Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Author Interview: Ellen Gable Hrkach

Today I'd like to welcome author Ellen Gable Hrkach to This That and the Other Thing. Ellen is the author of several books I have reviewed and is a regular participant in my Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival meme.  

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I’m a freelance writer and author of four books, three of which have been Amazon Kindle Top 10 bestsellers and one of my books (In Name Only) won a Gold Medal in Religious Fiction at the 2010 IPPY Awards. My husband and I are also Natural Family Planning (NFP) teachers and Marriage Preparation instructors.  We create the Family Life cartoons ( which currently appear in Family Foundations Magazine ( We have five sons ages 12-24 and we live in a small rural town in Ontario, Canada.  

How do you say your last name?
Her-cash.  One of the reasons I decided to use my maiden name (Gable) as my pen name is because people find my married name hard to pronounce.

I note that your biography on your website says that you are a freelance author. What have you written besides your books? 
Most of my freelance writing work is non-fiction. I have written on a variety of topics such as NFP, Theology of the Body, Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss, Parenting and Self-Publishing. I have had articles published in the Nazareth Journal, Ecclesia, Family Foundations Magazine and Restoration. I’m a regular contributor to Amazing Catechists, Catholic Mom and Catholic Fiction .

Do you read books of the genre commonly known as "Christian fiction"? Why or why not?
I love to read and I read a variety of genres. My favorites are Christian historical romance and romantic suspense; although I read a lot of secular novels as well (I usually read one or two novels a week.)

What are the last two or three novels you've read that you would recommend?
Karen Kingsbury’s Even Now and Ever After.  Even Now / Ever After Compilation Limited Edition
Gerard Webster's "The Soul Reader," which is his sequel to "In Sight."  The Soul Reader: A Novel of Suspense.  Krisi Keley's "Pro Luce Habere" (Volumes I and II).  I don't usually read "vampire" novels, but this is one with a Catholic twist and Keley is an incredibly gifted writer.  .Pro Luce Habere (To Have Before the Light) Volumes I & II (On the Soul series)

When did you first decide to write a book, and why?

My husband was the one who suggested I write a novel based on the parallel stories of myself and my great-grandmother. Prior to that, I had been writing in a journal to ease the grief after miscarriages (I have lost seven babies through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy). My grief journal was actually the basis for my first published article, then it later became the basis for my novel, Emily's Hope . I knew I wanted to share my story, but I also wanted to promote Catholic teachings on sex and marriage.

I've read other places that Catholic publishers are not open to publishing fiction. Have you found that to be the case? I've perused some of your links on the subject of Catholic fiction and the majority of the books I found were either classics or self-published. Why don't you think the mainstream publishers, religious or otherwise, put out Catholic fiction? Did you approach any publishers with your manuscripts?
When I attended the Catholic Writers Conference in 2008, a representative from Ignatius Press tried to explain why they only publish a few fiction manuscripts a year: Catholic fiction doesn’t sell enough books to be profitable. He then told us the figures for how many Scott Hahn books they have sold over the years compared to Michael O’Brien books. Books by Scott Hahn have sold over a million copies while Michael O’Brien’s novels have sold a total of 70,000 in the same time frame. Although I’m sure O’Brien has sold more than that in the past four years, 70,000 books sold is nothing to scoff at. However, when you compare the two figures, you can understand why a company would prefer to publish books that are going to sell millions as opposed to tens of thousands. In their experience, non-fiction sells more than fiction.

However, this has NOT been my experience. My non-fiction book,Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship has sold a few hundred copies over the past year compared to my novels, which have sold thousands.

With regard to approaching publishers, I researched Catholic publishers and found that very few of them took fiction manuscripts. I did approach one (secular) publisher with my manuscript. They seemed interested, but wanted to cut out most of the religious references. I didn’t want them to do that...besides this was my personal story. The lack of Catholic fiction publishers and my desire to control the way my story was told prompted my husband and I to start our own publishing company.

I've read that over 40% of the audience for Christian fiction, a genre that is by and large for, by and about Evangelical Protestants, is Catholic--generally middle-aged white woman (hey, I resemble that statistic). Do you think that your books or other books dealing with explicitly Catholic characters and mentioning Catholic beliefs and practices could find a market with those who share many but not all of our beliefs? 

Absolutely. They already have found a market. Although my first book, Emily’s Hope, has a smaller target audience, my second and third novels have a much larger target audience and it shows in the number of books sold.

You've noted on your blog that Stealing Jenny has been a best-seller on Amazon in its category.  What is the ratio of hard copies vs e-books?   What about your other books?
Both Stealing Jenny and In Name Only have been at the #1 position in the Religious and Liturgical Drama category on Amazon, although In Name Only was at the #1 position for nearly seven weeks. Stealing Jenny has been in the top ten for five months (it recently hit #1 again!) Both have sold a fair number of e-books and print books. Regarding the ratio of hard copies to e-books, for every print copy I sell, I usually sell 200 e-copies.

E-readers and e-books have really come into their own in the last couple of years. Do you consider them a game-changer for writers? Do find it easier or harder to sell e-books vs hard copies?
Absolutely a game changer, especially for self-published authors like myself because we can set a lower e-book price than the major publishers, thus gaining a larger audience. On Amazon Kindle, my books are selling better than many well-known and established authors because my books are only 2.99 each. So it’s much easier to sell e-books.

Now, this wasn't always the case. My books were on Kindle for six months before I reduced the price and began selling more. Prospective readers do not want to pay over 4.99 for e-books from unknown authors, but they might gamble 2.99. It’s the same with print books. Readers generally do not want to pay 16.99 for a book by an unknown author, but they will gamble 2.99.

Do you consider any of your books to be commercial successes? If so, which ones? Is writing something you do with the idea of making money, or is it more of a ministry or paying hobby?
Yes, so far the biggest commercial success has been In Name Only (romance). In the last year, I have sold thousands of copies of that book alone. Also, even though Emily’s Hope has a small target audience (some people have coined it “NFP Fiction”), I have sold a lot of print copies because some fans have bought (and continue to buy) five and ten copies of that book at a time.

With regard to “making money,” I never started writing to make money and I never expected it to be lucrative. My original motive was to evangelize Catholic truths on sex and marriage. The fact that I am making a nice supplemental income, however, is a definite bonus.

Do you have any advice for folks who want to be writers? 
Read everything you can get your hands on, especially in the genre you enjoy writing in. Write every day. If you’re going to self-publish, please employ a competent editor (yes, editors cost money but they are worth it). Practice humility. As humans, we can sometimes be blind to our own faults. This is also true with writers: we can sometimes be blind to our own writing faults.

You started your own publishing company. Have you published any books other than your own? Are you interested in/open to doing so? If so, what are you looking for, or not looking for?

We are publishing two books this year by other authors:

Growing Up in God’s Image by Carolyn Smith (a non-fiction book on Talking to your Kids About Sex) March 25, 2012 and
Angela’s Song, a novel, by AnnMarie Creedon October 7, 2012 (read an excerpt)

We’re looking for books that promote (even subtly) the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage.

I'd like to thank Ellen for stopping by today. You can read more about her and her books at Plot Line and Sinker.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Monday Memes

This month, Mailbox Monday is hosted by MetroReader. Bloggers list books that arrived in either snail mail or email.
Not a one this week, no NetGalleys, no snail mail.

 It's Monday What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila over at Book Journey. She asks what we read last week, what we reviewed last week and what we plan to read this week. This list is much longer!

I also interviewed author Kathleen Basi

Short Review:

About the Book:
Lieutenant Magdalena Cruz had come home…And though all she wanted was to be alone, infuriatingly handsome Dr. Jake Dalton—of the enemy Daltons—wouldn't cooperate. And she needed him to, because the walls around her heart were dangerously close to crumbling every time he came near.…

Jake had spent most of his life trying to get closer to Maggie, with little to show for it. But she was the woman he'd always wanted, and no injury in the world could change that. Now if only he could convince her that the woman who stood before him was beautiful, desirable, whole…and meant to be his.…

My Comments:
I got this as an Amazon Freebie, and as of this writing , it is still free.  You can click the link under the book cover to get it (and I appreciate those who do).  It one of those stories of the boy who has secretly loved her since they were kids, and she has had a grudge against him just as long.  A fun mindless read, some adult activity, but not too explicit.  Grade:  B-

Review: Lover's Leap

About the Book:
Twenty years ago the town bad boy, Cam Murphy, left Eternity Springs in handcuffs, riding in the back of a sheriff’s van . . . and breaking young Sarah Reese’s heart. The defiant teenager vowed never to return.

In Australia, Cam makes a new beginning. He builds a successful business and suffers few regrets until Sarah—and their daughter—walk into his life, and then immediately run away. Realizing it’s time to right yesterday’s wrongs, he follows Sarah home to Colorado—and turns her world upside down.

Cam wants to know his daughter. He needs to prove to Sarah, the town, and himself that he’s changed. Will the residents of Eternity Springs offer forgiveness—and will Sarah have the courage to trust this man who is asking for a second chance?

My Comments:
This is no literary classic but was a fun romantic read.  As the fourth book set in this small Colorado town, it contains a lot of characters who seem to have little use in this book, but who were main characters in prior or future books.  While I have read one of the earlier books, at first I had a hard time keeping track of all the  peripheral characters.  However Cam and Sarah's story stands on its own.  It has pretty much the expected bumps in the road as well as the expected happy ending.  

The main sub-plot dealt with Sarah's mother who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and Sarah's efforts to care for her at home for as long as possible.  

I purchased this book with a bookstore gift card.  Grade:  B. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

I'd like to welcome everyone to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other.  To particpate, go to your blog and create an entry titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  In it, highlight one or more of your posts from the past week that you believe would be of interest to Catholic bloggers---whether they are posts reflecting on spiritual matters or posts about antics of Catholic kids, or anything in between.  Come back here and enter the URL of that post below.  Finally, go visit other participants, and leave comments!  If you want a weekly reminder to post, join our yahoogroup.

I'm glad to have everyone here, and just want to remind you that posts linked below should contain a link back here.

How about you?

Review: Redwood Bend

About the Book:
Katie Malone and her twin boys’ trip along the beautiful mountain roads to Virgin River is stopped short by a tire as flat as her failed romance. To make matters worse, the rain has set in, the boys are hungry and Katie is having trouble putting on a spare. As she stands at the side of the road pondering her next move, she hears a distinct rumble. The sight of the sexy, leather-clad bikers who pull up beside her puts her imagination into overdrive.

Dylan Childress and his buddies are on the motorcycle trip of a lifetime. But the sight of a woman in distress stops them in their tracks. And while the guys are checking out her car, she and Dylan are checking out
one another.In one brief moment, the world tilts on its axis and any previous plans Katie and Dylan might have had for their futures are left at the side of the road.

My Comments:
As you can tell by clicking on Robyn Carr's name below the post, I've read and enjoyed all of the Virgin River books published so far, and Redwood Bend is no exception.  Katie is trying to get her life together after being forced to spend a year away from family due to her brother being a witness to a murder.  She's visiting Virgin River, and while she'd like to stay near her brother who now lives there, she doesn't plan to stay in Virgin River.  While there, she meets Dylan, a man just passing through, a man with a past.  In some ways it is love at first sight; in others it is a re-kindling of old love (on her side, not his).  Both of them are afraid of getting hurt.  She wants to make sure her kids don't get hurt.  It's a Virgin River book so we know it has a happy ending--and a couple of steamy pre-marital scenes.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  I was not obligated to write a positive review.  Grade:  B.

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Wildcard: Creative Slow Cooker Meals

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers; Spi edition (February 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Karri James, Marketing Assistant, Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Cheryl Moeller is a seasoned mother and a standup comic. She is also a syndicated columnist with her own blog ( and contributes monthly to several online parent websites. Cheryl has coauthored two books on marriage with her husband and has written for and Marriage Partnership. Cheryl does comedy for parenting classes, MOPS groups, wedding or baby showers, church retreats, women’s conferences, and those in line at the grocery store.

Visit the author's website.


From the celebrated coauthor of The Marriage Miracle comes a new kind of cookbook and a new attitude toward planning meals. With an eye toward the whole menu, not just part of it, columnist Cheryl Moeller teaches cooks to use two crockpots to easily create healthy, homemade dinners.

Don’t worry about your dinner being reduced to a mushy stew. Each of the more than 200 recipes has been taste-tested at Cheryl’s table. Join the Moeller family as you dig into:
  • Harvest-time Halibut Chowder
  • Salmon and Gingered Carrots
  • Mediterranean Rice Pilaf
  • Indian Chicken Curry
  • Apricot-Pistachio Bread
  • Shrimp Creole
  • Rhubarb Crisp

... and many more! Perfect for the frazzled mom who never has enough time in the day, Creative Slow-Cooker Meals gives readers more time around the table with delicious, healthy, frugal, and easy meals!

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Spiral-bound: 272 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers; Spi edition (February 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736944915
ISBN-13: 978-0736944915

AND NOW...THE FIFTH CHAPTER (click on pages to enlarge):

My Comments:
You can get a good feel for this book by looking at the pages above.  The "what's different" about this book is the suggestion of paired dishes and use of two crockpots for one meal.  Honestly, there weren't that many recipes that caught my eye and some of the combos seemed like a lot of trouble.  For example, the sloppy joes and herbed corn on the cob in the sample pages looks like a menu my family would like but the book takes a menu that I could get on the table  45 minutes after walking in the door after work and adds slow cooking to the instructions, making me put one dish in the slow cooker 6 hours before dinner and another 2 hours before dinner.  A lot of the dishes have only 2 to 3 hour cooking times, which just doesn't work for a working mom like me.

Book Review: My Story My Song

About the Book:
This heartwarming memoir of 87-year-old Luciamarian Roberts, mother of Good Morning America's coanchor Robin Roberts, gives you a glimpse into pivotal moments in Mrs. Roberts' life, showing how faith in God has strengthened her and how God has guided and encouraged her through people of all ages and races. Good Morning America viewers have come to know and love Lucimarian Roberts, the 87-year-old mother of coanchor Robin Roberts. For many, the heartfelt connection began the day after Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast. They eagerly watched as Robin stood among the remnants of her hometown and talked about her desperate search for her elderly mother, who had ridden out the storm in her Mississippi home. Once she knew that her mother was safe, Robin admitted that she was not surprised to learn that even as the winds howled and floodwaters rose, Lucimarian Roberts sang hymns. For all of her long life, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts has drawn upon her faith in God for comfort and strength. Even today as she sits down at the piano, she can recite the lyrics to hundreds of hymns and spirituals learned in her childhood church in Akron, Ohio. In fact, she credits hymns for helping her, a black woman born in 1924, live faithfully through the turbulent times of the Great Depression, segregation, and racial prejudice even as the wife of a U.S. Air Force officer. Who would have thought that a poor black girl with an alcoholic father would one day attend Howard University on a scholarship and eventually chair the board of the New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta? she asks with a smile. My Story, My Song brings together the pivotal moments of Lucimarian Roberts intriguing life with personal reflections from her daughter Robin. God has brought the most wonderful and sometimes the most unlikely people, of all ages and races, into my life to encourage and guide me on this spiritual journey of life, Mrs. Roberts says with a brightness in her eyes. Clearly, she is still singing her song.

My Comments:
I suspect a lot of people have a celebrity they know before that person became famous. Robin Roberts is "my" celebrity.  We lived in the same neighborhoods and attended the same schools in Izmir, Turkey and Biloxi, Mississippi,  from first through fifth grade. (She was much smarter and more popular than I was).   At that point our paths diverged slighly; both of our dads retired from the Air Force shortly thereafter (though her dad got an all expense paid trip to Viet Nam before retirement) and settled a town apart on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  I'd see her name in the paper periodically and we'd even run into each other every once in a great while.  I enjoyed watching her progress from working for the local TV station on the Coast to hosting Good Morning America.  When NetGalley offered this book by her mother I was eager to read it.  

Robin and I were never close friends (she hung with the popular kids) so I don't know if I ever met her mom or not, but my parents knew both her parents and have always had nice things to say about them. I never really thought about what an uphill climb it was for them to achieve what they did.  My Story My  Song is the story of that climb. 

One constant in Mrs. Robert's life has been music, particularly church hymns and she quotes them liberally in the book.  While her faith shines through in this book, I wouldn't call it preachy.  We follow her from her life as the daughter of a small business man in Akron Ohio to her college days at Howard University to her life as the wife of an Air Force officer during and immediately after the days of segregation.  She talks about Whites considering her to be too Black, and Blacks thinking she acted too White.  She mentions that when they were stationed in Alabama, her daughter Sally-Ann (who hosts the local morning show here in New Orleans) was astounded and thrilled to find other kids who looked like she did.  

While this is a book about an extraordinary woman (indeed, an extraordinary family) triumphing over racism,  it is not a book that bashes people, even racist people.  I loved Mrs. Robert's story of memorizing every detail of the Officers' Wives protocol book and showing up with her hat and white gloves (and a smile) even though she snubbed by some.  My mom had one of those books, and compared to today's casual world...

At the end of each chapter, Robin Roberts offers her reflections on the topics her mother discussed.  The love and respect these two have for each other is obvious.  

I'm sure that part of the appeal of this book for me is that it is about people I knew or knew of, but Lucimarian Roberts is a worthy role model for any young woman today and I'd recommend this book to anyone who thinks that where she is born is where she has to die.  Grade:  A.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Maggie Come Lately

About the Book:
Maggie isn’t exactly popular. In fact, she’s pretty much invisible. While most girls are going to parties with boyfriends, she’s busy acting as mother and housewife to her two brothers and father. But what she really wants is to be noticed by her brother’s friend Webb. Unfortunately, he’s dating the school’s hottest cheerleader.

When her sixteenth birthday comes along, Maggie makes a wish: Please, Lord, let sixteen be a great year; let me be pretty and popular and let Webb . . . it’s too big a dream to even put the rest into words. Then she hears a noise in the woods that she can’t ignore and takes a path that changes her life forever.

My Comments:
What Maggie finds in the Woods is Webb's girlfriend.  She's been bound, raped and left for dead.  Maggie, of course, calls the police.   Of course when she gets to school the next day, everyone wants to know what happened, and she goes from being invisible to having the in-crowd around.  Then she realizes she doesn't even like these kids.

Maggie's mom committed suicide when she was four and she has been the de-facto housewife/mother at their house for a long time.  When she turns sixteen, her dad shows up with something, or should we say someone new, a lady friend who happens to work at a rape crisis center and who tries to take over the household.  She wasn't a very likable person, really she came off as a talking head and not much more, but she knew a lot about rape and sexual assault.  

The book was interesting, if a little slow.  It is clearly a "message" book--rape isn't the only form of sexual assault; date rape and molestation are much more common.  Also, your body is yours and you don't have to allow someone access to it.

In some ways Maggie reminded me of myself--not sure where she fit, and not sure she wanted to fit in with the usual teenaged antics.  The first time she goes on a real date with one of the popular kids he tries to touch her breast and she slaps him.  The first time she goes to a party with alcohol she drinks one beer and gets drunk and has a hangover the next day.  I'm a cheap drunk, but that's a little too cheap.

The book doesn't push purity before marriage so much as it pushes respecting yourself and making the decisions that are right for you.  Characters in the book pray and go to church.  It is said several times that God works things out for the best in the end.

In short, I give the book a B- .  It has some good parts, but also comes across a little like a speech on sexual abuse and there are a lot of creepy people in her neighborhood.  I purchased this one with my own money.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kathleen Basi: Author of Bring Lent to Life

Today, as we begin Lent, I'd like to welcome Kathleen Basi to This, That and the Other Thing. Kathleen is the author of Bring Lent to Life, a book of Lenten reflections and activities aimed primarily at families with young children. Kathleen is the mother of four beautiful children who range in age from newborn to almost seven. You can read about them, as well as Kathleen's thoughts about motherhood and faith at her blog, So Much to Say, So Little Time.

 Kathleen's latest book is Bring Lent to Life: Activities and Reflections for Your Family  (my review). In it she gives a plethora of ideas for celebrating Lent in your home and making more than just a time to lose a few pounds. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me, so, to paraphrase someone famous "here's Kathleen"! 
One thing you mention in your book is that no one should use all your ideas in a year. What is your family doing this year?

Honestly, we are in New Baby Mode, so I haven't thought about it yet. I can tell you this much: I planned Advent to the nanosecond, and Baby Michael put two little hands on the plan and tossed it out the window. I've learned my lesson! I imagine we'll probably decide week by week, like everyone else. The Easter Tree activities, in which we write or draw on leaves and flowers in response to reflections and other activities (they do a good job illustrating it in this video), are important because they give the kids the tactile sense of time passing--watching the bare tree fill up with leaves and flowers as we approach Easter. So I'm sure we'll do those.

What's your favorite activity in the book?

Week four is about renewal (spiritual and physical, i.e. spring), and the way that they enrich each other. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I find God most clearly in creation. In week four, I suggest doing a picnic and nature walk as a way to reflect on the visible journey from desert (winter) to life (spring).  And I love to cook, so the family recipes (my husband is Italian) are high on the list, too.

The thought struck me when reading the book that it would be a great resource for Catholic schools or parishes to distribute. Do you have bulk rates available? If so, how would someone arrange it?

Liguori Publications definitely offers bulk rates. The best way to arrange it is to call the company directly at 800-325-9521. The sales reps are super nice; I've dealt with them recently myself.

I notice the book is not available for the Kindle or Nook. Was this a decision in which you participated? If so, (or if you know why that decision was made) why is it not digitally available?

Had to call in backup on this question! The e-reader format is a separate production process, which they didn't have enough time to finish before Lent this year. However, Bring Lent to Life is on the list to be developed in e-format in the near future. It may not be ready for this Lent, but will definitely be ready next year, and possibly sooner.

I know you live in the general area of St. Louis MO. If a parish in that area is looking for a Lenten speaker, are you available? Is the speaker circuit something in which you have any interest?

I'm definitely interested in the opportunity, but of course, I have a young family, so we would have to work around those obligations to make it possible.

You've mentioned on your blog that you are much more fond of Advent than of Santa; how do you like the Easter Bunny? What does he bring at your house? 

The Easter Bunny does come to the house, but he just brings candy--no presents--and not in large quantities. We've spent a couple of years trying to achieve the right balance there. My husband's family gives up sweets for Lent every year, and has done so for decades. We follow that tradition (although we do individual practices as well), so all of us are ready for some sugar come Easter. But we try to keep it under control, because candy gets tiresome pretty quickly.

You've done Advent and Lent; what's next?

Next up is a project for "the rest of the year", i.e. Ordinary Time, which I believe is make-or-break time for passing on a vibrant faith to our children. I'll be exploring the Beatitudes not as a set of pithy sayings we memorize, but in terms of how to live them out, in very practical terms. How exactly do we become "poor in spirit?" Are we doing anything that we're likely to be persecuted for?

The more time goes by, the more convinced I am that faith falters when we try to compartmentalize it. We serve God (or not) by what we do every day, not just during the high or penitential seasons. I'm really excited about this book.

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