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.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #26): Looking for Some Help (and Playing Catch-up)

I've been hosting a Book Club over at my flagship blog, String of Pearls, for a while now.  It's called Grace-filled Tuesdays, as you might know if you come here often.  I've forgotten to share several of those "meetings" here at The Write Stuff; so before I show you today's post, we'll play a little catch-up, okay?  You can click on any of these links if you'd like to get up to speed with the other club members.

"Meeting" #22 : On Being a Writer (Sort of...)
"Meeting" #23 : Cliffhangers and Cliffs
"Meeting #24 : Austen Talk, and a Giveaway Reminder
"Meeting" #25 : Giveaway Winners

Now we're all caught up and ready for today's "meeting."  (I'm so glad you're here, by the way!)

Tuesday's child is full of Grace...

...and Tom, and Sully, and Molly, and Theresa, and Erin, and a whole host of other characters who make their way onto the pages of my novels Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.

That's right, you guessed it: it's Book Club time!  Whether you've been here before or are a first-time member of the club, welcome to Grace-filled Tuesdays!

Today, I'm looking for some help getting the word out about my two novels, both of which I believe would make excellent choices for inclusion in the curricula of Catholic classrooms and homeschools, not to mention homes where people like to curl up with books on rainy afternoons or hide under the covers with book lights late at night, long after they should be asleep...
Published in 2012, Finding Grace was a recipient of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.  Classified as "YA fiction" but written with older teen readers (and adults) in mind, this deliciously lengthy novel handles difficult topics like underage drinking, teenage pregnancy, and abortion; but it does so without unnecessary salacious details and with great compassion for the human condition.  You can click on this review, by Tiffany, who blogs at Life of a Catholic Librarian, if you'd like to get a better idea of how this book might be just the right work of fiction for your high school-aged reader.  Here's a snippet of that review, in case you don't have time to read the full article right now:

This isn't a quick read, and for good reason. The book captures important moments in a young adult's life, and fleshes them out into a wonderful, relatable story that will grab your heartstrings. As an adult, this book made me nostalgic, and realize how much work I still have to do to make my faith a bigger priority in my life. Do we ever fully grow up? ;-) For young adults, I strongly suspect they will identify with the winningly charming Grace and want to try her approach to life with the saints.  [And of course, there's this, too, dear readers (my favorite part of writing the novel, if you want to know the truth!)]  I couldn't wait to see how things would turn out for Grace and her friends. Who will get the boy?  [Indeed--who will?  I made sure to write the story in a way that it would keep the reader hanging until the very end.]

I also appreciated this positive review, from a book-loving blogger (Rebekah's Weblog was her site) who decided to exit the Internet a few years ago.  Here's an excerpt, if you want a quick synopsis:

The cover of Finding Grace, in all its pastel sweetness, is a bit misleading. I had assumed (based on the cover, shame on me!) this was a book I would read ahead of time in hopes that my 9 year-old AnneMarie would enjoy reading aloud with me as we talked through issues. Not so. The topics covered include Grace experiencing the first hand pain of a Holocaust survivor as well as very mature teenagerly topics such as underage drinking, premarital sex, adoption and abortion. Pretty heavy. This coupled with the length of the novel make this in no way suitable to a young mind. I think perhaps high school is the earliest I would recommend this, and is not at all too youthy for any adult.

I don't recall reading any books with such a theme when I was in high school, a time of great introspection and soul searching for me, as I am sure it is for many girls, although society would not lead us to believe this is true with the typical characterization of the rebellious, bubble headed and fad-driven teens we are continuously subjected to. I know that I would have appreciated and benefited from reading Grace's story during that awkward time, just as I benefited from reading it now!
  
Finding Grace is a book that, although it has much to offer, has yet to truly find its audience.  After more than four years on Amazon, it has only gotten 20 reviews.  Research shows that reviews help a great deal.  So today, I'm asking for help in spreading the word any way you can.  If you read and enjoyed Finding Grace but didn't leave a review on the Amazon site, would you consider writing just a few words?  (Not to put words in your mouth, but even two would work: "Loved it!"  Ha ha!)  Or if you're a teacher or homeschooler, would you consider reading it to see if you think it would make a good addtition to your teens' literature curriculum?

If Finding Grace is too long a book for you, or if its themes are too advanced for the students/offspring/young readers in your life, perhaps you could check out Erin's Ring, a much shorter work aimed at readers middle school-aged and up.
Published in 2014, Erin's Ring is the winner of two book awards from the Catholic Press Association: 3rd Place in Books for Teens and Young Adults, and 2nd Place in Catholic novels.  This work of historical fiction is appropriate for even pre-teen readers, and its length of just under 200 pages makes it a great choice for classroom use.  However, like Finding Grace, although this novel was written with the hope of inspiring young readers, it doesn't ever speak down to its audience and can be enjoyed by adults as well.

I was humbled and pleased by this wonderful review of Erin's Ring by Catholic author and blogger Kari Burke.  If you don't have time to read Kari's whole article right now, here's a short blurb:

Pearl is an expert at creating authentically Catholic characters who are also multi-dimensional.  So, it comes as no surprise that it was the characters that drew me into the story.  I especially love that the relationships in their lives create a perfect conduit for their strengths and weaknesses to be revealed.  The relationships in the book are full of ups and downs, misunderstandings and insecurities, and, like the characters themselves, are just so real.  

Erin’s Ring is a beautiful love story but it’s not so much about the romantic love between a man and a woman.  Rather, it is about true love and devotion to the Catholic faith and to family.  With so many immoral worldly books on the shelves of our library these days, it can be nearly impossible to find wholesome reading material for teen girls.  This story fills a need for real Catholic fiction that never preaches, yet clearly delivers a message of hope and piety.  Erin’s Ring is exactly the kind of story I feel good about encouraging my daughters to curl up with.  In fact, it’s exactly the kind of book I myself enjoy curling up with!

Do Kari's words make you want to read it?  If so, today might be your lucky day, because
Bezalel Books has recently reduced the price of Erin's Ring from $11.99 per copy to $8.99, in order to make it more affordable for Catholic classrooms and homeschools.

And if you do read and enjoy it, could you post a few words on the Amazon site, pretty please?

Right about now, I can just hear you crying ,"What?!", a la Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story,  "It's just a lousy commercial!"

Alrighty then, that's enough about marketing and promotion; let's have a real "meeting" and discuss book stuff, okay?

My husband (the most unbiased of all judges when it comes to anything having to do with his better half, I can assure you) tells me that what makes my books enjoyable is the characters.  He says mine are very fully-developed and real, and they make readers care about them.  (He isn't a professional literary critic, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express recently...)  So here are some Book Club questions for you: How important to you are the characters in a novel?  Do you need to care about them a whole lot; or can you be satisfied with not-so-believable/lovable characters, as long as the plot is fast-paced and action-packed enough to hold your interest?

That's it for now.  But I'll be back.