Summer Planshttps://www.tryingtosaygod.com/

I fear this blog is digressing into writing conference memoranda and book reviews.  

I guess it could be worse.

On that note, my summer plans include a visit to South Bend for a Catholic Writer’s Conference:

Trying to Say God

So it turns out that I’m not just lacking in talent for finding Catholic publishers…there are very few of them out there.  And few reviewers.  And few “Catholic” writers who claim the title and write with a “Catholic” worldview.

Why the “quotes”?  I’ve been doing the suggested reading to prep for the conference (see below), and this is one of the big questions: what does a “Catholic” writer look like and write about in 2017?  It’s easy to look back (Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Tolkein, and friends are mentioned constantly) but that’s not particularly helpful when faced with the challenge of how to address our current challenges and a church, as writers, and as readers.  So what’s a budding children’s author to do?

Thus the conference…maybe I’ll have some answers afterwards.  But if you need some reading (including lists of the American Catholics authors you may or may not have missed in your public high school American lit class), check out the links below, courtesy of Kenneth Garcia, who is hosting the conference.

And seats were still available last I heard…come join me!

 

Dana Gioia,  “The Catholic Writer Today,” Dec. 2013, First Things (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/12/the-catholic-writer-today)

 

Paul Elie, “Has Fiction Lost its Faith?”  New York Times, Dec. 19, 2012  (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/books/review/has-fiction-lost-its-faith.html)

 

Kaya Oakes, “Writers Blocked: The State of Catholic Writing Today,” America, April 28, 2014 (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/writers-blocked)

 

Randy Boyagoda, “Faith in Fiction,” First Things, August 2013 (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/08/faith-in-fiction)

 

Francis Spufford, “Spiritual Literature for Atheists,” First Things, November 2015 (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/11/spiritual-literature-for-atheists)

Review: Kristin Lavransdatter

Kristin Lavransdatter
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel silly trying to review this book. Maybe not silly, maybe more like out of my league. This was my second time through (and if you haven’t read it, look at the page count and be impressed). It was good to read it again…the first time I kept waiting and hoping for the Disney fairy tale ending. But it’s about Norway in the Middle Ages. So there are things like war, and snow, and the plague. The first time through I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a “happy ending.”
However, on the second read, minus the edge-of-your-seat quality of wondering what could possibly happen next, I was able to appreciate the beauty, struggle, and joy of life. A hard life, a complicated life, and a sinful life, but life tied to the church and the saints, tied to family, driven by love. Kristen and her father make the same point, which I think sums up my take-away the second time through the book: as hard as life is, in the end they both found themselves grateful for both the joys and the sorrows, and reluctant to imagine existing without the full measure of both.
Kristen Lavransdatter is gripping, immersive, and full of thanksgiving for the stuff of life. You should read it…preferably at least twice.

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Review: The Bear Who Wasn’t There

The Bear Who Wasn't There
The Bear Who Wasn’t There by LeUyen Pham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, I have a weak spot for books that are self-aware. It cracks me up when a book calls itself a book and laughs about it. Like The Bear Who Wasn’t There. You spend the whole book searching for the bear the book is supposed to be about (including hunting down the author to see what she has to say about the situation) and hilarity ensues. I found the art clever, and while it’s one of those books that’s a little clunky to read aloud (word bubbles and such), it’s well worth it. My kids were laughing out loud. As was I, actually. And I think the octopus gets the best line in the book. Now you’re curious, aren’t you?

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Review: March: Book One

March: Book One
March: Book One by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished this series, and I feel like it gave me an understanding of the Civil Rights movement that I missed in my US history classes. John Lewis’ story makes the struggle for equal rights personal, and the graphic novel format is engaging and so well done. It is a little more graphic than I’m ready to give my ten-year-old, but I think it’s necessary to bring home just how how much violence African-Americans and those who stood with them endured.
A few highlights:
-The explanation of the different groups working for civil rights. SNCC, SCLC, NAACP…this was all lost on me before. March functions as an introduction to the groups, but it was interesting to see their different priorities and philosophies, as well as how they worked alongside each other.
-The focus of Lewis and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on only nonviolent action. This was so refreshing, especially in that they don’t gloss over the challenges of not reacting to violence with violence.
-March also functions as a timeline – putting all the events I’ve always heard about all jumbled up into a cohesive, orderly narrative, but not so long and detailed that I lose track of it all over months of reading.
Overall, I highly recommend March, both for personal growth and as a supplement to a middle school or high school US history curriculum. It stands alone as an excellent introduction, but also sets the stage and raises interest for deeper study into the time period.

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Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Angie Thomas was one of the guest speakers at the Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI KidLit conference this February, so I heard about her book in emails for weeks. I looked at the title, and the jacket, and thought, “This is probably a good book, but I don’t think I’m the target audience.” And I left it at that.
After hearing Angie describe her book, and why she wrote it, and what she hoped the book would say to the world (and the fact that it had just hit #1 on the NY Times list didn’t hurt), I changed my mind. Clearly, I was very much her target audience. I bought the book. I read the book. I passed on the book.
I highly, highly recommend The Hate U Give. The synopses are out there already, and I just have to echo so many other reviews in saying that this book is both timely and extremely well done. There are moments when I thought, “Yeah, I guess this is a first novel,” or “She is really driving home this point,” but it is all done so well within the world of the characters that it is totally believable. It is painfully enjoyable, in fact. Angie Thomas allows her characters to preach her truth through their lives, and her truth is beautiful.
What I loved about the characters in this book is the love they have for each other. Especially within Starr’s family. They are not perfect people, and they are not caricatures; they are ready to walk off the page, and I wanted to hug them all in their pain. But I realized I didn’t need to – Starr’s family is strong enough to support each other through anything. I especially appreciated Angie Thomas’ treatment of Starr’s parents: they are thoroughly real, not just a foil to create conflict or advance the plot. Honestly, Starr’s dad, Maverick, is my favorite character. For me, the fierce love and loyalty of Starr and her family is what makes this book shine.
Bonus: as intense as parts of the book get, the comic relief is perfect. It’s been awhile since I laughed out loud at a book, and this one had my kids running to see what I thought was sooo funny.
Angie Thomas took me to a world that white, suburban-born me had never encountered. And she welcomed me into it with open arms. I can only thank her for helping me see the world from that vantage point for a little while.
My concern is always, “Can I give this book to my daughter?” She’s 10, so for now, the answer is no. The language is strong, and while it’s not overdone, there are a couple of romantic scenes that would definitely be way too much for her. But when she’s older, I will expect her to read it. And I imagine she will love it as much as I have.

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Review: The Pox Party

The Pox Party
The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic. This book was not like anything else I’ve ever read. The premise of a slave being raised as the subject of an experiment in the nature of humanity and race was so interesting to consider. Anderson succeeds in pointing out the hypocrisy of the seperationist slaveholders who call for “freedom” from tyranny while continuing to deny their own slaves any hope of freedom. It is in-your-face, but so elegantly done that it is not offensive, but humbling and heart-wrenching.
This is not a book for the queasy; there are passages that will turn your stomach. The themes Anderson considers and his masterful way of handling them makes me want everyone to read this – but my kids will have to get a little older first.
In short, don’t be turned off by the length of the text, it is well worth it. Octavian is a character you want to root for, who succeeds, even in his own failures, to cry out for truth and dignity.

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And…we’re back

Re-opening the blog attempt #…

yeah, I don’t know either.

The whole keeping-up-frequent-posts-with-no-home-internet thing is a bit of a drag.  It requires discipline.  Which I sometimes lack.

But here goes again, anyway.

I went to my first writer’s conference this weekend.  The Louisiana-Mississippi region of SCBWI held its first ever KidLit conference Saturday at Sacred Heart Academy in New Orleans.  It was lovely.

The take-away:  Write for yourself, revise for your readers.  Thank you, Cheryl Klein.  

We also got to meet Angie Thomas, four days after her debut novel The Hate U Give hit #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.  Needless to say, she was glowing.  Though I suspect that is usual for her.  She was definitely an inspiration.  Yes, I bought the book.  No, I haven’t read it yet.  Really have to finish Octavian Nothing Part II before I take on anything else.  And that may be a while.  

I also got to meet Carrel Muller, who is the lower school librarian at Sacred Heart.  I want my girls to go to school there so she can be their librarian.  She is lovely!  She convinced me I need to go back and fill in all the holes in my folklore and mythology education.  And read do the same with my kids.  She also read a piece of mine (in the First Look part of the program where they read and critique the openings of several submissions), and it was exactly as I would dream of a children’s librarian reading it to little ones.  So that was a very cool moment.  Now if I can just convince someone out there to publish it…

Right.  So on that note, I could use prayers for persistence – to keep showing up at the page, and to keep sending things out, despite the piles of rejections.  Blah.

For those of you who are here less for the minutiae of my writing life, and more for cute baby stories, the lovely children are well.  I’ve picked up two Latin classes at JPG in the mornings, so they are spending the mornings with a friend and coming home for lunch, naps, etc. in the afternoons.

Just through May.  If the headmaster asks, you can assure him I still do not want to come on full time next year.  This experience has been a good reminder of where I want to be.  Home.  Period.  Which, of course, includes the library and the park.  But mostly home.

I thought our chickens had stopped laying, but it turns out they laid all their eggs in the bushes for a while.  Under the blackberry brambles, to be precise.  We found 24 one day, and 7 the next.  We have three chickens.  Three eggs a day, at best.  So it was a jubilee.  They seem to have figured out the purpose of the nesting boxes again, though.  Which is easier, but less exciting.  You can’t have everything, I guess.

We planted some vegetables and flowers last weekend.  (Thanks to Fr. Sam for the seeds!  The wildflower bed is well on it’s way!)  Hopefully there will be pictures…when I get better at technology.  Maybe next spring.  
Book of the week: This Is Not My Hat by John Klassen.  Hilarious.  It should be used in film classes as a study in dramatic irony, and in writers’ workshops as and example of how the pictures and text work together.  No redundancy – each does its own part towards a flawlessly integrated whole.  And it’s soooo funny.

I hope that there will be more posts soon.   And that is not intended as ironic, but whether it is or not remains to be seen.