Today’s guest post was submitted by Harvey House Publishing and features an interview with our CatholicMom.com contributor Nancy Carabio Belanger. The author of Olivia and the Little Way, Nancy chats with the Catholic Writers Guild about writing for today’s youth in an unholy world.
Maria: Nancy, How did you come to CWG?
Nancy: Hi! I heard about the CWG through a member who I had been chatting with via e-mail about Catholic children’s books. She suggested I join the CWG, and I am very grateful to her. I have met so many faith-filled people.
Maria: How did your book, Olivia and the Little Way, come to be? Was it a sudden inspiration or was it in your heart for a long time? Or, maybe both?
Nancy:I wouldn’t say it was sudden inspiration. I’ve always been a writer, but in the field of journalism, never fiction. I started to feel like I wanted to be more creative, and so I originally thought I would try my hand at a Catholic chick-lit style, since I like to be funny. Then one day a few years back, I was in a big bookstore looking for some summer reading for my sons. I was not happy with the majority of what I saw. I felt unsettled as I glanced at a stack of children’s novels I didn’t like as I made my way out the door. It was at that moment, I kid you not, that I heard a very strong voice say, “You could do that.” The emphasis was on the word “you.” I looked around, a little on edge. It was that loud—gentle but insistent. Confused, I brushed it aside. I thought I knew best (can you imagine?), so I continued writing adult fiction. After all, I would never be a children’s writer—or so I thought. But I never forgot hearing that voice. After that, St. Therese came into my life in a very powerful way, and it was out of my love and devotion to her and to God that I wrote this novel. I never would have dreamed that I would write a story about a young girl who becomes best friends with a saint! It just goes to show you that God, in His wisdom, knows what is best for us. Now, I adore writing for kids and feel it is my calling.
Maria: Tell us something about Olivia, is she based on someone in real life?
Nancy: Olivia is sort of a mixture of me as a pre-teen, my friends, and some kids I know, so there’s a lot of realism with this character. She’s a completely normal ten-year-old girl, with faults and all. With the help of her grandmother, she learns about St. Therese of Lisieux and her Little Way of Serving God as she is trying to fit in with the kids in her new Catholic school. There are some bumps along the way, but Olivia keeps persisting.
Maria: Based on your description of the book this is a ‘pre-teen’ book. That’s a tough age to write for, how do you make sure your book is neither too childish, nor too grown up?
Nancy: You have to keep the dialogue fresh, as well as the problems they go through now. But St. Therese keeps praying for me to find ways to make it real. I talk to my kids, who are in that age group, and their friends. My sons read through it and give tips like, “Mom, we would say it this way instead.” I’m always observing kids wherever I go, and I make mental notes of the things they are concerned about and the types of things they say. I’ve been blessed with being able to remember how I felt at that age; it stands out so vividly in my mind how I felt talking to the “cool group” and the things they said to me. I always wondered why that was, and now I know that God did that for a reason.
Maria: The sequel: Olivia’s Gift celebrates “modesty, the gift of life and a wholesome childhood”, and is due out this year. Did you know your first book would have a sequel, or did you feel ‘unfinished’?
Nancy: I had no idea what God had in store for me! I just trusted Him. When I started to write Olivia and the Little Way, I told God it was all up to Him, that I would do whatever He wanted me to do with my writing. And I still feel that way. I just told Him that again the other day, in fact! And He told me that our children are suffering immensely in this culture we live in, and that I should keep writing. I’ve had so many requests from readers and their parents to write more, and I’m happy to do it. In fact, I love to do it. As a writer, it is so fulfilling to try my best to make a difference, so their bookshelves have something genuinely Catholic, fun, and fulfilling on them. When the book won a second-place award from the Catholic Press Association last year, I was thrilled because I knew that meant many more children would now learn how to follow the Little Way of serving God.
Maria: As a ‘modesty’ writer, can I call you that?
Nancy: I’m honored to be called that; thank you!
Maria: How do you keep hopeful? I mean, this world is increasingly unchaste and immodest, how do you stay on task and remain confident that your approach will sell and will be a product publishers will want to support?
Nancy: How do I stay hopeful? I’m doing it for God. I place all my hope and trust in Him. I have saint friends praying for me constantly; St. Therese is a tenacious soul who never gives up on me. I have other Catholic writer friends who encourage me when I’m down. I am blessed to be a part of this CWG community and have access to this group and its prayers and resources.
Maria: Winning the second place from the Catholic Press Association, must have been a confirmation to your call. You also say you get encouragement from parents to keep writing, did you ever expect this kind of reaction?
Nancy: The response to Olivia and the Little Way has been overwhelming. Some days I just shake my head because I am so amazed and touched by the little notes I get from readers. These young kids, writing me to tell me that they are starting to pray to St. Therese, are now mindful of what they do and say, and how they treat others, and learning from Olivia’s experiences.
Maria: How inspiring and exciting! I imagine that drives you to keep going.
Nancy: Yes, how can I not go on? It’s so badly needed now. There is no respect for human life, our Church, and letting children live pure, innocent childhoods in this secular, sexual society. Our kids are bombarded with tempting ways to forget the Truth, and it bothers me immensely. I know how good parents are starving for wholesome reading material for their kids that kids will actually enjoy. I strolled the big bookstores recently, and I was appalled at what I found available to our children: the occult, sex, violence, nasty language, death, disrespect. We can do so much better than this for our kids! My apostolate is to bring back what we have lost. We owe it to them.
Maria: Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but all writers have their down-days when we doubt what we do. Do you have days like that?
Nancy: Well, it is a huge job; there are some days I am discouraged with what an uphill battle it is as a writer to go up against vampire, mean clique, and sex stories. They sell— and they sell big. Then a news story comes along about parents who think it’s okay for their daughters to dress up like strippers in a dance recital, or let their pre-teen sons wear t-shirts with the Playboy bunny on it, and I’m recharged. A teacher friend of mine told me that a first-grader was on the playground at her school imitating a stripper with a pole. It’s the evil one coming at the most vulnerable in our society, with the help of their misguided parents, who let their young kids have internet access in their bedrooms, drop them off at unchaperoned parties, and take them to inappropriate movies. When I hear things like this, instead of being dejected, the Holy Spirit moves me to write—and fight. It’s at times like that when I can’t wait to get at my keyboard. I’m in full battle mode!
Maria: How was it working with Harvey House Publishing?
Nancy: I work with great people on this team, from start to finish. My illustrator, Sandra Casali LewAllen, has such a knack for capturing exactly what the story requires, in a beautiful and sweet way. My editor, Erin Sims Howarth, is a pleasure to work with. My graphic designer, Roseann Nieman, knows just what my work needs. They are all gifts. Maria: You also write for catholicmom.com. How is writing the Olivia series different from writing a column? (Nancy’s column can be found at: http://new.catholicmom.com/category/columnists/nancy-carabio-belanger/)
Nancy: They are two different audiences, adult and child, so it’s a bit different. But I have so many adults reading my book, which I love! As a mom, I love to address the parents too, and I’m fortunate I can do that through the column.
Maria: Well, I ask all our writers, so I have to ask you too, what do you do in your free time?
Nancy: I planted two rosebushes in honor of Our Lady and St. Therese, as well as basil, peppers, and tomatoes. I love to tend to them. I also enjoy cooking, volunteering, reading, crossword puzzles, and fun family time with my great husband and two wonderful sons, traveling and exploring new places and churches when we travel, and just being silly together. Talking to fellow Guild member and author Michele Bondi Bottesi on a regular basis over lunch or coffee is a treat, because we build each other up and encourage each other that we are doing this all for God’s kingdom. And then there’s the laundry…
Maria: What are your future writing plans? And what is your advice for those wishing to jump into the pre-teen writing world?
Nancy: I’m going to keep writing for this age group as long as God wants me to. For other authors who feel called to write for this age group, my advice would be that if you are sure God told you to do it, then do it!
Are you a Catholic writer loyal to the Magisterium and looking for a group of like-minded writers determined to assist each other in our publishing goals? Are you an editor, publisher, or illustrator interested in furthering the development of quality faith-filled writings?
If so, the Catholic Writers’ Guild may be for you.
The Catholic Writers’ Guild (CWG) is a non-profit organization comprised of writers, artists, editors, illustrators, and allies dedicated to building a vibrant Catholic literary and artistic culture. We do this by encouraging Catholic writers to create, publish, perform, and share their work; by reflecting upon core Catholic values (i.e., those in accordance with the teaching of the Magisterium) in art; and by networking within the faith and literary communities. Our organization is loyal to the teaching authority of the Church. Our regular and alumni members are practicing Catholic writers, while institutional members are persons or companies supportive of Catholic writing; institutional members need not to be Catholic, but sympathetic to Catholic practices and morals. Visit www.catholicwritersguild.org for more information.