Monday, March 23, 2015

Making Movies!

This is incredibly time consuming -- going through photos and videos -- but Max enjoys making these. He's talked about making a trailer for my novel when it is published and I love that my kids are interested in the work I do. The older they get, the more I can share with them. I still remember the days when they were just wee little kids and we'd write and *edit* together. Max drew cars on many of my notebooks and stories, Dagny flowers or babies. Oh, and parking lots! We used to joke about Max becoming a civil engineer because he would design elaborate parking lots on scrap paper. The kids would have hours of fun driving and parking their Hot Wheels cars. I reminisce too much. This is what he worked on all weekend:

This was the video he made the year before:

And the year before that, Max and Dagny collaborated on a book report of The City of Ember by Jeanne du Prau. Dagny did the storyboard and Max did all the shooting and editing. They had so much fun doing this project and they learned so much about the importance of storyboarding before shooting! When I did a series of writing workshops for fifth grade, I daresay this was the favorite.

Here's their movie!


As always, I learn so much from the kids. They are a wonder to me, how they dive into new projects, fearlessly. I love their confidence, their willingness to put in the hard work, their joy and their enthusiasm. Every time I get discouraged with my own lofty dreams, I remember what amazing things our children do, and I too remember the virtue of fortitude and perseverance!

Years ago, Michael made a movie of the kids doing a carwash. It is classic! I was taking a writing class at night and I'd return home at 9:30 pm to find the kids on the table, dancing, with the music turned high. It was rock and roll. If I ever find it, I'll have to post it here. This is one of the useful things about blogging. You can save stuff here that you want to remember. Left to our own devices, the archival system fails or we lose it or ... yeah, I might as well admit it, we're getting old.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Busy! Robotics, Retreats and More!


So it's been busy since this year began. Robotics took up much of the time for my guys, but what a blast they had. Something really kicked in for Max this year and I can say he owned it. There's such a huge learning curve and this year he was invested. He's also playing rugby. Dagny started playing lacrosse. Why, you might ask, do we keep so busy? Well, I find that our kids do better when they are physically active and mentally challenged. Home is too relaxing. We have intentionally made it so ... but maybe it has backfired. In any case, they are thriving.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally made a trip to the bookstore to see whether TEN EASTER EGGS was on the bookshelves but it wasn't :(  What a disappointment. But they will be ordering it. My friend, Amy's book, RED BUTTERFLY, wasn't there either, so I asked for it. Folks, you can help keep our books in the pipeline by asking for them at the shops or at the library. I saw some other friends' books and that made all the difference in the world! To see them in the wild!!!
Right now, I'm reading THORNBIRDS by Colleen McCullough. It's a re-read in honor of her death. I find it interesting to read it as a Catholic now and a grown up and as a writer! What a wonderful book with characters who burrow themselves into your heart, who are as real as the people you know.
So back to busyness. We had the wonderful opportunity to have a Lenten retreat at the very beginning with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. I will never read or listen to Isaiah 53 the same way. It cuts me to the core, how our blessed Lord bore everything for the love of us, wounded for us, to make us whole. The perfect sacrifice. The Jewish laws forbade human sacrifice, yet this was the only way, so I can only imagine how shocking this must've been to people Isaiah was preaching to. I could sit here and meditate upon salvation history and not understand why God loves us wretched creatures so, for even a mother does not love her child this much. I thought I knew what love was, but it pales in comparison. 

Michael and Max went to a men's conference. I am so glad they have opportunities like this to build Godly men for they have the responsibility to lead their families to holiness. Grace flows through them and if they abdicate their responsibilities, well, you can see the result all around you -- broken families, children going astray, loss of morals. We build strong men and we'll rebuild the family.  

We are halfway through Lent and that means lots more choir practice. I didn't post my usual picture with the mice torturing the cat ... but I've done very little spiritual reading aside from my daily Mass readings. I try to get to Mass as much as possible since when I'm busy, I need my Jesus the most. And I got to thinking, how funny we Catholics are ... we go to Mass, listen, and sometimes have terrible homilies, or none at all, but we go because we love to be present at Calvary. We are indeed at the foot of the Cross at every single Mass and if we are in the proper state we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of Christ in that consecrated Host. What awesome power priests have been given. A priest's hands are like no other. Every time I receive the final blessing, I know it could be my last. And I go in peace to do the work I must do.
The math never adds up. It's a mystery.
My mood has lifted now that the weather has warmed up. The first few games I was freezing in my fat coat watching the kids play. But now, it's such a pleasure to bask in the sunshine. The kids are also better :) And although I've not been able to concentrate on the new book that's been percolating since I went to Storymasters, I am jotting down notes for it and working on shorter things. There is a time and season for everything. I have a difficult time working on a novel when my attention is scattered on many small things. The small things are important too. So for now, shorts. They are my comfort zone. Perhaps I retreat to this as a safety net.
I love all the new growth of spring. I know it's been a hard winter for many of you. May the sunshine warm your hearts and souls and bring you joy. And may your Lenten journey bring you great blessings.

I'll leave you with this beautiful hymn: Transfigure us, O Lord.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Ceramics Class

This picture cracks me up -- Max found some of our old cameras and is playing around with them. Oh, I hope he gets to be an NG photographer some day. Maybe he'll get to shoot a racing cars, or get to race them or design them. I'll never forget the time I was driving in Belgium and it was racing season and there were five red Ferraris zooming past me in my little white Opel. There were times I'd drive a 100 mph on those roads. I loved speed and my little car could handle it. These days I'm much more sedate and would prefer nothing else than being driven around, and Max is more than happy to oblige.

I love these pieces he made in his ceramics class -- so beautiful. The colors are gorgeous in the glaze and I wondered how he made all those curves. He said while the clay was wet, it was supported. I'm surprised it didn't crack during the firing process. 

I never learned how to do any of this, and this is why I am thankful to send my children to school. It's clear their aptitudes and interests lie in the sciences, but they've had the most wonderful teachers who've helped them to develop their artistic side. They've always come home with beautiful art projects -- drawings and paintings, collages and jewelry, dioramas and dolphins -- and taught me.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

CS Lewis Recordings, Evil, and the Names of the Coptic Christian Martyrs

I came across this:  and what a treasure it is to hear this great man's voice! Yes, I've read his books but his voice is a balm. I loved his fiction, but I think his nonfiction is so clearly written. The first book was Mere Christianity. After that I picked up others: Screwtape Letters still gives me chills because I understand the nature of evil so much better. I understand the way I used to be, can be. Oh, yes, there's plenty of evil that needs to be rooted out. He has so much wisdom to impart. RIP, Mr. Lewis. I wonder how many souls you have brought to God.

Speaking of evil, ISIS is on my mind. They killed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. They were killed simply for their faith. They confessed Jesus as Lord God. They are martyrs and as you know the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

The Martyrs’ Names (taken from here)
1. Milad Makeen Zaky
2. Abanub Ayad Atiya
3. Maged Solaiman Shehata
4. Yusuf Shukry Yunan
5. Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
6. Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
7. Somaily Astafanus Kamel
8. Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
9. Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
10. Girgis Milad Sinweet
11. Mina Fayez Aziz
12. Hany Abdelmesih Salib
13. Bishoy Adel Khalaf
14. Samuel Alham Wilson
15. Worker from Awr village
16. Ezat Bishri Naseef
17. Loqa Nagaty
18. Gaber Munir Adly
19. Esam Badir Samir
20. Malak Farag Abram
21. Sameh Salah Faruq

Pray for them. Ask them to pray for us, that we may have courage to fight evil. I think it's pretty clear. Either you are with Jesus or you are against. There is no sitting on the fence.

Oh, Mary, pray for us all and lead us to your Son.

I love this wooden carving of the Last Supper. It is a reminder that all the Apostles, save one, were martyred for the love of Jesus, the God-Man. Jesus established His Church on earth and not even the gates of hell shall prevail. ISIS has nothing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

President's Day! She Does It Again

On President's Day, Dagny went for an early morning shoot and then read her fictional story about a Swedish family arriving at Ellis Island to the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Old Exchange Building. What's amazing is that as the winning students read their essays, I remembered my own entry into this country, being poked and prodded, even thought I didn't come through Ellis Island. Becoming an American is a very emotional moment. I still remember taking my oath when I turned 19 and I have a polaroid shot of that special day!

The essays were all excellent and shared many similarities but I liked Dagny's the best (I'm just a wee bit biased). I still remember when she was drafting and was digging up historical details on the internet. I shared some of my own research and some of the stories of the Bodachs. We have a funny story about the name change but she kept her story serious.  She's the first student ever to have won the contest two years in a row. We are so proud of her. And we are thankful for her teachers who do so much work with all the children. Her delivery was excellent and later at the reception, we had the chance to meet with some very lovely ladies. We didn't take a tour of the dungeon again because Dagny had lacrosse practice, but being in downtown Charleston and seeing George Washington makes me so proud to be an American! God bless America!!!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Loveliest Valentine

I received in the mail the loveliest Valentine from a friend. How could she know what I'd been praying about for the past few weeks, what my heart was longing for? We correspond sporadically. But somehow she knew! Some things are meant to be secret, but I will share the quote she wrote on her beautiful little handmade card that will be my Lenten companion.

Build an oratory within yourself; and there have Jesus on the altar of your heart. ~ St. Paul of the Cross

Wishing you all a blessed Lent.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Some Wisdom from Story Masters

Christopher Vogler, me, Donald Maass, James Scott Bell
Ruby and me
Here I am with three of the best teachers on writing and a new friend, Ruby, who is just a bridge away!

I thought about consolidating my thoughts more coherently about this workshop but decided to share what's not widely available in the books and where my mind took me. So rambly style, here are my impressions.

Chris has a lot of the East in him. Don is NY. And Jim represents the West. I found myself thinking, it's a darn good thing we're raising our kids in the South because they'll know how to shoot a gun when the time comes. LOL. I know, what a random thought, but it's not. Don had asked, "Who are we?" Silence descended as we processed the question. "We are certainly not the greatest generation." He paused. "We are the helpless generation." Bingo. Why? I think it's because people don't believe we have anything to fight for. And this is why I am glad to be living in the South, because here it is so much easier to teach the children moral truths, that there are some things worth fighting for. Studying To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was such a brilliant choice because it brought to light the kinds of books we should be striving to write, books that are salt and light, books that make us want to be better. Each of them spoke about this. How great books enlighten us.

ChrisV spoke about wants vs. needs. We identify with the hero because we want what he wants. We connect. But the hero has a journey to make and it's often about learning what he needs. He made a very important point. People come for the thrill of the story, but they stay for the lesson! The story of Rumpelstiltskin illustrates this beautifully. The girl makes a deal with the imp. He gives her what she wants in a twisty way. But what she *needs* to learn is the value of human life. 

So study mythology and the Hero's journey. We have so much to learn. I like Jane Yolen's thoughts on mythology (Touch Magic) as well as Tolkein's and Chesterton's. These giants have deepened not only my understanding of story but of my faith. It's all good! So it was especially wonderful to have a workshop like this, so highly focused on structure and craft. Sometimes I wonder why everybody is not already Catholic because the story of Christ is the greatest story ever. Creation. Sacrifice. Redemption! What else is there?

At Fort Sumter
Some talk about ISIS came up. And oh boy, don't even compare the Crusades or the Inquisitions to ISIS. I don't know how many in the West are even acquainted with Muslims, or if they know anything about Islam, but I grew up in Bhopal, which has a sizeable Muslim population (over 25%) and believe me, it is not the religion of peace as the West might have you believe. Islam means "submit." If a Hindu marries a Muslim, she must convert. Or die. They do not believe Jesus died on the cross. Folks, in the Art of War, the first principle is to know your enemy.

I won this little book: The Art of War for Writers from Carol's blog. I'd read it a few years ago, but I feel like a warrior owning it and Jim signed it for me!!! Thank you Carol and thank you, Jim, for writing the book!

By the way, James Scott Bell has a new little book with a great new concept about writing from the middle. He speaks about the mirror moment. Of course, I had to go see what exactly happens in the middle of my polished manuscript (that needs another polish now). And wouldn't you know it, I didn't just have a metaphorical mirror, but a real one, where the main character is asking, who am I, where am I going, is this the person I want to be and then the rest of the book is about dealing with the change of heart that occurs. Powerful stuff. Did I plan it? Not exactly. But a little death occurs in the middle.

Ravenel Bridge, taken from Fort Sumter -- you should be thinking about plot points I and II :)
It's good to overlay the 3-act structure with the hero's journey. My favorite is the 9-box method, which I first saw on the Blueboards. And there's the wonderful Snowflake method too. The idea is to use all the tools there are to help you build a solid story upon.

So that Don can come and talk about emotions. Wah!

Don Maass is really good at making you look at the emotional content. We did an exercise writing about joy. Really capturing the sensory details of that moment. Now find a place in the manuscript to give that moment to our character. We read to feel powerful emotions. One thing we concentrated upon was secondary emotions. How to use those to bring out the primary emotions in a reader. Example: The scene in TKAM when the trial is about to begin. Scout is describing it practically as a picnic! A gala event. The whole town is there. But underneath, we sense the dread. And it's powerful. His Breakout Novel Workbook allowed me (a nonfiction, shorty-short writer) to complete a novel. And his 21st Century Fiction is helping me to dig deeper. Folks, do the writing exercises at home. I can guarantee you that your stories will be better. He pushes and pushes you to take your story to the next level. In the space of these three days, I worked on a new (I thought MG novel, but it's really YA, but I feel as though I have material now for three books. Heaven forbid I write a trilogy, when one book will suffice. I am, after all, a magazine writer, who tries to be economical, though you might not believe me with the length of this blog post ... but I am confident that my story is worthy.

And so, I hope I've left you with enough wisdom to inspire and encourage you to study and write. Never give up. One tip from me. Deconstruct.

Sullivan's Island, taken from Fort Sumter
I take apart stories to see how they are put together. This is how I learned to write a multi-scene short story. I did this for a couple of novels. And now I realize I need to do this more, so that I can internalize it even more. This is what Story Masters do as well. They wrote their books after analyzing hundreds of books and movies (what fun research, eh?). Do it for yourself.

I cut out from the workshop a bit early to go to Mass. We only have a month until Laetare Sunday ... and choir practice was a balm to calm my buzzing brain. It was lovely to give thanks to God for this opportunity and to pray for everyone at the workshop and their safe return home to their families. This photo was taken from Fort Sumter a couple of years ago, but there she is ... Stella Maris! I leave you with one of my favorite hymns. Wishing you and your sweethearts a loving and lovely Saint Valentine's Day!