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

7 Books I Read Over Hiatus

A writer never goes on hiatus from reading! Between the Catholic Writers Conference Live, the World Meeting of Families, and assorted review copies coming my way, I have a ton of books to share with you, mes amis!

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The Sweetest Rain by Myra Johnson

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Summary:

As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.

Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.

When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.

Call this one another guilty pleasure without the guilt.  The older I get more sweet Catholic romances I read, the more I am being converted to the genre.  By the way, when I say “sweet,” I don’t mean saccharine.  I mean happy-ending-but-not-without-the-pain-of-rebirth sweet.  Sweetest Rain has that plus real characters, believable conflict, and a historical period not often visited but done so in rich, lively detail.  BTW, I had no discomfort leaving this one around for my 11 year-old First Shift to read, even though they don’t like romance. The elder member of First Shift finished it before I did (she does have more leisure reading time, but still).  I enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too.  It’s also refreshing to see a larger Catholic publisher taking on some commercial-style fiction for actual grownups, so if you want to support that kind of undertaking, Sweetest Rain is a valuable use of your time and cash.

The Little Douglings books by Carissa Douglas

I was lucky to meet the author at the World Meeting of Families. Little did I know at the time that perhaps in the very hour when I met Carissa Douglas and set about acquiring Little Douglings books from her, First Shift was at the youth congress, meeting another kid who said, “Yeah, I’m here because my mom’s upstairs selling books.”  Catholic Writers’ Kids know how to find kindred spirits.

Anyway, all of us, young and old, enjoyed these three books.  In each, we see the story of a Catholic family trying to live out the sacraments through the ups and downs of living in an imperfect work.  However, because the Little Douglings choose to live the sacraments/teach each other how to live them, they make those ups and downs holy and fruitful in ways only sacramental living can.

Okay, for a second, ignore all the theology I just (uncharacteristically) poured into that mini-review.  These books are fun-filled ways to introduce big topics, even Theology of the Body (see A Gift of Myself), to pretty much all ages.  So without further ado…

I Go to Jesus

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This book will encourage the little ones in your life (and adults too) to come to a fuller appreciation of Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  Help remind them of His deep love for them and His desire to encounter them often through the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.

There’s really not much else to say other than I recommend this book for showing anyone of any age the value of the Eucharist.

A Gift of Myself

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This one is the sweetest little intro to the Theology of the Body.  Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but honestly, I know plenty of adults who could use this kind of intro.  The author starts with family conflict and shows the peace that can be gained by thinking of others… and how the model of a marriage ordered both mentally and physically towards denying oneself for the sake of new life is the manifestation of that peace.  Out of all three Douglings books so far, this one is my favorite.

All Things New

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This latest addition to the Little Douglings series will help the little ones in your life come to a deeper understanding of God’s unfailing Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This would make an ideal gift for the little one in your life preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or for any little one, especially during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  It’s an honest yet sweet look at what that sacrament does, why we need it, and why it’s worth the effort.

Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day by Carol Benoist & Cathy Gilmore

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Meet the Risen Jesus with an amazing bunny―and his amazing tale―in this beautifully illustrated hardcover children’s book. Children will learn about Jesus’ friendship and comfort through the eyes of a timid bunny rabbit who experiences firsthand the love and joy Jesus brings. A new enhanced version will be available Easter 2014, and these first-edition copies are going fast! Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day is sure to be a family favorite every Easter.

I’m linking to Cathy Gilmore’s page, because she’s the author I got to meet at the Catholic Writers Conference.  She’s a good egg, very enthusiastic about what she does, and so approachable.

Anyway, this book is so stinking adorable, and I’m not just talking the illustrations.  The whole story is about a bunny who is scared of everything and about how God uses those fears to give the frightened bunny something, well, amazing.  Yes, this is a great book to prepare kids for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.  Yes, this is a great book to read during the last weeks of Lent (which, btw, will be here before you know it, so don’t slack, my friends).  However, this book has surprising year-round value, because it shows children (especially kids with many youthful fears, ahem, Second Shift of Kid) how God can work through our fears to give us great gifts.  In fact, that’s a good message for parents of timid children as well.  HIGHLY recommended.

Last but most certainly not least…

The Living Water Series by Stephanie Landsem

The Well

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For the Samaritan women of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—except for Mara, whose family has been shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava. But will their encounter with two men—a mysterious young man from Caesarea named Shem and a Jewish teacher called Jesus—change their lives forever?

Packed with heart-wrenching emotion and many, many surprising twists, The Well pulled my heartstrings in so many directions… and that’s what makes me downright love a book.  This is another “wish Amazon had six stars to give” kind of book.  Warning: I read it on a Sunday (yes, in one day) without removing my churchgoing eye makeup, and when I finally closed the book, I looked like The Winter Soldier.  Or a tall, plump racoon.  Either way, this book needs a Five Tissue Warning but will leave your heart soaring with delight over how God can turn mess into message.

The Thief

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A Roman centurion longing for peace and a Jewish woman hiding a deadly secret witness a miracle that transforms their lives and leads them to the foot of the cross.

In The Thief, Stephanie Landsem does it again with a tough but vulnerable female protagonist, impossible situations, unbelievable hope, and the all-powerful touch of Christ on the pages of human history, of personal history. The edgy, risky prose makes the relationships in The Thief come alive and make the reader’s heart pound for them with each new plot twist, break for them at each agony, and cheer for them with each narrow escape.  I highly recommend this fresh take on the story of the Good Thief and the Centurion at  the foot of the cross.

Whew!  I thought I’d never get all that out there! However, see how I got the reviews out there without needing to write books about each book?  As I reflected in my December EMC Reader Newsletter, leaving a book review covers several Spiritual Works of Mercy.  No, I’m not  being self-serving in saying so.  With one book review, can you counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, even bear wrongs patiently?  I think so.  I aim to chat about that in another post in the near future, as time permits.

BTW, I can probably make this a…

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

How’s your Christmas season going? Did you get an Amazon gift card? Did you already spend part of it on the It’s Still Christmas Sale?  Please consider spending some more of it on any or all of the above books! Have something else to recommend? Comment away!

7 Things I Learned from Writing This Stinking Book

I’m baaaaaack…. Many thanks to all of my wonderful guest posters who filled in for so much longer than I anticipated.

Anyway, I was busy.  Busy writing, busy learning.  Whether your thang is writing, auto repair, particle physics, or building castles out of pipe cleaners chenille stems, each new project has something unique to teach you.  The sequel to Don’t You Forget About Me is already teaching me a lot, and I still have a ways to go, even with the first draft done.  Here’s hoping some of these lessons might speak to you in whatever your thang might be.

Whether your thang is writing, auto repair, or particle physics, each new project has something unique to teach us.

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What works for you may not work for me. “Just sit down at the keys and write! No excuses! That’s how I wrote my novel!” Well, once upon a time, that’s how wrote  my novel.  It wasn’t working this time.  I have a very large file full of rewrites just to get to the end of the first draft, because for the better part of a year, every time I forced myself to write, nonsense came out.  I was writing myself in circles, wasting time I don’t have.  It took a lot of courage to admit the “butt in seat, fingers on keys” approach was doing nothing but breaking my heart and getting me nowhere.

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What worked last time might not work this time. See above: I had to find another approach for this project.  I’m a creature who thrives on routine, so the idea of changing tactics was frightening.  Lesson learned: flexibility is valuable.  Another lesson learned: to value that my creative energies are a gift from God, not an award I get for hard work, and that they are not an unlimited resource.  If my family needs my creative  problem solving energies, they get dibs. The writing will have to wait, and that’s okay.  

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Thinking time is writing time. Second Shift is a particularly talkative child who literally can’t stop talking for love or money.

Me: If you can stay quiet until we get home, you can have an M&M

2nd Shift: Okay.

Me: [Counting in my head one, two, three, four, five, six, seven–]

2nd Shift: Mommy?

Me: Yes?

2nd Sift: I don’t want an M&M.

She really just. Can’t. Stop.  Sharing.  And needing to know she’s been heard.  Future blogger, I guess.

As indicated above, the “don’t think, just write” method was failing me.  When I wrote DYFAM, it was in a three-month haze of enthusiasm while First Shift was in school and Second Shift was napping.  Times have changed: I homeschool all three now.  Second Shift’s naps are looooong gone, and her loquacity takes up a very large amount of my creative energy.   Like, by 9:15am on a good day.  (Speaking of which, if you have any kinesthetic phonics activities to share, you know where to find me.)  The times when I could sit and “write in my head” while Second Shift napped in the car have gone the way of her naps.  If my writing time is 5:30am-6:30am, and I don’t know what to write, I have every right to lay lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and think about what happens next, and that’s okay too.

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Ask for help.  You just might get it. I spent some time developing a Clean Routine that shares more of the housework with the kids, and having a reduced-clutter living space helps with EVERYTHING, including the writing. I also have become better about asking my husband if I can get away from the house somewhere and write.

I’m the person who is happy to help others, but when I need the help, I feel like my cries fall into nothingness.  Thus, I rarely ask for it.  But this time, I worked up the chutzpah to ask a number of writing and reading friends, all found through the Catholic Writers Guild, to beta the first draft for me.  All but three of them said yes, like within hours.  I asked them because I know I can trust them to be firm but kind.  Ask help of people with whom you already have a rapport of trust.  

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There’s a YouTube playlist for that.  Probably.

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Sometimes, you’ll start out with C work.  That doesn’t mean you’ll end that way. Never before in my life as a legal adult have I knowingly handed in anything but the best possible thing I could turn out.  In sophomore year of college, I basically withraw-failed two honors classes (English and Theatre–ha!) rather than hand in something that wasn’t my best.  For the NLMDA draft, however, I handed it off to Team Beta knowing it is chock full of problems: unanswered questions, fuzzy motivations, plot holes, impossibilities, even a fire alarm that I’m not sure I ever turned off… or on for that matter.

And that’s okay.  It’s not the end of the story.  Chances are pretty good that I’ll survive letting people see that I’m okay with showing up knowing that I already need to improve.

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I learned how to make espresso on the stovetop.  It’s changed my life.

So, question for you, Dear Reader: Did ANY of these resonate with you? Or is it just me and Second Shift out here sharing (First Shift dwells only in Surly Preteen Land)? What are some creative habits you’ve formed and then re-formed?  What are some ways you recharge your creative energies?  What is your favorite way to make coffee?

I’m doing this for #MondayBlogs, but since they’re Quick Takes and there are Seven of ’em, I’ll link this on up at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

 

Dystopian Stories, Catholic Authors: A Guest Post by Theresa Linden

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s meet today’s guest, Theresa Linden.

CHASING LIBERTYcoverCatholic Authors Are Well-suited to Writing Dystopian Fiction

Before I wrote my dystopian fiction, Chasing Liberty, I wrote Catholic teen fiction and Young Adult with supernatural elements. I enjoyed reading Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries, Louis L’Amour’s Westerns, Louis De Wohl’s novels about saints, and Dean Koontz’ supernatural fiction. I didn’t read or write dystopian. In fact, the word was not even familiar to me.

A dystopia is an imaginary community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is literally translated as “not-good place” . . . (Definition from Wikipedia)

Disturbing events occurring in our world got me thinking and concerned about our future. A little, endangered fish is protected at the expense of drought-stricken farmers in California. The government tracks us through our phones and cars. They data-mine our online activity, searching for key phrases. Scientists push past ethical boundaries to experiment with human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Worse than the loss of privacy, the freedom of the individual is challenged. People are fined for living according to their faith. And the dignity of the human person seems all but lost.

What does tomorrow hold? Are we heading for a “not-good place”?

Writers of dystopia often show a totalitarian government, as in 1984, Hunger Games and Divergent. People are robbed of their freedom to choose the direction of their lives, and they are often forced into dehumanizing situations. Some stories include man-made environmental disasters or overpopulation, like in Soylent Green. Some concern the danger of advances in science and technology. Perhaps all are written to warn people about current ideologies or trends that could lead to a frightening future.

A Catholic perspective can bring to the story the wisdom of the Church, the solitary institution that has lasted 2,000 years while empires have risen and fallen around her: Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Persian Empire, Russian Empire…etc. The Church has witnessed the cyclical nature of history. After a fall, a new society rises up.

The Church alone has remained constant. Her Truths are eternal. And Her wisdom can shed light on the true ills of society, identify their roots, and provide the medicine for healing.

Our culture today has its own values and makes its own judgments on good and evil. These values may seem great on the surface. And the majority may agree or at least tolerate these things, but it doesn’t make them right. The judgments of the world, when not conformed to eternal Truth, do not stand the test of time. And the ideologies of the world do not bring true healing to the ills of society.

The world governments in Chasing Liberty have united over their concern for the earth. They are called the Regimen Custodia Terra, the guardians of the earth. They grieve over species that have gone extinct, the waste of natural resources, and pollution. Many of their concerns are worthy. And Christians agree that we should take care of the earth because God has made us its stewards.

But the Christian perspective recognizes a distinct difference. All natural things do not have equal value. Humans have a unique dignity. They alone have been made in the image and likeness of God.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter Laudato Si, writes, “At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure.” (sec. 90)

Remove the respect for the natural hierarchy of created things, and humans become a parasite and the earth is elevated above them. This destabilizes society.

Testing Liberty Brown RedAll writers of dystopian fiction remove one or more elements that lead to a stable society. Remove the freedom of the individual and you have an oppressive government. Remove the family and you have individuals selfishly pursuing their own interests. Remove the respect for human life and you have a society where the imperfect and inconvenient are valueless and disposable.

Dystopian writers often propose solutions to the problems or provide a hero with special powers that takes dramatic steps to bring freedom. But real solutions go deeper.

A novelist with a Catholic perspective possesses the vision of a true utopian society. What makes a perfect society? Is it the freedom to do as one pleases without interference from government or law? Is it sex without natural consequences or scientific developments unhindered by moral considerations? Is it freedom from responsibility or from judgment?

The answer is written in our hearts and in our bodies, and given fully through the Church. True freedom cooperates with nature and with divinely-revealed Truth. True freedom is the ability to do what is right and to live according to conscience. No government or society should oppose this because it is crucial to sustaining civilization. People living in accord with truth and goodness—in accord with human dignity— can create a culture that builds up rather than destroys. It begins in the family, the building block of a stable society, and spreads from there. A strong civilization respects life and recognizes a natural order or hierarchy of created things.

The founders of our country had a sense of this as they struggled to separate themselves from a controlling government. They believed that all men were created equal and endowed with God-given rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A society that veers away from truth, begins to destroy itself. It becomes hostile to sound doctrine and prefers relativism. People grow selfish and prefer to rely on someone else, often the government, to provide the answers to today’s ills, reducing the direct responsibility of the individual and eliminating the need for faith. As happened to the Roman Empire, immorality, laziness, and false ideologies lead to their downfall.

So the writer of dystopian sends a warning. The evil that is tolerated in our culture, if not confronted, will eventually lead to a collapse of our society. The Catholic writer also sees past this. Even if our society is destroyed, there is always hope as long as there are people in the world who seek what is right and good and true.

What is your favorite dystopian story and why? What message do you get from the story?

TLindenHeadshotTheresa Linden resides with her husband and three boys in northeast Ohio. She was born in San Francisco, California. Her father was in the Coast Guard, so the family moved every three years. This probably accounts for her love of traveling and desire to see the world. Living by the ocean and under the palm trees in Guam and Hawaii spurred her imagination. She began writing illustrated short stories with her sister in grade school, borrowing characters from favorite movies and shows. Now, writing is her passion. Her favorite genres include Fantasy, Western, Contemporary, Supernatural and Futuristic. Other interests: acrylic painting, drawing with ink, hiking, traveling and American History. Theresa is a member of the Catholic Writer’s Guild  and the Elyria Library Writers’ Group. She has an Associate’s Degree in Electrical/Mechanical Drafting and a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University. She is currently working on the last book in the Chasing Liberty trilogy.

Beyond My Comfort Zone: A Guest Post from Barbara Hosbach

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s meet today’s guest, Barbara Hosbach.

BarbHHeadshotI’m working on my first novel and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. I’ve been blogging twice a week for several years. I’ve had two scripture-based books and a number of magazine articles published. But this is different. This is fiction.

Fiction seems harder to write than non-fiction—at least to me. For one thing, non-fiction writers have a head start—reality’s already been created. Fiction writers have to start from scratch. It’s been said they’re like sculptors who have to make their own clay. More than that, the world fiction writers create has to be—or at least seem—more credible than the real world. Reality, no matter how implausible, has automatic validity. It really happened. Not so with invented stories. But most of all, when you’re making things up, the sky’s the limit. That can be intimidating.

It can also be exhilarating. I’ve already finished my first draft. That feels good, but it’s just the raw material. Now I get to shape that clay, to build up some parts and pare down—or even eliminate—others until the story’s just the way I want it. To guard against intimidation, I’ve given myself permission to take all the time I need with this process.

There’s a lot to consider in revising fiction. What’s working best for me is focusing on one thing at a time. The story I want to tell begged for a certain point of view and voice. So far, so good. I’m happy with the characters who presented themselves, but I’ve learned that characters acting at random doesn’t make a story. Their actions need consequences that lead somewhere. Shaping the overall plot and making sure the chapters and scenes lead from one thing to the next is taking some time. I’m letting that be okay. Fine-tuning and proof-reading will come later. As I said, this is my first work of fiction, so I’m no expert. Other writers may work differently, but if I tried to do it all simultaneously, I’d get overwhelmed. Then, instead of wondering what I’ve gotten into, I might be looking to escape. And there is no way I want out of this adventure—even if it is beyond my comfort zone.

Barbara Hosbach, writer, speaker, and retreat facilitator, blogs about scripture at www.biblemeditations.net . Her articles have appeared in a number of Catholic periodicals. Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament, her latest book, explores what happened when Jesus healed and what it means for us today. Both this and Hosbach’s first book, Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes, received the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

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Interview with Margaret Rose Realy, Oblate

CGSA CoverWe have a lovely book to enjoy today, dear readers!

Not only that, but all you writerly types get to learn a little bit about the flexibility, patience, and Providence that are part of the successful writer’s life.  Read on to learn more about Margaret Rose Realy and her latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.

Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, is a contemplative lay hermit. She grew up just outside Detroit, sharing a home with her maternal grandmother where the love of gardening flourished. Margaret reveals her love of nature, learning about the Creator through his creation, with a Benedictine spirituality, in her books, columns, and presentations. 

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Because my blog is about the writing life, I asked Margaret to share a little bit about what went into the making of this book.  She kindly obliges.  Read on!

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EMC: How did you get the initial idea for this book?  

MRR: The first publisher I worked with, Circle Press, had started production on my first book, A Garden of Visible Prayer; Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time,(now a  2nd Edition). In a meeting Fr. John Bartunek and Claudia Volkman discussed the need for a book that looked at the traditions of the Church as revealed in nature. Father wanted a book that was grounded in our faith, and took away all the new-agey-bunk that detracted from knowing the Creator through his creation. It was at his suggestion six years ago that gave direction to my writing. Circle Press eventually closed down that division.

leaf logoEMC: As so often happens in the publishing world, alas.  But that wasn’t the end, was it?  Tell us what happened when you pitched the idea for this book.  

MRR: It seems that the concept for this book (A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac) was out of my hands. The second publisher for A Garden of Visible Prayer, FAITH Catholic, had discussed with me a book of the same nature that Father had suggested. FAITH was a very small book publisher and after much prayer, I felt they weren’t the right ones for the title. So rather than say no out-right, I waited. Good thing I did. They, too, closed down their book division.

Claudia, then with Franciscan Media/Servant Books, still had an interest in my manuscript and asked that I pitch it to her at Catholic Writers Guild Live conference. Having worked with her before, it felt more like tea with a friend—who just happened to be an acquisition editor. Franciscan Media decided the manuscript wasn’t a good fit for their house and I moved on.

The manuscript was pitched a year later to Ave Maria Press. Thanks to Lisa Hendey, who had reviewed the manuscript for CWG’s SoA several years back, and recommended it to AMP.

leaf logoEMC:  Can you tell us a little bit about the process for getting the contract to write your latest book?  

MRR: Bob Hamma of Ave Maria Press wanted me to rework the book and gear it towards Catholic moms…you know, because, Lisa Hendey. Since I do not have family and never had children, I knew I couldn’t produce the book he wanted—readers would know I wasn’t all that—and turned him down, twice. We finally agreed to meet at CMN in Texas (2012) to discuss what I could produce that would meet Ave Maria Press’ market needs. It was there that we agreed on the layout for an expanded manuscript that combined sections from other manuscripts into one book.

leaf logoEMC: How long did you wait from time of pitch to when you signed your contract?  What happened with this project in that time?

MRR: After the meeting in August 2012, we discussed the outline and the contract and advance, which were settled upon by April 2013. I was given one year to produce the new manuscript.

leaf logoEMC: How long was it from the time you signed your contract to actual publication?  What were some of the highlights and challenges you encountered during that time?

MRR: I began researching and compiling materials immediately after our August 2012 meeting, assembling chapter folders through the winter. Every year I offer several spring presentations, gardening and Lenten, and the spring of 2013 was no different. The rewriting began later that summer. My manuscript was to be submitted the end of April 2014, and much to my editor’s delight—and AMP’s graphics department—it was sent the first week in January 2014. That gave the publisher a good year to work it through production for edits and design. It was here that the work changed in perspective. It was no longer MY book but OUR book—a sentiment important to all authors.

 My greatest challenge was—and still is—that I am just a gardener. I failed and had to repeat English courses in college. When I realized being called to write I was dumbfounded. I had to set aside my fear—and being totally clueless—and remain attentive to the task placed before me. Our Lord has provided beautiful people along my journey, skilled at critiquing and editing my writing—like you, Erin—to help me keep moving forward.

 What delighted me most in the writing of this book was sharing my love of gardening and God. Each section of each chapter brought some level of joy. I often felt that I was doing an odd sort of evangelization by offering some of what our church teaches in a way that brings to light the Bible parables that were related to nature. It was fun researching and then correlating spiritual themes and then to actualize them in a garden setting. I pray that those who read my book might apply some of the gardening themes to their own outdoor prayer space and in doing so draw closer to Our Lord.

leaf logoEMC: If you could sum up your mission for this book in three sentences, what would you say?

MRR: I need just one: It’s the first book to offer gardeners spiritual resources and creative projects that connect a love of gardening with their Catholic faith.

leaf logoEMC: Count me as one of your readers who is getting connected to a love of gardening through the Catholic faith, thanks to your warmly detailed book!  Any parting advice for aspiring writers?  

MRR: This is the hardest question of all. I never aspired to be a writer or author. I had to discern in the call to write, what it was that made me come alive, what—besides prayer and my love of God—brought me joy, and then translate that into words. I was happiest gardening and sharing my love of it with others. I drew great peace, with the help of many volunteers, creating gardens of prayer and memorial. This is what I knew, this is what I loved, so that is what I wrote.

We’re told to write what we know, and you write about what you love.  The fruit of that is clear to the many of us who love your work!  Thank you for stopping by, Margaret.  Readers, it’s spring, and it’s Passiontide.  I can’t think of a better time or better reasons to get yourself a copy of A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.  This will be a book you keep as a reference.  I already plan on getting clear Contac Paper for the cover to keep it from getting all raggedy.

Homeschoolers, also, take note:  my oldest read this through before I could finish it, and she loved it.  If you use gardening in your curriculum so you don’t have to spend so much time weeding, your older children (5th grade and up) might enjoy this book as well!

Wanna play? CMN Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt

Do you have a Twitter account but don’t quite know how to use it just yet?  Do #hashtags #baffle #you? What about finding like minds on Facebook?  

Learn by doing!  Join in the highly unofficial Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt.  

Here’s how it works:

  1. Take a selfie at/with/doing any of the things in the list below.  
  2. Post it to your Twitter and/or Facebook page, including #CMNselfie wherever you post it.  
  3. Search on Facebook and Twitter for #CMNselfie.
  4. Find like minds!  
  5. Send them friend requests on Facebook.
  6. Follow them on Twitter.
  7. Get to know each other!

Questions?  Let me know in the comments.  Now, here comes the list.  Note that there are more than seven items on said list.  This is so, if you’re lazy pressed for time, you can also turn your selfies into a 7 Quick Takes Post.  

THE CMN Selfie Scavenger Hunt

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  1. With Paper Pope
  2. With a presenter
  3. With someone who’s never been to the conference before
  4. With someone who’s been to the conference more times than you have
  5. With a bookseller and/or store owner
  6. At the Catholic Writers Guild trade show floor booth
  7. Buying a book
  8. With a koala (!)
  9. At Wednesday night’s author reception
  10. With someone you met for the first time at the trade show/conference

Let’s play!