Thursday, July 26, 2007

Base-Hit Style Book Pitching…or, Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t

People who “speak baseball,” as we do in our house, have a wealth of slang particular to that sport and some terminology that can be—to put it mildly—a little confusing. Case in point: you may see us comment on an infield groundout by calling it what sounds like an “Atom Ball.” This can be fairly alarming…until you realize that what we’re saying is “at ‘em ball.” It refers to a ball that’s smacked pretty well, but right at an infielder; the frustrating result is that the batter has nothing to show for a well-hit ball but a routine ground ball or shallow line-drive out. Which is why another common baseball slang phrase is, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” If you smack a ball to the spaces between fielders, you end up with a much better result. “Nice,” you say. “Good idea. But what in confusion does it have to do with writing or pitching a book?” Well, call me dense, but I just realized recently that the answer to that question: a lot. This conclusion didn’t come easily. (Witness my reference to density.) It’s come very recently, after a long time slogging away in the trenches of writing, trying to identify where my writing fits into the marketplace, trying to decide what genre I write, trying to tailor my pitches to the agents and editors who handle my kind of work, etc., etc., etc. For years and years, I’ve believed in the ancient wisdom of the previously published: find a publisher who does your kind of book, and pitch it there. In fact, the narrower you can make this focus, the better: if you can find the editor who bought the last five or six books just like yours out there, and pitch her, that’s even better…and if you find an editor or a house that publishes an author you sound uncannily like, or whom you emulate, that’s like hitting the proverbial pot of gold and rainbow. Go for it, and you’ll be snatched up instantly—or at least have a better chance of getting your foot in the door. Sounds like great advice, right? Too bad it’s not. In fact, those are exactly the people to whom you do not want to send your book. Why not? Let me explain. You love Suzy Potboiler. You gobble up everything she writes. You dream about her characters. You reread her stories until the books are dogeared. And when you grow up as a writer, you want to be as good as she is. Fast forward a few years…and you’ve become a really good storyteller yourself. In fact, people now tell you your work sounds amazingly like S.P. It’s yours, of course—but it’s the same genre, it has a similar tone, you write to a similar word length…in other words, if Suzy ever misses a stride, you want to be the princess in waiting. To give her publisher the hint, you pitch your book there; if she’s prolific, you pitch your work to all her publishers. But no matter how you try, you can’t break in with her publishers, and you can’t get her agent to give you the time of day. Why would that be? They like what Suzy does, right? So shouldn’t they like your stuff just as much? Shouldn’t you be on that gravy train, too? Nope. Because they don’t want another Suzy. They want a Mabel. Or a Dorothy. Or a Colleen. Or a Meg. Not another Suzy. Two Suzys dilute the market. They confuse readers. People want to know what the difference is…or, worse, they forget. And forgetting a trademark, a name, or a label…this is serious in the book business. But a Suzy, and a Mabel, and a Dorothy? These gals write all different sorts of books. For different readers, and different buyers. And the wider swath a publisher can cut across the reader base…the better they like it. So, no, the place to pitch your work isn’t where Suzy pitches and sells hers. It’s at her competition. And this, boys and girls, is “hitting ‘em where they ain’t.” You see, for years, Also-Ran Publisher has been kicking themselves that when Suzy’s stuff came across the transom, they didn’t see it for the genius it was. The editorial assistant who gave it thumbs-down, of course, is no longer working for ARP. But neither is Suzy writing for them, while she’s making gazillions of dollars for Trite and True house down the street, and it bugs ARP every time Suzy hits the bestseller lists. What they’d love to find is another Suzy, but there isn’t another Suzy out there… Or is there? You see where we’re going here, don’t you? Think this week not about pitching where “they’ve already bought books like” yours…but where you haven’t seen books quite like yours yet. Certainly, stay within your genre, or within the range of the broad-brush “type” of book you want to sell. But don’t try to break into a place that does what you love by being more of the same. That’s hitting “at ‘em” balls, and you’ll never get out of the infield. Because they don’t need two of any storyline, any author, or any type of book that’s too much like another one in-house already. If you love Mary Higgins Clark, like I do, in other words…that means that your aim shouldn’t be to end up at Simon and Schuster alongside her. Mine was. For years. It isn’t anymore. Because Simon and Schuster doesn’t need another Mary Higgins Clark. They’ve already got one. It’s taken me all these years to figure this out, but I think I’ve got it now. I think it’ll be just as sweet to be Penguin’s answer to Mary Higgins Clark. Or Random House’s. Or Doubleday’s. Or maybeThomas Nelson’s. Or…a publisher or agent I haven’t even thought of yet, but who’s thinking of me. Who’s sitting there, thinking, “What I’d really love to see is a cross between Mary Higgins Clark and Karen Kingsbury. You know…a little suspense, a lot of emotion...” Note to said publisher or agent: e-mail me. I’ve got a book that’ll knock your socks off. Come to think of it, I’ve got a better idea. I’ll be pitching you shortly. And you’ll be glad I did. Janny

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weary of It All

I feel a little lonely and more than a little tired this particular morning, as a Catholic Christian writer. This feeling comes and goes, depending on the cultural currents around us. But two recent incidents made it come to the fore in especially vivid relief. The first one came when I was reading my way through a novel called Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood. The book has a promising setup: a woman recovering from a serious accident begins to discover stuff about her life that will change her forever. I love stories where stuff gets revealed, secrets are told, and people’s lives change as a result. So it sounded like it’d be a horking good read. What was even more promising was that one of the major protagonists in this book was a Catholic priest, a man who took custody of the heroine as a child, when she was in need of someone to step into her life and provide stability. He was written wonderfully…for awhile. Unfortunately, the author then took the cheap, easy, and all-too-predictable path. (I guess she couldn’t hold out forever.) She had a character talking with Fr. Mike ask, “Father, do I have to obey all the Church laws? Even the stupid ones?” Well, you know what the “stupid ones” are, don’t you? Yeah. Anything to do with sex. The contraception prohibition, among them. And, of course, a contemporary author wouldn’t be worth her salt if she didn’t hint that stuff like not letting women be priests and/or not letting priests marry (this space for violins), among other things, are just so terminally backward that they also fall under the “stupid” category of Church law. Now, this was disappointing enough. But when this character gets done having her say, what does Fr. Mike do? He could have used this as a wonderful teaching moment. Heck, he could have even just fallen back on “we’re not called to know all the answers, we’re just called to obey,” which is not only perfectly Catholic and perfectly Christian, but a perfectly okay response even in many secular situations. (Think military and/or medical settings, if nothing else.) He could have talked about faith. About God giving strength to people to do things on faith that, on the surface, may not make sense in human terms. So how did he answer her? He commiserated, chuckled, and finally confided, “Actually, you know what? Don’t tell anybody, but…I agree with you.” And I tossed the book across the room. Frankly, I've gotten to the point where I’d just about sell my soul—figuratively, at least—for someone, anyone, to write and publish some faithful Catholic characters for a change. Not the overly-pious end-times crazies that pop up in some of the apocalyptic literature—that’s just as bad as going the other way. But a few ordinary, everyday, next-door-neighbor types wouldn’t come amiss. Failing that, I’d be willing to take characters who were at least neutral. Who were willing to say something like, “Well, there’s a lot I don’t understand, but since I’m in this Church, I do the best I can to be faithful to her.” Or if they’re not in the Church, to say something like, “Well, I don’t believe that way, but a lot of people grew up with those beliefs and they turned out all right…so it probably isn’t all that bad.” That may be damning with faint praise, but even that is better than the endless nudge-nudge, snicker-snicker, isn’t-this-just-like-those-stupid-reactionary-Papists stuff. Especially when it comes from characters who are supposed to be on our side. Where are all the characters who aren’t chafing against “stupid rules,” who aren’t badmouthing the Church when things get a little challenging, who aren’t kicking against the goad? Where are the priests willing to stand up for Mother Church? In real life, they’re out there. They’re some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. They’re perfectly normal, too, amazingly enough—reasonably intelligent, informed on current events, participatory in their modern worlds, with healthy senses of humor and healthy senses of realism. It’s not like they’re all living in caves. So why don’t they ever show up in stories? One might be tempted to assume that one didn’t show up this time because this book is secular literature, but the problem goes deeper than just secular versus “spiritual.” Some so-called spiritual writers offend equally, and sometimes in more egregious ways yet. The plain fact of the matter is that in our culture, it’s considered not opinion, but fact, that “Catholic Church rules are stupid.” And, like any propaganda does, that skewed perspective has had the effect of convincing many people that the idea behind Catholicism is “Just be nice, the rest doesn’t count;” or that the Catholic Gospel is less concerned with conversion than with liberating people from oppression, saving trees, or turning a blind eye to lawbreaking in the name of “loving Jesus.” None of this is true. None of this is authentic Catholicism. It’s not even good Christianity, for that matter. But it persists, and the more even fictional characters reinforce these predictable, ignorant bigotries, the narrower the field gets for all of us.

I experienced this narrowing in the second incident that set me apart.

I found a new Christian publishing house starting up, got along famously with the editorial people I contacted there, and asked them if they were willing to do reprints. Turns out they are, so I submitted From the Ashes to them…which, as you might expect, is Christian fiction from a Catholic viewpoint.

Now, the last time I looked, Catholicism was still based in Jesus Christ. Which, by definition, makes it Christian. But I was told very nicely by the editor in charge that if I wanted to have that book reprinted by her house, I’d need to remove the “Romanism” from it, because she is aiming at a broader reader base that is more heavily Protestant.

On the surface, this sounds like an innocent enough request. After all, she knows her potential market, right?

But is it really all that innocent? Or is it rather a matter of a huge number of Protestants buying into a picture of Catholicism that they've been fed by secular media as “what Catholicism is about,” and dismissing us and/or being offended accordingly?

That’s wrong. It’s a mistake. And the worst part of all is, it’s a huge blind spot that may come back to bite us when there are bigger battles to fight.

Our culture is literally racing toward dismissing anything pure, moral, and decent in favor of the impure, the immoral, and the indecent. If we needed any more evidence of that, the following piece of tripe I encountered in PW (Publishers Weekly) spells it out in rather chilling terms.

It’s an excerpt from a review in the June 11, 2007, issue. The publication in question is a comic book/graphic book called Misery Loves Comedy, by a certain Ivan Brunetti. Apparently, boys and girls, comic books ain't what they used to be. Not if you can believe a review that says, in part:

“Brunetti constantly offers up the worst possible image of himself alongside his portraits of a despised society. His festival of self-loathing, sexual depravity and brutal cynicism, is, however, amazingly clever and incisive. Whether from the point of view of a miserable comics artist and workaday hack, a nihilistic Jesus Christ or a raging ‘feminazi,’ these rants are fascinatingly convincing, readable and smart.”

We have already reached a phase in our culture where “self-loathing, sexual depravity and brutal cynicism” are considered “clever and incisive.” And yet, here I am with a clean, wholesome book to sell, submitted to where ideally it should fit right in...yet it is somehow not quite “right” for a “Christian” fiction market. Its Catholic identity makes it somehow...flawed. Risky. Possibly even dangerous.

Words fail me.

Note to my Christian publishing sisters: As erotic depravity takes over romance fiction, and comic book writers get praise for the kinds of things cited above...Catholics ain’t the ones you ought to be worried about.

We have bigger fish to fry. But it’s going to get real lonely in that frying pan pretty soon if we don’t have the sense to start frying them together.

Thoughts?

Janny

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Brief Pause for a "Catholic" Commercial...

...from a very articulate Protestant. Great stuff! Me, I'll pray for this guy's conversion to the Roman Church, if for no other reason than that he has his head on extraordinarily straight. That cannot be said, alas, for many of the USCCB...to mention the misguided (brain damaged?) souls over last forty years who have yammered about the "Spirit of Vatican II" while importing clowns and other nonsense into the liturgy. In the Church I love, all too often, the old Pogo comic quote comes to mind: "We have seen the enemy, and they is us." So, as this gentleman so eloquently put it, it's good news for all of us when the Catholic Church starts acting like the Catholic Church again. Viva il papa! More to come, Janny

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Voice, Part II—Or, One Path To Finding Yours!

My original notion on this topic, it turns out, is correct. Everyone wants to have a unique writer’s voice, but no one is quite sure just how to go about getting one. So how do you know what your particular “voice” is? How do you identify it? How do you know it when you hear it? And can it change? Last question first, because this particular question seems to be a biggie. Short answer? Yes…to a point. I wouldn’t have said this a few years ago. I would have said, “No. The way you write is the way you write, you’ve got one voice, and no matter how you try, you aren’t going to sound dramatically different.” Then, just for a lark, I tried a chapter of a light, frothy “chick lit” type book just to see if I could carry off zany, comedic and a little edgy. And the feedback? “Wow! What a great chick lit voice you have! You’ve really found your niche.” There’s only one trouble with that assessment. I heard exactly the same thing when I wrote a traditional romance with a cute/funny meet…and a romantic suspense with more than a touch of the ghostly. I heard like feedback on the depth of emotion I brought to a “death” scene…and the pure sweetness of a happy ending (at last). I’ve written romantic suspense, I’ve written traditional romance, I’ve written inspirational fiction, I’ve written nonfiction, and I’ve dabbled in aforementioned chick lit stuff. And no matter what I do, someone will say to me, “Oh, now, this…this is your voice. You need to just concentrate on this.” I’m a veteran writer. I’ve been at this game for a long, long time. You’d think I’d know what I’m doing. You’d think I’d really know my strengths by now. But the fact is, if I turn my hand to something, I often can “fake my way” through it, pretty convincingly, if the feedback is to be believed. Probably we all can. So is it any wonder that we’re all so flummoxed? The unfortunate (and confusing) fact is, “who we are” as writers sometimes will change. Anyone who’s ever taken a Myers-Briggs or other personality test knows that your results can differ dramatically depending on the mood you’re in, whether you’ve had enough sleep, the atmosphere in which you’re taking the test, and such things. (I personally have tested ENTJ, but some of the “results” are so close that if you tip it one way or the other, I’ll end up ISTP or even ISFJ—although I can’t quite imagine myself throwing over that logical “T” for an “F”, somehow.) If something as basic as personality can reflect in different ways depending on external factors, then it stands to reason that an author’s voice may in fact show itself as two or three startlingly different “voices.” So how do you distill down to one? Or should you? Once again, the short answer, yes—find the one place where you’re always “singing” in words, and stay in that spot long enough to distill it…if at all possible. I say that because you may not be at the point yet where you know which “voice” is truly yours. You may just not have written enough yet. Or tried enough different things yet. Or totally enthralled or disgusted yourself enough yet to know what, for sure, you at least don’t want to sound like! But you will. One day, you’ll be writing something, and the sparks will fly out of your fingers, and a shiver will go up your spine, and you’ll know you’re Onto Something. That “something” will be the action of telling your own stories, in your unique author voice. And there ain’t nothing like the real thing. Notice I don’t say you’ll be writing in your unique “style.” An author can write different styles of work, yet still have the same voice. I think regular readers of this blog could probably find familiar “resonances” with it in anything I wrote. Heck, I can find resonances between this and most letters and e-mails I write. That proves I’ve written enough millions of words that certain ones just pop out of my fingers more readily than others, in certain orders, with a certain rhythm and pace. All of that is style, which is one component of voice…but voice is something even deeper, even more distilled than style. It’s an essence. And you can get at it, if you’re willing to be fearless and play a little. So fasten your seat belts, because this is where it gets fun. My favorite, all-time, number one way to do any kind of serious writer exploration is by talking things out. I do this at a couple of points in the work. The first point is during the writing itself, or even prewriting. The best venue to do this talking, for me, is in the car. I take a long drive alone, and after I’m on the road perking along, I pose whatever my story question of the minute is, and then think about it out loud. I think in character sometimes; I think as narrator at others. I’ve talked out dialogue, plot knots, conflict, motivations…any number of things for my stories and characters, basically by having a conversation with myself. (This is why driving in the city, for these purposes, is perfect. Unless your windows are wide open and you’re in stop and go traffic, you can expound away quite freely and people just think you’re singing with your radio.) (Which I also do!) Some people do this with a tape recorder, but I don’t. Not only do I freeze up if there’s a machine going, but I don’t need to record it—after I’ve rehearsed it out loud enough times, I’ve got it imprinted in my brain somewhere, and I can literally come home and write it pretty much word for word. In my life here, out of city traffic, I don’t take long rides in the car as often as I used to. So sometimes to accomplish this talking-thinking-out-loud, I have to wait until the house is empty, sequester myself in my office and chatter away in much the same fashion. It’s slightly less effective that way, but in a pinch…it’ll work. The second form of “talking out” takes place once there’s something on the page. In this second form, you take a portion of the WIP and read it out loud, by yourself, to yourself. With expression, animation, and whatever you want to put into the danged stuff. Because I guarantee that when you do this, two things will happen: —you’ll enjoy some parts of the writing way more than others, and —you’ll stumble over some parts of the writing way more than others. They will literally be hard to read. Your tongue will get tangled, or you won’t like the sound of something, or you’ll keep hesitating before you say a certain sentence or phrase. Your job then? To go back and fix those places until they roll nicely off the tongue. It’s both as simple, and as complex, as that. Simple because sometimes all you need to do is change one word, and the sentence or scene works. Complex because in the process of figuring out what makes you stumble physically over a passage, you’re also discovering places where you’re not truly “in good voice.” Something in the work doesn’t resonate with you, so you have trouble getting through it. But when you go back and fix it so it flows…? This exercise ends up building your voice two different ways. First, it gets you accustomed to how your writer’s voice sounds, reads, and flows. Second, it helps you improve your writing craft—the actual craft—without your having to come within five miles of a potentially devastating, confusing, or nonsensical critique from someone else. Anyone else. As big a fan as I am of critiques, “voice” is one area they can really mess with…so it’s best at these times to Fix Things Yourself. (If you’re perplexed how to fix concrete, nuts-and-bolts stuff, of course, get some help if you want it. On the other hand, after enough of these sessions, you may find you don’t need nuts-and-bolts help so much anymore, either.) In a nutshell, that’s my voice-finding method in its clearest, most straightforward form. Sounds almost too easy, doesn’t it? Trust me on this. After years of writing just this way, I can vouch for the fact that this is simple, not easy. You may find it frustrating, almost impossible, at first. You may think, “I’m not an aural learner. I’m visual.” (Visual is OK. Use your flow charts, your highlighters, your index cards. Those are nuts and bolts. This is different.) Or, “I don’t read well out loud. Won’t I just do more harm than good?” (Answer? No. Because part of what penetrates the layers of writer-speak to the point where you’re using your writer’s voice, and you know it, will be the gradual release of inhibitions toward the spoken/read word that many of us have, especially our own spoken/read words. That’s why this is as much a challenge to play as to work.) Yeah, it’ll be fun. Yeah, you’ll work hard. Yeah, I want to know what you think of this…after you’ve tried it. You might surprise the both of us. More to come! Janny

Monday, July 16, 2007

And the winner is...

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic! Ultimate Bible Quiz Create MySpace Quizzes

A fun (and not so hard) quiz to amaze yourself and your friends...until I can scrape together the next installment on "voice"!

Have fun,

Janny

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Writer’s Voice—Or, I Know It When I Hear It

Voice. Surely no subject (except maybe the Holy Grail, or the elusive "will of God for my life") has been so misunderstood, had more mistaken info bandied about concerning it, or been a greater mystery to all and sundry than the subject of a writer’s “voice.” I once had a person ask me, “When I’m writing about the heroine, then I’m writing in her voice. And in the hero, I’m writing in his voice, right? So what do they mean when they talk about my voice? I’m not supposed to put my voice into stuff, am I?” Upon further questioning, I discovered that this poor newbie writer soul had somehow deduced that the writer’s “voice” had to do with dialogue. In reality, she wasn’t far enough along the craft road yet to realize what people meant when they talked about “voice” rather than “how characters sound when they talk”; in cases like that, you can only steer someone toward where they can get more answers and explanation, and then hope it eventually sinks in. The other side to that coin, however, happened this morning. Our local classical music station played a theater piece by Bizet—not from Carmen, but from another production for which he had also written music. Within the first minute or so of hearing it, even though I’ve never heard this piece before, I knew it was Bizet, and I would have known that even without the announcer telling me it ahead of time. How? Because of the composer’s voice. The orchestration of woodwind lines, in this instance—their particular melodic and harmonic combinations—was a dead giveaway. I’d heard Bizet do those same things in other pieces; those things are part of his orchestral “language.” If you will, they’re his vocabulary, his word usage, and his turn of phrase. Same with Beethoven and his endless codas. (Nice boy, but he can’t finish anything.) Same with Tchaikovsky and his “clouds of rosin.” (Translation: lots and lots of running passages played by lots and lots of strings!) Now, I know these “voices” partially because I’m an educated musician, but also I’ve listened to thousands of hours of all kinds of music. This is uncannily like the training we do as writers, in which we’re told to “read widely.” So we do. In the process, we read millions of words by lots of different people. We learn who we can't put down, who leaves us indifferent, and who we fervently hope will never land another contract. We learn, in other words, whose voices we enjoy. After long consideration, and much second-guessing and trying to read between the lines of rejection letters (a totally fruitless endeavor, by the way), I’ve finally come to the conclusion that voice is everything. Period. Editors and agents mention voice, of course, when they talk about why books get their attention—but they mention it as only one in a laundry list of items they “look for.” In reality, however, no one “looks for” anything in a manuscript; one listens for it instead. Which is why, in the end, what sells our books is not the beauty of our plot line, the heroism of our protagonist, or the complexity of our mysteries…but how we tell the reader about all these things. Or, put another way, how they sound. Psychologists and reading experts have lots of multi-syllable terminology to describe and label this process, but in essence, when you read, something in your mind “speaks” the words to you. Your mind either likes the sound of what it hears, or it doesn’t. That’s the “spark” that grabs you…or the lack of same that leaves you cold. And, yes, it’s as individual as your fingerprint or stride—which is why an editor, when pushed to the wall, can only shrug and say, “I can’t really tell you what grabs me until I see it.” Translate that as “hear it,” and you’re on to something. Most of us don’t have concrete “writing” reasons for liking certain authors. We just do. The reason, boiled down, is that their voices speak to us in ways we enjoy. Only in analysis after the fact do we put official-sounding “professional” writing terms to the elements involved. But in the beginning, it’s a sensory and emotional decision, and nothing more nor less than that. If the voice of a work speaks too slowly, seems to drag or be too shallow, you’ll get bored and distracted. If the voice is too frenetic or harsh, you have to set the book aside—either temporarily, to “catch your breath,” or permanently, because you just find the story too “rattling.” If the voice sounds too cloying, or whiny, or evokes too much pathos for what you find appropriate, you feel as if the author is in a sense “telling lies” to you; she’s speaking in terms you know are not true. Books that "fail" us in these ways end up in your giveaway pile. But if the voice of the writer employs pleasing sounds (words that “roll off your tongue” well), relates the story in a rhythm compatible with your own internal auditory preferences (a pace at which you can travel easily), and resonates with you internally (and ending that satisfies you)—guess what? You’re probably going to like that book. That combination of elements is what makes a “keeper” as well…because that pleasant “reading” auditory experience is one so enjoyable most of us like to repeat it, and sometimes we’d rather go back to a familiar well and drink from it again than take the risk of drinking from a new source. Which is why once you find an author you enjoy, you tend to want to read everything she’s written—just to see if the experience is equally satisfying every time. Which also, to me, finally explains the sense behind “branding” as well. It’s not, as the experts keep telling us, so much that “readers like to know what to expect.” On the contrary: as a reader, I love being surprised by an author. But I like to be surprised in a way that resonates with me, a way I understand, a way that seems “true,” and a way that doesn’t require me to change the way I listen to the author’s story too very much. That means I need the author to speak to me in a consistent voice.If she does, I’m loyal to her and spread the word. If she doesn’t, I’m confused. And confusion, for an editor or agent, means working harder than necessary to listen to a story…which is why, if they find my voice unclear or unappealing in any way, it’s easier just to send the rejection slip and move on to something that may speak to them more clearly. Voice. It’s everything. It’s the spark. It’s the difference. But how to develop your own? And how to target where your listeners are? Stay tuned. We’ll talk about that next time. Janny

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Stewardship...Beginning at Home

Had some interesting input from the “weekends” post last week about writing on the Lord’s Day—along the lines of “God gave me this talent, so if I’m using it on the Sabbath, that’s a good thing.” Can’t really argue with that, on one level. Just as my singing in church is “work” in one sense, in a greater sense, it’s using a talent God gave me in the best possible way to use it, and that’s counted as blessed. But it’s when we spend our Sunday/Sabbath doing nothing different from an ordinary day except going to church that, I think, we need to take care. Catholic interpretation of keeping the Sabbath includes doing no unnecessary work, as well as refraining from treating the day the same as you would a regular weekday. So, ironically enough, if your normal weekday is spent writing, technically on the Sabbath you should break from that routine and REST from same. But it’s a dilemma if the other six days of the week crowd out writing, and your “Sabbath” becomes the only time when you can do the writing you feel God calls you to do. That might mean that something on one of those other six days has to go…in order that Sunday truly is not “the only time” you have to do these things in. That’s the tricky part, because we can convince ourselves that almost any use of time is “the way it has to be,” if we’re not careful. I know people who have actually talked themselves into believing that they can only grocery-shop on Sunday, for example; these people had abundant time for sporting events, bar hopping, or the like on Saturday night, though. So was it really true that they “didn’t have time” any other time in the week? Nope. Did they see that? Nope. Would they have been offended if a priest or even another “ordinary” Christian had pointed that out? Maybe. But it would need pointing out, regardless. That’s the kind of careful examination/inventory I maintain we all need to do, and not just once in awhile, but on an ongoing basis. Because these little chinks in our armor don’t ambush us all at once. These little omissions don’t happen in one fell swoop, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style. Satan knows if he comes in with guns blazing, we have no trouble resisting him. So he comes instead under the guise of “busy-ness” and “obligations” and “have tos” instead, our culture applauds us for being endlessly productive, and… Sigh. It’s all part of stewardship. Managing our time, managing our gifts…and managing our environment, as best we can. Caring for what’s been given to us. And I had an interesting session of stewardship this past week, when I deliberately structured a couple of vacation days so that I could in effect have a 5-day weekend. So what did I plan to do with this time? Write nonstop? Sleep half the days? Sun myself? Picnic? Well, part of it, I spent doing a wonderful dose of heavy duty cleaning. Now some of you are screaming.“What are you thinking? You’ve got this time off, don’t waste it housecleaning! Get outside! Do holiday stuff! Write first, then clean!” But what if I expressed it as stewardship for my home? And my sanity? And my emotional state? How, then, does it look to spend the better part of July 4 and 5 in dusting, polishing, decluttering, scrubbing, vacuuming, and organizing? Not only is it a worthwhile thing to do—and enjoyable, if you’re a homebody, as I am—but it’s also good stewardship. And good stewardship is not optional…it’s required of us. Did you ever think of housework that way before? I know I didn’t necessarily. I thought of it as “taking care,” as doing what needed doing…but I don’t think it really hit home to me that a home is part of the “abundance” that God has blessed us with, and we are to be stewards of it as well. So, while we may not get excited about housework, or while we may feel it “is never done,” or the like…the fact is, if we allow our surroundings to be anything less than the best we can make them, to that degree, we’re not practicing good stewardship of what God has given us. And it strikes me as it’s then tricky business to ask God for “more,” for prosperity, or success, or whatever material thing would really make our lives easier, while at the same time treating cleaning our houses as something unimportant—something we only do if there’s “nothing better” to use our time on. God says we have to take care of the “little” things to be trusted with big ones; in that sense, nothing we do in the home is unimportant. On the contrary…it’s more important than we may have ever suspected before. Scripture says if we don’t provide for our own families, we “have denied the faith, and are worse than an infidel.” That’s not just referring to financial provision, although the temptation is great to limit it to that in our own minds. It also applies to keeping our homes clean, uncluttered, and as beautiful as we can make them. It all counts. It’s all stewardship. And that’s why this past holiday weekend has been a great one for me…because I gave myself, and God, the gift of treating my home like the treasure that it is. And in the process, I also “had time” for outdoor stuff, for grilling, for resting, for fireworks…and for writing up a storm part of Friday night and all day Saturday. And I’m going to continue to do some of that same writing today, with God in charge of it, as best I can. It all counts, but the good news is, it all blesses, too. Thoughts? Janny