How to Find Good Catholic Reads

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Copyright 2018 A.R.K. Watson. All rights reserved.

Last summer at the Catholic Writers Guild conference, I met two dynamic young Catholic women, M.S. Ocampo and A.R.K. Watson, who had just started up a new service, CatholicReads.com. This website features a FREE email service that spotlights Catholic books (often, but not exclusively, by indie authors) and even tells you when those books are on sale. It’s my privilege to interview A.R.K. Watson about the team behind this unique and very helpful service. I’m a subscriber, and if you love to read, this free service is for you. Sign up today!

Tell us your story! What was your inspiration for starting this service?

We started Catholic Reads because as readers of fiction and genre books like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror we were tired of reading books where people of faith were poked fun at. As we began to find books by Catholic authors that explored our favorite themes and genres we had the natural book-nerd desire to share these stories and bring some much-deserved attention to the literary geniuses in our own age. Too often do people decry the current state of Catholic literature, longing for the glory days of Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor when they fail to realize that those never ended. People are still writing creative Catholic literature. Today it is just harder to find because those authors are often published through small presses or independently. We seek to correct that imbalance.

Who’s involved? Tell us about your team.

M.S. Ocampo covers our romance & YA books. If you want an explanation of the communion of Saints using almost entirely Marvel Superhero analogies you’ve got to read her blog.
S.Leigh Hall is a photographer and covers our memoir, nonfiction and children’s book categories. As a former teacher, she has a passion for making sure our church and school libraries have content for everyone, from the grade school student to the Ph.D. theologian.
Lori Wilson covers our fantasy genre and has an unusually strong intelligence for dissecting a book’s themes and symbolism.
Eric Postma is a recent addition to our team. He is a professional editor at gingermaneditorial.com and even edited one of the books that earned our Best of 2017 Award, Comet Dust. He covers our horror genre specifically but reads a wide range of books.
And then there is me. ARK WatsonAt a writer’s conference in an Ivy League campus, I was told that I could not have priests on my Martian landscape doing things like scientific research. Ever since I’ve been driven to change the rhetoric. I cover the sci-fi genre specifically.

Are your team members geographically close or is this a remote-team effort?

Catholic Reads grew out of the local Catholic Writer’s Guild here in Houston Texas and three of us are still located here but being an online business we have grown to include editors across the United States.

What genres/age group(s) does your service focus on?

Our group promotes books of all types, though we have a particular love for genre books like sci-fi, fantasy, YA, and horror. Too often these genres are decried as not literary enough but some of Catholic literature’s best books come from these. We also seek to correct an imbalance we see in the Catholic publishing world. Catholicism is a minority religion in America, so it makes sense that Catholic publishers would want to focus on theology, apologetics, and education, but this makes it hard for Catholic creative writers to find a platform. And often when bigger Catholic publishing houses publish fiction books they don’t always seem to know how to market them since much of their efforts are geared towards promoted nonfiction. Again, this is a good and positive thing, but we would like to help fill the cracks on this issue.

Is your service free of charge?

Our services are free of charge at the moment. We do not feel it is fair to charge authors until we have garnered enough subscribers to make their sales with us a more reliable investment. However, we are trying to find other avenues of income. We have joined Amazon associates, so any books bought through our website earns us a very very small commission. All of us have day jobs and are doing this simply because we love our faith and we love books and we want to give Catholic authors an advantage they sorely lack in the world.

How can readers sign up to find out about the deals?

Readers can sign up by going to catholicreads.com and clicking the “subscribe” button at the top. We send out emails no more than once a week, each with a book that is marked down at least 50% off to free. It’s a cheap way to find great books and support Catholic authors.

What else would you like readers to know?

I would like your readers to know that they can be as nerdy as they like and still invest their life in Catholic culture and imagination. We might be a minority community but we still have a vibrant growing culture and there are practical affordable ways to support Catholic artists who do as much to change our culture as Catholic apologists. You can argue with someone until you’re blue in the face trying to prove that the Catholic Church is fair to women for instance but it’s much easier, much less preachy, to give them an adventure book about Rescue Sisters in Space and challenge them to come up with a book that breaks the Bechdel Test better than that. (That’s Discovery by Karina Fabian if you’re interested.)

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

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Tech Talk: Prayer and Social Media

I’ve been a regular at Eucharistic Adoration for just over two years, and it’s taken me this long to find a way to use the time as a prayer intercessor for others.

For too long, I’d gone to the Adoration Chapel with an agenda and a tote bag: a spiritual book (or three) to read, a rosary, a journal, and my iPad so I could pray Liturgy of the Hours. It was getting to the point where Adoration was another task to check off my list, a quiet hour to read a book I’d promised to review. Check, check, check.

Checking off tasks is not what Adoration is supposed to be about.

I’d been noticing for a while that my friend Allison Gingras would share on Facebook that she was heading to Adoration, and offer to pray for any special intentions people posted. I knew she wouldn’t mind if I adopted her idea, so I created a graphic with a photo from our Adoration Chapel and shared it on Facebook for the first time in late February.

adoration-today

The response was tremendous. Over 40 likes. Over 35 comments. And a whole host of messages with private intentions. And I wasn’t just hearing from Catholics. I filled 2 index cards, both sides, with intentions posted in under 3 hours.

People are hungry for that intercessory prayer. People carry secret burdens and don’t always know how to ask for help, or even prayer over their situation. It’s a comfort to know that someone else is holding them up in prayer.

I took those two index cards and my rosary to the chapel. I always pray the Franciscan Crown rosary, and it’s a good thing it has 7 decades, because at one bead per intention I needed all those prayers to cover my list, plus my family and one general prayer for any late-breaking intentions (I wasn’t checking Facebook in the chapel.)

Later that day I got an email from one of the deacons at our parish, who’s my friend on Facebook. He wanted to let me know that he and his wife were going to begin inviting their Facebook friends to share intentions, to be prayed for during their Adoration hour.

He also said that this is a great way to evangelize. I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s true. Originally I’d hesitated to mention on Facebook that I was going to Adoration–but this has shown me that it’s something needed and appreciated.

I created a rosary prayer intentions printable to use each week to list intentions: my own, as well as those of my friends on Facebook. It’s also a Franciscan Crown Rosary tutorial. Download this printable and set it up for your “intentional rosary.”

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Monday Recap: January 2017

It’s the first Monday of the month, so I’ve gathered up links to the work I’ve done in other spaces.

At CatholicMom.com

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Tech Talk: Listen to Our Writers: Several CatholicMom.com authors have their own podcasts! Subscribe to their shows for encouragement, entertainment and education.

At Cook and Count

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Walnut Spice Cakea dressed-up quick bread perfect for dessert.

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Mushroom-Rosemary Marinara: a hearty meatless pasta sauce.

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Orecchiette with Ricotta and Peas: comfort food!

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Cod with Mustard and Panko: a jazzed-up baked fish dinner.

 

Monday recap 2016 edition

Be a Missionary: There’s an App for That!

Learn about a brand-new way to help the Church’s missions in far-off places, and TWO prizes you can win! I’ve got some swag to give away, and if you sign up soon, you can win a trip for two to Rome!

MISSIO, a unique new Catholic crowdfunding platform designed to make a difference for the poor and forgotten around the world, is now live at MISSIO.org and on the MISSIO app. MISSIO’s revolutionary concept uses technology to directly connect people with a mission project they’re passionate about.

Originally launched by Pope Francis, MISSIO was created by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, the Pope’s official mission arm, which has been engaged in building up the Church and serving the poor for 200 years.

“Pope Francis has urged Catholics around the world to maintain a close and personal connection with the poor, just as Christ did,” said Oblate Father Andrew Small, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States. “MISSIO helps you do just that.”

“MISSIO makes the Mission Church visible on your mobile phone or computer screen,” Father Andrew continued. “In a world where everything is so accessible – from deliveries to the sports scores – why shouldn’t your faith, your Church be that visible? MISSIO provides that space, one that is safe, trusted, transparent, reliable – and effective.”

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Missio has a social-media presence as well as an app for iOS and Android. You can use Facebook Messenger to participate in a chat with Pope Francis! On Twitter, follow @1missionfamily.

Would you like to win some Missio swag? Just visit the Missio website or download the app, then leave a comment telling me what Missio project most interests you. You’ll be in the running to win a Missio coffee mug and T-shirt!

Giveaway open through 11:59 PM Eastern, February 1. Winner will be chosen by random drawing and notified by email and will have 48 hours to claim their prize. If prize is unclaimed, alternate winner will be chosen.

Some content from this post was provided by Missio.org. All rights reserved. Images used with permission.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, bicker, bicker, bicker

I can’t wait until the election is over.

It’s gotten to the point where I hesitate to go on Facebook, and I’ve been avoiding Twitter.

I know plenty of people who have sworn off social media entirely. I don’t know if that’s helping; it’s certainly not helping those of us who are still there are who are seeing proportionately MORE political stuff, because the folks who don’t want the political stuff aren’t there posting other stuff.

In her Conquering Twitter in Ten Minutes a Day handbook, Katharine Grubb observes,

Facebook is like having a big meal at Applebee’s with your buddies from high school, your college roommates and your parents. Twitter is like going to a sold-out professional football game in Gillette Stadium and having a conversation with the people next to you, while yelling at the guy on the other side cheering for the other team (4).

I’ve always enjoyed social media, and I use it for my job. But right now it’s become a chore. Facebook isn’t like a big meal at Applebee’s right now. It’s more like a bar brawl. I expect chairs to fly through windows any minute.

I’ve maintained that this election is going to be won through the media. Not social media. I still believe that.

But if you are still on social media, would you please do something besides bicker?

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

Tech Talk: Permission NOT Granted

Back when I was on Team Android, I used an app called SleepCycle as my alarm clock.

The idea behind this app is that you tell it what time you wake up, put the phone on your bed, and then it analyzes your sleep pattern based on movement, using the phone’s accelerometer, waking you up sometime in the half-hour before your target wake-up time, at a point when you were less likely to be in deep sleep. Hitting the snooze will cut the difference between current time and target wake-up time in half. Then you’d see a spiffy display showing your times of deep sleep and light sleep.*

I switched back to Team iPhone last winter, because diabetes-management software for iPhone is several months ahead of the same software for Android. Since I liked the app, I downloaded it to my new iPhone.

When I started up the app, it requested permission to use my device’s microphone. I found that puzzling. The app was really pushy about that, too. It will work with the accelerometer, but “recommends” microphone use. If you use the microphone you can leave the phone on your bedside table instead of on the bed.

"Tech Talk: Permission NOT Granted" @Franciscanmom
Via Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain

I’m just not OK with granting access to my phone’s microphone to an alarm-clock app. How do I know that someone’s not on the other side of that microphone listening to what is said in my house–or anywhere else I happen to be with that phone in my hand? It creeps me out.

My friend Christine shared an article at Aleteia that shows that this issue isn’t limited to just alarm clocks. Facebook is listening in as well. Now, I don’t use the Facebook app on my phone or tablet. I look at it in the browser.

But the idea that any of my apps can eavesdrop on things? That’s disturbing.

To see who’s potentially “listening” on an iPhone, just go to Settings>>Privacy>>Microphone, to view the applications that have requested access to the microphone in your device. If you don’t like the idea of apps having access to your microphone, you can turn them off until needed.

To learn how to turn off your Facebook app in an iPhone or Android, click here. (Aleteia)

Check your settings, and think twice about what permissions you grant when you install an app.

*And about that display: I tested it once. I turned on the app during the day and left the phone in the bed, which was empty all day. It still showed an up-and-down pattern. So much for that super-duper analysis of my sleep.

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

#WorthRevisit: Unplugged Vacation

Last week we were on vacation. I didn’t tell you we were going.

There’s a reason for that, as I explained last year after our family vacation, in a Tech Talk article at CatholicMom:

We just didn’t want to let the whole world know that nobody was home at our house. It’s a safety thing.

You might think that if you mark your Facebook posts “friends” instead of “public” that you’re safer. And you are. But you never know who’s looking over your friends’ shoulders. As for Twitter and Instagram, everything you tweet and ‘gram is broadcast for the whole world to see.

And it’s not like we have a common last name. So we chose the “better to be safe than sorry” route this vacation. My photos never did make it to Instagram. That’s OK.

Caribbean Sunrise, August 2016.
Caribbean Sunrise, August 2016.

I just pulled the vacation photos from my camera’s memory card this morning. It’ll take a while to go through them, but I do hope to share more of the beauty we experienced.

As for the tweets, I’ll bet you didn’t even miss them.

I actually stayed unplugged (no cell phone except for the camera function, no Internet, no text messages, no email) for over 7 days. No, I didn’t get the shakes! I read 7 books, played board games, ate too much fancy food, admired scenery, napped, and stayed out of the sun.

Good times. Even without Instagram.

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I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Exception to the Rule

I’m a Rule-Follower from way back. And nothing drives me crazier than people who think that the rules apply to everyone but them.

It would make me nuts when I was substitute-teaching: parents who’d send in notes asking for their children to be excused from homework because they had baseball practice, or who couldn’t be bothered following the car-line procedures (those are Safety Rules, people…), or kids who who’d mow others down in order to be first in line–as if being first to get to an assigned seat in the cafeteria makes any difference at all. I’m not a fan of the Entitled Generation.

Breaking the rules doesn’t come easy to me, so it was a hard pill to swallow this morning when I sent an email to TheKid’s teachers asking for an exception to a school policy.

Diabetes technology is ever-changing, and the newest incarnation of the continuous glucose monitor TheKid is using sends data straight to a smartphone. That means he’d need to be checking his phone several times during the school day: before lunch or snack, and any time there was an alert of an out-of-range blood sugar level.

TheKid’s school has a very strict policy regarding personal technology, including cell phones, for students: you can’t use it in school. I’ve always supported this policy, as a parent and as a substitute teacher. And today I had to explain to TheKid’s teachers why he’ll be using his iPhone in school.

This is the whole reason TheKid even has an iPhone. It gives him freedom–and it gives him data that helps him (and us) make decisions about how much insulin to take for a meal or snack or to correct a high blood sugar.

Having diabetes has required TheKid to exercise a huge amount of self-control. He can’t just grab a handful of potato chips out of a bag at a party. He has to consider how many carbs are in those chips and what his blood sugar is right now. He has to pause and dose insulin through his pump.

Now he’ll be required to exercise self-control in a new way. He’ll be bringing his iPhone to classes in his pocket, and he’ll need to check it. We’ll have to trust that he’ll only be using his iPhone to check his blood sugar.

Because kids are kids, and kids test limits, and I get that, I sent TheKid’s teachers a graphic that shows the app he’ll be using:

Courtesy of Dexcom.com
Courtesy of Dexcom.com

If a teacher sees him using his phone for other purposes, I’ve asked them to contact me. The usual school policy is to confiscate a phone immediately and return it only to a parent. That’s not going to work here, because TheKid’s phone is actually medical equipment. But if he’s caught using his phone for non-diabetic reasons, Hubs and I will need to deal with that at home, and in cooperation with the teacher.

I received gracious responses from TheKid’s teachers and the school principal, and I’m ever grateful for the support and concern we’ve experienced from the school ever since TheKid’s diagnosis. I am trusting TheKid to resist temptation as he’s done in so many other ways. We’re not breaking or bending the school’s technology rules for our own convenience or vanity or for some other self-serving purpose. I just keep having to tell that to the rule-follower in me.

Half-Joke, Half-Vent: Facebook Interpretations

The other day I lived through an example of how things said online aren’t always what they seem. After a Murphy’s Law hour, when everything that could go wrong did, I blew off a little steam on Facebook and then got down to the business of dealing with All The Things.

My oven is broken and there’s a mouse in the back porch. Also, I’m all out of Milky Ways.

Yes, I was whining. And venting. And trying to make light of the situation, all at the same time.

After the fact, it was interesting to do a little people-watching in terms of the reactions.

Some people sympathized.

  • Boo.
  • Oh no!
  • Dislike!
  • Triple trouble.
  • Noooooooo
  • What a bummer of a day for you.
  • Disaster!

Some people got the joke. And the need for chocolate at a time like this.

  • The worst was the last one. 🙂
  • Me: I’d definitely be dealing better with the first 2 if that last thing wasn’t also a factor.
  • That’s some serious <redacted> you’re dealing with!! lol
  • Without the chocolate, I would not be able to deal with the other two issues! LOL! 😉
  • Me: EXACTLY.
  • You can’t handle all that stress without chocolate!!
  • Local friend who understands my weakness for ice cream: Guess you need a trip to The Meadows
  • That last one is the deal breaker really
  • Noooooo!!! Not out of Milky Ways!!!! I’m sorry for loss.
  • This ranks as a State of Emergency.
  • Barb, you were on the Nightly News no Milky Ways !!! lol
  • Local friend 2 who likes my homemade cookies: It was the Milky Ways that really make this sad! Oh, and your oven, too (no cookies)!
  • Crumb. Any other chocolate?
  • Oh no! Out of Milky Ways!!!Yummy

Then we got down to solving some problems.

  • Me: Mouse-in-the-porch plan: when Street Urchins arrive, promise them donuts if they find the mouse and safely relocate it OUTSIDE. Not that it couldn’t get right back in again, but…
  • Friend: broken oven– I switch to the steel wok on the grill, or a crock pot– but that last one– out of chocolate with nuts– oh that is major bad!
  • Me: I have a toaster oven and a Nesco roaster, so I can make it work (though there won’t be cookies).
  • Friend 2: I have made cookies in a toaster oven…cannot be helped when you have a cookie craving in the middle of a heatwave… Lol
  • Friend 3: First things first: Make a run to the drug store!
  • Friend 4: Tomcat traps are great. You never have to touch the mouse’s carcass —- OR you can get a humane trap and bait it with peanut butter and/or chocolate. You just have to be sure to haul the catch far, far away (3 or 4 miles, or on the other side of a creek or river) so they don’t return.Then follow Friend 3’s advice and run to the store for those Milky Ways! LOL
  • Me: Street Urchins are currently debating whether a donut is “worth it” in this case.
  • Friend 6: You can solve that milky way crisis pretty easily. The others, not so much….
  • Friend 7: Mice hate peppermint and a mini peanut butter cracker on a mouse trap works quite well. you’re on your own with the oven. I’d call a repairman or someone with those skills.
  • World-traveling friend: It is too hot to turn on the oven. Pay the urchin five bucks for catching the mouse. Amazon should take care of the Milky Way problem, unless you want British ones and then I can bring some back next week. Let me know.

And then, a progress report:

Me: Looks like the Street Urchins have prevailed over the mouse! (And killed a giant bee as a bonus!)

Friend 4: HOORAY!!!!!

And then, a ray of hope for my broken appliance:

  • Friend 5: Barb, my husband repairs ovens! What’s wrong with it?
  • Me: Well, it is flashing E2 F3 in the display and burning SUPER hot.
  • Friend 5: I will have him call you! What make oven and how old. Gas or electric?
  • Commence discussion re: make, model and what’s a good time to call.

Further resolution of the situation and other good news:

Street Urchins have been repaid for the safe capture and relocation of the mouse with donuts. And I have a caramel iced coffee, so I think we’re pretty much all set.

For the record, it was decaf. And very much needed.
For the record, it was decaf. And very much needed.

AND things keep looking up. I requested jury duty postponement so it wouldn’t be during TheKid’s summer vacation, and I just got a postcard saying I’m excused!

(And there was rejoicing in all the land.)

Final report:

The urchins caught the mouse for 2 donuts each plus Klondike bars. 🙂

World-traveling friend: Excellent financial negotiation skills! Amp him with sugar and send him home

Further on down the line, after it was all over:

Friend 8: actually, i don’t like this like this. i am saddened by this, but like that you find humor even in the broken mousiness and the absent milky ways…
Me: That’s my survival skill, 🙂 At least we got the mouse safely to the woods down the block instead of my porch.

Friend 9: This sounds like a very bad day! 😦
Me: Fortunately, it got better. But all that in one hour was not fun.

And then there was this:

First world problems …

Now that’s the comment I don’t know how to take. Because it didn’t come with any emoticon to soften it, and the person who typed it isn’t someone I know in person (but who is a friend of many of my friends, and professionally I do wind up “friending” such people).

I am well aware that the lack of a working oven and the presence of a mouse are not major crises, and that not having any Milky Ways in the house does not constitute a State of Emergency.

So, OK. I was complaining about some pretty minor stuff. My friends got that it was minor, but upsetting, and the back-and-forth helped me get through the afternoon with some semblance of my sanity intact.

But now I feel like I am being judged, like I’m being told, “Suck it up, buttercup! There are starving people in <insert Third World Country here> who would love to have your ‘problems’.”

I wasn’t kidding when I told that one friend that finding humor in this situation is my survival skill. The humor here was that there were no Milky Ways, and bargaining with the Street Urchins for donuts in exchange for safe mouse relocation.

I can’t be sure that this person’s comment was meant as a put-down, but that’s how I interpreted it. Again, it’s hard to tell, just based on text and not knowing the person behind the words.

This may indicate that it’s time for me to evaluate whether it’s a good idea to have people as friends just because we have 47 mutual friends on Facebook. I might need to make an announcement that if I don’t know you in person or work with you, I’m unfriending, and then direct folks to “like” my author page.

(And yes, “work with you” counts because I work with over 100 people whom I’ve never met! If those people send me friend requests, I grant them.)

I’d love your thoughts on this one.

Of Street Urchins and Earrings

Things Street Urchins Say logoOne of the Street Urchins has pierced ears. And he wears fairly BIG fake-diamond earrings. (At least, I’m pretty sure they’re fake. If they’re not, then whatever adult gave real diamond earrings to a kid in middle school has more money than brains.)

Hubs has been warning this Urchin, ever since he showed up sporting rapper-worthy ear jewelry, that he can’t wear his earrings in the pool. Earrings and pool liners don’t mix.

The other day when the Street Urchins were here, no one was swimming. The Kid has swimmer’s ear and would rather not swim at all than swim and wear earplugs but not be allowed underwater. So they were playing Kick the Can, which involves lots of hiding in two adjacent backyards.

Suddenly the whole pack of them, minus one, burst through the back door.

“[Earring Urchin] lost his earring!”

“It might be in the pool!”

Wearing only one earring and dripping wet, that last Urchin came inside as I asked what he was doing in the pool with jewelry on.

“I didn’t mean to go in the pool…”

Now, they routinely use the pool and pool deck as hiding spots for Kick the Can, but it’s a little hard to go into the pool without meaning to when the pool is above ground.

I sent the whole crew back outside to search for the earring. Daughter got into the pool because none of them would. Instead, there were four boys muttering excitedly about metal detectors and waving iPhones 6 inches above the grass as they crawled around the yard.

It seems there’s an app for that. Quite a few, in fact.

Whether those apps are real or not is another question (kind of like the Street Urchin’s earrings). This might make a good Science Fair project for the Kid for next year, though. And maybe a good Tech Talk for me.