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Hey friends, check out my guest post featured on CarolynAstfalk.com

As the author of Catholic fiction for teens and young adults, I find myself in a constant battle of the wills. There’s this desire to delight the reader with an entertaining and relatable story, while still remaining focused on pleasing God and sharing His Word. Some may not think this much of a challenge, but when you reflect on the world we live in, as well as what passes for entertainment these days, hardly a fraction of it would be considered godly. In fact, entertainment is so focused on stories that do everything but promote God’s word, or worse, indulge in ideas that are contrary to God’s word.

When it comes to teen fiction, it’s all about rebelling against everything that used to be considered good, promoting dark and destructive themes, and introducing attractive characters with sinister desires. I could throw out a list of examples, but that wouldn’t be fair, or even necessary, quite frankly. I’m confident you know what novels, past and present, I’m referring to.

That’s life, some people will rationalize. That’s the world we live in. Well, yes, it is. But is it the world we should be living in? Is it the world that God wants us to live in? Is it a world we should be promoting? Is it one we should be celebrating?

Scripture tells us that we should be careful about what we put before our eyes. In 2 Corinthians 7, St. Paul reminds us, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” To cleanse ourselves means to ensure that nothing unholy fill our minds or our lives. That’s not easy for us to do when we’re constantly bombarded with unclean and unholy images all day long. There’s only so much we can control, but we can certainly limit the unholy and instill within us God’s glory in so many other ways, including the books that we choose to read.

So, does that mean that Catholics should only read novels about good people doing good things in a world where real life messy doesn’t occur? Well, of course not. That wouldn’t be realistic. And besides, Catholic authors are real people living in the real world. Regardless of how much some of us wish to isolate ourselves from this current post-Christian society, we feel deeply about our role in this world. We are aware of the real world issues that teens are dealing with, whether they’re emotional or physical. We understand temptation, loss, insecurity, loneliness, lust, heartbreak, crushes, drugs, premarital sex, depression, suicide and so many other dark aspects of the world that are confusing and consuming for teens and young adults. But we take the dark and we add light.

Writing is a vocation for us. It’s a ministry. Personally, I believe that the Lord sprinkled the gift of writing upon my head and now I must use it to glorify His name. I am to take the world as it is and place God into the center of it where He belongs. I’m to create real lives the way they should be lived in the hopes that teens are inspired and instill the virtues and values into their own lives. Continue reading…

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Catholicmom.com: Sharing Christ’s Way in a Sexualized Culture, One Novel at a Time

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch is Featured on CatholicMom.com

Are You Aware of This Sad and Naked Truth?

 

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The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch is featured on the Catholic Writers Guild blog. If you’ve read the book or like my work, please leave a comment and share it with others.

At age ten, Benedict carries massive chips on both shoulders. Having passed from bad foster homes to worse, he dreads the uncertainty of new surroundings and new rules. When he arrives at The Sunshine Ranch, he doubts the sincerity of his new foster parents, David and Martha Credence and withholds his affections lest he be ripped again from friends and security. Benedict sees the other foster children as rivals and doubts that his good fortune will last. Over the next four years, he remains aloof, not daring to trust that he has found a home and family.

When foreclosure threatens The Sunshine Ranch, Benedict’s doubts seem to be confirmed. Although David and Martha ask Benedict and their other foster kids to have faith that God will provide, Benedict refuses to believe. But Micah, Benedict’s roommate, and chief rival, keeps the faith. Eventually, Benedict realizes that The Sunshine Ranch gives him the only happiness that he has ever known, and that his constant worry and fear prevent him from enjoying it.

David and Martha Credence, and their many foster children embody generosity and unquestioning faith. Theirs is an impossible task — they welcome hard-case kids like Benedict and scrape together the resources to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Benedict, on the other hand, provides a counterpoint to everything the Credence family attempts to share. Too wounded by his early life experiences to accept the healing they offer, he’s likely to reject them and run away into the night. Micah, the optimist, has suffered as much as Benedict, but he always sees the bright side and attempts to wear down Benedict’s rough edges. Read more of this review and others at the Catholic Writers Guild blog…

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Catholic Review of Books Finds “The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch” Interesting and Edifying For Young Readers!

Book Review: The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch -”I laughed, and I cried…very well written”

What are people saying about, “The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch”?

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Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

Forgiveness is the virtue of mercy. When we have the ability to forgive others for the hurts that they inflict upon us, we have the strength of assurance, not just in ourselves but also in God. We’re basically saying, “Yes, you hurt me, but I’m not going to let your hurt bring me down and I’m not going to hold it against you. I understand that you’re human like me, and that you’re prone to sin, like me. And so I will forgive you, because my God forgives me, and who am I not to do for you what my God has already done for me.”

Wow! Imagine being so confident in ourselves and who we are in our own eyes and in God’s, that we aren’t easily hurt, and when we are, we recognize that the flaw is in the one that hurts and not in ourselves.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)

Forgiveness is unconditional. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because God asks us to do it. So regardless of what someone does to us, we forgive them, even if they’re not sorry for the pain that they caused us.

In my debut novel, The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, a lot of forgiveness is necessary for the foster children at the Ranch. They have all been hurt by at least one parent. They’ve been abandoned, and that causes so much hurt and bitterness. This is especially true for the protagonist in this novel, Benedict. In the following snippet, he’s speaking with his foster father, David about their biological parents.

“Don’t do what? Be mad at them?” Benedict asked. He could feel his face reddening.

“No…no, you can be mad at them,” David said. “You can be mad all you want, but at some point, you need to let it go. You need to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter anymore. You need to forgive them for what they did and did not do, and you need to move on.” (DSR p.84)

The children in this story have to forgive their parents for their own sanity, but even beyond that, forgiveness is a huge sacrifice. In essence, forgiveness is a gift.

In addition to forgiving his own mother for deserting him, Benedict has to forgive himself for squandering his younger years. Even as an adult he holds in so much bitterness and anxiety, and he realizes that he simple can’t move on with such angst in his heart. He can’t go on allowing it all to “eat him alive,” as David had described it to them as children.

Forgiveness doesn’t negate the action that caused the pain. And often this is the reason why the majority of people have trouble forgiving others who have hurt them. They feel that in forgiving them, the person who receives forgiveness will be vindicated; their past transgressions will be null and void.

Later in the same book, Sebastian is faced with his estranged father who asks for his forgiveness (DSR p.92). His father can’t take back what he did and both he and Sebastian understand that.

Forgiveness is not meant to be easy, and that’s why it’s a virtue.

It’s easy to forgive someone we love. In Saving Faith, The second book in my Faith & Kung Fu series, Nina has to forgive her best friend, Faith. “In a heartbeat,” Nina said softly (p.108). Faith then has to forgive Christian for what he did to her, and she’s quick to give it because she has feelings for him (p.176). But forgiveness is often not that easy. Adam, Faith’s brother struggles with it, even when the pain comes from his sister being hurt. But he gives it anyway. Christian also struggles to forgive his father (p.161), but that’s only because his understanding of his parents’ divorce was conjured up by his own imagination and not the truth that finally comes to light as the story progresses.

We’re not always going to get forgiveness right. But it can always be fixed. The reality is that if we don’t forgive, how can we ever expect to be forgiven.

Forgiveness doesn’t place us above the person who hurt us. Because ultimately, we are all guilty of hurting someone at some point in time. So, who are we not to offer forgiveness when we expect it from others, and most importantly, when we were given it by Christ Himself for all our transgressions.

***

The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine RanchFreeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of forgiveness and mercy? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

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Find out what the Teaching Virtues Through Fiction Series is all about!

The Virtue of Chastity is not an easy one to approach with our teens. However, after discussing modesty last week, it seems fitting that chastity be the next virtue to discuss. To be chaste is to aim to be pure. Next to modesty, chastity is likely the most ignored of the virtues, and not just by teens and young adults.

Chastity is considered one of the seven heavenly virtues in the Catholic faith. And it’s not just about being pure. It’s not even about not having sex. That’s abstinence. Chastity is about seeing our sexual selves in the way that God created us. For the sake of this learning series, I’ll be discussing chastity in unmarried teens and young adults. Although it would certainly relate to all unmarried people.

In our overly sexual culture, promiscuity and deviant sexual interactions is considered cool, and it’s promoted in the media and in our society. It’s become extremely difficult to teach our children Christian values when it comes to relationships. In contrast, being chaste is treated as embarrassing. It’s ridiculed, and those who practice it are led to believe that their convictions are archaic and pathetic.

High school crushes, peer pressure, and hormones are a constant battle against our Lord’s design when He created man and woman. Regardless, scripture is clear about being chaste and pure. So why is it so hard for those who love the Lord to follow His commandments?

Well, it’s time to change that damaging mindset about chastity, and fiction can help. In all the fictional novels that I have written so far, purity is both good and cool.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

CHASTITY IS PURITY OF THE BODY. This seems pretty obvious when we consider the physical manner in which a person is impure. So, one way to remain chaste through the body is to refrain from all physical aspects of intimacy that often leads to the act itself. This begins with something small such as tempting others.

In The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, Tommy has a crush on Faden, and vice versa. She is aware of his feelings about purity by the ring that he wears. When they reveal their feelings to each other, they’re alone and share a kiss (p.96). However, when David and Martha find out, they are told that they have to wait until they are older to date (p.137). Teens can easily create romantic moments for themselves in which chastity is quickly forgotten, which is why it’s important to avoid them.

Chaperones are a big thing in Freeing Tanner Rose. Tanner is annoyed by them (p.41) and makes fun of them (p.79), but Gabriel is not embarrassed. However, Tanner’s world is the one that we live in today. When we first meet her, she’s flirting and getting close with Jason Allan (p.2).

Tanner flirts with Gabriel too, but he contrasts her behavior in the way that he is very conscious about not being physical or flirting, (p.55). Even when Natasha flirts with him at the post-show party, and he is obviously attracted to her, he still remains chaste in his actions (p.176).

In Saving Faith, there are many suggestions that Christian and his friends are promiscuous (p.) This is evident also for Maria and her friends (p.71) and the conversations that they have.  At one point, Christian offers to “fix” Gabriel’s virgin status with a “sure thing.” But Gabriel’s response is priceless:

“And then what?” Gabriel looked at him and waited.
“What?”
“And then what?” Gabriel’s expression was serious as he stared back at Christian. “After the sure thing? Then what?”
“I don’t know, man.” Christian laughed. “You really that naive about the ways of the world?”
“No,” Gabriel said. “Just more interested in the will of God.” (p.64)

PURITY IN THE MIND AND IN THE HEART is another aspect of chastity that we ignore. But what we allow into our minds and hearts can easily affect our actions. We can conjure up thoughts about intimacy with a crush, or we can read books that offer all kinds of impure scenarios that lead us to lust. Tanner watching Gabriel on the camping trip is an example (p.46). But impure thoughts won’t lead us closer to God and what He desires for us.

Purity in the mind is often dictated by purity in the heart. It’s a desire instilled within our hearts that solidifies our decision to remain pure. If it’s strong and honest, then it cannot be corrupted easily. But if we say all of this to a teen, it sounds old-fashioned and prudish. Which is why fiction is a better method in teaching virtues. Let teens fall in love with a virtuous character.

PURE AND PROUD. This is what Faden boasts about himself to Tommy in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch. (p.96) To be truly virtuous, you have to be confident in yourself and unashamed of your convictions. We see this so often with Gabriel. When Tanner and Gabriel are in the limo waiting outside Rick Vonn’s house, she asks him about his purity (p.129). He’s cool and confident in his response and this surprises her. This is the lesson we should teach our children.

The fictional stories offered show how the coolest characters are pure and proud. And those who have been taught otherwise need further educating.

Faith sees this when she compares Gabriel and Christian. She has to come to a decision in Saving Faith. She realizes that her actions have led her to a point in her relationship with Christian:

There was no doubt that she liked him, but to like him meant to compromise her convictions more than she already had,  because it was evident now that he would accept nothing less.  (SF p.132)

Faith’s actions have consequences. As did Christian’s. But what she is considering a consequence, for him is the icing on the cake. “It doesn’t take much,” Faith says to her brother about how a person’s life can be destroyed in an instant. Yet, she is neglecting to realize that in the same way, it doesn’t take much to give the gift of virginity away in a moment of unchaste passion. It’s one act, yes. But it’s one that changes everything. And like her first kiss, it’s something she cannot get back.

***

The books referenced in this post were The Destiny of Sunshine RanchFreeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:

The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions

For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!

Join the discussion!
Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of chastity and purity? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.

For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers 

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     Previously published in Catholicmom.com August 6, 2012

“Then why are we here?” Eva asked.
“You are here…” he began to say, and then wondered how much should really be said.
“You are here because God sent you to me.”
“Oh David!” Benedict protested and was about to walk away.
“It’s true,” David insisted, looking back at the boys. “Your mothers and fathers, for some reason or another, couldn’t do it right.”
“Do what right?” Tommy asked.
“Take care of you…they just didn’t have it in them. They weren’t strong enough.”
“Smart enough,” Tommy muttered.
“Sober enough,” Sebastian said.
“Stop,” David said gently. “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what? Be mad at them?” Benedict asked. He could feel his face reddening.
“No…no, you can be mad at them,” David said. “You can be mad all you want, but at some point, you need to let it go. You need to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter anymore. You need to forgive them for what they did and did not do, and you need to move on.”
“What if I can’t do that?” Tommy asked.
David thought a moment before answering. “If you can’t forgive and move on, then your feelings will grow and fester and they will eat you alive.” (The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch)

This is a snippet of the dialogue in a pivotal scene from my novel, The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch. It comes in the middle of the book and is between David and five of his foster-children, Sebastian, Eva, Tommy, Benedict, and Micah.

It was a heart-wrenching scene to write, and I confess that I cried a little as it played itself out. But it needed to happen. Recognizing the children’s cynicism is essential to the story. My hope is that young readers find the exchange emotionally stirring, although tears are optional.

Equally, I hope readers share the feelings of anguish and sorrow as each character expresses these sentiments. Why? Because if they allow themselves to feel the depths of hurt, then the opposite feelings of hope and exhilaration will be enhanced in all the moments of joy and love and relief.

My desire in this novel and future books is to capture the hearts and minds of all my readers, especially those who have experienced past adversity or those currently dealing with it. In The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, I had to offer feelings they can relate to. And tweens and teens experience so many emotions as they transition from child to adult. Imagine the additional torment that a foster child experiences, or a child dealing with loss or abuse or neglect.

It’s possible that many of my readers will recognize themselves, or a fraction of themselves, in one or all of the characters. If they’re able to form such a relationship, they can tag along as each character journeys through the trials and tribulations that eventually deliver them to God and His unconditional love.

I’m an advocate for overcoming adversity. It’s not an easy endeavor, even in the least extreme circumstances. But nothing is impossible with God. And the premise of this novel is based on, Philippians 4:12-13, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”

My prayer is that The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch is an inspirational read and that each young reader gets from it what they need. So far, I’ve had positive feedback. One reviewer, author, Holly Michael recently wrote:

“This heartwarming novel leads readers, along with the characters, on a route toward God, toward His love, and toward healing and the hope of living a fulfilled life. And for those already rooted in Christ, the novel will surely be a faith-strengthener.” (Writingstraight.com)

Another reviewer, homeschool mom, and blogger, Catherine wrote that this novel has worthy teachable moments. I concurred in a post titled, The Many Teachable Moments in “The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch,” and listed them out. They include finding strength in God, staying pure in love, and accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Catherine added:

“In addition to a delightful read, there are a few uplifting messages revealed in these pages.  For me, the most important was that faith is the only sure anecdote for anxiety.  Coming in closely behind were the ideas that God waits – and that where there is life, there is hope.” (Ourvillageisalittledifferent.com)

One thing I didn’t expect when writing this novel was that it would be inspiring to adults. I’d intended the story to be for tween, teens, and young adults, but grandparents and parents alike have voiced their positive feedback. Additionally, homeschooling parents have praised the book.

I had many hopes, prayers, and dreams when writing The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, and I believe that the final story exceeds my ultimate expectations. This was primarily because many of the scenes, although inspired by me, came to life and directed themselves. I didn’t know the whole story until it was written. I didn’t know the characters until they introduced themselves to me. I didn’t even know how God would make His appearance within the story, until He revealed Himself in my words.
It was a pleasure to write this novel, and I hope that it’s as much a pleasure to read.

If you loved this, then you’re sure to like…

“Saving Faith” Featured on Catholicmom.com Book Notes

Catholicmom.com: Sharing Christ’s Way in a Sexualized Culture, One Novel at a Time

The Many Teachable Moments in “The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch”

Visit me on social media for more news and reviews on my Catholic fiction or just to say hi:
Facebook: facebook.com/TMGaouette
Twitter: @TMGaouette

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I find the task of creating fictional characters a fun experience, for the most part. I determine their physical aspects, personality traits, background information, aspirations, fears, joys, and so on. No-one can tell me how to design a fictional character, because each one is created by me.

But what if the character takes a life of his own…I mean, that’s great, right? It drives the story along, creates a more natural piece of fiction. But what if the character becomes uncontrollable?

It doesn’t happen with all of my characters, but every now and then the odd boy (or girl) takes it upon himself to reveal an idiosyncrasy or personality flaw that bends and twists my story-line in a fashion that redefines it. It’s not always a negative awareness. Sometimes it’s a good revelation, but one that ultimately affects the story in some way.

Still, I allow him to let loose, and all I can do is follow his lead and hope that he behaves as best he can. Should the revelation be a negative one, I find myself in a bind. In order to maintain the integrity of the story, I am forced to lay down the law.

I have to remind my character of what’s expected of him, to a certain extent, of course.

I’m like a controlling mother, with more children than the ones I gave birth to physically. These are the babies I gave birth to creatively, and they had better behave, or they’ll be put in a time-out…which, of course, means I’ll save them for when another story, more fitting their rebellious nature, is conjured up.

Have you ever had a rebellious character take control of your fictional story?

Visit me on social media for more news and reviews on my Catholic fiction or just to say hi:
Facebook: facebook.com/TMGaouette
Twitter: @TMGaouette

Image: Bill Longshaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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One of my readers wrote to me after reading The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch. She said that she found the book valuable because of its many teachable moments.

So I thought I’d take a moment and list some of these teachable moments for homeschooling mothers, teachers, and youth group leaders looking for a novel to use for instruction.

Overcoming Past Adversity: The story is about foster children who have all experienced past adversity. Benedict, the main character has the hardest time getting over his past. In fact, his fear stands in the way of his happiness.

Finding Strength in God: The biblical verse that carries this novel is Philippians 4:12-13.

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Every one can relate to this verse because we have all had our ups and downs. This novel demonstrates that with God strengthening us, we can get through the worst of times.

Staying Pure in Love: Tommy and Faden discover that they have an emotional interest in each other. But how do two Christian teens deal with their emotions? I love how these characters come together, and as their relationship develops, they teach young teens how love can grow without compromise.

Patience in Foster Parenting: Unconditional love is easy when the children are your own, but what about foster children? David and Martha Credence are the epitome of love and patience. How do they do it?

Holding onto your Faith in Times of Struggle: Martha and David teach their foster children about loving and understanding God. Their mantra is, “have faith.” But even those who are strong in their faith feel forsaken when trial follows struggle after pain.

Following Your Dreams: Even when your dreams seem unreachable, never let them go. Continue to strive for them. There are many moments in this book where a character questions their own dreams and abilities. But this story promotes following your dreams. They may be God’s gift to you and your way of glorifying Him.

Accepting Jesus Christ as Your Lord and Savior: This isn’t easy to do for Benedict. His fear is as strong as his faith is weak. This story doesn’t preach. It doesn’t tell the reader to follow Christ, but it demonstrates the pain when He’s missing in your life, and it reveals the joy that comes with opening your Heart to Him.

These are the main teachable moments that are offered in The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch. This novel provides additional opportunities for teachers and youth group leaders to use for instruction. If you’re using this book to answer other questions, please share them with us here.

If you haven’t read The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch, you can get your copy from this site.

Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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