Month: February 2016

New #TBT Feature Coming to an Author Page Near You!

TBT

This will only be on my Facebook author page, so if you’re not following there yet, get thee to a followery!

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3 Reasons the Faithful Writer Needs a Secular Writing Life

Call this post my Ode to Sisters in Crime, an international organization for women crime writers.

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Moar Marketing Ideas!

This past Saturday I was able (at last!) to make it to my local chapter of Sisters in Crime.  Our guest speaker was Nicole Loughan.

I’m posting both pictures, because in the first, Nicole looks lovely but blurry and I just look like me, while in the second she looks lovely and clear, while I look like I’m plotting to kill hamsters.

AAAANYway, Nicole gave a great presentation on how to sell 10K books in one year.  Yes, this is the kind of marketing topic that gets covered at CMN/CWCL, but this had the benefit of being local (or, for me, local-ish, now that we live in a cornfield) and only took a morning rather than most of a week.

There’s also something I’ve noticed about secular  marketing strategy talks, and it’s a good thing: if you’re marketing secular fiction, you only have to worry about bad reviews.  You don’t have to worry about people mocking you personally for being a person of faith.  I don’t know about you, but I move past my fears better when I have someone who loves at least one thing I do (or three: writing, books, and writing books) giving me a to do list, even if I have to read that list to myself as, “Baby steps get on a bus.  Baby steps get on a bus.

Nicole had some great tips to share, and she’ll be sharing more at the 2016 Annual Winter Writers’ Weekend in Lambertville, NJ.  Maybe you can attend?  Check out her branding, too! Oh, and she has a Philly-based novel coming out next about an old North Broad landmark, the Divine Lorraine.  Look at this cover!

NicoleLoughanDivineHotel

::drool:: Gorgeous stuff. Thanks, Nicole!

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Moar Research

Through SinC, I’ve met a local mystery writer who also happens to be a prosecuting attorney, watched cadaver dogs train (and incidentally got to smell what a cadaver smells like to humans–an unearthly stench unlike any other), met a state trooper who worked on the Johnston Gang murders, found out about ways to connect with readers instead of just writers, and on and on.  If you write in a genre, and you want to enrich your writing, your nearest genre-based writing group can be a bottomless resource for you.

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Moar Humans

There’s a certain danger in being a writer in any faith-based genre, and that’s the danger of wanting to circle the wagons.  In a faith-based writing group, I can really let my hair down. I can talk about the pope as he is and not how the media portrays him.  I can talk about 10KLAD over Chipotle and have nobody bat an eye.  I can relax.  I don’t have to hold my breath and feel the sweat bead on my palms as soon as everybody starts talking politics.  I don’t have to answer the unspoken question, “But you’re not like those Catholics, right?”

However.. Jesus?  Not the wagon-circling type.  If you circle the wagons, though, you won’t ever reach your destination.  The hard thing to remember is that the destination is not the cross, it’s the resurrection.

So I go to a secular writing group as often as my time allows.  My life is enriched by the marketing tips and the research opportunities and the fresh ideas both spawn, but my heart and soul are enriched by getting out of my little Catholic bubble, by having my them-against-us tendencies challenged.  “Them” are just folks, just like me, and in the scheme of eternity, I’m not that much closer to God than anybody else.  I’m reminded once again that, no matter what we believe, not a one of us gets out of this alive, and we’re all in this together.

3 Reasons a Faith Writer Needs a SECULAR Writing Group

Have you found great resources and wonderful people in your secular writing group?  Do you know of any secular writers’ organizations that might be helpful to others?  Or do you need help finding one for your genre?  Comment below, and let’s talk about it!

The Weirdest Lenten Sacrifice

I’ve never done a weirder thing for Lent before.  Even before my current medical-dietary troubles, I’d decided that I didn’t want this Lent to be about food any more than already dictated by canon law.  I’ve made everything in my life about food, and past Lents were certainly no exception.  I wanted this year to be different. So I thought back to the preparatory penance I’d joked about making during this past Advent.

“What if I stopped talking in Sigma’s voice?”

My husband laughed–not because he didn’t know what I was talking about (as you likely don’t), but because it was a weird idea.

“Why would you give that up? It doesn’t hurt anybody.”

“I know,” I said.  “It’s not like there’s anything illicit in channeling your dog’s voice.  I don’t know, though.  Maybe it would be a good way to school my thoughts.”

I didn’t think of it again until the aforementioned gallbladder attack peaked one week to the day before Ash Wednesday.  Giving up Siggie’s voice it is.

What does that mean, even?  It means we’re crazy, that’s what it means.  Lots of people have pets.  Lots of those people talk to their pets.  We, however, make them answer back.  I’ve done this for all of my pets since my first cat at age 9 (his name was Hobie, and his voice sounded a bit like a fat, lazy C-3PO).  This guy…

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… is Sigma.  Isn’t he handome?

“Of course I am, Mommy, and you’re awesome, too!”

Aw, thanks, Siggie.  Siggie sounds and acts a little bit like Emmett from The Lego Movie, only more enthusiastic.

“Tennis ball? Awesome!  You’re taking me for a walk? Awesome! You dropped a french fry? AWESOME!!!!”

We have whole conversations, too.

“Doggies, did the girls feed you?”

Siggie replies, “No, they didn’t, Mommy.  I’m so hungry! Any food is dog food!”

From the bathroom down the hall, “Don’t listen to him, Mommy! I fed him!”

“No, she didn’t.  Don’t be ridiculous.”

Thunderstorm? He’s marching in front of me everywhere I go.  “Don’t worry, Mommy.  I’ll protect you from the scary thunder.”

“Actually, Siggie, I’m not really afraid of thunderstorms.”

“Of course you are.  Don’t be ridiculous.”

It’s a lot of fun having conversations with the dog.  It’s certainly not hurting anybody.  What kind of penance is giving up conversations with the fictional dog voice for 40 days? I didn’t even know… until today.  Today’s first reading is from Jonah, towards the end, where the king of Nineveh declares a fast and penance that extends even to the animals.  Why?  It’s not like animals need to work out their salvation in fear and trembling.  So what’s the point?

“Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth…”

How can covering an animal with sackcloth help humans get closer to God?  Because it gives us a break from using God’s creation for so much pleasure.  Imagine this fluffy sock- and pencil-destroying angel covered in burlap:

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That’s Rapunzel.  Punzie doesn’t talk much, but she is soooo soft and fluffy and cuddly and… soothing.  It’s soothing to have these routines with our pets.

Lent isn’t necessarily about giving up sin.  Life is supposed to be giving up sin.  Lent is about becoming more like Christ in that we accept the cross rather than denying it for the sake of comfort, whether that comfort is malignant or benign. 

So that’s my weird Lenten sacrifice.  What’s yours?  Food? Money? Adding prayer? Adding charitable acts? Don’t toot your horn so much as offer options to anybody reading who might be looking for options of their own.  

WWRW: Not God’s Type

Flyby review of Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway

NotGodsType

It’s been a long time (read: over 40 years) since I’ve read an apologetics text that applies merciless reason to the audacious claims made by Christianity but also applies literary analysis to Christian oral tradition to answer the question, “Is Jesus real or legend?”

As if that weren’t enough, it made me miss my too-battered-to-read-anymore copy of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry.  Until the next royalty payment shows up, I’m satisfying myself with a library copy.  How long before they’ll make me give it back? I wonder.

Honestly, is there anything more terrifying for a nerd of any kind to stand up before her academic peers and admit to professing the most openly mocked, mindless sheep of a faith in quite literally the whole world?  And yet, that’s what Ordway does in Not God’s Type.  This is not a scientific proof of God’s existence.  Nor is it a spittle-flying harangue about how worthy God is of belief and you’re a heartless bastard if you don’t agree.

Instead, it is smart, honest, meaty, and courageous without the slightest whiff of sentimentality.  Ordway demonstrates that objective truth is not merely the domain of science alone but also of art (here, specifically, literature).

If you’re worn out from being considered stupid for saying you’re a Christian, this book is for you.  If you want to benefit from the keen eye of an intellectual as well as the heart of a lit-rit-cha fiend cast upon the light of the historical person of Jesus and his literary legacy, this book is for you.  Actually, if you’re an atheist who doesn’t trust people who approach you with “Jesus friendships” and could use some intelligent validation, this book is for you.  In fact, it’s probably more for you than it is for the rest of us.  After all, Ordway never mocks atheism and consistently shows its adherents nothing but stouthearted respect… which as a former atheist myself, is quite pleasant indeed.

Be smart, too.  Get yourself a copy. Like, now.

Yes, I hashtagged this What We’re Reading Wednesday, although that linkup over at Jessica’s HousewifeSpice seems to have passed beyond the Grey Havens ahem, fallen into disuse.  Will there be a revival elsewhere?  Stay tuned, mes amis.  Stay tuned.

Registration Still Open: Harrisburg Diocesan Men’s Conference March 12

I told Carolyn I was going to plagiarize this, and she gave me permission… but then I remembered all I have to do is reblog! Silly Erin. Thank you, Carolyn, for giving me the opportunity to share Catholic fiction with the men of our general area!

Carolyn Astfalk

Several authors, including Erin McCole Cupp and I, will be selling and signing books at the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg’s Conference for Men on Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg. The conference is entitled Jesus I Trust In You: Men Called to the Ocean of God’s Mercy.

Gentlemen, breaks in the day’s schedule are an optimal time to get a jump on buying Catholic fiction as a Mother’s Day gift for the important women in your life.

For more information including registration visit the diocesan registration site.

If you’re attending, please stop by our table and say hello! Free fudge samples and custom poems included!

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#WorthRevisit Come ‘n’ Get Your Fast, Cheap & Easy Meatless Recipes

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It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday over at Alison Gingras’s Reconciled to You.  I’m just adding to their amazing linkup some access to one of my favorite Lenten challenges ever: The 2013 Fast, Cheap and Easy Challenge.  It’s over on my old Meatless Friday blog Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, OP.  The goal that Lent was to live in solidarity with the working poor:

  • $50 weekly grocery budget for five people
  • Meals had to be meatless.
  • Meals had to be made from scratch.
  • Meals had to be prepared in 20 minutes or less.

I learned SO MUCH THAT LENT.  If you’re stuck for what to cook, I invite you to check out all those recipes, including Besan Pancakes and Carrot Salad (pictured above), where you’ll get to ponder as I did, “If I accidentally grate my thumb into the carrot salad, is that flesh meat?”

I apologize for the lack of pictures in so many of those recipes.  It was before the dawn of Pinterest.

AT THE CROSS ROAD: New from Amy M. Bennett

I am so excited to read the latest installment in the Black Horse Campground Mysteries, a series of cozies from Oak Tree Press author and fellow Catholic Writers Guild member Amy M. Bennett.  This series has characters that really come alive, the kind who make you cheer and cry and laugh and laugh and laugh.  I can’t wait to read this latest tale, At the Cross Road, which is an intriguing title given how the last book in the series, No Vacancy, ended: the mystery was wrapped up, but the relationships were only getting messier!

Without further nattering from me, here’s what you can look forward to from Amy and At the Cross Road!

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)Trouble often comes in threes. It’s no different at the Black Horse Campground.

On his first day as detective with the Bonney Police Department, J.D. Wilder finds three cold case files on his desk—three women who have disappeared over a fifteen year period at five year intervals. It seems that no one has ever taken the cases seriously… or even properly investigated them.

Then J.D. receives a visit from two former colleagues who inform him that he’s about to receive another visitor; a woman from his past who is in trouble and needs his help. Again. The timing couldn’t be worse, since he’s finally about to ask Corrie on a date, but then Corrie also has a visitor from her past show up… someone who’s hoping for a second chance with her. In the meantime, Sheriff Rick Sutton has his hands full dodging his ex-wife, Meghan, who insists on discussing personal business with him… business that has to do with digging up a painful past.

When three bodies are discovered that prove the missing women were murdered, J.D.’s investigation reveals that all of their visitors have some connection to the victims. But which one of them killed three women… and is prepared to kill again?

When trouble comes to Bonney County, Corrie, Rick, and J.D. band together to protect each other and their community. But can they solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again?

And now for an excerpt, this one from Chapter 14 of At the Cross Road.

J.D. returned to the Black Horse more wide awake than he had been in days. Amato’s words rang in his ears, while a voice in his head warned him that if he didn’t get some rest, he was going to be completely useless when the time came to have his wits about him and his energy. Still, a night spent in mostly inactivity wasn’t going to allow him to rest. He went into his cabin and changed into his running clothes. He needed to release some tension and energy if he was going to rest at all.

He slipped out of the cabin, casting a glance toward the campground store. It was almost six thirty a.m. and Corrie’s apartment light was on but the store’s lights were still out. He had missed the Friday night fish fry dinner, but he hoped to be back once she was open and be able to talk to her more. And get a decent breakfast.

He started out, following the path he’d taken a couple days earlier. The cool morning air was amazingly refreshing, helping clear his mind while invigorating and relaxing him at the same time. His breathing eased as his strides became more purposeful. He was near a breakthrough in the cold cases. He could feel it. Officer Amato had information that could help reveal the truth about what happened to the three women. After that… he’d have to wait and see.

He rounded the curve where he had seen the small cemetery the last time he had run this path and he slowed to a stop. He had pushed it to the back of his mind and had all but forgotten about it until this moment. Now was as good a time as any to pay his respects. His run had already accomplished its purpose. He knew he’d be able to sleep when he got to his cabin and he’d probably stroll back to the campground after this. He allowed himself a grin as he left the path, picking his way through the tall grass and brush to where the grave sites were.

Unlike most small cemeteries he’d encountered, there was no fence surrounding this one. In fact, there were only three wooden markers, crosses, all of them uniform but in different stages of weathering. He stopped when he got close enough to make out the lettering and suddenly the breath rushed out of him, leaving him feeling weak and dizzy with shock.

The first marker, the most faded, bore the name Carla Sandoval. The second, Rosalie Edwards. The third, the one with the least amount of weathering and the least faded lettering, read Benita Rojas.

Beside the one for Benita Rojas was an open grave. A plain wooden cross lay nearby. Both looked recent. Only a few days recent.

J.D. stumbled back, afraid that his eyes were playing tricks. He fumbled for his cell phone and let out an expletive when he realized he’d left it in his cabin when he changed his clothes. He reached the path and took off at a dead run back to the Black Horse Campground.

He’d been right; there had been more to the disappearances than what was common knowledge.

He hated it when he was right.

Don’t know Amy? Get to know her!

IMG_6271Amy Bennett’s debut mystery novel End of the Road started as a National Novel Writing Month project in 2009.  It went on to win the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery Contest and launched the Black Horse Campground mystery series, followed by No Lifeguard on Duty and No Vacancy, both of which have been awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. At the Cross Road is the fourth book in the series.

When not sitting at the laptop actively writing, she works full-time at Walmart of Alamogordo (not too far down the road from fictional Bonney County) as a cake decorator and part-time at Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso (where you can find some of the best wines in the state of New Mexico, including Jo Mamma’s White!)  She lives with her husband and son in a small town halfway between Alamogordo and Ruidoso.  Visit her website at www.amymbennettbooks.com and The Back Deck Blog at http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be food addicts. {7QT}

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

Hi.  Have we met formally?  I’m Erin.  I’m a food addict.

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It seems like I’m having gallbladder problems.  I say “seems.” It looks like a duck, walks like a duck, acts like a duck, and responds to dietary changes like a duck, but they still want to ultrasound the bejezus out of me before cutting me open.  My reactive airways do not take kindly to the general anesthetic process, so, inconvenience and waiting and uncertainty aside, I can respect that.

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Assuming my gallbladder is the source of the quacking, there’s no denying that I put myself here.  I’ve now been obese for nearly half of my life, and mildly overweight for much of the preceding.

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During the “much of the preceding,” I lived in a world where food was both god and devil to the one side of the family raising me.  

Out of one side of their mouths: Eat this.  Eat that.  Don’t eat this.  Don’t eat that. You don’t wanna be fat.  Fat is ugly. Nobody wants a fat girl. 

From the other side: What do you mean, you don’t want to eat all these fatty, sugary foods?  You think you’re better than us?  You’re one of us, so you can’t say no.  Bad food makes bad people, but isn’t being bad so much more fun–not to mention delicious?

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I was also put through some rather barbaric early ’80s food allergy testing and resulting elimination diet.  Why? Because I was a pain in the ass–placed by God with people who really don’t like having their asses pained.  I mean, really don’t.  I don’t know if it was just the prevailing wisdom of the time or the family-of-origin culture coming from that one side of the family, but I was fed a diet devoid of sugar, dairy, chicken, chocolate, peanuts, and soy but full of “bad food makes you a bad person that nobody likes.”

Funny enough “good food” wasn’t making me that much more likable… but at least I was losing weight! Really, those extra 5-10 pounds were really making me so sexually unappealing, after all.  Nobody likes a fat ten year-old, after all.

When the crazy diet showed that, even without the sugar I was still a pain in the ass, the food restrictions were mysteriously if gradually abandoned.

The “bad food = bad person=bad food=fun” thing sure stayed.

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Back to my current innards.  I made the mistake of venting about my likely gallbladder probs on my personal Facebook page.  I got some sympathy and prayers–yay! I got a couple of recipes–nice.  I got at least one wisecrack–Hey, you’re my kind of commenter!

I also got a lot of unsolicited advice.  Eat this.  Eat that.  Don’t eat this.  Don’t eat that.  

Sounds familiar.  Painfully familiar.

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I am in some level of pain just about nonstop.  That pain is being somewhat relieved by some inconvenient, bland dietary changes.  At first I bristled at the inconvenience, the deprivation.

StrictFast

I soon realized how good God is. Thankfully.  I always want to fast for Him and, food addict that I am, just never, ever, ever succeed.  Not for very long.  I’ve tried this.  I’ve tried that.  I’ve even tried this other thing.  None of it ever “took.”  Not even when I did it for God.

Now I’m living my penance for my gluttony, a penance as well for the people whose sins lured me into this addiction: a penance chosen for me by a God who knows I want to please Him but knows I’m too weak to choose and stick with a penance on my own.  I am miserable, and God is so, so good.  So good.

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It’s the Year of Mercy.  I’ve blogged a lot lately about how much more I need to live mercy in my daily life, in my reactions to others.

Now it’s my time to ask for mercy, for myself and all the other fat girls, fat guys, and food addicts out there.

Look, I know those people want to be helpful.  You’ve found something that helped you.  That’s awesome.  Praise the Lord.  But before you offer someone suffering the effects of addiction unsolicited advice, take a moment to think about what that person might hear.

“Eat this.  Make yourself less of a pain in the ass.”

“Don’t eat that.  Make yourself more appealing to me.”

“I don’t care about you.  I care about how you look in my eyes.”

“Your mind doesn’t matter to me. Just your appearance.”

“I don’t like you the way you are.”

“You are not adequate to me.”

“It’s not difficult.  It’s easy.”

“You’re weak.”

“All I see of you is your fat.”

“Your good qualities will never overshadow your sins.”

“All you are to me is your addiction.”

Oh, and from the people selling something:

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Again, I know you mean well.  I really do.  At least I hope you do.

I just encourage you implore you to pray before you advise, to have mercy on the addict’s pain before you advise, to seek to understand what the addict–what that particular addict might be suffering–before you offer unsolicited advice.

Maybe take a moment to realize that you can’t possibly know the pain that drove that person to seek solace in substance rather than in the God of all consolation.

Yes, Admonish the Sinner is a Spiritual Act of Mercy, and gluttony of any kind is a sin, but there’s a reason there’s a whole lot written on the art of fraternal correction and the conditions for offering this act of mercy are quite limited.

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I do covet your prayers.  I am offering my currently imposed penance up for not only my (numerous, visible) sins, but also for your invisible ones.

Thank you to Live the Fast and Neil Combs of A Body in Prayer for inadvertently throwing the above quotes into my path just when I needed them.