Farewell, Pope Benedict

Prayer for Pope Benedict XVI

O God, true shepherd of all the faithful,
look with kindness on your servant Pope Benedict XVI,
whom you set as head and shepherd of Your Church.

We give you thanks for your grace at work in him
as he had led us by word and example:
in his teaching, in his prayer and in his great love.

Grant him your strength in frailty, comfort in sorrow,
and serenity amid the trials of this world;
and guide your Church, built on the rock of Peter,
with the power of your Spirit as we continue on the path that leads to you.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fallen Men – Book Review

fallen-menMy latest review for Catholic Fiction.net is for a book entitled “Fallen Men” by Brian O’Hare:

St. Maximilian Kolbe once said, “No one in the world can change Truth.

I am a Catholic novelist who writes books with Theology of the Body themes. I am also trained in the Theology of the Body and have been a certified Natural Family Planning teacher for 29 years. In light of this, I looked forward to reading Fallen Men, a novel that tells the stories of three fictional Catholic priests: Ray, Dan and Tony.

The novel’s setting is present day Northern Ireland and Ireland. Father Ray and Father Dan are young priests and good friends; Father Tony is their superior and the temporary bishop of the local diocese. Ray is assigned to a new parish in Drumkillen where the elderly pastor, Father McGennity, is a liberal, self-centered, cruel priest. Because of past circumstances, Ray is a troubled soul. He organizes the youth choir and is immediately attracted to a teenager with a beautiful voice, Maria. He tries to resist the temptation, but scandal soon follows. When Ray tells his superior (Tony) about the scandal, Tony’s initial response is, “What have you done to me?” This self-centered reaction says a lot about the temporary bishop. Ray eventually finds himself on trial for statutory rape in Dublin. Much of this particular plotline was executed extremely well.

In a subplot, Father Dan counsels a professional couple in his parish, Terence and Patricia, who have recently lost a baby because of placental abruption. They have been told by their doctor to become sterilized because another baby “would likely kill her.” Dan tells them (somewhat harshly) that they must not consent to sterilization and gives them information on “natural rhythm.” (By the way, the term “Rhythm” is no longer used. Modern natural methods are called “Natural Family Planning” or “Fertility Awareness.” Modern NFP is 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.)

Patricia wants to follow the Church’s teaching. However, Terence refuses to support Patricia in finding information on “natural rhythm” and she ends up pregnant. The doctor pressures them to have an abortion, which Patricia does not want. The couple asks Father Dan to speak with the doctor who tells Dan, “…continuing the pregnancy would be a greater risk to the woman’s life than would ending the pregnancy…” Dan asks the doctor, “Is it possible that Patricia went to term [sic], the baby could, in fact, be safely delivered?” The doctor answers that it is possible, but the risk is high. Dan then says, “there is one moral axiom that Catholics have to live by…[W]e cannot do evil in order to bring about a perceived good. In this case, there is a risk, but there is also the possibility of a successful birth…[T]his child…is a human being with human rights and entitled to life. Abortion is murder…”.

Predictably, tragedy follows and Father Dan questions his faith.

Later, when Tony confronts Dan about his “tight-assed fundamentalism,” I was disappointed with Tony’s advice and the author’s characterization of Dan. It’s important to have compassion, always, but contraception is a mortal sin. There will be grey areas, but I don’t believe the fictional (and unbelievable) case created by the author in this novel is one of them. (My husband and I experienced a situation in which we were pressured by our doctors to become sterilized because they said I would die if I risked future pregnancies. We refused the sterilization; instead, we used NFP to effectively avoid pregnancy.) In the novel, Tony says to Dan, “You could not have condoned artificial contraception simply to prevent pregnancy, but what about contraception as a way to save a woman’s life…[U]ltimately, the issue wasn’t one of contraception. It was about saving a life.” With all due respect, I question Tony’s “theology” here. It was most certainly about preventing a pregnancy. NFP, had it been properly encouraged, accepted and taught to this couple, would have “saved the woman’s life.” NFP would have been morally acceptable and prevented pregnancy just as effectively as contraception. Father Dan was harsh in his approach, but at least he was attempting to state the truth of the Church’s teachings.

The fact that many Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception does not refute the truth of the teaching. The truth is, like abortion, contraception is “intrinsically evil” (CCC 2370). This teaching is based on objective truth and natural/moral law as well as the constant teaching of the Church. The Catholic Church is not a democracy. Truth cannot be changed because a “majority” of Catholics would like it to be changed. Truth and love are inseparable; this novel (which I believe is weak on truth) misses the point about authentic Christ-like love in the hearts of the priests for the people they serve. The only priest (Dan) who appears to be faithful is then convinced by his superior that he should have “given permission” for Terence and Patricia to become sterilized (supposedly to “save the mother’s life”).

Then again, it is a novel called Fallen Men. Was the purpose to show priests in as bad a light as possible?

I realize that some priests (wrongly) give their own opinions when counseling couples, “giving permission to couples to use contraception” instead of stating the teachings of the Church. No Catholic priest may “give permission” to do what is against the teaching of the Church. My main criticism of this subplot is that the author presented the information in such a way that the “right” way was that Father Dan should have counseled the couple to become sterilized. This message, in my opinion, has the potential of causing confusion, especially with young adult readers.

Moral concerns aside, O’Hare has a pleasant, easy-to-read writing style. I have written five books and edited five others, so I realize the hard work and effort that go into writing a full length novel. In that regard, there are aspects of this book that I thoroughly appreciated. The topic of sexual abuse is dealt with sensitively. There are no attention-seeking graphic descriptions. The flashbacks of child sex abuse and the depictions of the depression, guilt and breakdown after a rushed abortion are particularly well done. I found the court sequences to be believable and compelling.

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is mentioned, but only in passing. This novel could have been an ideal opportunity to illustrate the Theology of the Body. Instead, this book’s message is one that discourages faithfulness to Church teaching.

Despite novice writing flaws (such as overuse of adverbs as well as a zealous use of exclamation points) and aforementioned moral concerns, this is definitely an author with natural storytelling ability. Because of the less-than-faithful advice given by the fictional priests and the message that advice gives, this novel has the potential to confuse impressionable Catholic readers. So I would only recommend it with caution.

Sunday Snippets – February 24

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

It’s time for Sunday Snippets at RAnn’s Place where Catholic bloggers share their previous week’s posts. Here are mine:

All Six Full Quiver Books on Bestsellers Lists Earlier this week, all of my company’s books (including my four) were on at least one Bestseller list simultaneously (first time ever!)

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 60 An old video of Pope Leo XIII, a cartoon, exciting news and an opportunity to win a print book.

President’s Message Catholic Writers Guild news and a message from the CWG President (me!)

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 60

7_quick_takes_sm1It’s time to join with other Catholic bloggers at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

1. Proactive Lent
Lent has begun in earnest. One of the things I do every year during Lent is “de-clutter.” I tend to let stacks of books, papers and other paraphernalia pile up without sorting properly. The end result is my house tends to be cluttered. I still give up a few things, but since I’ve already given up wheat, that takes care of most “goodies.” Since the beginning of Lent, I’ve sorted through books and a few large stacks of paper.

2. Popular Name from 1871-1880
In researching names for my fifth book, A Subtle Grace, I was surprised to discover “Ellen” was the 6th most popular girl’s name in that period. Can you guess one of the names that was more popular?(In the top five of this period). Comment below to be entered to win a print copy of God Moments III: True Love Leads to Life (I contributed three stories to this book).

3. Pope Leo XIII
I discovered this cool video of Pope Leo XIII in 1896 on youtube. There is a short audio clip of Pope Leo XII at the end. If you’re wondering why I have been doing research on this Pope, it’s because he makes a guest appearance in my upcoming novel, A Subtle Grace. To find out more about this Pope, click here.

4. Fan Mail
I’ve received more than the usual amount of fan mail this week and it’s been very humbling. It’s still hard to imagine or believe that I have “fans.”

5. Simultaneous Bestsellers!
Earlier this week, for the first time ever, all six of my company’s books, including my four, have simultaneously been on at least one bestsellers’ list.

6. Antique Books
Another thing I found this week while doing research was that many antique books from the 19th century are available FREE online. This book, entitled “The Science of a New Life” by John Cowan is a fascinating journey into Victorian attitudes, biases and religious overtones. What was so refreshing was the author does not attempt to hide his horror for “abortion” which at the time was called “Feticide.”

7. Texted Cartoon

Image copyright James & Ellen Hrkach

Image copyright James & Ellen Hrkach

Don’t forget! Let me know one of the names you think might have been in the top five in the period 1871 to 1880 to be entered to win a free copy of God Moments III: True Love Leads to Life. You’ll get one entry for each name you guess correctly. Comment before Monday, February 25th @ eight p.m. to be eligible to enter!

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

All Six of Full Quiver’s Books on Bestsellers’ Lists!

For the first time ever, all SIX of my company’s books (including my four) are on at least one Kindle bestseller list simultaneously!

In Name Only (Ellen Gable) #2 RL Dramain-name-only-smaller

Stealing Jenny (Ellen Gable) #8 RL DramaStealing Jenny

Angela’s Song (AnnMarie Creedon) #11 RL DramaAS Front Cover Final9-19

Emily’s Hope (Gable) #14 RL DramaEH Cover email small

Growing Up in God’s Image (Carolyn J. Smith) #14 Parent ParticipationCover for FB

Come My Beloved (Ellen Gable, Kathy Cassanto) #82 CatholicismCMB no outline

Sunday Snippets – February 17

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

It’s the weekend and time for Catholic bloggers to share their week’s posts at RAnn’s Place for Sunday Snippets.

Improving Your Fiction Manuscript – Common Errors to Avoid (Latest Catholic Writers Guild post)

Intimate Preparations (Latest post at Amazing Catechists and Catholic Mom) And a chance to win a FREE print book!

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 59 (a free book, Valentine’s Day, a cartoon and news of the Pope’s resignation)

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 59

7_quick_takes_sm1 It’s time to connect with other Catholic bloggers over at Jen’s Conversion Diary.

1. Come My Beloved FREE on Kindle
The Kindle edition of my book, Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship is FREE today and tomorrow. Come My Beloved is a celebration of faith and enduring love. This compilation contains 12 courtship/dating stories which will inspire, captivate and entertain readers. Some of the stories include: a widow with eight children meets a widower with six children; a man asks his live-in girlfriend “what if we stopped having sex,” and is greeted with tears of joy; an atheist falls in love with her Catholic Prince Charming; a woman prays to God for a husband and years later finds herself falling in love with a seminarian; a sailor prays a novena to marry the right girl. What these and all the stories illustrate is that God is the ideal matchmaker. To download a free Kindle copy, click here.CMB no outline

2. Valentine’s Day – Our Courtship Story
James and I just celebrated our 34th Valentine’s Day together. To read an excerpt of how we met, click here.

image copyright Ellen Hrkach

image copyright Ellen Hrkach

3. The Pope’s Retirement
I posted the early news of the Pope’s resignation on my blog, but there are many other updates at the Vatican’s News website.

4. Daisy Bell
While recently researching popular songs of the late 1890’s, I came across this Wikipedia entry that also has an actual recording from 1894 of “Bicycle Built For Two,” (formerly known as Daisy Bell.) It’s incredible to think this recording (however scratchy it sounds) was made in 1894.

5. Intimate Preparations
Want to make the most of your intimate time together? My latest post at both Amazing Catechists and CatholicMom is entitled “Intimate Preparations.”candlelightSmall

6. Reading Shelf
Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories

7. “Hotel” Cartoon

Image copyright Full Quiver Publishing, James and Ellen Hrkach

Image copyright Full Quiver Publishing, James and Ellen Hrkach

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Candle image purchased from iStock

Improving Your Fiction Manuscript – Common Errors to Avoid

iStock_000018106955XSmall My latest post from the Catholic Writers Guild blog:
A good novel begins with a great story, a compelling plot, interesting characters. But it doesn’t end there. A good novel also needs to be well written.

I’ve been editing other authors’ novels for two years and writing novels for ten years. What follows are the most common mistakes I see in fiction manuscripts and self-published novels. By finding and fixing these common errors, you can improve your manuscript before it gets to the editor.

1. Overuse of Adverbs
If you’re working on a manuscript right now, do a “find” or “search” for every word that ends with ly. Now remove half of them. Your manuscript is already better. Even without doing a search or find, read each sentence. Are there two adverbs in some sentences? Recent manuscripts I’ve read contain sentences with two or three adverbs.

2. Repetitive Wording
Just, so, very, some. It’s difficult for an author to see his/her own mistakes. Have someone else read through your manuscript to assist you with this. For me, I often can’t see that I often use the same word often in the same sentence (see what I mean?) Or…read your manuscript backwards. This helps to show you areas of repetitive wording and other common errors.

3. Show Don’t Tell
This is a big newbie mistake.

He was sad.
She was amazed.
The look on her face was happy.

Now go through your manuscript and pick out all the times an emotion is simply stated and not described. Instead of writing “He was sad,” try something like “his shoulders slumped” or “his eyes were etched in grief.” Instead of writing “She was amazed,” experiment with different descriptions. One of the most helpful resources I’ve found is The Emotion Thesaurus.

A seasoned reader can spot a badly written, amateur book a mile away and usually within the first two pages. And…it will be more interesting for your reader if you allow them to visualize what’s going on.

4. Too Much Interior Thought
When I presented the initial draft of my first novel to my editor, one of her biggest complaints was “too much interior thinking.” When a character’s italicized thoughts are on every page, twice a page, that’s too much. It’s almost as if the author is lazy and just wants to tell the reader exactly what the character is thinking. Interior thought is fine when used sparingly, but not several times a page. Describe how they’re feeling instead.

5. Comma Errors, Grammar Errors
A great book for helping fix comma errors is:Eats, Shoots and Leaves. As well, search on Amazon for good grammar books. There are many.

6. Exclamation Points!
First-time novelists tend to use too many exclamation points. Do a search and omit most of them (replacing them with descriptions of the tone or face).

7. Too Much Dialogue
My first novel, Emily’s Hope, is 60 percent dialogue and 40 percent narrative. As a beginner, I didn’t know any better. Quality novels tend to use dialogue to serve the narrative, not the other way around. Dialogue can also be a lazy way to show character development. Dialogue is important, but if it’s the mainstay of your book, write a screenplay instead.

8. Underestimating the Intelligence of the Reader (e.g. hitting the reader over the head)
Here’s an example: He was sad. He was depressed. It was hard for him because he seemed so sad. Okay, we get it. He’s sad. Once is enough…and even at that, it’s better to describe what he looks like and feels like.

9. Avoid Descriptive Clichés or Sayings
“She felt like a million bucks”
“Smoother than a baby’s bottom”
Well, you can think of many. Create your own descriptive metaphors and similes instead of using well-known cliches.

10. Point of View
Many first-time novelists tend to use omniscient point of view (POV), that is, in any given scene, the author shows what’s going on in everyone’s mind, even within the same paragraph. This is difficult to do well, even for the experienced, bestselling novelist. And…it can be confusing for the reader. If you want your readers to bond with the characters, try using third person (intimate) POV. For more information, check out my guest post for Savvy Authors.

Eliminating these common errors will improve your manuscript before it even gets to the editor.

Are you working on a fiction manuscript? Do you have any favorite writing books you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment below.

Image purchased from iStock.

Text copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Surprising News – Pope to Resign at the End of Month

1_0_663815This breaking news from the Vatican:

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said he plans on resigning the papal office on February 28th. Below please find his announcement.

Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013