How Was the Catholic Writer’s Conference Live?

This question has been posed to me by a few friends now.  The short answer is, “Great! Looking forward to next year!”

For those of you wishing for a few more details, I was impressed with the caliber of speakers Ann Lewis and Karina Fabian (who organized the conference) were able to bring in for the first live conference, covering everything from character development and marketing to actual pitch sessions — I counted at least a dozen editors from book, magazine, and newspaper publishing.

Sally Shields, author of The Daughter-in-Law Rules, presented one of my favorite talks, in which she gave us the inside scoop on exactly how to rocket your book to the #1 spot on the Amazon.com bestseller list! She offers an online course for authors who are eager to do the same thing.

The best part of the conference for me, however, was the networking opportunities it afforded. I got to meet Susie Lloyd, whose books Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and Bless Me, Father, for I Have Kids are laugh-out-loud hilarious. I got to spend some quality time with other good friends (most of whom I’d previous met only online): Pat Gohn, Heidi Bratton (whose book on motherhood is being published by Circle Press), Susan Brinkmann (editor of Canticle), and John Desjarlais (who gave one of the best talks on character development I’ve ever heard!).

Walking the floor was also beneficial — I chatted with the folks at Maximus, and met the producer of “The Catholic Show” as well as a potential Spanish distributer for my Mary book. I also had several nibbles on future articles about EMN, which was also a very good thing!

The very best thing that happened: I found my Edirol recorder (which I’d given up as lost after two months of searching) in a hidden compartment of my computer bag. It was quite a lift!

Next year I’d like to see a bit more time between sessions, so there is more time for informal networking and floor-walking. But overall it was a great experience — and, like I said, I’m looking forward to next year!

Goree Island: Twenty-five years later . . .

Goree IslandOn Thursday at my talk for the Catholic Writers’ Conference, I’m opening with an illustration about the year I spent in Senegal, West Africa teaching ESL at Dakar Academy. In my spare time, I played in a band — a church worship team (I was Protestant at the time), playing keyboards for a group of college students from University of Dakar, most of whom spoke very little English. (They did, however, speak more English than I spoke French.)

On weekends everyone piled into an old yellow VW van and go on excursions around the area. One unforgettable visit was to Goree Island, and the Slave House built by the Dutch in 1776. Just a short ferry ride from Dakar, the little island fortress sits perched like a jewel in the clear blue waters of the Atlantic.

From a distance, it is a thing of beauty. Up close, it makes the stomach twist and tempers flare. When one of my musician friends tried to find an English interpreter to tell me about the place, the man took one look at my white face and spat on the ground. “She’s the reason this place was built. I’m certainly not going to entertain her.”  It was disturbing, seeing the hate twist that man’s face. The place was beautiful with its pristine beaches and brightly painted buildings — but the spirit was as dark and desolate as the slave quarters hidden beneath. Hand-drawn signs lined the walls of the courtyard, scrawled by the descendents of those African natives who were led in chains through that “gate of no return.”

I recently had cause to contemplate this experience in connection with a book I’d recently picked up at the suggestion of a friend. I read the first few chapters and put it down again, appalled. That this was a talented writer was indisputable. That his editor had betrayed him was equally evident, at least to me. 

When the complexities of the human experience are reduced to a simple lustful exchange, this is not beauty or truth. Certainly it is not authentically Catholic. How I wish the author had raised his sights just a bit higher!

All truly good writing is ordered toward the ultimate good, which is God. While a  book need not reflect a distinctively Catholic world view to be truly good, a quest for transformation is essential. Goodness and beauty, along with truth, naturally elevate the human spirit. Wallowing in the muck of human frailty, without that redemptive trajectory, does the opposite.

Good writers are to truth what a good craftsman is to a gemstone: through dedicated labor imperfections are stripped away, until the full brilliance is illuminated from within. Not all stones are equally valuable — some are inherently flawed, and no amount of polishing can change that. Conversely, the value of an exquisite gem can be greatly diminished if it falls into the wrong hands. But put that flawless gem (or that flash of genuine inspiration) in the hands of an expert craftsman, and you have a prize of lasting value!

Of course, bookstores and libraries are full of religious books, many of which come and go in a season or two. Many genuinely awful books have religious themes; what they lack is holy passion. This is true of all religious endeavors.  A few weeks ago, my husband and I attended the Catholic New Media Conference and had a chance to see the missions of San Antonio. The buildings have been restored — the original structures have all but disappeared. After the European missionaries turned the buildings over to the indigenous community, the missions deteriorated rapidly as the people returned to the old ways. The missionaries had worked hard to reach the people, but the fruit of their labors quickly withered on the vine.

Why was this? I wouldn’t presume to judge the hearts of the missionaries themselves. Jesus himself spoke of the seed that fell on fertile and fallow soil. Sadly, many “converts” flocked to the mission not out of deeply held religious convictions, but to escape their powerful enemies on one hand, and the diseases introduced by the European settlers on the other. While some did indeed embrace the new religion (and several of the missions continue to operate as parishes), for many the structured life of the mission represented not truth and beauty and goodness, but oppression and bondage.

For those of us who aspire to write a book that will withstand the test of time, there is a lesson here, I think. Technical excellence is important — but insufficient. The book must be illuminated from within with the fire of genuine revelation, and fulfill the longing for truth, beauty, and goodness that God has placed within the human heart. To settle for less is to labor in vain. The end result may be pretty — but it will never last.

Catholic Writer’s Conference: “ABC’s of Good Writing” Links

Congratulations to Mary at “Passionate Perseverence,” who won the writer’s basket for writing down the most words associated with good writing — I believe she had 138!

bym-newOn Thursday at 10:30 I’m giving a talk about the “ABC’s of Good Writing.”

The truth is, I didn’t feel comfortable talking on the subject based on my own experiences — granted, I’ve edited my fair share of good and bad writing, and have a couple of book credits. But seriously, who am I to say, “If you want to be a good writer (like me) do THIS!!!”

Of course, if you want to find out how good a writer I really am, feel free to buy a copy of one of my books, such as Behold Your Mother or Raising Up Mommy!

No, instead I’m turning it into a word-association game with some pithy quotes, writing exercises, and door prizes thrown in. I’m also going to refer to a few sites to which you might be wanting the links, so I thought I’d post them here!

Sally Stuart’s “Christian Market Writer’s Guide”

Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac”

“The Seven Second Test”

“If You Send an Editor a Query Letter”

Books mentioned:

Julie Cameron The Artist’s Way

Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones

Anne Lamott Bird by Bird

Stephen King On WritingLynne Truss Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Brenda Ueland If You Want to Write

Vinita Hampton Wright The Soul Tells a Story

William Zinsser On Writing Well: A Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction

Not mentioned (but should have been): Chicago Manual of Style

Catholic Writers’ Conference Live . . . Are you coming?

cwclSo far response to this opportunity has been slow . . . If you would like to attend but are unable to swing airfare, why not drive out with a friend?! Half the expense, twice the fun! (Right, Sarah?)

Somerset, NJ–The Catholic Writers’ Guild, in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network, will host its first-ever Catholic Writers’ Conference LIVE! at the Doubletree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, Somerset, NJ, from Aug 5-7, 2009.

The conference will host publishers, editors and authors from all aspects of the Catholic writing world, including magazines and devotionals, novels and educational materials.  The panel discussions, presentations and workshops will cover all aspects of writing including generating query letters, crafting a good story, worldbuilding, marketing finished works and more. In addition, editors from several Catholic publishers will be on-hand to share their wisdom and hear authors propose their works.

The Catholic Marketing Network’s International Trade Show, held at the neighboring Garden State Exhibition Center (http://www.gsec.com), will serve as the exhibition floor for the writers’ conference, giving writers a chance to browse the booths, meet with publishing companies, pitch their books to publishers, have their work critiqued at a private critique session and chat with the published authors at book signings at the Catholic Writers’ Guild booth. CMN will also be hosting daily Masses and rosaries at the Doubletree Hotel, and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the exhibition center. Other CMN events including the seminars and inspirational talks scheduled for Tuesday, August 4 will be held at the Doubletree.

Presenters for the writers’ conference include: author/Sophia Press submissions editor Regina Doman (Angel in the Waters); Pauline Books and Media Editor Sister Maria Grace,  CEO of Ignatius Press Mark Brumley (How Not to Share Your Faith), Susan Brinkmann editor of Canticle Magazine, Lisa Wheeler, Executive Vice President of the Maximus Group (PR and marketing firm for The Passion of the Christ), author/Ascension Press publisher Matt Pinto (Do Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?), Claudia Volkman, General Manager of Circle Press, Tom Hoopes, Executive Editor of the National Catholic Register, and mystery author John Desjarlais (Bleeder) among others.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for both writers and publishers to connect,” said science fiction writer and Catholic Writer’s Guild President, Karina Fabian. “The CMN has been especially generous in offering to share it facilities and programs with us, which really enhances the quality of the conference for attendee and presenter.”

Conference Coordinator and CWG Vice President Ann Lewis adds “There will be a lot of good information, encouragement and learning opportunities for Catholic authors at our live conference. Our goal is to help good Catholic writers to get published. The world needs their words.”

The Catholic Writers’ Guild has hosted two highly successful on-line conferences.

To register or for more information, go to www.catholicwritersconference.com. Registration is $80 through June 1st, $99 through July 31st and $110 at the door.