Monday, September 10, 2018

An Open Book: Promoting Catholic Fiction

I have been a fan of fiction for as long as I can remember.  Like my oldest granddaughter (a 7-year-old identical twin who is really only the oldest by a few minutes), I can think of almost nothing more pleasurable than curling up with a good book.  I gave this granddaughter the blog handle "Bonnie Babe" many moons ago, but she is hardly a babe anymore; she's growing like a weed and has morphed into a tall, lanky, lovely, well-spoken young lady who could probably outscore most high schoolers on the vocabulary section of the SAT.  She pretty much taught herself to ready by about age 4 or 5, and if you happen to see her on any given day, she will most likely look something like this:
Bonnie Babe has three sisters: Cutie Pie (her twin), Little Gal, and City Girl; and now a baby brother (who shall heretofore be known here at the blog as "Simba") has just joined their crew.  We're not sure about Simba yet, but the four tight-knit sisters have all been book fanatics pretty much since birth; seriously, a trip to the library is their favorite activity--better than an amusement park outing, I'd wager.  Bonnie Babe is not the only one in her family whose nose is often buried in a book, not by a long shot.

Bonnie Babe has mentioned on several occasions that she would like to write books when she grows up (which makes her very much like another little girl I used to know--who had the same dream when she was about her granddaughter's age, but didn't know if it was an achievable one). I'm not exactly sure how, but she has recently been made aware of my two novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.  About a week ago, she said to me in an admiring tone, "Grammy, you write books!"  Ever the self-deprecating, little-known author of a pair of little-known Catholic novels, with a wry smile on my face I sort of mumbled, "Well, I wrote books. But I'm not writing one now, and I don't know if I'll ever write another."  That was probably not the right thing to say, was it?!  If I had known it was going to come up, perhaps I would have prepared a better response for my darling little reader/future writer.

I don't know why I'm so shy when discussing my books, even with beloved members of my family.  I don't know why I feel the need to kind of put myself down and minimize what I've accomplished--especially when talking to a granddaughter who should hear from me that yes, it's very possible that if that's what she wants to do someday, she can--and might--actually do it.  If Grammy did it, then surely she can.  I will have to work on being more positive when discussing my "writing career" with her in the future.  (See what I did there?  I felt the need to add quotes, lest you think I take myself, or my writing, too seriously.  Heaven forbid!)

My wonderful publisher, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books, knows how much I struggle with the marketing/promotion aspect of being a published author.  (A salesman I am not!)  She has tried over the years to encourage me to put myself out there and proudly promote my work--because when it comes to Catholic fiction, she reminds me, it's not about the author.  It's about the message.  It's not about garnering praise or making buckets of money (thank goodness, or I would have to say it's all been for naught!); it's about getting inspiring works of fiction that spread the Truth of our beautiful Catholic Faith into the hands of those who could be touched or edified by it.  Fiction can definitely be used as a tool for evangelization, because there are some people who would rather just read an entertaining story than tackle a Faith-based non-fiction work that they might consider too "dry."  So Catholic fiction authors should be confident that promoting their work is not a vain enterprise at all; they should realize that if their fiction glorifies God and His Church, the more people who read it, the better!

But still, I struggle.

So I decided to put myself out there today (gulp!) and talk about my own books here at Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book link-up.
My first novel, Finding Grace, was published in 2012 and earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval that same year. (It was also a finalist for the Guild's CALA in YA fiction.) This lengthy novel, which I wrote over a period of almost five years (beginning when my youngest son started high school), is near and dear to my heart because it is set in Plattsburgh, NY, where I grew up and starting dating the high school sweetheart who has been my husband for 38 years now.  (He might have even been the model I used to create the handsome love interest of the title character, Grace Kelly--wink, wink.)   The book's target audience is teens/adults; because it deals with some difficult topics (underage drinking, premarital sex, abortion), I would not recommend it for readers younger than high school-aged.  But rest assured, parents, that you will not find any cringe-worthily inappropriate scenes described in this pro-life coming-of-age love-story; it is safe for your teens to read.  Mistakes are made and tough things happen to some of the characters, but these situations are handled with as much tact, compassion, and grace as possible.
My second novel, Erin's Ring, was published in 2014.  It was a recipient of two book awards from the Catholic Press Association in 2015: Second Place in Books for Teens & Young Adults, and Third Place in Books for Catholic Novels.  This is a different sort of book than Finding Grace; written over a six-month period, this work of historical fiction (which goes back and forth between the early 1800's and the year 1998) is much shorter in length and geared toward a younger audience.  It is appropriate for readers as young as middle school or junior high (but has been enjoyed by readers of all ages).  Although my first "baby" might always be my favorite, this book is dear to my heart, too, because it is set in Dover, NH, where my husband and I lived for 27 years and raised our five boys.  I've always been a huge fan of historical fiction, and I was able weave some of Dover's fascinating history into the tale, so this was a complete joy to write.  If you're an inveterate Hibernophile like me, you'll love how this book is populated with a cast of plucky Irish characters (fictionalized versions of some real 19th-century immigrants) who brought their Faith--and a Catholic church-- to a small New England town.
I never believed I would actually have a novel published; and two--well, that was truly beyond my wildest dreams.  So imagine how floored I was this past January when I was approached with an offer to work on a non-fiction book, by someone who works on an acquisitions team for a reputable Catholic publisher.  As flattering--and shocking, too, I must admit!--as the offer was, I knew that I was not the right person for the job.  For one thing, my comfort zone as a writer is in the world of fiction rather than non-fiction, so I wasn't confident that I could deliver what this publisher wanted.  For another, my husband and I had moved from NH to VA just months earlier, to be closer to our married sons and our ever-growing brood of grandchildren (13-going-on-14!), and I just didn't think this was the time to get involved in a project that would burden me with deadlines that might get in the way of my current favorite career: being an available hands-on Grammy.  So I said no to what most writers might consider a "once-in-a-lifetime offer that you just can't turn down," wondering if that meant that I was not a "real" writer after all.

But those two Catholic novels are real to Bonnie Babe, who I hope will read them one day.  And they've touched at least a couple of young readers who have written me the sweetest notes.  If God is pleased with them, if they have brought Him greater glory even in some teeny, tiny way, then my mission has been accomplished.

I may never write another book. But if I ever do, I'm pretty sure it will be fiction.  If Bonnie Babe writes books when she grows up, I think they'll be fiction, too.  And her Grammy will be cheering her on every step of the way.

(BTW: I just checked and today Finding Grace is marked down on Amazon, from $14.99 to $9.80.  It would be a good time to get a copy, if you're interested!)

Before I sign off, here are two worthy works of Catholic fiction that I've read recently and for which I am currently working on written reviews:  A Single Bead, a YA novel by Stephanie Engelman; and The Wideness of the Sea , by Katie Curtis.   These are books that deserve a shout-out, and I hope to have a post about them finished in time for next month's installment of this link-up!

Okay, then.  Now head on over to Carolyn's to see what all the other bibliophiles are reading these days!


  1. I heartily recommend the 3 books in your group of 4 that I've read so far! Next up: "The Wideness of the Sea." It's on my Kindle now.

    1. Thank you for saying that you can recommend my books! And Yes, A Single Bead is wonderful. I saw that it is now translated into Portuguese! I am so glad that Stephanie's book is successful--it is a beautiful story and deserves to be.

      I became aware of Katie Curtis' book through some Catholic folks I follow on Instagram, and then I began following her. She is an inspiring mother of 6 who lives in NH, very close to where we lived for many years (before we moved south to be near our children and grandchildren).

  2. I may have to buy those two books. I also need to read your books again!

    1. I hope you still like them as much as you did the first time...:) Love you!

  3. I tend to be very self-deprecating when talking about my books too. I think at the root of it is fear - fear that they won't like the books. I picked up a copy of Finding Grace recently and am looking forward to reading it! Thank you for linking up!

    1. Carolyn, we are peas in a pod. You think when your book gets published that you will feel nothing but elation, after dreaming of that very scenario since childhood; but that was the last thing I felt! What I felt was pure unadulterated fear when Finding Grace came out. I was a wreck, had indigestion for weeks. My "baby" was out there, exposed now to criticism and judgment. It was easier when my husband, my sons, and I were the only ones who knew about it. (I talked about it to NO ONE else during the almost five years I worked on it.)

      I hope you like it, though. (And now that I know you might be reading it, I'm a little nervous...gulp!) :)

  4. Yes, and the occasional less-than-stellar review reinforces that fear. I'm getting a bit better about it though, over time! Not reading Finding Grace yet, but soon, I hope! It's sitting on the end table so that I don't forget about it.