Highlights From the Catholic Writers Retreat

For the past several days, I’ve had a wonderful time at the St. Francis Retreat Center in Dewitt, Michigan. It’s been restful and inspiring. For the first time in over six months, I’ve been able to write for long stretches of time. I’ve also had many opportunities to worship with and socialize with 14 other members of the Catholic Writers Guild.

Above:  Some of the retreatants during social hour and  a beautiful path on the property of the Retreat Center.

Above: Some of the retreatants during social hour and a beautiful path on the property of the Retreat Center.

Above: More highlights from our Tour of the grounds and socializing in the media room.

Above: More highlights from our Tour of the grounds and socializing in the media room.

All of the attendees of the Catholic Writers Retreat 2015.

All of the attendees of the Catholic Writers Retreat 2015.

DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME Gets a New Cover!

Erin McCole Cupp

We interrupt this blogging hiatus to bring you the snazzy new outfit for DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT MEDon't You Forget About Me by Erin McCole Cupp, TOB romantic suspenseLovely work by James Hrkach of Full Quiver Publishing.

What’s that? You want to see the whole thing, including the back? Oh, okay.

Don't You Forget About Me by Erin McCole Cupp, TOB romantic suspense

Love it! Rookie mistake: suggesting a cover that just gets attention.  Honey, spitting in someone’s eye will get that person’s attention.  A book cover has to do a LOT more than just draw eyes… and I’ll write a blog post on that once I finish this book’s sequel.  Thanks to James & Ellen for working with me on this new, more descriptive cover.

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The Blessed Mother’s Powerful Intercession

Rosary

“There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
Sister Lucia of Fatima

Continuing with stories about the Holy Rosary, I share this particular one to show the speed in which Mary sometimes answers our prayers.

Years ago, a friend of ours visited us with a desperate plea for help. His girlfriend had been enticed into a cult and within days, all communication had been cut off. He couldn’t talk to her or contact her in any way. He said that he loved her and knew that he wanted to marry her, but felt helpless and didn’t know what to do.

With tear-filled eyes, he finally asked, “Would you pray that she is released?”

Our response was, “Of course.”

When he left, James and I immediately got out our rosaries, knelt down and began reciting a fervent, heartfelt rosary for Our Lady’s intercession, that the cult would allow this girl to leave.

At the time, we recited the rosary, oftentimes, more out of habit than a desperate plea for anything. This time, however, it was exactly that, a desperate plea on behalf of our friend to somehow get the cult to allow his girlfriend to leave.

The next day, he called us to let us know that the cult had decided to let her leave. The couple eventually married and they continue to be happily married to this day.

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Emily's HopeToday is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

I have had four miscarriages and three ectopic pregnancies. My novel, Emily’s Hope, is the fictionalized true stories of myself and my great-grandmother, and the story of loss and triumph. This excerpt describes Emily’s loss of baby “Seth.”

“I need to push.” She wanted so desperately not to push, to allow her baby to stay inside of her, and for her to continue to nourish and nurture her child, but her body wouldn’t allow that. She pushed only twice and her small child was born. Emily heard a sound like a kitten crying, then realized that her baby had let out a small, soft, weak cry.

As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, the nurse immediately carried the baby across the room as the pediatric staff attempted to work on their child. Emily and Jason sat quietly, their hearts heavy with emotion. A few minutes later, she felt another contraction and her placenta was delivered. She could hear a nurse referring to “him,” and realized that their child was another boy. After a few minutes, the doctor brought him back, his small form still hidden in the blue hospital blanket. He spoke in a hushed, almost apologetic voice, “There is nothing we can do for him.”

He handed the tiny one-pound baby boy to his mother. Jason held on to Emily’s shoulder and watched as she cradled the smallest baby they had ever seen. He was so perfect and looked identical to their oldest son, Jake. His small body was covered with minute white hairs. He was perfect as he struggled to breathe. He was perfect as he opened his mouth to cry. Emily held her new son as gently as she could. Jason reached over and poured a few drops of water on him and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Emily could feel the vibration of his tiny heart
beating so fast.

The nurse came in with a Polaroid camera and asked if they wanted her to take a photo of their child. Emily nodded as the nurse took a photo of her and Jason and their tiny son. She gazed in awe at this miniature human being and marveled at the fact that even though he was tiny, he was so perfect. His little hands looked like a doll’s hands. She removed the baby blanket and laid his small, warm body on her chest. She could feel his heart beating rapidly. After several minutes, she wrapped him again in the small blue blanket.

Then, in an instant, he was still. She could feel that his heart had stopped and he wasn’t breathing, but he continued to feel warm and soft. He looked like a sleeping angel.

If you have lost a baby through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or infant death, please click on the link above “Baby Loss” for resources and helpful links.

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Word by Word: Slowing Down With the Hail Mary

Word-by-Word-contributor_sqNOTRE DAME, Ind.— Most Catholics can recite the Hail Mary but haven’t actually reflected on the meaning of the prayer.

Catholic blogger and author Sarah A. Reinhard invited forty of the most popular Catholic voices, including Lisa M. Hendey, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, and Brandon Vogt, to write a brief reflection on one word of the Hail Mary. The result is an accessible, profound, and unique meditation on each word of one of the most important prayer traditions in Catholic life. Each of forty reflections encourages readers to “slow down” with the Hail Mary and experience it in a new way. This unique, formative, and informative exploration of the beloved prayer is a gift to anyone who wants to be continually changed through it.

“Such a simple concept written so beautifully well. Slow down, read a few pages, and find yourself pulled into a closer and more authentic relationship with Mary the Mother of God.”
DANIELLE BEAN
Publisher of Catholic Digest
Coauthor of Small Steps for Catholic Moms

Word by Word: Slowing Down With the Hail Mary is now available in print or on Kindle.

I contributed an essay on the word “Now,” and which I posted to my blog three years ago.

Prayers of Love: The Holy Rosary

photo copyright Ellen Hrkach

photo copyright Ellen Hrkach

October is the month of the Holy Rosary. I’d like to repost an updated article I wrote as a guest post for another blog years ago:

“When lovers are together, they spend hours and hours repeating the same thing: I love you! What is missing in the people who think the Rosary monotonous, is Love.” Sister Lucia of Fatima

I have been a Catholic for my entire life (56 years), but it is only in the last 30 or so years that I have had a devotion to the Holy Rosary. I attended Catholic schools until high school. As a teenager, I would have identified myself as Catholic, but between television and secular influences, I didn’t totally embrace my faith until after I was married, and this was because my husband insisted that we not use contraception during our marriage.

As we dialogued back and forth in those few months before our wedding day, I still didn’t know why the Church taught that married couples shouldn’t use contraception to avoid pregnancy. In fact, I remember thinking that the Church just ought to come out of the Dark Ages and get more in line with the modern world.

In the end, I decided to trust my husband (and the Church). In the next year, we read Humanae Vitae, as well as other church documents, and I became fully convinced that the Church was indeed speaking the truth when she declared that contraception was a grave sin. Before we were married, we learned NFP and we are now a CCL NFP Teaching Couple Specialist (and have been teaching NFP for 30 years).

During that first year of our marriage, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. My husband and I welcomed them and dialogued with them. Most of their questions centered on Mary: “Why do Catholics worship Mary?” “Why do you say such a monotonous repetitive prayer?” “Why is Mary so important to Catholics?” First, we gently explained to them that Catholics don’t worship Mary, we honor her. As for the other questions, I realized that I didn’t really know the answers, so I did some research.

To the question “Why is Mary so important to Catholics,” what I found out could probably fill an entire book. However, my own thumbnail answer is this: Jesus honored his mother. We, as Catholics, are called imitate Christ. He honored his mother and so we should do the same. Also, as Jesus hung on the cross, He gave his mother to the whole world when He said to John, “Behold your mother.”

Mary is indeed our mother and, as our mother, she desires us to be closer to her Son. The rosary is the ideal way for us to become closer to Him, because as we say the repetitive prayers (with love), we are meditating on His life.

I have found that saying the rosary has brought me closer to my husband and to Christ. Even after 33 years of marriage, we continue to say “I love you,” just as we continue to say the rosary together, with love.

Emily’s Hope, my first novel, is based on my true conversion story and the parallel story of my great-grandmother.

Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Interview with Carolyn Astfalk, Author of Stay With Me

Stay with Me front coverAs part of the Virtual Book Tour for Stay With Me (by Carolyn Astfalk), I interviewed Carolyn a few weeks ago about her book.

1. Stay With Me is your first published novel. But is this the first novel you have written? If not, tell us about your other works in progress.

I have three other complete novels that are in various states of polish. My first, Rightfully Ours is a coming of age story about the value of friendship, first love, and integrity. All In Good Time is a contemporary romance (with a touch of suspense) about a widow and mother of young children who falls in love with a never-married man. Ornamental Graces is a Christmas contemporary romance about lost innocence, overcoming guilt, healing, and an ex-girlfriend who won’t stay in the past.

2. Rebecca’s sister, Abby, is hilarious, but also a very believable (and blunt) character. Is she based on anyone you know? Or perhaps an amalgamation of people you know?

Writing Abby was sheer delight. Her snarky, brutally-honest remarks are the kinds of things that would never slip past my internal filter. So, while she’s not based on any one person or persons, I suppose she says and does the things I imagine I might if I had a radical personality change.

3. Some authors know at the beginning of the writing process how the story will end. Did you know as you were writing the book that there would be a — for want of a better phrase — fall from grace for some of the characters?

I envisioned a happy ending from the beginning, but the final twists in Chris and Rebecca’s relationship were unplanned, mainly because they defy convention for this genre. They were the result of simply wondering What if? and then realizing how such a fall from grace, as you put it, was exactly what needed to happen not only to test their love but as the final impetus to solidify Rebecca’s internal transformation.

4. You’re the mother of four children. How did you find time to write a full length novel?

It’s tough. I began the first novel when I had only two children and my husband was gone on extended travel for work. I’ve discovered I cannot out-wake my children, so I write when I can in small increments during naps, late at night, and when I can around activities, meals, diaper changes and daily chaos. Some days no writing gets done, and some days too much. It’s difficult to strike the right balance.

5. What are the best three books you’ve read recently?

I loved Tammy L. Gray’s Sell Out, a modern Christian romance with an anti-bullying theme and messages about courage, kindness, hope, and forgiveness. I also enjoyed Susan Peek’s Saint Magnus, The Last Viking, which is about as far as you can get from a dry, stodgy, lives-of-the-saints tale. It’s full of action, strength, and courage. And finally, Corinna Turner’s The Three Most Wanted, the second in her I Am Margaret dystopian series is a great read. It’s fast-paced and action-packed.

6. As I said in a previous question, I found the characters in Stay With Me so believable and endearing. Do you happen to have a sequel planned for Stay With Me? Did you have a sequel planned when you starting writing this novel?

I wrote Stay With Me as a standalone novel. However, between other projects, I began writing about Chris’s brother Alan and sister-in-law Jamie just for the sake of increasing my daily word count. I’m not sure if it’s a novel or a novella, but although those chapters have been lying dormant for months, I think there’s more there. In Stay With Me, you get the sense that while Alan and Jamie love one another, their fledgling marriage has a weak foundation, and I’m interested in exploring why and how they can recommit themselves to a more fruitful marriage.

7. Tell us more about your writing journey. Have you always felt called to write fiction (and more particularly, Theology of the Body fiction?) Or did it gradually develop over time?

I always enjoyed writing, but through high school, college, and in the jobs I held after college, I wrote nonfiction. Until I tried National Novel Writing Month in 2010, I’d never written any fiction longer than a short story. Until that time, I hadn’t grasped that my elaborate day dreams were stories my subconscious wanted to tell, and I didn’t nurture my creativity. When I began writing Rightfully Ours, though I had a vague idea about the plot, the Theology of the Body themes that emerged surprised me. Early in our marriage, my husband and I had a deep interest in the Theology of the Body and participated in many Engaged Encounter weekends. The wisdom and beauty of the Church’s teaching about human sexuality is close to my heart, and I believe it’s critical to our health as individuals, couples, and even as a society. Time and again, it simply resurfaces in my writing.

8. What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
My favorite part is when all the puzzle pieces fit together – the plot is resolved, the themes emerge, and all of the threads are neatly tied up. Sometimes I marvel at how it happens almost as if the story has a life of its own. My least favorite part is extensive editing. I like the problem-solving aspect of editing, but by the tenth go-round, it’s lost its appeal.

To buy Carolyn’s book, Stay With Me, on Kindle, click here.

To buy the print book on Create Space, click here. To receive $2 off, use this code: B3E4E622

To buy the print book on Amazon, click here.

To check out the novel’s website, click here.

October 7, Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary – Favorite Rosary Quotes

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and October is the month of the Holy Rosary, so I would like to share some of my favorite quotes about the rosary:

“Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood.” Saint Louis de Montfort

“You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.” Our Lady to Blessed Alan de la Roche

“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” Pope Blessed Pius IX

“When the Holy Rosary is said well, it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and is more meritorious than any other prayer.” Saint Louis de Montfort

“One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, Our Lady will save the world.” Saint Dominic

“If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, ‘you will receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 St. Peter 5:4).” Saint Louis de Montfort

“You must know that when you ‘hail’ Mary, she immediately greets you! Don’t think that she is one of those rude women of whom there are so many—on the contrary, she is utterly courteous and pleasant. If you greet her, she will answer you right away and converse with you!” Saint Bernardine of Siena

“Recite your Rosary with faith, with humility, with confidence, and with perseverance.” Saint Louis de Montfort

“The Rosary is the most beautiful and the most rich in graces of all prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…and if you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary.”
Pope Saint Pius X

“Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and will save your soul, if—and mark well what I say—if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.” Saint Louis de Montfort

“The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families…that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.” Sister Lucia of Fatima

“How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening.” Pope John Paul II

“The Rosary is a magnificent and universal prayer for the needs of the Church, the nations and the entire world.”
by Pope John XXIII

“The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.”
by St. Josemaria Escriva

“When lovers are together, they spend hours and hours repeating the same thing: I love you! What is missing in the people who think the Rosary monotonous, is Love.” Sr. Lucia of Fatima

Stay With Me Now Available!

Stay with Me front coverStay With Me, by Carolyn Astfalk, published by Full Quiver Publishing, is now available on Kindle. The print copy is available through Create Space.

Synopsis
With her sister Abby’s encouragement, Rebecca has moved out of their overbearing father’s home. When a chance encounter with Chris ends with an invitation, Rebecca says yes. The authentic way Chris lives his life attracts Rebecca and garners her affection.

Chris loves Rebecca and her innocence, but he’s confounded by the emotional scars she bears from her parents and an attempted assault. Her father’s disdain for Chris’s faith and career only make matters worse.

With the counsel of their friend Father John, can Rebecca and Chris overcome every obstacle and bridge the deepening gulf between them and her dad? Or will a crucial lapse in judgment and its repercussion end their relationship?

Reviews:
“This is a warning: the book you hold in your hand is compelling and well-written and you may find it, as I did, impossible to put down. It’s a romance that’s not trashy in any way, one that illustrates what a novel of this sort should inspire in its reader. You’ll also be sharing this book with every woman you know!” Sarah Reinhard, author and blogger at SnoringScholar.com

“A romance of rare quality. It takes you to the heart of passion, through various trials of a real life relationship, and into the power of sincere love. And it’s hilariously funny!”
A.K. Frailey, author, The Deliverance Trilogy

“… a beautiful Christian love story that will put a song in your heart. It will make you hungry for Rebecca’s bakery but also hungry for true love that can best be understood in light of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.” Theresa Linden, author The Liberty Trilogy

“… a poignant and believable love story about two young adults from very different backgrounds. The characters are richly depicted and memorable, including the secondary characters. The story is sprinkled with humor and contains the perfect balance of reality and sweetness and her writing entertains while radiating substance and depth. Stay With Me is a journey of discovery, forgiveness, and redemption—a beautiful journey of two hearts that long to beat as one.”
Therese Heckenkamp, award-winning author, Frozen Footprints

“A tale packed with desire and determination, pain and longing, healing and hope, not to mention peopled with flesh-and-blood characters who sweep the reader away into a world we all know with struggles so much like our own, Stay With Me delivers the very best of the inspirational romance genre. Highly recommended!” Erin McCole Cupp, author, Don’t You Forget About Me

Here is the book trailer on FQP’s YouTube channel:

Buying options:

Stay With Me Kindle Edition

Stay With Me Print Edition on Create Space (it will be in paperback via Amazon soon)
Use Code B3E4E622 to get $2 off the cover price of the print edition on Create Space!