Thursday, August 20, 2020

Real Life IS Better Than Fiction!

When I started working on Finding Grace in August of 2007, I seriously didn't expect it to ever become a book.  I mean, my goal was to write a full-length novel, sure; but I never really believed it would get into print and become an honest-to-goodness BOOK--as in the published variety, with a front and back cover and professionally printed pages and everything.

My girlhood dreams involved imagining that I might someday produce one "great American novel" (just one!  That's not too much to hope for, is it?), inspired by my early favorite authors, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell. Lee had stopped at To Kill a Mockingbird and Mitchell at Gone with the Wind--two of my all-time favorite books; I figured I could stop when I'd written my one novel, too.  (I also loved the romantically brooding works of those talented Bronte sisters, but I was looking for inspiration on this side of the pond, in modern times.)

I tucked away this dream while I was busy raising my boys.  By the time I felt ready to try my hand at novel-writing, when my youngest boy (whom we'd been homeschooling from 4th through 8th grade) was about to start high school, a new dream had emerged for me: to write a novel that would never make me rich or famous, but that would be an antidote to the dangerous secular humanist values and messages with which most modern popular fiction was replete (and this situation seemed to be getting exponentially worse as the years had gone by).

When I set out to tackle that book, with absolutely zero writing experience to my name--unless you count the papers I did as a college English major decades earlier  --I did hope that I would have the patience and drive to see the project through and tell the story I wanted to tell (even though over the course of the four and a half years I spent writing it, the original story I'd imagined went in directions that I hadn't planned at the outset; it's funny how that happens).  Because you see, Finding Grace was more than anything a labor of love for my family, something that I thought I could leave behind, something that would be around long after I was gone.  Even if all it turned out to be was a manuscript printed off at home, with hole-punched pages in a binder, I wanted to get this done to pass down to any book-loving grandchildren I might one day have.  I wanted to create a novel that espoused the beautiful teachings and traditions of our Catholic Faith, one that was filled with endearing characters whose lives were enriched in countless ways by living according to that Faith.  As the years were going by, I was becoming more and more worried that by the time my future grandchildren were reading, there would be nothing of Truth or beauty left in print--at least in popular mainstream fiction; so I wanted to take matters into my own hands.

What she said.

When I started out my later-in-life "career" as a writer, none of my boys were even married yet.  By the time Finding Grace was published in 2012, our oldest son was married and he had given us identical twin granddaughters.  (I had written identical twin girls into Finding Grace several years before they were born.  I had also given my title character, Grace Kelly, a father who was a dentist--and that was our first daughter-in-law's dad's profession.  Totally by accident, art had imitated life!)

Fast forward to 2020, and I've now got 16-going-on-17 grandchildren.  And to prove that dreams do come true, one of those twins I mentioned earlier, who is now 9, recently read her Grammy's second YA novel, Erin's Ring (she's still a bit too young for the more mature-themed Finding Grace).  Her mom sent me this text when she was reading it.

Umm...I believe that is the only endorsement I need.  Better than a 5-star Amazon review, in my opinion.  This is exactly the audience I hoped to affect with my writing: future generations of Pearls!

My middle son also recently texted me a few cute pictures of the oldest of his three girls, who's 4, holding a copy of Finding Grace.  She and her older brother (5) think it's a story about her. ;)

In about 9 or 10 years, I hope she'll read it.  And I hope I'm alive to hear what she thinks!

Life is SO BEAUTIFUL, even in the age of Covid-19.  It is better than any story I could ever think up.  Better than any fiction, for sure.  I am enjoying all the undeserved blessings I've been given, because I know that life can change on a dime, when we least expect it.

Thank you, God, for helping me to see my dreams come true: not one, but TWO published novels; and better yet by far, so many beloved grandchildren to read them.  I am humbled and grateful!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reminiscing about My Second-born (Book)

Sometimes I wish I'd known the best way to promote/market my YA historical novel, Erin's Ring, when doing so might have made it a successful book.

Six years after publication, it has died a quiet death, without eulogy, without mourning.  I think it was last year that my publisher at Bezalel Books, Cheryl Dickow, informed me that she would not be able to carry the title anymore for distribution, because it had not sold well enough.  New and used copies of the paperback are still available from other sellers on Amazon; I also have a number of copies that I bought myself, back when I thought I might need to have them on hand for book signings and the like, and I have sold those here and there over the years.  But now I kind of regret not having made Erin's Ring available in the Kindle format at the outset, which might have helped sales (although who knows?).

Marketing books does not come naturally to a shy and introverted person who loves to write them (almost as much as she loves to read them) but can't imagine a scarier scenario than being center stage or trying to call attention to herself.  When I used to confess my discomfort about getting out there and doing what seemed to be "tooting my own horn," Cheryl would always remind me that it was the work I was promoting--work that gave glory to God and the Catholic Faith--and not the author of that work.

I would remind myself all the time that this was true; and yet I struggled.

But here I am, six years later, with a promotional post about a book that never really found its audience, even though it received two Book Awards from the Catholic Press Association and it seemed to have so much potential--especially in the Catholic homeschool community, perhaps.

If you go to this page of the Bezalel website and scroll down to the cover of Erin's Ring, you'll get an idea what this novel is all about. 

Also, here is a generous blurb that appears on the back cover of the book, written by Nancy Carabio Belanger, a well-known author of Catholic YA fiction:

"Highly recommended for Catholic classrooms, Erin's Ring is a Catholic novel that weaves Irish-American history with the present. This wholesome novel had me shed tears of sadness and joy, and these brave young Irish-Catholic women from different generations drew me in. Lovingly and tenderly written, Erin's Ring is a story of true friendship, sacrificial love, and above all, the God Who is never bound by time or space."   --Nancy Carabio Belanger, author of The Gate First Place Winner, 2014 Catholic Press Awards for Novels

Talk about shedding tears: that exceedingly kind endorsement by an author I greatly admire makes my eyes glisten with tears of gratitude.  

God has a plan, I firmly believe that.  There was a reason that I wrote Erin's Ring, a reason that it made it into print, and even a reason that it didn't sell.  In spite of its lack of material success, I can only be happy when I think about that book.  I will always remember the complete joy that infused my very being every single time I sat down at my computer to write, during the six months that I worked on it.  It was truly a labor of love.  And just as I said of my first not-very-successful novel, Finding Grace,  I feel that if even one soul was touched in a positive way by the story, it will have fulfilled its purpose.

Why did I write this post today?  I guess just as mamas like to reminisce about the lives of their precious babies, long after they're grown, maybe authors like to reminisce about the lives of their books?  Sure, let's go with that.

Happy reading, dear readers!  

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

August 2020 Book Club "Meeting": The Story of a Late-Blooming Author

Remember when I used to have those "book club" meetings on Tuesdays (because "Tuesday's child is full of Grace") over at String of Pearls?  (Remember when I used to blog regularly?  Ha ha!  Those were the days!)

It's Wednesday, so I'm a day late and a dollar short; but I thought it might be fun to do this again.  I'm going to begin by telling you a little story.

August, 2007 is where this story begins.

Once upon a time, there was an older gal who decided to fulfill a childhood dream and write a novel.  It didn't have to be the "great American novel," but she hoped that some reader--even one reader, just one--somewhere would be moved or inspired by it, like she had been by so many of the works of fiction that she'd devoured over the course of her lifetime.

This mom of five boys, who were now college- and high school-aged, began working on the one-and-only novel she ever planned to write (after all, penning only one had been good enough for Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell) at the late-blooming age of 49, mostly for herself, her children, and her future grandchildren, never believing it would actually become an honest-to-goodness book.  But that did indeed happen: against all odds, it became a book!  And at 54, she found herself the published author of a work of fiction that she hoped told a fun story about some engaging characters while at the same time illustrating the beauty and Truth of the Catholic Faith.  This novel, this baby of hers, earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval and was a finalist for the Guild's CALA (Catholic Arts and Letters Award) in the category of YA Fiction.  This novel was Finding Grace.

The author discovered this blurb during a random Google search. 
She loves this description of her novel.

The author's middle son, who's always been a great cheerleader--
and a"mama's boy," but in the best, most healthy way.

By the time Finding Grace was published, the author's oldest son had gotten married and she now had two grandchildren, identical twin girls.

Fast forward two years, to the summer of 2014.  Two more sons had married and another grandchild had been born...and she was offered the opportunity to write a second novel, by the same small Catholic publishing house that had published Finding Grace (Bezalel Books). She almost turned down this incredible offer out of fear of failure (after all, she had another grandchild on the way, another son getting married in a few months, and she seemed to spend all her time on the road, traveling to visit her far-flung grown children--when would she have time to write?!), she accepted.  Six months later, that manuscript (much shorter than her first book and appropriate for even younger readers) was published.  An historical fiction novel about some plucky 19th-century Irish immigrants, mill workers who were instrumental in having a Catholic church built in their largely Protestant NH town (a church that became the home of the oldest continuously operating parish in the state!), this second novel was called Erin's Ring and it went on to win two Book Awards from the Catholic Press Association.

This little girl (the daughter of my middle son) is now 4; I hope when she's
a little older she'll actually read Grammy's book!

By the time Erin's Ring was published, the author had four married sons and four grandchildren...with many, many more to join the string of Pearls in the coming years!

It has now been 13 years since the author began her late-in-life "career" of writing novels, and 8 years since her first book went into print.  Here's how the story ends: her books have not sold well; they have not made her a household name or made her bank account any fatter.  In fact, her publisher has sadly had to remove them from distribution because they have not been financially successful enough to justify carrying them.

She sometimes thinks about writing another book, just for the joy of the process; but she doesn't seem to have the time or the desire for that kind of commitment these days.  All five sons have married lovely girls who share their Faith, and her brood of grandchildren has grown to 16-going-on-17.  She and her husband have made a big move, far from the town where she raised her family (the town that gave Erin's Ring its setting), to be close to where all these precious little people live, so that she can be a hands-on Grammy.  She is inordinately blessed in every way that matters to her.  She had never really wanted to be anything but a wife and mother; being an author--well, that was just the gravy on top, the crazy pipe dream that probably wasn't ever going to happen.

Remember what I said at the beginning of this story?  Remember when I said that this author wanted to touch just one reader, she wanted to inspire just one needy soul?  Well, I believe God has given her the greatest gift of all by letting her know that the years spent writing were not all in vain...because here is the proof, which came to her recently via a text from one of her husband's sisters, whose daughter was valedictorian of her high school class and is now a freshman at Notre Dame.

Wow, the author-turned-Grammy knew that this niece had read Finding Grace in 8th grade and had done a report on it; but she surely didn't know this!

The moral of the story is that no effort that you make--if it is done for the greater glory of God and for the good of souls, especially your own--is ever in vain.  And sometimes, dreams really do come true...but success often looks a lot different than the world will tell you it's supposed to look.

The End

Did you ever dream of writing a book?  Do you think you're too old/too busy/too inexperienced to make it happen?  I am here to tell you that it's amazing how possible it is, if you put it all in God's hands.  If it's meant to be, it will happen.

Okay, meeting adjourned!
P.S. "The author" would love to answer any questions you have!  Leave me a comment--I love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAY: A Signed Copy of Erin's Ring

I have been neglecting this blog even more than my first baby, String of Pearls.  I'm pretty much choking on the dust here at The Write Stuff... I thought maybe this would be a good time to jump back in and give this site a little attention!

I am currently running a giveaway on Instagram.  On July 25, I will randomly choose the winner of a signed copy of my YA novel, Erin's RingHere are all the details, in today's SoP post.

I will try to come back here before the dust builds up again!  In the meantime, enter the contest!  This might be your lucky day!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #33): Erin's Ring Gets a Couple of Shout-outs

A couple of days ago, the Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club met over at String of Pearls.  In case you didn't have a chance to join us, here is the beginning of the discussion that day:

It's Tuesday, isn't it?  (Although it's getting late, and if I don't get this posted soon, it will be Wednesday!)

Well, Tuesday's child is full of grace, and my novels tell stories of God's grace (and one of them is even about a character whose name is Grace) I think that means it's time to call a meeting of the book club.  (While it's still Tuesday!)
Welcome, book enthusiasts!

Okay, so in case you've never been here before, I use this club to discuss my two Catholic novels with you, dear readers.  I never imagined or expected that the titles of my books would become well-known, or that I would become a household name, or that I'd make a fortune as an author.  But I always did hope that my humble works of fiction would do some good in the world.  I wrote them praying that they would be for God's greater glory and for the good of souls, including my own.  Obviously, God did not want them to be widely read, or to earn lots of money or accolades.  But there are no accidents.  Everything happens for a reason; and I still think there's a reason that I wrote these books and that they actually found their way into print.

It's been a long time since I had a book published.  Finding Grace came out in 2012, followed by Erin's Ring in 2014.  I can't believe it's been four years already since the younger of my two "babies" was born.  Time does indeed fly, doesn't it?  Four years.  Wow!

And just when I think that I lost my shot at marketing and promoting those books the way I should have, in order to ensure that I gave them the best possible chance of finding their way into the hands of young (or old) readers who might enjoy and/or be edified by them, I am made aware that there are generous folks out there who have been helping me--and I didn't even know they were doing it!

If you're interested in reading on to see who helped me out (here's a hint: she's a generous fellow author of Catholic YA fiction) and how, click here  for the full post.  

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #29): Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect, Redux

So we had a meeting of the Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club over at String of Pearls today.  (That's what the club is called, because Tuesday's child is full of Grace...and Finding Grace is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl named Grace Kelly...and the characters in Erin's Ring need grace to overcome the many hardships and tragedies in their see what I did there?)

Today's book club post was inspired by this 1984 photo of my husband and me, all dressed up to attend a Navy function, that I stumbled upon yesterday as I was working in my office.
Something happened to me on that long-ago night, and the incident became the inspiration for a scene I wrote into Finding Grace.  (I mean, let me be clear: what happened to me wasn't utterly devastating or completely earth-shattering; but I think it's the kind of thing that almost every human on earth can relate to.)

Here's a snippet from the post:

I'm kind of glad I came across this almost-forgotten photo again, because I do think it's time to revisit the idea that when an author writes a work of fiction, she can't help but allude to people, places, and events from her own life.  It's just about impossible to avoid it.  They say you should write what you know, after all.  However, nothing in either of my books is autobiographical, per se.  (Except of course the way Grace Kelly feels about Tom Buckley in Finding Grace, because I was channeling my high school self there, and the inspiration for Tom was my then boyfriend/now husband of 37 years.  But other than that, anyone who reads my books must understand that the rest is fiction. And even Tom became a whole new person to me in the course of the four-plus years I spent writing the book.)

Let me tell you about those two crazy kids in that photo above.  They were young (so young! Only going-on-26!) so in love, and the relatively new parents of their first baby boy.

Intrigued?  Did this leave you wanting more?  Oh, I hope so!  If you'd like to read the full post, head on over and join the club.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #28): Writing...about Writing

When I go too long without doing it, I really miss writing.
In the new office in our house in VA that I share with my husband:
a vintage typewriter, bought at a consignment shop in NH for $65.
It was something I thought a writer ought to have.
That's not to say that I believe I'm a particularly good writer; it's just that I have a burning need to write.  It's an exercise that feeds my soul.  I love words.  I love figuring out how to arrange them best so that they say just what it is I want them to say.  Not that I'm always successful, mind you; but the process of messing around with them is just so. much. FUN.

I suppose that's why blogging has been such a good outlet for me for the past six years--and why I keep coming back to it, even when I think I've got nothing interesting to say anymore.

I became a writer relatively late in life, after decades of being a stay-at-home-mom.  When I started working on what I was sure would be my one and only novel in 2007, I was 49, my oldest son was a year out of college and a newly-minted officer in the Army, my youngest son was a freshman in high school, and the three sons in between were away at college.  Unless it was summertime or the college-aged boys were home on a holiday break, I was often alone in the house during those writing days, down in my basement "office."  I might still be in my bathrobe at 2:30 in the afternoon, if it was a particularly productive session (with my first cup of coffee on the desk, long forgotten and cold--an almost unheard of scenario for me, if you know how much coffee I usually drink, and proof that writing completely took over my thoughts and energies).  Even though I never really believed that all those painstakingly created pages would actually be published or read by anyone outside of my inner circle of friends and family, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing for its own sake.

During the almost five years that I spent writing and re-writing--and for the umpteenth time, re-writing!--Finding Grace (with plenty of breaks, of course, when I had to close up shop for days or weeks at a time to attend to the needs of my husband and my boys), I was so happy.  Sometimes when I was working on the dialogue between Grace and Tom, or Grace and Jimmy, in a scene that really tickled me,  I'd realize that I had a silly grin on my face as I tapped away on the keys of my laptop.  "Yes, that's it!"  I would think, often saying it out loud.  "That's just what he would say in that situation!"  What an indescribable joy that was, spending those years getting to know that cast of characters who became like friends to me.  I miss spending that time with them, I really do.

Some days, though, I would ask myself why in the world I was dedicating countless hours to a fictional story that few people (if anyone) would ever read; my generous and ridiculously supportive husband, however, would tell me that if it made me happy to write, that was enough.  But I couldn't help but wonder: does someone deserve to devote so much time to an activity merely because it makes her happy to do so?  That seemed rather frivolous and self-indulgent to me, and I worried that perhaps my days would have been better spent doing more tangible good in the world.

What I must remind myself on an almost daily basis is that God has not given us all the same talents and skill sets.  Some of His children have personalities and abilities that make them suited for very big and visible ways of making a difference in the world; and some of them are more introverted and shy, and must do their work in quieter ways, behind the scenes.  I become tongue-tied in most situations where face-to-face, I am asked to explain or defend my Faith.  But I can sit at my keyboard and pour out my beliefs through the written word.  I have let my books' characters speak for me at times, and pray that God will appreciate the effort I've made to use them for His greater glory and not my own.

I have an idea for another novel, a work of historical fiction that would be a sort of sequel to Erin's Ring (in that it would involve the same young girls, now a few years older and learning about another fascinating and little-known historical event in the Catholic Church).  So far, however, I have not been able to get disciplined enough to get past the first two chapters.  I would need to do quite a bit of research, and I'm daunted by that prospect.  Pray for me, will you?  Because there is a beautiful story about Mary's intercession, about an event that happened right here in our country and about which most people probably know very little, that I truly believe needs to be told.  I want so badly to write it--not for myself, because I think it will lead to commercial success or professional recognition, but for the greater glory of God and His Blessed Mother.
You know, I just realized that it's Tuesday, so this little post filled with book talk has officially become the latest installment of the Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club.  I hope you've been enjoying your coffee while you followed along.  As for me, there's a half-drunk mug of cold coffee on my desk that needs warming up.  And I can assure you, there will be a second cup!

Before we adjourn, though, I have one question for you.  If you read Finding Grace, did you find the end satisfying?  Did you think Grace ended up with the right boy?  Were you "Team Tom" or "Team Jimmy"?  (I guess that's technically three questions.)
I'm not sure why I felt the need to add that image.  It doesn't remind me of my Grace Kelly and the two young men in her life in the least.  But it's obviously supposed to depict a couple of sweet kids on prom night, a night which plays an important part in the book.  (And the bottom line is that I've just always been a big fan of Norman Rockwell's all-American artwork.)

Okay then, until next time...

(This post also appeared today over at String of Pearls.)