Covering Ground, Unwilling to be Barren

6F6A3033Had I still been using a typewriter, there would be a pile of balled up, partially typed pages surrounding my desk. I thought I had a good piece written, but then not quite. It was reworked, altered, I paraphrased another writer, tried to add wit which only seemed forced, moved paragraphs…no, lead sentences…no…start again.

I thought this column would be about barren ground, earth laid fallow and exposed. I wanted to tell you about how it’s not natural to create an unproductive and sterile land. That nature wants to protect itself. Gardeners and farmers know that exposed soil is soon covered by plants. All manner of seeds fall to the ground and take hold. The seeds sprout, their roots secure the soil, and the ground is protected from the ravages of sun and wind.

I wanted my column to lead you into reflecting why we at times are not being fruitful. But all my words lacked depth, sounded trite and fell short in a way that was embarrassing.

I left my desk and sat before the home altar where I prayed and read. I went to Adoration and offered to God the few words that I had printed out and carried there. I tried to be open, to be still and calmly wait. I sat in the upholstered chair with the dog. I stared out the window. I returned to my desk and stared at the monitor.

All that I had were snippets of thoughts, disconnected and dispersed, and an imagined pile of wadded up paper strewn around my feet.

I found that I felt like the fallowed ground in my unproductive metaphor. My nature doesn’t want to be fruitless and barren, not even for a day. I feared that if I were idle for too long the winds of change would blow hot and carry away what was fertile ground, leaving me exposed as nothing more than the proverbial Dust Bowl.

I want to be fruitful…so add yet another blank sheet to my digital “typewriter.” Words or weeds, they both cover ground eventually.

Image by Mariask courtesy morguefile.com.

(1/23/13)

Don’t You Forget About Me

Erin McCole Cupp has a delightful fun summer read, the mystery, Don’t You Forget About Mefrom Full Quiver Publishing. (And free on Kindle, now through Thursday 6/12!)

Here is a brief synopsis: 

Mary Catherine Whelihan made it out of Walkerville alive once before. Can she pull it off this time? Bullies, sexual harassment, finding a corpse in the local creek…. Cate’s childhood in 1980s Walkerville was murder! So what could possibly tempt her to return? A cryptic email from Eugene Marcasian, MD, her grade school crush, might do the trick. Can Cate and Gene find the cause of the mysterious illness afflicting nearly all of the girls in their graduating class, including Cate herself? Or will corporate bullies continue to take down anyone who gets in their way? More importantly, can Cate stay alive long enough to get one more slice of tomato pie? 

-Reviews of Don’t You Forget About Me-

“DYFAM is a quirky, fun, mystery-romance that will tickle your funny bone while making your hair stand on end.” –Annmarie Creedon, best-selling author of Angela’s Song 

Don’t You Forget About Me is a rollicking fun and exciting cozy murder mystery.  I found it genuine and fascinating in every way: the characters, the setting, the plot, and the twists.”  –Therese Heckenkamp, award-winning author, Frozen Footprints 

“This captivating murder mystery made me laugh, cry, and crave Italian food; ‘80s pop tunes are still stuck in my head. If you like mysteries that offer a good mix of suspense and science, don’t miss this book.” –Barb S. of FranciscanMom.com 

“I could not put the book down! What a fast-paced, intriguing, captivating story line – full of surprises! The characters are so very real.”  –Mr. Mike Seagriff, OP of Harvesting the Fruits of Contemplation 

Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Her short writing has appeared in Canticle Magazine, The Catholic Standard and Times, Parents, The Philadelphia City Paper, The White Shoe Irregular, Outer Darkness Magazine, and the newsletter of her children’s playgroup. She has been a guest blogger for the Catholic Writers Guild, and she blogs about year-round meatless Fridays at Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, OP.  Her other professional experiences include acting, costuming, youth ministry, international scholar advising, and waiting tables.  She has been voted “Best Speaker” for her chastity talks at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania’s NewmanCenter.  When Erin is not writing, cooking or parenting, she can be found reading, singing a bit too loudly, sewing for people she loves, or gardening in spite of herself. 

She has two books, both available on Amazon.

What-Why-How #MyWritingProcess

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The blogging about #MyWritingProcess appears to have begun in 2011. At least that’s as far back as the thread for this hash tag goes. It’s a wonderful insight about other writers and how they do what they do.

It’s my turn to step into the pool and swim, thanks to Nancy Ward’s invitation. 

What am I working on?

If you are reading this you already know that I write for Patheos. The blog includes prayers, contemplative pieces on nature, and practical gardening tips. I also write a monthly column at CatholicMom.com, and just finished a feature article for Catholic Digest. The presentations on building prayer gardens for this spring are over, unless I get a call from another group.

My main focus is currently on the first round of edits that came this month from Bob Hamma at Ave Maria Press for my new book. I love what he’s done with my (now our) manuscript and am embracing his challenges to improve the work. The launch is set for spring of 2015. Being a gardener I deeply appreciate and enjoy (love!) working with editors. They take my meager efforts, offer their insights, and my work grows in a way I had never thought possible.

I have twelve other manuscripts in progress—gosh, that sounds arrogant. They cover a wide range of topics from saints and soups to retreats and evangelization. They are all garden related, and that would be stretching it a bit when it comes to the memoirs of a gardener.  

What makes my work different from other gardening writers?

My Catholicism. All that I write is from my faith as developed in the Catholic religion. The gardening themed manuscripts are focused on learning about the Creator through his creation. The nature reflections are fleshed out in Adoration.  

Why do I write what I do?

Writing came about by default as I struggled to accept physical decline and associated depression. I struggled mightily with losing my identity as a gardener. I didn’t know who I was if not part of the earth, digging in the dirt, hugging trees, and touching flowers. I prayed desperately to God to be open to his will as my life took a turn, for what I thought was the worst.

What I gradually realized was that I could share with others how God is present in the garden. I brought this new awareness to Adoration, and while there came to embrace the fullness of God’s created beauty. I felt compelled to share this insight with other gardeners and to offer them not only the why but the how of glorifying God with his gifts from nature. 

How does my writing process work?

I am a very slow writer and must work at staying disciplined. I was not an English or Journalism major in college—failing an English class twice! What I’ve learned about the writing process, and am still learning, came by way of Ann Margaret Lewis and the Catholic Writers Guild, and from the writers group I attend.

Notebook: It’s more like a small journal that accompanies me everywhere. When an idea comes—I call them seeds—I write it down. There are a lot of one or two sentence entries. The majority of ideas come during my morning prayer time when I reflect on activities, people, and Scripture. Other ideas come when I am outdoors walking, gardening, or simply sitting with creation.

Adoration: These seeds of thought are taken to the Adoration chapel and developed. The dear women who attend to the altar placed a long narrow table at the back of the pews. It is there that I set my portfolio of notes, papers, articles and books. After offering my prayers and petitions for others, I ask Our Lord to fill my emptiness with his desires…and then write longhand. Sometimes for 15 minutes, more often for over an hour.

God’s Writing Time: The writing that occurs in Adoration takes place independent of this, though that work is always incorporated here. I am graced with a single life of solitude and friends tease me about living in an “upstairs hermitage.”

After morning prayer, with a second cup of coffee, I go to my desk and write for an hour and a half, minimum. Nothing interferes with God’s writing time. Well, maybe if the dog has to go out… When I say I write, it also includes researching of information pertaining to the topic. Sometimes I will return to writing in late afternoons, though my best work is done in the morning.

I call it God’s Time because of the Rule of St. Benedict: nothing comes before the Work of God. I don’t answer the phone, crawl around Facebook, read emails, clean house, etc. Sure, St. Benedict was talking about the Work of God being prayer, and for me writing is just that. I try to honor God’s gift, in answer to my prayer, by prayerfully offering whatever words are written for whoever reads them.

Steps: I make a rough outline, go back and fill it in. If I am working on a manuscript I consider each main topic a chapter, each sub-topic a section in it, and can usually write 3,000-4,000 words for a chapter. I try to write a rough draft of a whole chapter in one sitting.

My rough drafts are really ugly with all sorts of mistakes and incomplete thoughts. BUT the thoughts are all there. I rework it as best I can. Then take it, piece by piece of about 500-1000 words, to the writers group who are wonderful at teaching me how to make it better. For my blog, when I don’t know what is wrong with my piece, I reach out to CWG members for editing. Did I mention how much I love English  and Journalism majors?

I rewrite as directed. I believe nothing is ever perfect and that’s perfectly fine with me. I’ve written my best and leave the manuscript in the hands of whatever publisher is willing to take my workand then it is no longer mine but ours.

Query Letters: I just don’t fuss over them. I’ve done what I could, offered it up, and leave the rest in God’s hands and God’s time. My goal has never been to get published, but to serve Our Lord in whatever small way I can—to which I am still striving.

 Sometimes I feel terribly intimidated when I read the powerful words of other Catholic writers. The words I am given are simple and I try to remember that not everyone seeking God seeks him in theology. For this reason I wrote the following prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me to trust that the words you encourage me to write meet the needs of those you guide to read them. Let me continue to delight in the beautiful words written by others and not despair in the simplicity of my own. Help me remember always to thank them and encourage them in their work. Guide my thoughts and my hands to express your desires for our lives. Allow me to follow your will, to trust your ways, to be unconcerned with how I write but that I write in the light of your Light. Lord, send me peace of heart so that envy and disparaging does not constrict my work for your glory.

Amen.

I am tagging a Christian friend, Lynn Eckerle who writes a cooking column for several newspapers and has a wonderful cooking and photography blog.

Icon Writing Retreat

Last week I was at an Icon Writing retreat at the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Center, at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan. The days were long and at times physically demanding, and I was grateful that the facility had accommodated me with an adjustable chair and angled stand for my work station. The experience of writing an Icon was layered, much like the paint, with prayer. I, and several other participants, walked the grounds while waiting for paint to dry.

The image you see at left is what was produced: Jesus, the Sorrowing Christ; the lettering around the halo says I AM who AM; the Greek letters at the top are the contractions for Jesus and Christ.

Today I gifted the icon to two dear friends, Monetta and Jerry Harr. Yep…they like it.

And here is the group…I’m the third from right, almost in front of the two instructors (little white haired lady, Dianne, and very tall guy, Dave, in the back row).