Catholic Writers of St. Louis keep Christ at the center of their art
Hovered over notepads and cups of coffee at their sides, members of the Catholic Writers of St. Louis intently listened to some helpful pointers on how to submit a book proposal.
"Think of a ride down an elevator," publicist Mary Brockgreitens told the group. "You have about 10 seconds to tell people what you do."
Brockgreitens of Liguori Publications was the featured guest at the group's meeting last month at St. Charles Coffee House. Some of those at the meeting, as published writers, were familiar with her message. And for others, it was something all so new.
But what unifies the diverse group is their keen love for the Catholic Church and intense desire to reflect it in their art -- whether poetry, short essays, long novels, historical fiction or even illustrations.
Denise Montgomery, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in St. Charles, founded the group after she attended a Catholic Writers Guild Conference in Philadelphia last August. Montgomery, 38, said she wanted to emulate the supportive environment she experienced at that conference and to give other local Catholic writers a venue where they could share ideas within the context of faith.
The group defines itself as "Catholics who desire to know, serve and love our Lord Jesus Christ through our individual talents and aspirations," according to its website, cwstl.wordpress.com. "We are a community who share a fidelity and obedience to the Magisterium of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. We encourage one another and provide a much needed network and support system for Catholic artists."
"The most important element is that we all have a desire to know, serve and love our Catholic Church and to evangelize," said Montgomery. "And I like that we're such a diverse group to support one another and to write about what really matters."
Planting a seed
Denise Montgomery has always been interested in writing. After studying English and literature at Baylor University and later earning a master's degree in creative writing from Southern Methodist University, she took on a job teaching English at a community college.
But then she took on an even bigger job -- becoming Mom. She's currently at home with her five children and is expecting number six in December. But the writing bug has never left her.
"I have always journaled as a way for me to communicate with myself and God," she said. "I write my husband, too -- letters, poems, a honey-do list, just different ways to communicate with him."
After contemplating her New Year's resolutions last year, Montgomery decided to set out and write a novel -- "the kind of book that I like to read when I go to bed at night and I'm trying to just decompress from the business" of life.
As a homeschooler, she finds herself often submersed in catechetical reading materials as part of the children's studies. So at the end of the day, "I want to find a book that takes me into the Rocky Mountains, or another locale that will take me into someone else's reality," she said.
Montgomery's approach to writing her first novel is to offer something that will take Catholic values to a wider audience. She noted that while she supports the faith-based publishing industry, she hopes to take her finished work to a secular publisher.
"I want to plant a seed without preaching," she said. "I want to reach a broader audience."
That said, Montgomery noted there are a number of American Christian fiction writers who have found great success in infusing Christian values into a product that has reached a wider audience.
Catholic writers "need to emulate what these (people) are doing. But we need to help market one another, in building each other up. If we as Catholic writers can do that, we can have a more evangelical effect on the world."
Writing completes her
Donna Volkenannt's interest in writing goes back to her high school days. She was a sports editor of her high school newspaper at St. Alphonsus "Rock" High School and contributed to the old Prom Magazine, a popular publication among St. Louis high schoolers from the 1940s to the 1970s.
She calls herself a "sprinter," in reference to her love for writing short, personal essays and stories. She was even published in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and "Cup of Comfort" series. But Volkenannt's claim to fame came earlier this year when she was recognized by the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. She captured a first place award in the global humor category for her essay, "Honey, Can I Borrow Your Garter Belt?" Volkenannt also has a blog donnasbookpub.blogspot.com, where she shares her love for "books, writing and the sweet mysteries of life."
Earlier this year, Volkenannt, along with fellow parishioner Diane Valentine, started a writers' group at All Saints Parish in St. Peters. The group meets once a month. She's since become involved in the Catholic Writers of St. Louis and calls these opportunities to share writing tips and critiques with other Catholic writers "liberating."
As someone who has benefited from writing groups for the past decade and a half, Volkenannt said that Catholic writers' groups, in particular, have "added a spiritual dimension that help complete me as a writer. (They) allow me to express my faith freely without fear of offending anyone and to connect with other writers who share my Catholic faith."
Christ at the center
Shaylynn Rackers also subscribes to the philosophy of infusing a Christian framework into the art she creates. The 17-year-old homeschooler from St. Theodore Parish in Flint Hill has a particular love for illustrative work.
Shaylynn is graphics editor of Ink and Fairy Dust, a bi-monthly online magazine for teens and young adults, featuring stories, book and movie reviews, creative writing and more. Her illustrations also have been featured in the American Chesterton Society's Gilbert Magazine and a homeschooling planning book, "A Plan for Joy in the Home." She has a personal blog at shealynns-faerie-shoppe.blogspot.com.
Rackers joined the Catholic Writers of St. Louis after her mom told her about the group. She said it "sounded fun" and took a couple of friends with her. They were the youngest there, but Shaylynn said she's enjoyed the wisdom that has come from the group.
"It's neat to see other people who have had experience" in publishing, she said. "They're very supportive, which is not something you tend to run into often. Mrs. Montgomery is always giving us updates" on writing opportunities and more.
During the second meeting she attended, Shaylynn recalled a discussion the group had about the faith influence on writing and art. "I don't go out of my way to do Christian or Catholic drawings," she said. "but I always have the great goal of keeping Christ at the center of everything. It's important to keep a Christian worldview and inspiration in my work."
Put down the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
popular series “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James seems to have taken
the nation by storm. The books commonly have been referred to as “Mommy
porn,” in reference to the wild success it has manifested among female
readers. The erotica-themed series, however, has left faith-filled women
(and men) who object to such a pornographic display wanting something
that offers a balance of substance and escape. But is it impossible to
find an enjoyable fiction read that might also reflect
Not so, said Catholic writer Denise
Montgomery, who founded the Catholic Writers of St. Louis group. She
recently shared some of her favorite reading picks — authors who have
Christian backgrounds and whose story lines are thorough, well-written
and not “hokey,” she said. Montgomery has pulled these authors from her
bookshelf when she seeks some “relaxation time at the end of the day.”
• Christian fiction author Tamera Alexander’s
works are “not always the intellectually deepest fiction novels, but
well-written with vivid descriptions and great characters,” said
Montgomery. Alexander is known for two series: “Fountain Creek
Chronicles” and “Timber Ridge Reflections.” Both are set in 1800s
Colorado Territory and include themes of love, faith and seeking purpose
• Carla Stewart is another Christian fiction author whose writing “reflects her passion for times gone by,” Montgomery described in an interview with the author.
Montgomery said she particularly enjoyed Stewart’s debut novel,
“Chasing Lilacs,” which is set in a small town in Texas in the 1950s and
shares the story of 12-year-old Sammie, whose mother commits suicide.
The plot shows how young Sammie must learn who to trust and how to
accept truth. Montgomery also liked Stewart’s 2012 novel, Stardust, in which main character Georgia Peyton inherits an old motel and how she’s determined to bring it to life again.
• Montgomery also noted mainstream women’s fiction author Kristin Hannah,
who has made Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club recommended reading list.
Montgomery warned that Hannah does include a few explicit descriptions
from time to time in her works, but that shouldn’t detract from Hannah’s
overall thought-provoking style. Montgomery recently reviewed Hannah’s
novel, “Comfort and Joy,” which she described as “powerful, vibrant, and
forges opportunities for faith, hope and love as well as forgiveness
To read Denise Montgomery’s reviews of these authors, visit her personal website at deniseymontgomery.com.
• Shaylynn Rackers also recommended Catholic young adult writer Regina Doman for her fairy tale novels. Her books are published by Chesterton Press and are available online at chestertonpress.com or fairytalenovels.com.
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