Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why I Love Sept.

This little fellow *is* a pocket hamster. He's so attached to my daughter and loves the sound of her voice. It's so much fun to watch him nibble on a piece of banana or carrot. Sometimes, he'll taste your finger, but has not drawn blood yet! Of course, he has nothing to do with Sept.

Despite the school/sports busyness, it's good to see the kids working hard and growing. It takes a couple of weeks to adjust and believe me, there is grousing every fall. But I am happy to see how the organized sports teach our children many, many life skills, particularly discipline. It carries over into so many other areas of their life. I highly recommend it, even if your kids are not athletic superstars. Mine aren't. They take after me ...  School days also provide me with several hours of quiet, not just for the writing, but the praying/thinking/daydreaming that is so essential in a writer's life. Even as I do the household chores, I can be thinking about the stories I'm working on. I take leisurely walks with the dog, sit out on the back porch to read, write and just soak in all the beauty. One of these days I'll have to record the symphony in my backyard. Having the quiet during the day balances our busy evenings.

It has cooled off considerably with the afternoon storms we've been having. Alas, the mosquitoes haven't quit biting me yet ...  Soon, soon. I love Sept. because it is the month my husband was born. He's growing after God's own heart. I say this to encourage those of you who mourn not introducing your children to Jesus when they were young or those who mourn the loss of faith in your adult children. Conversion of heart, the turning away from sin, can and does happen in adults. In fact, Michael was raised without God. But his heart began to turn as he read the Bible stories to our children. I cannot say I understand what went through his mind as he cast away his old thinking but he was falling in love. And during RCIA we talked incessantly about Jesus, this God-Man, as we began to know Him. It was so much easier for me to return to faith, but in Michael I saw a greater humility as he confronted his own past and admitted that what he based his life on was wrong. This is no small thing for a grown, intelligent man. We joked about how squeaky clean he was when he was baptized. And I was a little bit jealous. Alas, we muck up our soul on a regular basis with all the trivial things, so thank God for confession and confessors.

That Easter Vigil, when our children were baptized and confirmed, I realized we've done right by them. But they will still need to embrace it on their own when they leave home. They will have to make a choice. Are they with Jesus or against? There is no half-way, no sitting on the fence, no wishy-washy. So keep the faith and keep praying. Two books my husband recommends for fathers: Fr. Alain Delagneau's Advice for Successful Families and Joseph's Way: the Call to Fatherly Greatness by Devin Schadt. Michael has given away so many copies of Advice, I've lost count. It's a slim book, chock-full of the most practical advice for families.

And last, I love Sept. for the SCBWI Carolinas conference. What perfect timing, even if I have to leave my sweetie for a weekend. We have a terrific chapter and I always enjoy being with like-minded folks. If you are in Charlotte this weekend, come say hello, have a cup of tea with me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo.  Michael picked up this book at the Irondale, AL monastery gift shop and read it in record time. I'm not surprised. Mother's life reads like a novel, full of unexpected twists and turns. I feel a bit sheepish that I didn't know much about her given that I listen to EWTN every chance I get.

I was so inspired reading her life story. Rita Rizzo was an unwanted child. Her father abandoned them. Her mother, depressed, clung to Rita, so much so that when she was sure she was being called to serve God, she had to do it on the sly. She left a note for her mother. Rita had a sharp tongue, a short temper, and bad health, not the stuff nuns are made of. Yet, God called this contemplative nun to share the Good News all over the world. And she said Yes. The love she has for Jesus overflows from the pages of this book. And it is this very love that causes problems for her. Mother fights with everybody including bishops behaving badly. I never realized how messed up things were.

This is a wonderful book about a woman who abandoned herself to God. Some wit and wisdom from Mother herself:

"Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach."

"Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous."

"Boldness should be the eleventh commandment."

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. I picked this up at Goodwill and the pages spill over with Julia's joie de vivre. I love how she dives into everything with both feet. This is another story of doing what you love, not counting the cost, but letting the chips fall where they may. The first half of the book reminded me of our time in Europe. Michael and I were like Paul and Julia, without kids, and highly indulgent. Our chief indulgence was gastronomical and even now, we have a tremendous appetite for good food and wine. We often spend an entire day cooking a gourmet meal. Our children are thoroughly spoiled and often sound like Anton Ego, the food critic from Ratatouille.

The second half of the book is about writing and publishing and experimenting and collaborating. But most of all, it's about persevering. What a magnum opus! I do not own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (my tastes run more towards Italian/Greek/Thai/Indian) but I have checked it out to learn some techniques and I just may get it for Dagny, who has a great love of cooking and would enjoy a book like this ... which is, I quote the editor-in-chief at Houghton Mifflin now  ... your manuscript is a work of culinary science as much as of culinary art. However ...  Yes, a rejection.

So write what you love, take all the time with it, and never give up!

A Story of Anti-Christ by Vladimir Sergaevitch Soloviev. This short story was published near the end of Soloviev's life in 1900. Today I doubt this could be published. It reads like a narrative outline, but the broad strokes are disturbingly true.

Briefly, after Japanese domination, Europe unites into a United States of Europe. A charismatic leader comes to the forefront preaching peace and unity. What's fascinating is that he does not denounce Jesus, but instead appreciates His teachings. "Christ brought the sword; I shall bring peace. Christ threatened the earth with the Day of Judgment. But I shall be the last judge, and my judgment will be not only that of justice but also that of mercy." However, he reduces Jesus and the Church to a good person and great institution, instead of the way to salvation. You see, there is no need for salvation since people are to help one another from earthly misery. Sound familiar? I will say no more. You can read the entire story here.

I will not forget this book in a long time and will always be suspicious of anyone who speaks too much of peace or becoming vegetarian.

I have several more books to share, but I'll save those for another time. What good books, bad books or disturbing books have you read lately?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Requiem Mass for Fr. Vincent Capodanno

Bouguereau (1825-1925) Soul to Heaven
Why in the world would we pray for someone who died during the Vietnam War? As our priest likes to remind us, Uncle Guido does not instantly become a saint upon death. But many funeral services focus on pastoral care of the family instead of offering prayers for the dead. Here is a great explanation of purgatory. In brief, a soul cannot enter heaven until it has achieved perfection and the purging away of sins or attachment to sins (come on, admit that you have favorite sins) is completed in purgatory.

And so we pray for the dead. We begin and end with the word Requiem, which means rest of the deepest kind. All the prayers are so beautiful, they bring tears to my eyes. This is how I want to go to my eternal rest. Listen to the IntroitEternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. And here is In ParadisumMay angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.

Servant of God, Father Vincent Robert Capodanno
Feb. 13, 1929 -- Sep. 4, 1967
Fr. Capodanno was serving the soldiers when he was killed. The boys' group in our parish is named in his honor. They meet regularly to pray, plan activities, and grow in virtue. It is training ground for becoming a man.

So today we pray for the soul of Fr. Capodanno. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Ps. 110:4

We are so grateful to have the Traditional Latin Mass in our parish. The priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in his somber black vestments and it's impossible not to think of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Oh, how it makes me want to be pleasing to my Maker, so that when I stand in front of Him, He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." That is all. Oh, let me not stumble now that I've found the Way, the Truth and the Life. I long to sing and write in heaven. Mass is the closest I get here on earth.

Yes, heaven is for real ... but remember, so is hell.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Heat is On

These chili peppers are HOT!!! I made a vegetable stew and does it set my mouth on fire. Oy! But it feels so good.

Our garden isn't doing all that great. The soil is sandy and the crabs, squirrels and deer eat whatever they can nab. My poor husband works plenty hard and I hate to make him spend all his spare time building a compost pile or a fence. Besides, every time he goes out to prune, he is attacked by poison ivy ... it's all over the place. Grrr. I think we'll stick to growing things in a pot on the porch, like these peppers. Our herbs are doing great too. 

Gardening is a great metaphor for writing. And right now my mood is conducive to writing short, writing with strict boundaries, and pruning. So tell me, how is your writing garden growing?

Friday, August 29, 2014

St. John the Baptist

"The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel." (Mk 1:15) Every time I read this verse, I think of Charlton Heston playing St. John the Baptist and dunking two soldiers at a time in the Jordan in The Greatest Story Ever Told. But I will post some older artwork for your viewing pleasure. 

I found these prayers in honor of St. John the Baptist so very beautiful. They are in three parts, commemorating his decision to live a life of penance, his preaching to prepare the way of the Lord, and his martyrdom (that we remember today). He is a prophet for all time.


Reynolds, 1776
V. O glorious St. John the Baptist,
R. Greatest prophet among those born of woman, * although thou wast sanctified in thy mother’s womb * and didst live a most innocent life, * nevertheless it was thy will to retire into the wilderness, * there to devote thyself to the practice of austerity and penance; * obtain for us of thy Lord the grace to be wholly detached, * at least in our hearts, * from earthly goods, * and to practice Christian mortification with interior recollection * and with the spirit of holy prayer.
V. St. John the Baptist, precursor of Christ, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, shining lamp of the world, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, angel of purity before thy birth, R. Pray for us.

Tiepelo, 1732
V. O most zealous Apostle,
R. Who, without working any miracle on others, * but solely by the example of thy life of penance * and the power of thy word, * didst draw after thee the multitudes, * in order to dispose them to receive the Messias worthily * and to listen to His heavenly doctrine; * grant that it may be given unto us, * by means of the example of a holy life * and the exercise of every good work, * to bring many souls to God, * but above all * those souls that are enveloped in the darkness of error and ignorance * and that are led astray by vice.
V. St. John the Baptist, intrepid preacher of truth, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, voice crying in the wilderness, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, miracle of mortification and penance, R. Pray for us.

Orley, 1500s
V. O Martyr invincible,
R. Who, for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, * didst with firmness and constancy * withstand the impiety of Herod * even at the cost of thine own life, * and didst rebuke him openly * for his wicked and dissolute life; * by thy prayers obtain for us a heart, * brave and generous, * in order that we may overcome all human respect * and openly profess our faith * in loyal obedience to the teachings of Jesus (☨) Christ, * our divine Master.
V. St. John the Baptist, example of profound humility, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, great defender of holy matrimony, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, glorious martyr of zeal for God’s holy law, R. Pray for us.

V. O God, we rejoice at the apostolate of Saint John the Baptist, through whom we came to know our Redeemer and King. Through his intercession we implore... (Name Your Request) V. We offer this prayer to Thee (☨) God the Father, through Christ Our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God forever and ever. R. Amen.

Conclude with an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

riding-the-flume I first got to know Patty in the pages of the ICL newsletter chock full of writing tips and marketing information. A last name like Pfitsch really pops. She’s the author of the MG novels Riding the Flume and Keeper of the Light and also numerous articles and short stories. You can read more at her blog Brooklyn Bound, where she chronicles her adventures in the Big City after being a farmer in Wisconsin for 30 years. All for the love of a child. Grandparents are really wonderful.

I was delighted when she asked me to participate in this blog tour. Being a process junkie, I hopped on the bandwagon right away. Thanks Patty.

1) What are you working on?
After a summer of scribbling in my notebook, sipping tea on my back porch (am I approaching the stereotype of a Southern writer yet?) and writing on the go – in the park, at the beach, in the car – it is nice to sit in my office and finally do a bit of productive writing. I am revising a nonfiction children’s book and a contemporary young-adult novel, and for fun, playing with some picture-book texts. I realize this makes me sound like a dabbler, but I've always juggled multiple projects, allowing me no time for writer's block. Like housework, there is always something on my desk that needs attention. 
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t really know how to answer this. Most of my nonfiction is commercial and market driven but I bring my own sensibility of the topic to it. The current nonfiction book is a memoir, so only *I* can write it! I have written personal essays but this is the first time I’m writing one especially for children. Since I’m bound by a nondisclosure clause, mum’s the word. The young-adult novel is different from many other contemporary YAs because it is a story about making deep personal sacrifices, which is countercultural in today’s world, especially in YA, which tends to be more self-centered. You see self-sacrifice much more in MG fiction than in YA, but I believe teenagers are capable of greatness too.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I write to understand. I write to give a voice to the voiceless. I write to educate and to entertain.
4) How does your writing process work?
I've always had too many ideas. Perhaps this is why I enjoy writing short stories and articles. It satisfies my curiosity. Usually an idea takes hold of me and will not let go. I know when I keep circling it in my notebook (the old fashioned kind, made of paper) that it's time to switch to the computer and give those amorphous thoughts some structure, but I tend to do my best thinking on paper. My hand knows stuff that even my brain cannot figure out how to access.

Nonfiction is much easier for me to write. The story is already there and all that I’m doing is trying to figure out what it is that I want to highlight. I typically make an outline, and these are very detailed, but this helps me to see the flow of information, whether it is logical, whether I am going from simple to complex, etc. And in the outline form, I can see some overarching ideas emerging. I write an exploratory draft and by the end of it, I usually know how I will present it. Then I revise so that everything points to the big idea I'm trying to convey. I’m usually working with an editor at some point, so we go back and forth. And having to explain things clarifies them for me. I have been blessed with wonderful editors who ask the right questions and help me to bring depth to the manuscript. 
For short fiction, I write the story in one fell swoop. It’s only after I finish that I figure out what the story really is about. Then come many rounds of revisions until I am happy with it. I will send it off to my critique partners, who will point out the various blunders and help me to make the story better. I'm happy to say that by the time it gets to the editor, there are very few revision passes, if any.
For novel-length fiction, the process is similar, though it may take years for a story to gel. Once I am committed to writing a story, I try to outline it roughly so I have a road map of sorts. I know the beginning and ending and some of the high points of the story. I have written two novels and for both, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know what the story really was about until after a few drafts. But once I know, revisions go  faster. My critique partners are wonderful because they keep me honest. I tend to be plot driven and they always question whether my character would do something I want them to.
I make the process sound easy, but the truth is, writing is hard for me. I fight with myself about what I want to write. Ideas and story-people compete for attention. Time is limited. I procrastinate. Pray. Pet the cat. Go for a walk with my dog. Watch the children. Play the piano. Cook. Clean. And read, read, read. But all these activities somehow help me to figure out the stories. As you can see, I don’t often know what’s in my head until I start writing, so it is a messy process, with false starts, sputtering and choking. But somehow I manage to write … with the help of saints and angels, the "mews" giving me love bites, and just keeping at it even when the writing doesn't feel like it's going well. I am tenacious to a fault, but I always feel better when I write and figure things out. There's a satisfaction that is unparalleled in getting a story just right. I'm very thankful to have a writing life with my family. 
I am going to tag three of my favorite writer buds -- Marcia Hoehne, Faith Hough and Nancy Butts. I know Marcia is taking a blog break but I have powers of persuasion! She is a mystery-writer extraordinaire. I can’t wait to see her books in print! Faith is raising four little women and still manages to write gorgeous historical fiction (I don’t think she sleeps much). And Nancy taught me how to write a big story. I will always be thankful to her for all the time and effort she put into me. Please consider adding Spontaneous Combustion to your writing library ... I have pulled it out several times already. All three of these women inspire me to do my best. If you’d like to share your writing process, consider yourself tagged and play. Please let me know so I can share a link.

Happy reading, writing and ruminating, y'all.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Meekness and Humility

Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest in your souls. Matthew 11:29

THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN, historiated initial 'D' on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT GRADUAL ON VELLUMThis month St. Alphonsus exhorts us to be humble. I have been reading and re-reading this chapter because I struggle so much with this. The moment I attain some level of humility, I am proud of it. I am like the Pharisee who says, "thank God I'm not like those other people ..." I used to say all the time, "I could be much worse" and continued with my sinful ways feeling quite superior to others. I didn't have a contrite heart at all. Now, I am appalled at my past. I am like the publican who says, "O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." But pride still rears its ugly head too often.

St. Alphonsus says:

"Humility is called by the saints the foundation and safeguard of all the virtues. If it is not the most prominent among the virtues, it occupies, according to St. Thomas, the first place as the foundation of the rest. In the erection of a building, the basement comes before the walls and pillars, even though the latter be of gold. And so in the spiritual life humility must precede everything else in order to banish pride, to which God is so opposed.

"The Son of God descended from Heaven to teach man by word and example the value of humility, and with this end in view He went so far as to 'empty himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself ... even to the death of the cross.' Phil 2:7. His first appearance on earth was in the humble stable of Bethlehem; the greater portion of His mortal life was spent in humble retirement at Nazareth. He departed this life, humbled and despised, on the summit of Mt. Calvary.

"'Lord, give me the treasure of humility,' prayed St. Augustine. Humility is called a treasure because the Lord sees to it that the humble abound in good things. When man's heart is full of himself, there is no room for God's gifts. Man must therefore, as it were, be emptied of himself by the knowledge of his own nothingness. 'He that is mighty hath done great things to me,' said the Blessed Virgin Mary, 'because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.' Luke 1:48.

"Humility and meekness were the favorite virtues of Jesus Christ and He recommended them in a particular manner to His disciples when He said, 'learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest in your souls.' Matthew 11:29 

"Our Divine Redeemer was called the "Lamb of God," not only on account of the Sacrifice He was to make of Himself on the Cross in expiation for sin, but also on account of the meekness that characterized His whole life and particularly during His bitter Passion. 

"When He hung upon the Cross and His enemies loaded Him with insults and ignominy, He turned to His heavenly Father and said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34.

"How dear to God are those meek souls who bear all manner of offenses and indignities without giving way to anger!"

St. Alphonsus reminds us that even when we must discipline, we must do it with meekness. Like the good Samaritan, we must heal the wound with oil and wine.

"Meekness accomplishes far more than anger and bitterness."

Finally, St. Alphonsus reminds us to be meek towards ourselves, when we have committed a fault. "To be angry with oneself after committing a fault is not a sign of humility, but of secret pride; it shows that we do not regard ourselves as the weak and wretched creatures that we really are. St. Aloysius said, the devil likes to fish in troubled waters, where we can distinguish nothing.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val"We must turn to the Lord with humility and confidence. We must do as the Apostles did when they were tossed about by the stormy sea; they had instant recourse to their Divine Master; He alone can still the storms of the human heart."

This post is rather long, and bless you if you read it all the way. This chapter has been a turning point in my path to holiness. I hope it will be of help to you as well.

I leave you with the Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)  -- it is one of the most difficult prayers to recite and I still cannot pray it with my whole heart. Dear friends, pray for me and I will pray for thee. 

O Jesus meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.