catholicfiction

BOOK TRAILER–FULL LENGTH DIRECTOR’S CUT

Here it is!  The full-length director’s cut of the trailer for Don’t You Forget About Me by little old moi.  

CAST & CREW

Young Mary Catherine: Hannah Frankmin

Young Tony: Paul Kingsbury

Music: “Preparation” by Turbo Retro https://soundcloud.com/turboretro,http://turboretro.bandcamp.com/

Camera, Editing: Kelly Walker

Location: The Cottonwood House http://www.cottonwoodhouse.blogspot.com/

Many thanks to the cast, crew and supporting friends, not to mention parents, who made this piece possible.

Oh… if you came here looking for the Amazon link to the exclusive Kindle-only release, check back in a few hours.

Review: Treason by Dena Hunt

Treason

Treason:  This was a lovely read.  Over a decade ago, I myself was going through a post-conversion crisis of faith and found myself on a trip to England and Ireland.  The stories I heard then of the Catholic martyrs, especially those of England, opened my eyes anew to the value of our faith:  that it is a truth worth dying for.  Dena Hunt’s novel Treason put flesh and bone and breath into those stories and made me value the faith anew.  I have to say that the pacing is much slower than I usually read, but I still finished Treason in a day.  Hunt brought a quiet immediacy to those far-distant stories of the priests and laypeople who gave their lives–not just their life-breath but their daily comforts, their moments of personal peace, their relationships with their countrymen–because they were not willing to lie.  Do you need an example of day-to-day courage?  Do you need hope that our flailing efforts have value to make present here the Kingdom of God? Then go read Treason by Dena Hunt.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!?!

Despair.com 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.

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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.

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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.  

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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!”

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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?

Retreat

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?

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.

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

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

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Let the fun begin!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Frightening Yourself on a Road Trip: A How-To

I snagged a copy of Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable just before leaving on a road trip… that ended with our family staying in a cabin in the woods for two days.  What’s the premise of Stealing Jenny?  I don’t think I’m giving too much away, but think Catholic Misery (not Catholic guilt, silly–different animal all together):  a twisted soul kidnaps someone to, you guessed it, a cabin in the woods.  My fertile imagination was glad that I had my family around me the whole time.  There were mice in said cabin, but no kidnappers.  Phew.

My review?  I hate the use the cliche “fast-paced page-turner,” but it fits.  The characters were believable.  That is a huge compliment to a writer when bringing us characters who do things like–gasp!–practice NFP and chastity (sorry, folks, but no matter the morality I have espoused for myself, I am still a child of my culture, and if you’re going to write a character who lives a counter-cultural life, that character had better be three-dimensional).  The suspense was well-developed and well-handled.  There were a few characters I would have liked to see more fully-drawn, but all in all, Stealing Jenny was well worth the read.

If, however, you are planning on a trip to the woods and are easily frightened, save the read for when you’re back and safe at home.