Catholic Writers Guild puts on an annual online conference (CWCO, or Catholic Writers Online Conference), which I attended for the first time. And was I amazed! For a nominal fee of $30-$45, depending on membership status, attendees received an avalanche of quality information. From craft to marketing, from examining both the nitty gritty and the big picture, experts from many fields gathered to share information, insights, and tips for both the traditionally and independently published. Publishers came to hear pitches, and the more experienced helped those pitching refine their brief presentations. For any Catholic writers out there who are interested in a like-minded and extremely wide-ranging group (genre-wise), check out the organization. The next CWCO comes up in February. With access to videos of the lectures after the actual conference closes, you can’t go wrong!
And in another first, I presented a module on craft, specifically, on characterization – a new experience that ended up being an honor and a delight! As a thank you to the participants, I offered a drawing for audio codes to my audio books. So, without further ado, the WINNERS ARE:
Congratulations!!!! I will contact each of you by the weekend with your codes. Happy listening! And thanks for attending CWCO, for your questions at my presentation, and for visiting my site. ♥
Three hundred and sixty three days ago, my husband came home to find our home ransacked, the television (and sundry other items that would take a day to catalog) gone, and my car stolen. The thieves also took the garage door opener and every key from the rack by the door, which left me with the hollow, unsettled certainty that they would return.
They didn’t, but I wouldn’t know that until the next day’s events unfolded.
Yet even in the chaos of a home with every drawer yanked out and dumped, their contents an ankle-deep morass, gratitude began peeking through the shards and trauma almost immediately.
That morning, I left an hour later than usual in our daughter’s car, which we were watching during her deployment; my husband came home an hour—or more—earlier than usual. What if he had happened upon them? I shudder to think of the confrontation, and am doubly grateful it did not occur. Likewise, I could have been home, downstairs or in the shower, and not heard a knock at either door. I may not have heard the window break, either. Triply grateful.
I relate these events not out of a sense of uniqueness or self-pity. Others have experienced much worse, and for us, it was an annoyance rather than a catastrophe.
But I relate the story because of the response that arose within me, the response I didn’t expect, the response for which I am grateful on its own merits—not mine.
By that night, I had resigned myself to praying for the perpetrators, faceless and unknown. As a Christian, I am called to pray for my enemies and for those who persecute me. If I couldn’t apply that precept in this relatively benign circumstance, I knew in my heart I’d have failed my vocation, and so I prayed.
I prayed in gratitude that we were safe, and in petition that the perpetrators would be caught and held accountable. And that they would experience whatever changes of heart they needed in order to leave addiction and theft in their past, like ashes from which they could rise, healed and whole.
Gratitude, Act II
They were apprehended the next day, fleeing in my car, a red PT Cruiser which they had filled with stolen goods, Bic lighters, and supersized colas from a convenience store. Unfortunately, they ran a red light and got t-boned, losing control of the car. Fortunately, the man who broadsided them was a millisecond slow getting through the intersection, which means he hit them instead of them hitting him. Both cars were totaled.
My car came to rest in the only area without people or cars at the busy intersection. In a stunning lack of consideration for risk/benefit ratios, my car’s driver pulled his Smith & Wesson .38 revolver on the cops. (Note: cops—plural, not singular.) Rather than shoot him outright, they swarmed and restrained him, and arrested him and his passenger.
My gratitude grew as, again, no one was badly hurt or killed, that all the stuff that remained missing was just stuff, and that the loss of my car did not translate to severe hardship, as it could well have, had our circumstances been different.
Gratitude, Act III
Over time, we’ve replaced the few items that needed replacing, and, oddly, purged much more. When you fold or sort or otherwise evaluate the contents of drawers, dressers, and closets, you discover how much junk you’re hanging on to without even knowing it.
One of the offenders has been released on probation with a two year suspended sentence. I looked him up on Facebook, and he looks healthy now, not gaunt and desperate like he did in his mug shot. The second is being sentenced today. He’s the one who pulled the gun, and he’s going to prison for a while—but he’s been recommended for a program called Purposeful Incarceration, specifically created for persons whose crime is related to addiction issues. His family will be eligible for help, too.
I am grateful that two men have the opportunity to heal and break the chains of their addictions; that their families have the chance to get services they need to improve their lot; and that a difficult lesson—pray for those who persecute you—has borne rich fruit.
In the end, I guess my PT Cruiser was martyred for a good cause.
Do you dread the holidays like I do? How about some strategies for navigating an often daunting time? Let’s look at three ideas for making the season relaxing rather than relentless.
Personalities and Positives
Some people love to decorate and bake, revel in shopping and shipping. I, for one, am grateful for them! They make the season festive for those of us (often introverts) who adore bits and pieces of the cultural ado but would rather wade the edges than dive in. There’s nothing more delightful than driving through the streets and lanes during the darkest part of the year – and seeing fanciful lights gracing greenery and eaves.
A big thank you to all the decorators out there! We appreciate you!
1. Focus on What You Love
This strategy is so simple it’s easy to overlook. If you love hanging one string of lights but decorating the whole house turns you into a Scrooge, then hang the one string and enjoy the effect. Whatever pleases you, do that piece and revel in it.
Personally, I love the tree once it’s up, but getting it there requires outside intervention (often in the form of a grown son who gently chides me into finding a sliver of Christmas spirit). I’m always grateful for the nudge. Bonus: The grandkids and the cat love the tree, which gives me a great deal of pleasure.
The key? Relationships, not things matter, though sometimes things nurture relationships!
2. Let Go of Burdens
Are there expectations that weigh on you like a sack of coal? The traditional family dinner, typically rife with conflict when this particular group gathers? Battling traffic and hordes of shoppers? The decorations, baking, annual parties?
Look at alternatives. Get creative! Shop online. Ask for help with decorating, and maybe combine the task with an earlier holiday family dinner. Do pizza or potluck. Shake up traditions – or create new ones!
Perhaps more important than any of these logistical ideas is this: Let go of grudges held too long, of bitterness that corrodes your soul, of pain that once served a purpose but has become instead a habit.
Forgive others. Ask for forgiveness. We all hurt others, especially those closest to us. Don’t let the season go by without attempting to mend these wounded relationships.
3. Gratitude and Giving
An attitude of gratitude begets joy. And joy is too exuberant to be hoarded. It’s meant to be shared. And it doesn’t cost a dime. A smile for a stranger. Eye contact and a thank you for a retail salesperson. A compliment to a barista’s manager.
Or pay it forward: $5 or $10 for the person behind you at the grocery store. An extra dollar or two in the Salvation Army bucket. A gift bag for a child or an elderly person on an angel tree. A more generous tip than usual for a harried server.
Volunteer somewhere. As trite as it sounds, people in nursing homes and food lines need us. Don’t just think about it; do it. Human contact makes us all more human, and we often receive more than we give when we step out of our comfort zone.
Remember the Reason for the Season – and Relax
When we connect with people face-to-face, when we remind ourselves that people matter more than things, when we remember the reasons the holiday season exists (hint: it’s not to contribute to corporate profits), then we can let go of unwieldy expectations and enjoy some hot cocoa by a fire with family and friends. And visit our place of worship, even if it’s been a while. I’m sure there’s a light on for you there. ♥
How can I not mention one of my favorite ways to await the lengthening of days? Find a good book at your local library, one that uplifts and warms your heart, and enjoy it as you sip your cocoa or eggnog. ♥♥♥
I’ve been AWOL for a bit, and along the line, some of my posts disappeared into the ether – but I’m BACK! In coming days, I’ll post about what’s been going on in my life, but for now, let’s just have a laid back, happy holiday moment. Remember #UpbeatAuthors? The group of authors I joined a few months ago? I love the idea of providing uplifting content on the internet; I hope you like stopping by for a bit of cheer once in a while. Read on for today’s topic:
Today’s theme is “a song that makes you feel happy.” Well, you can’t go wrong with the first line of Simon and Garfunkel’s The 59th Street Bridge Song: “Slow down, you move too fast,” especially at this time of year, the kickoff of holiday shopping season! I avoid Black Friday like the plague, but I know it energizes a lot of you. Even so, taking a moment to smell the roses and catch a few snowflakes on your tongue isn’t a bad idea. (I know; smelling roses and catching snowflakes on one’s tongue are pretty much mutually exclusive, but hey – it makes for an interesting visual!)
Slow down, you move too fast; you’ve got to make the mornin’ last…
Or make the season last. I love Christmas; I love the liturgical season of Advent leading up to it, and all the music; I love family and baking and lights and trees. And for some reason, besides the fact that Simon and Garfunkel are among my favorite musicians, the lyrics and lilt of The 59th Street Bridge Song popped into my head today. The song makes me happy; I might distrust anyone who doesn’t smile when they hear it! Wanna hear it? Here’s a link:
Enjoy! Happy holidays, and don’t get so caught up in it that you miss “feeling groo-oovy”!
Today’s #UpbeatAuthors topic is “a beautiful, uplifting image.” I had trouble settling on one, because the beauty of an image often comes from the meaning one attaches to it. A baby? Flowers? Children playing? Most any scene in nature? But one image I kept coming back to was that of a sunrise. What meaning does that everyday (pun intended), ho-hum event bring as it brightens the eastern horizon?
How often do we think about sunrise?Some of us get annoyed when the sun shines in our eyes and slows the morning commute. In Denver, they used to have a name for it: Sunshine slowdown. For others, the sun takes a distant second to our planning for the day, or if you happen to be a night worker, the sun may be a signal of what you’re missing (especially in winter, when you don’t get to see it often).
Taken for granted? Or a sign of hope?
Sunrise, when you stop to consider it (rather than taking it for granted), is a promise of a new start, a new day, sometimes a second chance. It’s more than symbolic – it’s literal, and loaded with all sorts of energy and potential.
What will today bring? For that matter, are you carrying burdens? (Most of us are. You are not alone.) Can this sunrise, three days after the fall equinox and a month following a remarkable eclipse that raced across the continental U.S., shower its unique magic on us today? Only if we notice. Pay attention this morning, and let the sight of the sun rising over your bit of earth lift your spirits and your heart. Let it bring encouragement and healing and hope.
A beautiful postcard for your day
I took this picture from the southern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, looking toward New Orleans in January a few years ago. Photographs never do justice to the sun and sky, but I think this one’s beautiful and uplifting.
Consider this a postcard, a well-wish for your day. Have a wonderful day – and enjoy the sunrise! ♥
A friend made a comment in passing the other day when telling me she had finished Hijacked. “I love Lannis, and I want to read Unholy Bonds, but I don’t want to see her get hurt anymore.”
May I reassure you?
Lannis and Ben earned their happy ending in Hijacked. When I finished writing that book, I wondered what to write next. It was my first novel, and like many authors, I wasn’t at all sure I had another novel in me. About three weeks into the “what do I write next” phase (I was beginning to sweat, because I had no ideas!), the answer blazed its way into my mind.
Lannis had more work to do. So did Ben. Like all couples, they needed to adjust to married life, but had the added complication of her past with which to contend. And they both had unresolved issues, areas where personal growth was critical to their future success, both as individuals and as a couple. I wanted them to have the opportunity to do this important work.
And then there was Robert Davis.
How was I going to address the perpetrator of an all-to-common crime that damages countless women? His choice and resultant action ended up binding the three in invisible chains. Hence the title, Unholy Bonds. That became my focus as I wrote.
Because I have been long fascinated with stories of reconciliation and the movement called Restorative Justice, I wondered if this could be a direction for the book. Again, I had no idea if I could pull it off. Just the structure of such a novel was pushing the envelope of my skills.
The story quickly became more important than my limitations, so I persevered.
Back to my reassurance: Lannis struggles in this book. I won’t lie. No one grows without it. Sometimes it’s hard, and she suffers. But she doesn’t get hurt, and the result is worth it.
You have my word.
If you’ve hesitated to read Unholy Bonds because you’re worried about Lannis, take heart. Give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. ♥
From sweet to spicy, friends to lovers, from cowboys to babies and puppies, this holiday anthology from 7 of today’s hottest romance authors has something for everyone. Toss in some unconventional romances and fairy godmothers—and, of course, some hunky military heroes—and you’ve got a Christmas collection that will warm the heart on even the coldest night. Mason’s Wish by Dale Mayer – Mason loves his life with Tesla, but living together isn’t enough. He wants more. He wants it all. He wants forever. Christmas Stray by Rachelle Ayala – A couple grieving for their son is snowed in with a stray puppy and a little boy. Is there room in their hearts for a Christmas miracle? A Low Country Christmas Miracle by Sandy Loyd – Miracles have a way of happening at Christmastime. Like the miracle of finding true love and the miracle of family coming together. But the most wonderful miracle of all is the miracle of forgiveness. Scrooge & the Secret Santa by Marcia James – Thanks to a kind-hearted physical therapist, a police dog trainer learns open his life to love and the spirit of Christmas. Strangers in the Night by KT Roberts – On one magical night, two people meet, they fall in love, separate and are convinced their destiny to be together is in the hands of fate. Christmas Grace by Leslie Lynch – No one wants to celebrate Christmas this year. Then disaster strikes, not once but twice. Three generations; three untenable situations. Three women who come together for each other, and remember what’s most important about Christmas. A Christmas Bowser by Kayce Lassiter – Harper’s fairy godmother rides a Harley, her new puppy is determined to destroy her dress shop, and Kolton is set on selling the building out from under her. Could Christmas get any worse? Absolutely. This unique set features endearing stories from USA Today and National Bestselling authors. Available for a limited time only!
This has been an awful week. When I first thought about writing this post, nudged gently by Erin McCole Cupp, it was to be a response to the shamefully inadequate sentence handed down to Brock Turner, convicted of three felonies after raping an unconscious woman. It was not to be a rant, however; there have been plenty of those on social media. Nor was it to be another “flaming-shaming.” Facebook and the Twitter-verse have that angle covered, too.
Then the terrible shooting at the Pulse, a popular gay bar in Orlando, happened. Social media has exploded again—and already blaming and anger have erupted all over the internet, along with hate messages, some of which seem to assume that there is an “us” and a “them,” and that “us” and “them” are enemies. Mortal enemies.
Sadly, that brings me to the point of this blog. If you’ve read my books, you know the main theme that runs through them is forgiveness. Or in purely secular terms, Restorative Justice. Bear with me here, please.
I have to interject at this point that all of what I say from here on out is deeply personal. It comes from forty years of experience in grappling with the concept of forgiveness in the face of a grievous wrong done to me. I went through all the stages: denial (nothing happened, or if it did, it won’t affect my life); anger (I want him to suffer the way I am!); mourning what I lost; depression; and finally, the dawning realization that all the rage churning around inside was hurting no one except me. Certainly not the person who wronged me.
From my Judeo-Christian, Catholic perspective, forgiveness is required of me. From the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. From Matthew 5: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Doesn’t mean it’s easy; it’s not. But it’s vital if I hope to curb the rot of hatred growing in my soul, my heart, my spirit, because once I allow hatred and anger to take root, it will grow.
Back to my journey. I began by praying a rote, wooden, insincere prayer: Please, God, give him what he needs. It took a lot of time—years—but my heart began to soften. Eventually, I began to pray with sincerity. With sincerity, you ask? Yes. Because the God I follow is love. Pours out love to all, to the most unlovable, most undeserving, most marginalized. Because my God expects me to do my best in following that lead. To love. To reconcile.
Restorative Justice takes a similar tack, though not from a religious perspective. You know how you read about a tragedy, or watch an interview of a victim’s family member, and how so often a person’s response is, “I hope he (the perpetrator) burns in hell”? That’s our knee jerk, very human response—but left unchallenged, it becomes a cancer that eats away at our peace.
It’s only when we refuse to subscribe to “us” versus “them,” when we look hard enough to find our commonalities, our shared humanity, that we are able to combat that cancer. I’ve read and heard true stories of people, through the commission of a horrific crime, have become tied to each other.
Unholy bonds. Unbreakable and inescapable—unless and until the cycle of hatred and retribution is broken.
We give lots of lip service to compassion and tolerance. Events like these are where we must meet unspeakable atrocity with mercy. But remember, mercy is not wimpy. Mercy does not simply roll over and say, “Oh, that’s okay. I forgive. And forget. Hey, that was easy!” Nope. Mercy doesn’t make excuses, mercy looks deeper. Mercy looks at the heart. And if the heart is not ready for mercy, not ready for remorse or repentance, then mercy cannot find its home there.
Never underestimate the capacity for the human heart to change.
Could I love the man who harmed me? No, not at first. Not for a long time. Years. Not until I finally began to see him through God’s prism, through God’s eyes. Not until I recognized the truth that God wept for me when the wrong was done, and He wept for the perpetrator, too, because in conceiving and executing the wrong, the man was harming himself as much as he harmed me.
In the end, we must all realize that dignity has been lost. The damage to the dignity of the victims is easy for us to see. The damage to the dignity of the perpetrator is much more difficult, and it’s hardest when the event hits close to home both personally and in the context of time. It’s that dignity that must be restored in some way or another, whether through forgiveness, like Jesus on the cross (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”), or through Restorative Justice, where healing comes when dignity is restored to all involved. And yes, that works best when there is accountability and contrition on the perpetrator’s part.
But what if the perpetrator is dead? Like the terrible shooting in Orlando? Or unrepentant, as in the case of Brock Turner (following the lead of his father)? Forgiveness isn’t dependent upon the perpetrator’s ability or willingness to admit culpability. Otherwise, the Hatfields and McCoys would be right: there’s no hope for healing and growth; we might as well devote our lives (and deaths) to retribution for wrongs long ago forgotten.
That’s where the great mystery of forgiveness comes in. To steal from AA: Let go and let God. To amend the saying for a secular approach: Let go of grudges; they may be justified, but they only drag us down. Letting go is truly the only path to peace, no matter one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof. (This in no way negates accountability and consequences on the part of the perpetrator.)
Today, we are all raw. It feels too much, too hard to look toward love when we hurt this much. But perhaps in our small attempts to find healing for ourselves and for others, we may find grace and a bit of mercy, and we may find ourselves restored just a tiny bit. Enough to make it through our next breath, then the next hour, on through tonight, and then into tomorrow. And with enough tomorrows and enough grace and enough mercy, we might come to embrace the truth that we are all more alike than different, that we all have the capacity to loose great evil upon the world, and that we all desperately need the restoration that comes from recognizing our shared humanity.
As we leave this horrific day, let me pray for you. If you feel so inclined, pray for me. Together, let us encounter, if not the divine in each other, then at least our shared humanity.
I’m off to my second intensive low-residency at Spalding University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program in about an hour. In many ways it is very different from my past experiences through conferences and seminars through Romance Writers of America®, but in more ways, it is similar.
Writers are writers no matter the genre – and the exciting part of Spalding’s program is the concurrent tracks of fiction, creative nonfiction, young adult and poetry writing along with screenwriting and play writing. Rubbing shoulders with such a varied group of creative minds is exhilarating!
I’m looking forward to meeting last semester’s independent study mentor Pete Duval (from whom I learned much), as well as seeing friends again. Of course, it will be wonderful to meet new folks as well!
I’m going to step out of my comfort zone for the upcoming semester and write creative nonfiction. Growth comes with a touch of discomfort, right? A lifelong learner, this is yet another foray into the unknown – which is a good thing!
Here’s to another new adventure – and if it’s anything like last low residency, an explosion of creativity! How do you nurture your creativity? Are you a lifelong learner? What new paths have you traveled as a result? Have you had an adventure lately? Share the fun!