Monday, May 31, 2010

It's Coming! The Catholic Writers' Conference Live!

I'll be there--will you?

To Register, Go to

For Immediate Release

Catholic Writers to Hold Online Conference

World Wide Web--The second annual Catholic Writers’ Conference LIVE will be held August 4-6, 2010, at King of Prussia, PA. Sponsored by the Catholic Writer’s Guild and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN), and held in conjunction with CMN’s annual retailer trade show, the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE provides Catholic authors with a prime opportunity to meet and share their faith with editors, publishers, fellow writers, and bookstore owners from across the globe.

This year's conference will feature presentations on such topics as market tips and time management for busy writers, poetry, creating evil characters, working with an editor, creating winning proposals, journaling and much more.

Michelle Buckman, author of the young adult novels Maggie Come Lately and My Beautiful Disaster will present the keynote address on “The Wonder of Expressing Catholicism in Fiction” and the Catholic Writers Guild will present its first-ever achievement award for excellence in Catholic Arts and Letters. In addition, writers will have a chance to pitch their books to Catholic publishers, including Ignatius Press, Circle Media Press and Sophia Institute Press.

“Attending this conference has been the best thing I have done for myself professionally,” Carol Bannon, author of the children’s book Handshake from Heaven, said of the 2009 conference. Her fellow writer Melanie Cameron agreed, saying she left the last conference re-energized. “I recommend [this] conference as a resource for any author (or wannabe) at any stage. You will walk away empowered!”

The Catholic Writers Guild sponsors both this live conference in August and an online conference in February to further its mission of promoting Catholic literature. “Our conferences are totally focused on encouraging faithful Catholics to share genuine Catholic culture and faith in their writing no matter what genre,” says CWG President Ann Margaret Lewis. “These events are integral to our mission of ‘creating a rebirth of Catholic arts and letters.”

Registration costs $85 for CWG members, and $95 for non-members. There's also a discounted combined membership-registration. To register or for more information, go to

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Novel's Journey: Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator: Real Life Makes Good Fiction

We all have moments that happen in real life that would make great fiction. I love when mine come together in unexpected ways, like the scenes I wrote this week for Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator. Before I share that, though, I'm going to give a couple of rules for making your real-life events read believable in fiction.

I know that seems contradictory--real life not seem believable? But how many times have you read something that seemed out of character, wrong or self-indulgent--or worse yet, Mary Sue-ish? I'd say it's because one or more of these rules is broken:

1. You gave your character your reactions, not his.
2. You didn't change the details enough to fit the story you are writing.
3. The event itself doesn't fit the scene you're writing. (i.e., just because it's a cool or touching event or is a personal catharsis to write does not mean it belongs in the story.)
4. You failed to give the event significance in the story (perhaps because you are still giving its significance to your life)

in other words

5. You failed to take yourself out of the event and put your character in.

This week, I got to put in two events from my past into my story. The first was a frustrating time my Freshman year of college wheen I'd been studying (or trying to). I'd read over the same page of statistics about five times, trying to memorize and feeling rather martyrlike about it, when a guy from my brother floor yanked the book out of my hand and challenged me to tell him what I'd just read. I couldn't. Not even the subject of the section. I was so mad I wanted to cry. He suggested I take a break.

The plebes from Zombie Death Extreme are boning up for their certification test. Gordon is the ex-Marine who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. So I thought he could use a moment like this.

Of course, I had to change the setting to fit a mid-twenties male adult hoping to pass a career test and maybe win a million dollars while he was at it. The people around him are the competition. So: no dorm, no statistics book, no martyrlike feelings. He would not get upset like I did--slug or slow burn is more Gordon's style.

Here's how it played out: Gordon is about to take a study break when Roscoe and Nasir show up at his apartment.

Roscoe was looking at the beer in his hand. "Please tell me you aren't intending to get drunk alone. On that."

"I'm studying," he growled. "Been studying all day. This is my first, if you must know."

"No, it's not." Roscoe brushed past him, snatching the beer from his hands and putting it back into the refrigerator. Only when Nasir followed did Gordon realize he'd been hanging out in the hallway. Have to work on that situational awareness.

"I refuse to let you waste your evening on swill," Roscoe said. "Go put on something presentable. Something that says, 'chick magnet.'" Pawing through his refrigerator with one hand, Roscoe waved in Gordon's general direction with the other.

"What? I'm studying."

"Yeah? Tell me the last three things you read."

Gordon paused, his mind blank. "I hate you."

Did I think about the rules as I wrote? No, I was too busy thinking about Gordon--but then again, that's the key, isn't it?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Via Dolorosa is for us, too

Last week, a friend asked us to pray for him. John Desjarlias is a talented writer of mysteries with strong Catholic themes. Bleeder came out last year from Sophia Press, and he's under contract for the next one, Viper. However, Viper has been giving him a lot of trouble writing--so much trouble that it's affecting his concentration and outlook. He feels under spiritual attack.

I can certainly identify with that feeling. While my writing probably doesn't warrant much notice by the Forces of Evil (or the Forces of Good, for that matter), I often feel like my work as a mother is foiled by devil. I don't want to get into the specific issues, but sometimes it seems like one step forward and two back.

I was musing about John's trouble writing and my kid conundrums during Mass. It struck me that one of the lessons of the Crucifixion is that worthwhile things aren't always easy to obtain. I think the people of the past understood that better than we do. Let's face it--the cure for pain is a pill away in most cases, communication is nearly instantaneous, entertainment and distraction not just available but pushed on us. We balk when things get tough, or wonder what's wrong or what we're doing wrong, or think we're under attack.

We take it into our faith, too. A great proportion of Christians think that salvation is as simple and instant (and casual) as saying, "Sure, I believe." In fact, they don't think it's fair that God "made" Jesus suffer for us--and that Jesus chose to obey. A girl at a protestant church group my daughter visited with a friend announced that she was mad at Jesus for dying on the cross, to which Amber replied, "You'd better be grateful, or we would not be saved today!"

Life was perfect in the Garden of Eden--but was it easy? I'm not sure. One thing I do know: once we left Eden, "easy" was not to be taken for granted, but too often we do. Too often, I do. I work hard, but I wonder how often I really rise to a challenge that pushes me past my limits. Or do I see the challenge and just complain that it should be easier, and take a different path?

I need to get off the easy path. I need to accept my own Via Dolorosa. God help me on my journey.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Novel's Journey: Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator: Grab those ideas!

I've blogged before about how I get ideas. Really, they just come at you if you're ready to receive. Today, I want to talk about making those ideas useful. It's actually quite simple in theory, but more difficult in practice.

1. Write the idea down
2. Put it where you can find it again
3. Use it

How you do #1 is up to you. I can tell you one thing--for all the cliche about writing on scraps of napkins or old receipts, that's probably the worst way. Why? It's harder on step 2. Trust me, I've done the scraps thing. The best way for me to keep ideas I actually want to find later is to write them in a spiral notebook, put them as a doc in my computer or phone (and back them up!) or put them in my anthemion storylines program. I love the storylines program best, because it's easy to retreive.

2. However you get your ideas down, finding them again is the key between a brilliant idea that you put in your novel and the brilliant idea that ends up forgotten under the car seat. Some people have a file. Me, I search notebooks. (You may have seen my joyous tweet about finding some old noted I'd forgotten I had on Discovery.) I should file. The best way, for me, however, is with Anthemion Storylines. This is a simple program. It looks like a bulletin board, and you can post items as an index card, then move them around, etc. When I get an idea for a specific story, I start a new file and toss the ideas there as different cards. Later, I can go back and play with the order until I can write.

When I have an idea for the story I'm working on, I usually put it at the bottom of the story itself, or make a separate doc file and put it in the same folder as the story.

3. Ideas are not much good unless they get used or they spark another idea. Sometimes, an idea can sit for ages; sometimes, it screams to be written right away. I find that it's best to listen to the screams. I get the best stories or scenes from those kinds of ideas, and when I try to ignore them, they just scream louder.

So, how does this apply to Neeta Lyffe? I was in the car, with Rob driving. We were listening to the radio and some haz-bin celebrity was endorsing some embarrassing product. Usually Rob and I remark, in unison, "They must be desperate for money." Well, as you know, Neeta has been sued and is desperate for money. What if someone wanted her to endorse their product? Would she do it? I had my notebook with me, and ended up writing 1000 words before I was done.

Snippet from the representative of "Bottums Up Diet Drinks" trying to convince Neeta to be the next BUDDy:

Once they'd settled on opposite sides of her desk, he opened up his suitcase and pulled out a portfolio. The cover held a collage of different celebrities--most of whom Neeta remembered only from childhood or sort-of recognized from her infrequent television watching. All held a bottle of "Bottums-Up" in one hand and pointed to their perfect waists with the other.

"Larry" jumped into his business pitch. "We at BUDD have always dedicated ourselves to creating high-quality, nutritious drinks that not only help you cut calories but burn fat--"

"I'm not on a diet."

"--We have several lines: Minimize. Stabilize--"

"I'm not getting fat."

"No! Not at all! Like Mr. Bottums said, you're quite fit. Stunning, even. That's what he said. Exact words."

Can you tell this will be a hard sell?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Magic, Mensa and Mayhem wins the INDIE Awards

I'm so excited! Magic, Mensa and Mayhem won the 2010 Next Generation INDIE Book Award for Best Fantasy!

This award is for books of all genres published by small, independent presses. They have 60 categories, so all genres are nicely represented. I entered MM&M with my publisher, Dindy Robinson of Swimming Kangaroo Books. I must admit, I hoped to place, but didn't expect much more--fantasy is a big genre, after all. I'm really tickled!

So is my publisher! To celebrate, she's having a sale on MM&M. Paperback is now $9.99 and e-book $1.99. The sale runs through June, and you can get it at And while you're at it, check out some of her other great titles.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everything is Material

Between moving, Rob's surgery (outpatient) and the Catholic planners are due, I don't anticipate much time this week, so I've prepped this ahead of time.

People sometimes ask how authors come up with ideas, so here's a sneak peek at my idea generation in April:

Dentists broke a piece of the drill off in my tooth during a root canal. I wrote a flash fiction about a woman in a similar situation who ends up communicating with aliens through her tooth. Yes, it's called "Bit by Bit."

Asked folks on facebook for a Bible story that expressed self control. Decided on David not killing Saul.

Listening to the song "Ocean Gypsy" by Blackmore's Night, came up with a mystery of a nymph who is brutally murdered and her death causes the entire area to be shrouded in darkness, for a thousand nights or until the killer is found and the area healed.

Friend of mine had to deliver some bad news to another of our friends, who happens to live near NYC. She caught her on a bad day, and got an earful! Telling me about it, she said, "She went New York on me." Writing a scene for Neeta Lyffe, I had some zombies attack a bunch of New Yorkers during a parade. Parade goers got mad and beat them with their own ripped off limbs.

Needed to write a column for Vern, my dragon. Weather's getting nice--car wash time. Decided that's a great way to bathe a dragon.

Rob, the boys and I were playing SuperMunchkin. The cards themselves are a riot--puns and jokes, and combinations designed to incite giggles. Plus, at least with my family, there are plenty of ways to mess with your opponent! I came up with a story of Vern, Sister Grace, Gapman, and Superspy Stan Rakness involved in a cut-throat game involving one of the card combinations we played to really wreck Steven's and Alex's chance at victory.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review of The Father Brown Reader by Nancy Carpenter Brown

(Note: Sometimes, I write reviews for a book I've read. This is only because I happened to really like the book, or I was asked to write a review for the Catholic Writers' Guild. I do not take books for review. It's too much pressure on my time, sorry.)

The Father Brown Reader: Stories by Chesterton by Nancy Carpentier Brown

I read this delightful book for the Catholic Writers' Guild Seal of Approval. I must admit that I had ulterior motives in that I wanted to read it to my nine-year-old for bedtime stories. However, I couldn't wait and sped through it myself. I found the stories well-told with delightful twists and the adaptation sound. I've not read Chesterton yet, and although I've been told the verbage is flat by comparison to the master, I found it to be on par with the Three Investigators mysteries my youngest is into right now.

When my husband went TDY, I offered to read it to both my youngest boys (Alex, 11 and Liam, 9) for bedtime. Bedtime was pushed back as we had to see how the story ends. Once Rob came home (and resumed reading the fantasy series he and Alex are into), I put the book into the car to read aloud while we're waiting for their siblings to get out of school. Alex said he likes seeing things from the points of view of the different characters. Liam says he really enjoys the mysteries and that it's a fun book to listen to. Both agree the book is awesome.

All three of us recommend The Father Brown Reader for kids--and for adults who want to share some fun adventures with their kids.

NOTE: I was given a copy of this book as part of the CWG Seal of Approval process. I was under no obligation to review.

• Reading level: Ages 9-12
• Perfect Paperback: 147 pages
• Publisher: Hillside Education; 1st edition (October 26, 2007)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0976638673
• ISBN-13: 978-0976638674

Thursday, May 06, 2010

My Novel's Journey: Interrupted again! Turn off the Flow!

Are you getting tired of my telling why I've lived yet another week without having written Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator?

Yeah, me, too.

However, there are only so many hours in a day, and right now I have an actual paying job writing school planners--10 stories geared for high school kids, the adapted to middle school, done for American and Canadian schools. Four calendars in all. This year, we're taking Bible stories as our theme, and I'm retelling some from side characters--one of David's soldiers, Rebeka's best friend, someone who helped the men lower the paralytic through the roof to Jesus. It's kind of fun and a stretch of my creativity as well as a great way to think more about the Bible.

Then, of course, Why God Matters comes out May 15. The publisher, Tribute Books, is spoiling my father and me--dedicated website ( and a publicist to plan our virtual book tour. So, I've been doing my share by spreading the word to get some blog spots for then June tour--e-mail me if you want to join in!--and making a video book trailer. This one was a no brainer, and I put it together on I'm posting it here May 15, but you can see it at

Next, I got my book contract for Mind Over Mind. I'm resisting the temptation to look it over--I might start revising!

To top it off, I got an idea this morning for ANOTHER novel! This one is in the DragonEye universe. When a nymph is brutally murdered, her death affects all of Los Lagos: Magicals are haunted by nightmares; the water supply is poisoned, and a mysterious cloud covers the city in unending night.

I both love and hate getting ideas. I love my imagination, but I have no time! What do I do? I open up another file in Anthemion Storylines and put ideas and information as I come up with it. I promise--Neeta comes next!

I have to finish the calendars by May 11. I'm halfway done, but next week is will be insane: two signings, Rob's surgery, my cap for my tooth. Oh, and I'm not Catholic Writers' Guild Secretary.

My life is so full of blessings--of imagination, of opportunity, of service. I'm not complaining, but I wouldn't mind if we turned the spigot down just a bit. Just until I finish off the shambling undead hoards.

Progres on Neeta Lyffe:
I did manage one scene this week: Zombies attack parade goers at the last New England Zombie Crawl. They made the mistake of attacking the New York contingent. The irate New Yorkers ripped them apart then beat them to redeath with their own limbs.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Perseverance Pays! Mind Over Mind accepted by Dragon Moon

Last week, I signed the contract for Mind Over Mind, a fantasy novel. At 13, Deryl manifested telepathic powers. Not only could he not control them, but it put him in contact with aliens. The effect drove him insane. Five years later, he's fought his way to an uneasy sanity, but has no hope of leaving the mental institution or uncovering the mysteries behind his power or the aliens that use it to manipulate him.

When 19-year-old Joshua Lawson takes an internship at the mental institution, he's asked to befriend the sullen Deryl. Joshua however, has no plans to be a "high paid buddy." He wants to cure Deryl--and he intends to start by taking him at his word.

As the two work to control Deryl's abilities and understand the creatures that contact him, WHAT

I wrote this book in college. Twice. The first time, I had an elaborate outline I'd spent all summer on--then promptly lost the first week at school. After some angry tears, I decided it was mostly junk anyway, and started again. That one I finished in a year and started sending off to publishers. (I cringe at those query letters now.) It got lots of rejections, so I finally put it away and got on with life. (This was about 1990.)

In 2000, I decided I wanted to try a novel again, so I found the manuscript, read it over and gagged. What a difference a decade made! In that manuscript, Deryl was a cool, happy-go-lucky college student getting a PhD in paranormal studies--and Joshua was a farmboy studding agriculture. Basically, I hated them on sight. I loved my alien woman, though, and the plot. So I decided to rewrite.

First, I gave Deryl some problems. That was easy once I realized what it would really mean to have telepathy with no off switch. ALWAYS knowing people's thoughts. ALWAYS feeling people's feelings. Not just one person--EVERY person in a given range. Can you imagine being in a classroom with 25 hormonal boys when the knockout substitute teacher walks in? I did-and it's not pretty. It's beyond embarrassing--it's scary.

Next, I gsve my alien a clearer agenda, especially in regards to Deryl, and let him go to work. I actually disturbed myself with how dark my imagination could get.

Finally, I took my lovely alien heroine, gave her some problems of her own as well as a far greater purpose in life. That's when she told me she was one of many of her kind--that Miscria was not her name but her position--and that several Miscria had contacted Deryl. Even better, they didn't know Deryl was a person--they thought he was an oracle!

Cool, well-adjusted college kid? I don't think so. I feel a little sorry for how I tortured him, but what a better story!

So, what to do with Joshua? "Corn-fed hick" didn't work anymore, so I made him the intern. As it turns out, he's the cool, charismatic one. He also told me he's Black, homeschooled, a gifted musician and dancer, and that he has a shady past he's running away from. Oh, yes--he would fall in love with an older woman, a nurse, in the story. Well, you know me: when a character tells me something, I write it!

The book became a trilogy. I love it. Of course, I shopped it around for several more years, tweaking it as I went. I first ended the first book on a cliffhanger, for example, but changed it to have closure while leaving room for the next book. The title also changed from The Miscria, to Asylum Psychic, and now to Mind Over Mind.

Finally, after 22 years from the first submission and 10 years of submitting the current version, Mind Over Mind is going to go into print. Perseverance does indeed pay. I hope it will "pay" you readers as well as me.