Transitions – How to get your character from here to there

MC900434910[1]One area of writing craft that doesn’t get a lot of attention is that of writing transitions. You’ve gotten to the end of a scene, or maybe just to the middle, and the characters need to move to a different location, or perhaps some time must pass. How do we accomplish that in a way that moves the story forward and also keeps the reader’s interest?

I admit to hitting spots like this and getting stumped. I know what is coming up, but can’t quite figure out how to make it happen on the page. Sometimes I just skip the transition, leave a space or type “needs something” in red, and go on. When I come back, the answer is often clear and I can add, then revise and move on.

Deconstructing transitions can help. Ask questions of yourself or the characters. What needs to happen next? What is a logical way of getting there? How can I as author make the “getting there” part compelling? Can I reveal characterization? Can I set a tone? Can I use an active verb? What word choices will help me create the imaginary situation that I hope my reader pictures and feels? How can I do this in an unobtrusive way?

A simple solution for time shifts is to double space between scenes. In more complex time situations, a timing cue may be necessary, i.e., a day, date, or time as a header at the beginning of a chapter. As in any literary technique, get the most bang for your buck with each word.

For instance, in Hijacked, my first novel, the female protagonist is a pilot. I purposely used weather cues that a pilot would notice to alert the reader to the time shifts. The setting became a vehicle for those transitions: A thunderstorm to indicate that summer had arrived, the brilliant color of fall foliage as seen from the air to denote autumn, the sight of malls (again, from the air) engulfed in oceans of cars just before Christmas. I used those opportunities to deepen the heroine’s character, i.e., how she felt about what was going on in her life at each of those seasons, and to move the story forward, i.e., her musings about past events or how to proceed with relationships. Is there a unique aspect of one of your characters or your setting that might serve to assist with transitions?

In more complex time situations, a timing cue may be necessary, i.e., a day, date, or time as a header at the beginning of a chapter. I used this technique in Unholy Bonds, the sequel to Hijacked. Create a timeline outside of the book as a reference; it will help keep things straight. This idea is especially helpful in creating tension in a novel of suspense. Conversely, it can indicate the passage of long periods of time and slow the pace of a more introspective novel.

Within a chapter or scene, your goal is to move the characters around without creating a sense of plastic figures being manipulated by the author. Describe their movements in terms of their personalities and within the context of the emotion felt or displayed at that moment. Give them reasons, valid ones, for going where they need to go. Use transition words (then, next, after, etc.) if you need to, but keep them to a minimum or the story begins to read like an instruction manual.

Avoid the “grocery list” approach. Too many details getting the character from one spot to another risks losing the reader’s interest. Keep only the details that move the story forward or reveal something about the character. If they need to get out of the kitchen, into the car and down the street before the next interesting thing happens, try to get that done in a sentence or two—not six.

For instance: He dropped the milk carton on the counter and sprinted to the door, grabbing a coat on the way to his vintage Harley. A roar of noise and black exhaust carried him away from safety and into the unknown of danger. Where is Patty?

Okay, I know that’s sort of hokey, but I established a whole lot of stuff in a few sentences and got him out of the house and down the street. Our hero drinks milk and rides a vintage Harley (potentially contradictory and character revealing information.) His bike belches black smoke, so it might need some maintenance. He’s leaving a place of safety and heading into danger, which makes him brave or impetuous – or both. And as he’s moved from one place to another, he’s (hopefully) kept our interest and created a sense of urgency, both on the page and within the reader, who now needs to keep reading.

What we avoided was: He picked the carton of milk up and sniffed it, but then set it down. It wasn’t sour, but a thought crossed his mind. He hadn’t heard from Patty yet, and she had promised to call him when she arrived at work. Where was she, anyway? Concerned, he walked quickly down the hall where he picked up his keys and his coat, then checked his pocket for his wallet. Satisfied that he had everything he needed, he stepped out of the house, closed the door and locked it, then took the three steps from the porch to the sidewalk. His motorcycle was parked on the driveway, and he walked over to it, then picked up his helmet and put it on. (Are you bored yet? I am! And it’s so painful I’m not going to write any more! But I bet you get the idea!)

Many times, the transition doesn’t need to be exact.  Sometimes you can simply start the next sentence or scene with a thought in the character’s POV that indicates a change has taken place, then move on from there. Flashbacks followed by “leap forwards” can work, too, but use caution. Overuse or poor execution of flashbacks cause more problems than they solve.

This is a good time to get out your favorite novel and read a bit of it, paying close attention to how the author treated transitions. How do you handle transitions? Do you have suggestions beyond what I’ve addressed here? Please share! 

Posted in Catholic Fiction, Catholic Writing and Publishing, Editing, Fiction, Novel, suspense, Writing Tips and Tricks | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday’s Writing Tips – “Birds of a…”


You know the adage, “Birds of a feather flock together?” It’s an old one. Ancient sayings last a long time because they are true. So if you are a writer, ask yourself, are you hanging out with other writers? The next step to getting over your insecurities is to do so. And the best way to meet other writers is to join a writers’ group. If you don’t know of one in your area, call your local library. They will know the nearest one.  If there isn’t one available via the library, call your nearest bookstore. If you live in some small town in the middle of nowhere, ask your nearest library if you can start one. Or call your parish and ask if you can start a local chapter of the Catholic Writers Guild.

Writing groups all have different formats. However, one of the most important points of a group is to offer gentle critique of your writing. You need to have a thick skin. Some authors are so sensitive and protective of their work that they become easily offended. It is as if their story is their baby. It is not. I always think that the criticism of your peers is great preparation for dealing with editors and publishers. If you think they are not going to change, edit, and turn-around your perfect piece of literature, you are wrong. Your work is always fluid, always in a state of flux. Once you, the writer, think it has reached the state of nirvana, you will find that it is surprisingly only the first stage for most pieces. All writers have their weaknesses. Some can write great descriptive settings but fall short when it comes to dialog. Others can create great characters, but create plots that are just not plausible. That is where your writing group’s critiques prepare you. It is your fellow writers who will help you hone your skills. Your group is also an invaluable source of information about publications, editors, and marketing.

A writing group brings you into relationship with like-minded people who all have a similar goal – getting published. I belong to a secular writing group that has facilitated great improvements in my work, taught me how to get published, and educated me about marketing. This group is made up of writers of all kinds of genres, which I think is invaluable. I hear stories about detectives and zombies. I listen to technical non-fiction articles. I blush during romance novels and shiver through horror novels. Each member’s writing gets equal play. We are not there to judge content. We are there to improve our writing. The group has a habit of spinning amateurs into published authors. We support each other, encourage each other, and promote each other. I have developed life-time friendships from this group and encourage you to find such a local group. Somehow, needing to share something with a group of friends who are anxiously awaiting your next chapter sparks your creative flow.

Another thing you need to do while accepting yourself as a professional writer is subscribe to some professional magazines.  I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and a number of literary magazines. They guide me and inspire me by making the mark I am trying to reach just a little higher. I also subscribe to magazines that publish my kind of writing. For me, that is Catholic and Christian magazines that publish tales in my genre. I never know when the publication will inspire me or even publish one of my works. There is nothing that makes you feel more like a professional than the arrival of a professional journal. So do some research and subscribe to a few magazines about writing or your genre.

Join a national organization. There are national groups for mystery, romance, Christian, and political writers. There are organizations for bloggers, short story authors, and non-fiction writers. Look up your genre and join an organization that fits. They hold conferences where you can usually ‘pitch’ to publishers or attend classes on marketing. They may hold retreats for intense honing of your skills. It helps you keep your pulse on what direction your readership is headed for.  You will learn what kind of works the publishers are searching for. It makes you a professional. Next week we’ll talk about more moves to help you realize who you are and who God created you to be.


Karen Kelly Boyce lives on a farm in NJ with her retired husband Michael. She has two grown children and two grandchildren. She is an award-winning novelist and writes a children’s series for Chesterton Press

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CWG Prayer Chain Post: October 26, 2014

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

Matthew 22:34-40
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to put him to the test, one of them put a further question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.’

The power of prayer and the power of people praying


Blessing of the Harvest
Our help is in the name of the Lord. Who has made heaven and earth. The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.
Almighty Lord God, You keep on giving abundance to men in the dew of heaven, and food out of the richness of the soil. We give thanks to Your most gracious majesty for the fruits of the field which we have gathered. We beg of You, in Your mercy, to bless our harvest, which we have received from Your generosity. Preserve it, and keep it from all harm. Grant, too, that all those whose desires You have filled with these good things may be happy in Your protection. May they praise Your mercies forever, and make use of the good things that do not last in such a way that they may not lose those goods that are everlasting, through Christ our Lord.


Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

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Art, Poetry, and Literature: Two New Books on Prayer You Need to Get

I haven’t done more than dip into these books but I already know enough to recommend them. Full reviews will follow but I didn’t want to wait until I was finished to tell you about them.

Art and Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to GodArt and Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God by Timothy Verdon

There is an “art of prayer,” when faith and prayer become creative responses by which creatures made in the image and likeness of the Creator relate to him with help of the imagination. … Richly illustrated, Monsignor Verdon explains that images work in believers as tools that teach them how to turn to God.

They had me at “richly illustrated.” Over the years I have become more and more attracted to paintings as keys to helping me connect more honestly and deeply with God.

The book does indeed have many gorgeous pieces of art which are wonderfully explained and made personal by the text of the book. For example, looking at both the inset and whole painting of Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ, the author takes us through what the painter hopes to show us, the importance of the original setting for the piece and it’s possible impact on the monks who would have seen it daily, and the importance of interior transformation for every one of us. He then uses the painting’s landscape to segue into nature, Scripture, and imagination before moving on to the next piece for inspiration. All this is by page 6, by the way.

Needless to say, I am finding this thought provoking, eye opening, and inspirational. This is a gem.

Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and EpiphanyLight Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by Sarah Arthur

One of my favorite inspirational books is At the Still Point (my review here). It is an unusual devotional for ordinary time with thematically arranged classic and contemporary fiction and poetry which pulls the reader deeper into prayer and worship.

My one wish was that it would be popular enough that author Sarah Arthur would do similar devotionals for the other liturgical times of the year. With Light Upon Light, my wish is  coming true. Appropriate themes take us through the liturgical seasons from expectation and longing to joyful arrival and the cost of such a gift as Christ’s incarnation. There is traditional and modern poetry, as well as literary excerpts which are not confined to those we’d expect such as A Christmas Carol (though that is there also).

This is a real treasure, not least because it may introduce you to new sources of inspiration you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

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In the Midst of Wolves, by Karen Kelly Boyce

William Shakespeare fans will see “In the Midst of Wolves” a modern extension of his tragedies. After Karen Kelly Boyce leaves you raw with the cruel machinations of Queen Regina, she soothes her readers with her spiritual insights and wisdom. This FIVE STAR novel will grip both adults and young adult readers. It’s made for discussion groups.

If Lady Macbeth would trade her breast “milk for gall,” so would Regina, “Queen” Kagan— the most tragic figure, in Boyce’s latest novel. Young Regina abandoned her humble beginnings for a status, wealth, and power. She used, discarded, and stood on anyone who could advance her fortunes—her family, her friends, and her true love. She exploited her husband, in-laws, children, and grandchildren as pawns in her quest to gobble-up her longtime business rivals.

Besides Regina’s similarity to Lady Macbeth, shades of other Shakespearean tragic figures populate “In the Midst of Wolves.” Romeo and Juliette, Hamlet and Ophelia, Othello, Iago, Desdemona, and Brutus, appear in the generations of Kagan family and household members.  Regina, the classic “nasty,” dominates and deforms the psyche of her children and grandchildren. She, and sometimes they, with their lies, blackmail, bribery, and intimidation spread misery wherever they go.

Romeo and Juliette, Hamlet and Ophelia, who were likely teens during their tragic years, resemble the younger characters in Boyce’s novel. Parental or grand-parental rejection, bullying and social pressure led the unloved children to seek solace in vengeance and sex. Out-maneuvered, they found that revenge furthered Regina’s plans and that sex wasn’t the love they craved, especially when it led to an unexpected pregnancy and added rejection. They endured the sting of condemnation from the self-righteous who lifted not a finger to help, while committing far more grievous sins.

“In the Midst of Wolves” speaks to the adults of today, reminding them of their power to influence the lives of their children and grandchildren. Adult readers witness Regina and her ilk use their wealth and position to bribe, influence, and manipulate the world around them. Regina reaped gains while she “destroyed” her enemies, among them, members of her household. “In the Midst of Wolves,” explored the evils of too much wealth in the hands of those shockingly devoid of compassion.  Adults must set a life-affirming example, especially as the Regina Kagans of the world grow in dominance. The young adult readers will resonate with this tragic tale of the younger Kagans, especially since they experience the same struggles and are prone to the same mistakes.

Since “In the Midst of Wolves” is a YA novel with adult appeal, I could see its wide use in adult and youth discussion groups. Karen Kelly Boyce set the tone for each chapter with a scripture selection, instead of a chapter title. As narrator, she shared meditations rich in wisdom and spiritual life to launch each chapter. This timely, yet classic novel will stand out among recent YA offerings. Boyce dares to buck the trend. She offers her unique and hopeful perspective to modern teens.




Posted in Adventure, Book Review, Catholic Fiction, Catholic Theme, Catholic Writers Guild, Catholic Writing and Publishing, Christian education of youth, Faith, Juvenile fiction, Novel, Pro-life, Young Adult Novel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From the President’s Desk – Terrorism Comes Close

Photo courtesy KJ

Photo courtesy KJ

It’s a beautiful autumn day as I write this. Here in Canada, we are still in shock that terrorism has come so close. It played out like a suspense novel. A young reservist, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, was shot and killed by a Muslim extremist. Most of downtown Ottawa was in lock down as the RCMP and military personnel were trying to ascertain whether there were multiple gunmen. When I found out about the shooting, I was immediately concerned for my 22 year old son, who attends college a few blocks from Parliament Hill. I texted him, but there was no response. I found out from another student that the university was in lock down with intermittent internet. I knew he was probably safe, but only breathed a sigh of relief when he texted back four hours later. The lock down was finally lifted at around 5:30 and he was able to go home.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo guarding the War Memorial minutes before he was gunned down (photo Huffington Post)

Corporal Nathan Cirillo guarding the War Memorial minutes before he was gunned down (photo Huffington Post)

Incidents like these remind us of our vulnerability. We are blessed with freedom — and free will. All persons have a choice to do good or to do evil. I just can’t imagine how any religion can justify unprovoked violence on innocent people. But, as a friend reminded me recently, western countries are no stranger to causing unprovoked violence to the most vulnerable of all, the unborn child.

In the unprovoked violence on Wednesday, however, there were many accounts of heroism, from the bystanders performing CPR on Corporal Cirillo to Parliament’s Sergeant at Arms, Kevin Vickers shooting the suspected gunman before he could enter the caucus room where many of the Members of Parliament were meeting.

Please join me in praying for all who were affected and for the souls of those died on Wednesday. May God keep both USA and Canada “strong and free.”

Guild Elections:
Elections are coming! You will be receiving an instruction email soon. The CWG Board for 2014/2015 will be:

Ellen Gable Hrkach – President
Arthur Powers – Vice President
Ann Lewis – Treasurer
Dave Law – Secretary
Nancy Ward – Committee Coordinator

Please vote in our upcoming Guild elections to confirm the above board members.
Voting is a privilege! Although I live in Canada, I still vote in US elections. As a new Canadian, I voted for the first time since in our municipal election. Please let your voice be heard!

Join me in giving a special thank you to Jennifer Fitz (outgoing VP) and Don Mulcare (outgoing Committee Coordinator) for their service!

Membership Dues:
Membership dues will be increasing to $40 per year starting on January 1, 2015. We will be stopping the automatic dues payments as of January 1st and we will be sending PayPal invoices to all members who had previously been on automatic dues payment. Please pay your membership dues in a timely manner. The Guild depends on this money to pay for the day-to-day business expenses of the Guild.

FREE BOOK: My second novel, In Name Only, is FREE through Sunday on Kindle.

As always, please contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns: president (at)


Ellen Gable Hrkach
President, CWG

Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing, CWG Member News, Inspirational | Tagged | 1 Comment

Looking Backward

As humans it is sometimes difficult not be caught up in what was; our history.  Although history has made us what file0002118597334we are, we sometimes fall into the trap of making the “good old days” more perfect that they actually were.  We remember departed friends and relatives as nobler, more generous, more perfect. Rarely do our natures’ take us to those past disasters, sorrowful moments and things that did not work out.  Those seem to get filtered out along with the times when we were not the best version of ourselves. Yet all of that remains in each of us as a remnant of our past.

However we proceed in life we cannot remove our past.  For all of its goodness or badness it remains an integral part of the fabric that makes us who we are. It would do us each well to make peace with our past and learn to take a more generous look at the gifts that our history has given us. This postmodern society tends to pooh-pooh the past for the sake of “what have you done for me lately”?  That’s unfortunate because it could  well be that we are ignoring the very thing that could be a healing force in our lives.

One stunning example of that is the parable of the Vineyard Owner and the Workers (Mt 20:1-16).  You know, the story where different day laborers began working at different times of the day yet the owner paid them equally.  For me the most stunning quote of that story comes at the very end.  The Owner retorts to the complaining laborers that he can do what he pleases with his own money and then asks them this question: “Are you envious because I am generous?” 

          When you look backward in your own life what do you see?  It’s all too tempting to recall the sting of those times when we feel that God has let us down.  That’s a danger to be vigilant of.  It can lead to self-pity and lack of progress when it comes to your spiritual self.   What about the rest of your history?  For example, the laborers who did not work a full day most likely were ready to accept short pay for the day. That was the consequence.  That’s not what happened.  The Owner of the vineyard was a man of integrity who always had the intention of being generous in an equal way to all of his laborers.   The fact that some came late, some did not experience the hottest part of the day, some were not there for the hardest labor   didn’t matter.

If you recall, the laborers who complained the loudest were those who worked the full day.  Did you ever begrudge it when someone you knew received a bonus that they really didn’t deserve?   Thomas Aquinas reminds us that even attitudes about the past can be sinful. His comment on this parable includes this statement: “He is properly ‘evil’ who sorrows over goodness.”  Even after hearing the complaining the Owner’s attitude did not change.

When you look back at times past what’s your attitude? In the most difficult of past circumstances can you spot the generosity of God? Can you go back and view the big picture and all the things that rippled from it?  We need to be reminded that God is outside of time.  Minutes, hours, years don’t exist for him.   God is always in the now.  What that really means is that if you are suffering or regretting things past that all is not lost.  Looking hard for God’s generosity in the circumstance and acknowledging that he was there can be the beginning healing that spirals forward into the rest of our life.  There has not been one microsecond in your life when God was not present.  Look “backward”.  Spot God’s handiwork and move forward like you never thought was possible.  God is the real owner of the vineyard. St. John Vianney taught: “Trials do not reflect a sign of disfavor with God. Rather, the reverse is indicated.  God is offering and invitation even if it hardly seems so.”  That’s the thing about God’s invitations.  They never have expiration dates!


Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing | 1 Comment

Monday’s Writing Tips – Your Office!


Last week I went over all the many ways we sabotage ourselves by not taking our writing seriously. This week I would like to share some of the ways you can remedy that. First you have to get rid of all the doubts and fears that you’ve been carrying around in your head. There is something strange about artists. They seem to always need someone else’s adulation and approval. As a nurse, I had to get a degree. In order to be officially recognized as a nurse, I had to pass a test. When I passed that test, I got a license stating that I was a Registered Nurse in the state of New Jersey.

Do you think any of that made me a good nurse? Oh, it gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to care for my patients. It didn’t teach me to care. My license didn’t teach me the instinct to know when something wasn’t right and needed attention. My degree didn’t give me the heart to drag my tired self down the hall to check on a patient just one more time. You can’t teach someone to be a nurse. It is born in them.

Too bad writers can’t get a license to prove to publishers, bookstores, and mainly themselves that they are writers. However, talent is not easily defined. I know many people who have English or Literature degrees who couldn’t write an interesting paragraph if their life depended on it. I know high-school drop-outs and many people to whom English is a second language who floor me with their talent. So what makes one a writer? Like nursing, I believe it is a calling, a gift from God.

However, we doubt our gift. We deny the very spirit that moves us to conger stories and create characters. I only know one thing.   If you don’t think of yourself as a writer, no one else will. If you don’t take your writing seriously, why should anyone else?

So how do you think of yourself as a writer? I want you to take two simple steps this week. First, I want you to tell everyone who asks or anyone you meet that you are a writer. Aren’t you? Announce to that family member who wants to keep you in a well-defined box that you’ve broken out of the box. Let them know you have launched a new career. If you meet someone new and they ask you what you do for a living, tell them that you’re an author. You may be surprised at how interested and accepting people are. Those fears and doubts are in your own mind.

Why am I telling you to do this? Not to convince others, but to convince yourself. There’s something about hearing your own voice say something that makes it accepted truth. Go ahead, plunge forward with courage.


Secondly, I want you to create an office. In 2012 I watched a documentary on the author Nora Roberts. What caught my attention was her office. She had dedicated a room in her home to her writing. She had a beautiful wrap-a-round wooden desk. She had shelves that contained all her novels and awards. She surrounded herself with reminders of her own success. It made her prolific. She spends six to nine hours a day in that office. Wow! Just like a real job!

It inspired me. I looked around and found a neglected loft space in my home. I had my husband pick up my childhood desk that was languishing in my mother’s attic. It was a dark wood Spanish style, with shelves that sat above it. I framed all the covers of my books and placed them on the shelves with inspiring plaques and any good reviews or awards I received beside them. I put up a bookcase with all my reference books, and  signed copies of my favorite novels and the novels that inspired me. I went to Wal-mart and purchased a comfortable swivel chair and wastebasket. I had my office!

That is your assignment. You are a real writer. If you don’t have an office – create one! Look around.  You deserve your own spot. Surround yourself with your success. Each day it will remind you who you are. If you already have an office, spruce it up. Renew your surroundings and you will renew your spirit.

Karen Kelly Boyce lives on a farm in NJ with her retired husband Michael. She has two grown children and two grandchildren. She is an award-winning novelist and writes a children’s series for Chesterton Press

Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing | 8 Comments

CWG Prayer Chain Post: October 19, 2014

The CWG Prayer Chain Post is a weekly post for members to include their special intentions by adding a comment.

Psalms 17: 1-6

Listen, Yahweh, to an upright cause, pay attention to my cry, lend an ear to my prayer, my lips free from deceit.From your presence will issue my vindication, your eyes fixed on what is right. You probe my heart, examine me at night, you test me by fire and find no evil. I have not sinned with my mouth as most people do. I have treasured the word from your lips, my steps never stray from the paths you lay down, from your tracks; so my feet never stumble. I call upon you, God, for you answer me; turn your ear to me, hear what I say.

The power of prayer and the power of people praying


Blessing of the Harvest
Our help is in the name of the Lord. Who has made heaven and earth. The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.
Almighty Lord God, You keep on giving abundance to men in the dew of heaven, and food out of the richness of the soil. We give thanks to Your most gracious majesty for the fruits of the field which we have gathered. We beg of You, in Your mercy, to bless our harvest, which we have received from Your generosity. Preserve it, and keep it from all harm. Grant, too, that all those whose desires You have filled with these good things may be happy in Your protection. May they praise Your mercies forever, and make use of the good things that do not last in such a way that they may not lose those goods that are everlasting, through Christ our Lord.


Please leave a comment with your intention. If you have problems adding an intention, email it to Mike Hays at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and I will add it.  God bless.

Posted in Catholic Writing and Publishing | 1 Comment

The Joyful Beggar by Louis de Wohl

The Joyful BeggarThe Joyful Beggar by Louis de Wohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is it with Louis de Wohl’s books? They’re like peanuts or popcorn. You just keep tossing back handfuls because they’re so good and go down so tastily.

I received The Joyful Beggar on a Saturday at noon in the mail. Sunday at noon I was 75% done. It really grabbed me, obviously. I should’ve expected that since I’ve had that reaction to de Wohl’s books before. They are consistently entertaining, historical fiction of saints and the times in which they lived.

I’m aware of the details of St. Francis’s life but have never felt much connection with this saint. I wondered if sinking deeper into his life could help my life as a Christian. That’s another of Louis de Wohl’s talents, by the way. Whether or not you feel a personal affinity for someone, he brings to light aspects of their lives that illuminate your own.

Sharp as a blade, the Pope’s mind put it all together. This beggar was a troubadour, a Minnesanger, as they called them in Germany, a “singer of love,” but for once here was one who was singing in praise of the Love of God.

“I am the poor woman in the desert,” Francis explained merrily. “And I trust my Lord, the King. he will look after my sons.”

A jester and a dancer; a beggar and a troubadour; a preacher, a monk, a teller of parables, and perhaps a saint: there was no end to the man. If Satan could distort the minds of many to preach against the Church in the name of purity, here was one who could preach for the Church in the same name; here was, perhaps, the antidote against the poison in the veins of Europe, the man to give fresh life to a world grown cold. And therefore this man could be, nay, was the one who held up the falling walls of the Church. And that was all Innocent wanted to know.

What I felt after reading this book was Francis’s joy in serving, his release from fear, his complete trust in God. I especially appreciated the way Francis connected Brother Sun and Sister Moon and all the other elements of his famous Canticle of the Sun with Jesus. It was that connection which made nature holy, the connection with our Lord in his Incarnation. Beautiful.

As always, de Wohl shows us the saint’s story through other imagined characters who have their own journeys to God. This is very useful for explaining the history and customs of the times. Quite often there is a contrast which layers meaning and context for the overall power of that particular saint. In this book there were both Clare of Assisi on her own journey to holiness and Roger of Vandria, continually striving to simply regain his ancestral lands. As they grow so do we.

“In that case, why not make a test?” Francis suggested. “Let a great fire be lighted before your tent, and these learned priests of yours and I will enter it. Then God may show which is the true faith.”

Roger gasped. If that was supposed to be a bluff, it was a very dangerous one. There were fanatics enough among Moslem priests, and at least some of them might accept the challenge.

The sultan glanced at his imams and mullahs. they looked a little vague, as if they had not understood the little dervish’s words, and one of them, standing at the back, began to move with great dignity toward the exit of the tent.

“I don’t think my priests are very likely to consent to this test of yours, little dervish,” Al Kamil said, smiling.

He’s got out of it, Roger thought, half relieved, half angry.

“Then I will enter the fire alone,” Francis said quietly, “If you promise for yourself and for your people that you will worship Christ if I come out of the fire unhurt.” After a little pause he added, “If I should be burned to death, it will be due only to my sins. But if God protects me, it is a clear sign of his holy will, and you must all accept Christ.

Now he has killed himself, Roger thought. This is too good a spectacle for the sultan to miss. The man is mad. He is a fanatic. He is magnificent. By all the angels and devils, he is the only crusader in the army. What a pity he is done for. Those priests will take him at his word, even if the sultan doesn’t.

Did I wind up best friends with Francis of Assisi? No. But we can’t be best friends with everyone. I did, however, wind up as more than a casual acquaintance with my own life enriched thanks to the story of the joyful beggar.

This is a review book from Ignatius Press. This opinion is my own, uninfluenced by anything as paltry as a free book. As anyone is well aware who reads this blog regularly.

For a good overview of the novels, take a look at Rose Trabbic’s piece Discovering the Novels of Louis de Wohl. Also well worth reading is Will Duquette’s review of The Citadel of God where he gives a concise commentary on de Wohl as an author, with which I completely agree.

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