7 Quick Takes Friday – November 30

Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

1. Advent is almost here!

Image copyright Full Quiver Publishing

Image copyright Full Quiver Publishing

2. Snow, Snow, Snow!
We woke up to this winter wonderland a few mornings ago!

3. Loreena McKennitt Concert
Tomorrow, my husband and I are looking forward to seeing Loreena McKennitt in concert at the National Art Centre in Ottawa. Here’s a beautiful video of her performing “Snow.”

4. Favorite Advent Books
It’s that time again! Here are some of my favorite Advent Books:
Donkey Bells – Catherine Doherty (Madonna House)
Welcome Baby Jesus – Sarah Reinhard
Joy to the World: Advent Activities For Your Family – Kathleen Basi
Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in the Domestic Church – Peter and Catherine Fournier
O Radiant Dawn – Lisa Hendey (Just released this year!)
Advent and Christmas with Fulton Sheen

5. Make Your Own Advent Wreath
Years ago, my husband made our advent wreath and we have been using the same one every year (we replace the candles). Our wreath uses the shorter votive type candles. To learn how to make your own advent wreath, click here: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=954

6. Stuffed French Toast
A favorite of ours every Christmas morning is this easy-to-make, easy-to-serve breakfast. I usually prepare it the day before, then pop it in the oven just before the kids wake up to open presents Christmas morning. There are many different variations, but here’s the one I use because it serves our large family.Full-Overnightfrenchtoast

7. New Blog Photo
Regular readers may notice that my “water” blog photo above has been changed. This photo from Venice was taken five years ago when we traveled in Italy.AAheader for blog

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Bread Upon the Water Book Review

Here in North America, many Catholics have become indifferent. A large number don’t attend Mass on Sunday. Contrast that to the Catholics in developing countries who often walk miles to attend Mass.

Bread Upon the Water by Deanna Klingel is the true story of the difficult and painful journey of Duong Tien, born in South Vietnam, who from an early age knew he had a vocation to the priesthood. When communism invaded his country, he left his family, became a boat person and refugee in a frightening journey to freedom.

This man’s determination is inspiring. Through all the hardships, sicknesses and dangerous situations, he continued to persevere and trust that God would allow him to someday become a priest in America. In fact, the author shows that this man would have welcomed death to the alternative of living in a communist country with no religious freedom.

Although the target audience is young adult, I highly recommend this book to everyone, young and old. Reading Duong Tien’s story could certainly help us all appreciate the gift of our Catholic faith.

To purchase the book on Amazon, click on this link:

To find out more about this book or read an excerpt, click this link:

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach

NFP and Communication

My latest post at Catholic Mom is entitled Natural Family Planning and Communication.

Lack of communication is one of the leading causes of marital breakdown. For the NFP-using couple, communication is essential. Procrastination isn’t an option. The NFP couple discusses whether or not they will be avoiding or planning pregnancy. In order to be successful at this, it’s necessary to discuss the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. My husband has often said, “If you can talk about your wife’s cervical mucus, you can discuss anything.”

To briefly review how NFP works: husband and wife chart the wife’s signs of fertility and infertility. (Note: the man is fertile every day of his post-pubescent life, assuming there are no health difficulties). The couple then determines the start and end of the fertile time (we call it Phase II). If they are avoiding pregnancy, they abstain in the fertile time. If they are planning a pregnancy, they engage in relations during this time. Although it sounds simplistic, there are various scenarios, conditions and more complicated issues that arise, so formal NFP classes (either live or online) are recommended.

One of the keys to each couple’s success in using NFP is effective communication. NFP works best when the couple, together, study and observe the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. Ideally, each month, the NFP couple discusses whether they will be avoiding a pregnancy or achieving a pregnancy. Because NFP can be used both to plan and to avoid, it’s a good idea to have this conversation every month, even if the couple has decided that they will be avoiding pregnancy for a year or more. When internal shifts in emotional attitude are brought to the surface, the couple can unite in their efforts to carry out their plans regarding abstinence.

In over 30 years of using NFP, we have found that frequently one of us was more open to pregnancy and the other still wanted to avoid it for the time being. Sometimes our monthly conversations were long and complicated; other times, short. The important point is that these types of dialogues are meant to take place well beforehand and not in the middle of the marital embrace.

When the NFP couple is discussing intimate topics such as mucus and other fertility signs, it enhances their marital and sexual life, thereby increasing intimacy. This sort of communication should also continue when the couple is postpartum (after having a baby) and in post-menopause (after menopause).

When they are avoiding pregnancy, abstinence can be difficult and challenging. Being able to talk to your spouse and know that you are not alone in the struggles and challenges brings a couple together in love. NFP demands the kind of intimate and deep conversation that a married couple needs to enhance their marriage. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that NFP couples have a lower divorce rate.

For more information on NFP:

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Sunday Snippets – November 18

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at RAnn’s Place for Sunday Snippets where we share posts from the previous week.

Does Self-Publishing Mean Substandard? (Latest post for CWG Blog)

Frozen Footprints by Therese Heckenkamp Book Review

7 Quick Takes Friday I’ll be traveling down to NJ for Thanksgiving, a high school reunion and to speak to a group of Catholic high school students in Philadelphia.

7 Quick Takes Friday – November 16

Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

On Sunday, I’ll be traveling down to New Jersey to visit with my extended family and to take part in other various activities.

1. Hallahan High School
This Tuesday, I’ll be visiting my mother’s alma mater, Hallahan High School (My mom graduated with the Class of ’51) in Philadelphia to speak to some of the Freshmen Theology Classes.

2. Reunion
Speaking of high schools, I’ll also be attending my 35-year high school reunion next week. I’m looking forward to seeing my fellow Class of ’77 classmates. It’s no surprise that I was one of the shortest in our class. The photo below was for the “Who’s Who’s” in the yearbook (that’s me on the left).

3. Frozen Footprints
Therese Heckenkamp’s exciting new novel, Frozen Footprints, has been released! Read my review here.

(I’m skipping #4 since I posted eight last week!)

5 and 6. We Sure Have Changed!
We recently had a formal family photograph taken for our parish directory. The last time we did this was 15 years ago before we had our youngest son (top).

7. Let’s Get Healthy Cartoon

image copyright Full Quiver Publishing

Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Frozen Footprints by Therese Heckenkamp

Eighteen-year-old twins Charlene and Max Perigard have grown up under their wealthy but often cruel grandfather. When Max disappears and a ransom note is received, Charlene tries to persuade her grandfather to pay the ransom, but the older man thinks this is another attempt by his grandson to get money from him. Without her grandfather’s help, Charlene tries to find her brother before it’s too late.

Therese Heckenkamp’s second novel is an exciting page turner with non-stop action. It’s a very different experience than the author’s first book, Past Suspicion (Christian Romantic Suspense). Frozen Footprints has all the elements of an edgy thriller with Catholic references interspersed throughout the novel.

The protagonists are well-developed with flaws and strengths. The antagonists are frightening and believable. As a former court reporter, I enjoyed the courtroom chapters.

For me, as a reader, the measure of a good novel is to be there with the characters as they move forward in the story. Therese Heckenkamp’s talent as a storyteller is the ability to create a plot, characters and setting that are realistic and at the same time entertaining. Her writing style is crisp and varied and she keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat.

Caution to parents: Some parts of this book are graphically violent. However, it is well worth the read and I highly recommend it for older teens and adults.

Frozen Footprints is available on Kindle and in print on Amazon.

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Does Self-Publishing Mean Substandard?

My latest post at the Catholic Writers Guild blog talks about the quality of self-published books as well as how to increase your chances of self-publishing a quality book:

Although I now own and run and a publishing company, all my books were self-published. I don’t like the connection that people often make between self-published books and “bad” or substandard writing. The truth is, the vast majority of self-published books (I’ve read a lot of them) are indeed substandard quality. I download free Kindle books every day and many of them aren’t worth downloading because they are embarrassingly bad. I’ve also read some wonderfully written self-published books, but these are in the minority.

So…is the ease of self-publishing bringing the overall quality of books down?

Well, in a word, I believe it is.

Unfortunately, many self-published authors think they can write a book without extensive editing. Others, who do have editors, don’t employ professionals, and instead use friends and relatives. Another self-published novelist I know used a published author as editor but this particular “published” author had no experience in fiction so this showed in the characters and plot. Still others publish their books with little or no proofreading.

Going with a “Self-Publishing” company like Trafford or iUniverse also doesn’t guarantee high quality. Large companies want your business and while they can be helpful, they are also more expensive than a self-publishing book coach.

In my capacity as a reviewer for CatholicFiction.net as well as a reviewer for other websites, many self-published manuscripts come across my desk (or computer) that are so atrociously written, I won’t even review them.

I’ve come up with a few ways to increase the likelihood that your self-published book will not be included in the “badly written” bunch.

Avoid Thinking “I Can Do It All”
I’ve won awards and have had bestselling books precisely because I realize that I can’t do it all. I hire editors, copy-editors, proofreaders and my husband (a professional artist) designs my covers.

Employ a Professional Editor (for overall plot, characters, setting, writing style) and humbly consider their advice. If you’re writing fiction, find a fiction editor. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, find one who specializes in non-fiction. Authors should want their work to be the best it can be. Sometimes a book has to go through many edits in order to be polished and of good quality. My first novel went through about 30 edits. My second and third novels, ten. Be open to construction criticism. Don’t we all want to produce quality books?

Use a Copy-editor (for grammar, word usage and punctuation)
One author I know used a friend as copy-editor. This person (I’m guessing) had little experience in professional copy-editing. That particular book was a great read, but had many comma, quote and apostrophe errors that made it distracting to read. When a reader gets distracted, they’re pulled from the story.

Proofreaders, Proofreaders, Proofreaders!!!
Ask at least 10 of your friends and relatives if they could read your manuscript and find typos. One novelist I know didn’t use any proofreaders (he said he proofread his book himself, which was a big mistake…authors can be blind to their own mistakes). Unfortunately, it showed. Another author used one proofreader, but one isn’t enough to read through 100,000 words and find all the typos. With my second novel, In Name Only, ten proofreaders went through the book and missed “Brtish.” I didn’t catch it until I converted my book to Kindle.

Employ a Professional Cover Designer
The book may be good, but if the cover looks like a five year old designed it or the font is too light to read, then people may not even consider buying your book. A good cover must also look eye- catching in thumbnail. Many of the self-published book covers I see on Kindle are not professionally designed. In fact, many look like a child designed them.

If your book takes place 100 years ago, please do the research that is necessary. I once read a self-published novel that takes place in the 1870’s and the author included an automobile (those didn’t appear on the scene until 20 or 30 years later…).

Kindle Conversions
If you don’t know how to convert your manuscript to Kindle (or other ebooks), hire a professional. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve downloaded on Kindle that were virtually unreadable because of the poor conversion.

If You’re Going to Print…
If you’re printing your book, hire a Print on Demand (POD) Company who has extensive experience with printing books. A company that prints brochures, business cards and flyers may not be the best company to print your book. Create Space (Amazon’s POD Company) prints over 100,000 books per week and, for the most part, they know what they’re doing and their customer service team is extremely helpful.

Consider Using a Book Coach For a small fee, book coaches (like myself) walk the self-published author through the maze of self-publishing. As a book coach, I sometimes help with editing (although not always) and assist the self-published author in releasing a quality book. The book coach’s fees are usually much less than an author would pay for self-publishing companies.

Following all these hints will not guarantee that your book will be high quality, but it will certainly lessen the chances of it being “embarrassingly bad” or substandard. In the future, I hope to see more quality self-published books so we can remove the stigma and the frequent connection that self-published books equal substandard quality.

Have you self-published? If so, did you use a company, a book coach or did you do it yourself? Feel free to comment below.

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach