, but so you rise again with Him?  If you’re not doing those things, start now.  Spend time with the Holy Spirit and ask for courage.  Then, if you still feel that call to write, put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys–stop complaining–and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:  You think all your hard work has been destroyed by the negativity of others, and you just can’t bear to go on?  St. Louis de Montfort and his model Calvary are not impressed.


The “This is a waste of time!” Kind:  This is closely related to Fear of Failure and Fear of More Failure.  So, let’s say you’ve been inspired to write a YA historical romance in which a moon scallop is the elusive love interest.  Some (well-meaning or not) person in your critique group says, “Come on.  Nobody cares about moon scallops.  How are you going to market this thing?”

This might be good advice.  Or it might not.  How can you know unless you try?  Are you otherwise working on improving your art and craft?  Are you reading good books for a healthy brain-diet?  Are you praying, most importantly, and keeping those lines of communication open so that, if God did want you to stop writing this now, you’d know it and you’d stop?  Did you do all those things, and you still have the itch to write, even about your handsome, manly moon scallop?  Let me tell you a quick story.

I heard a speaker at a writing conference, years ago, so I can’t remember who it was to give her credit.  Anyway, this speaker had a friend who wrote book after book and got rejection after rejection.  This friend was a mom with several children.  Then this friend got ovarian cancer and died.  Her children lost their mom… but in a way, they still had her.  They had her books.  Nobody else cared enough to publish her books… but her children cared enough to still have that piece of her, that slice of her human imagination, left in their lives to comfort them.

If you’re writing for God’s glory and not your own, then you’re not wasting your time.  So put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys, and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:  Did you really think I’d get this far without a Dominican saint?  I chose St. Thomas Aquinas as my patron because he’s a big, clumsy writer who liked to eat… but then was able to look at all his work as so much straw, and then walk away from it when it was time.  Your writing is not your God.  God is your God.  Once you put that in perspective, if God really wants you to write, He’ll let you.  He did for St. Thomas, after all, and even the Protestants love them some Summa Theologica.  


The Too Tired Kind:  Pretty soon, my friend Fr. James Tucker from Comments from the Koala and I are going to do a little blog series on how much writing moms and writing priests have in common.  This first thing we share is the main feature of The Too Tired Kind of writers block.  Our time is not our own.  Whether it’s a sick call with Oil of the Infirm to the hospital or a sick call to the top bunk with a bucket of Lysol (and then to the bottom bunk, because it’s always the kid on the top bunk who pukes first)… we are on call 24/7.  If we have a spare moment, we are often too tired to use it.

What to do?  Your primary vocation may not include the luxury of hours and hours in which you can be an artiste.  Use what snippets of time you have.  In other words, just put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys, and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:  St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was of poor health and did not do well on boats, to put it mildly.  She still worked tirelessly and sailed all over the Western Hemisphere.  She did what she could with what she got.  Go and do likewise.  Bonus saint for when you just have nothing left to give:  Bl. Pope John XXIII was known to have said, “God, it’s Your Church, not mine.  I’m tired.  I’m going to bed!”


The Malnutrition Kind:  Did you read up there when I mentioned the member of your critique group who may or may not have been speaking out of a pure heart hoping for your mutual improvement?  Maybe you are doing all the right things:  working on the art, the craft, the business; being kind; keeping up your prayer life; fasting; practicing humility.  Maybe you’re giving and giving and just not getting fed back.  It happens.  Nobody is immune, and it’s heartbreaking.  Then your creative gift may still be inside you, but it’s starving for love, like a monkey who has just had it with its wire mother.  You may need spiritual milk with skin on, with an actual, audible voice.  Jesus isn’t stupid,  He came to us as a human because He knows we need each other.  May I suggest a vessel for nourishing your creative spirit?


Your Word is My Delight:  A Catholic Writers’ Retreat may be just what you need.  Set the date:  October 13-17, 2013 at the gorgeous St. Francis Retreat Center in Lansing, MI.  Click the link above for more information.  This retreat may be just what you need.  Go.  Be revived.  Be strengthened.  Pick up your hammer and bash through your block.  Then put your butt in the seat, put your fingers on the keys, and write.

A Saint Who Might Help:  Bl. Margaret of Castello knows what it’s like to be rejected by those very persons who are supposed to love and nurture you.  Look to her example of simple love and faithfulness.

Did I miss anything?  What kids of blocks have you experienced in your creative life, writing or otherwise?  How have you broken through?  Or, have you not yet broken through and you’re looking for advice?

Review: Dog in the Gap by Lisa Colon Delay and Doug Jackson

It’s a quick, lovely read of meditations on how our relationships with dogs can be a reflection on how we form and grow our relationships with God.  This was an especially poignant read for me, as we just put down our loyal, sad-faced lab a few months ago (a topic similarly addressed by Jackson in this book).  I especially related to Colon Delay’s piece on “Responding to the Lead,” as well as to Jackson’s piece, “Adoption, Depression, and My Dog Spurgeon,” on the different types of dogs vs. our different styles of worship (says I with what seems to be my mastiff-in-a-mantilla worship style).

In case it weren’t obvious from the one author having dubbed his dog “Spurgeon,” this is a Christian rather than a particularly Catholic book; as most of my blog readers are my fellow papists, I felt that was a caveat worth mentioning.  However, I personally found nothing anti-Catholic in any of the reflections herein and feel comfortable recommending it to anyone of any religious persuasion–or none at all.  Yes, the spirituality is present, but it’s done with a light and soothing hand.  If you’re a cage-aggressive atheist/agnostic, give Dog in the Gap a try.  You might even like it.

Dog in the Gap is scheduled for an August 19 release.


Reviews: Shubert the Firefly!

We are loving these three books!

Product DetailsProduct Details Product Details

The adventures of Shubert the Firefly give kids–and adults–real-life examples of coping skills and conflict resolution techniques.  I really wish I’d had them when First Shift of Kids were of a younger age; it would have helped all three of us have an example of how to deal with meltdowns, fighting, teasing, and more.  The text by Dr. Becky Bailey shows the kids how to choose to be  STARs, and she also models for adults how to deescalate our own frustrations when dealing with frustrated children.  The illustrations by James Hrkach are lively without being too busy, which is important for kids whose frustration often comes from issues with visual discrimination.  Highly recommended on all counts!


Testing wildcard:

Book Review: Bleeder

When I first learned of the Catholic Writers Guild at their booth at the CMN Trade Show two years ago, this book was the first to catch my eye.  We were strapped for cash, though, and have been so pretty much ever since.  Anyway, at this year’s conference, John DesJarlais was practically (practically) giving away Bleeder and Viper, so I quickly picked up both and let him know I’d been waiting two years to read these books.

I was not disappointed.

Bleeder is the story of an agnostic philosopher, damaged both mentally and physically, who stumbles into the path of a reportedly stigmatic priest, himself a philosopher, reportedly a healer as well.  When Father Ray dies during the Passion service on Good Friday, Reed, the main character, finds himself under suspicion of causing the priest’s death.  I can’t give away too much, but Bleeder was one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a long time.  DesJarlais kept me guessing until almost the very end, teased me a bit along the way, but the payoff in the end was huge and well worth the read.  It was a fast read that I will probably go back and read again, just to get all those little things I may have overlooked on the first mad dash to get to the end.  It also scratched an itch I’d forgotten I had:  the story was replete with references to Aristotle, which made this old theatre major very happy.

If there were six stars, I’d give them to Bleeder.

7 Quick Takes Friday: The 2013 CMN/CWG Edition

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

Plan now! Come next year to the Catholic Marketing Network and Catholic Writers Guild Conference Live!


If you do, you may get to meet the Paper Pope!



Or La Virgen Morena Papel!



You might get to see your very own book being promoted at the Catholic Writers Guild Table!



Your husband might send you an adorable picture of your dog with a St. Dominic statue on the feast of the patron of your lay order!



You can stalk Annmarie Creedon, author of Angela’s Song, while she stalks other famous Catholic authors!



You can get free books, books like Under the Mantle by Fr. Donald Calloway!



Last but not least, you can meet awesome writers! If you’re lucky, you’ll get to do so on the feast of St. Dominic, and then you can celebrate with a dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s (because they’re close and have enough tables for your band of hungry writers). Afterwards you can snap a pic of a present day Embrace, the symbol of the friendship that endures between Dominicans and Franciscans! Observe a demonstration of this by lay Dominican Musings on my Faith and lay Franciscan Franciscan Mom.