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Friday, June 6, 2014

Author Interview--Jim and Ann Cavera

Anne: The interview this morning is with the couple who wrote the inspirational reflection readings, Grounded in God. I reviewed the book yesterday, and if you want to read it, please click HERE.

So, Ann and Jim, why did you choose to write Grounded in God?

Jim: Ann and I were caught in a situation that is not uncommon in middle age. We were caught between caring for our last child, a teenager in high school, and caring for Ann’s elderly parents whose health concerns required our attention. We decided to write about our situation and offered it as a column to our weekly Catholic newspaper. We named the column “The Second Half,” referring to our being in the second half of life. This began a fourteen-year stint of writing weekly columns. After some five years we put some columns together in a self-published book called “Closing in on God.” Grounded in God was written some five years later at the request of a publisher.

Ann: In 1997, Jim and I still had our youngest child at home and we were caring for my mom and dad. They lived in a house about a block from ours. Dad had cancer, and Mom had several chronic problems. Both of us were working, and we were swamped. Jim suggested we try doing some kind of project together. Since we had very little free time and could seldom leave the house together, he thought we might try writing some columns called “The Second Half” for our local weekly church paper.

Immediately, I wrote up a business plan that included syndicating the column, books, and lots of speaking engagements. Jim, ever the realist, said “Why don’t we try a few columns first and see how it goes?” We really did enjoy writing about our lives, and people our age seemed to connect. We self-published our first book, Closing in on God, in 2002. This was a collection of some of our early columns. In 2006 Liguori Press published Grounded in God, a second collection of our columns. In December of 2011, after a little more than 14 years and a few more than 700 consecutive columns, we wrote our last column. If anyone had told either of us in the beginning that things would go on for that long, we would have run the other way.

Anne: Which is your favorite story in the book?

Ann: I think my favorite piece from Grounded in God is the one about Cousin Callie and the lasagna. One of the reasons I like this piece is because it says something so true about my mother’s family. In Mom’s family, it has always been perfectly acceptable to drop in on any relative at any time --no invitation or warning required. It’s a good thing most of us like each other because, for us, this works well. If no one is home--just stop by another time.

Jim: My favorite story is Fair Exchange. I still carry a vivid image of that event in our life. That child’s gift to me blew me away. I felt I was in the presence of an angel who passed on to us a “thank you” from God. I have noticed that as I have aged, my prayers have changed from making requests to predominately thanking God for His many gifts.

Anne: Having read those two stories, I can easily see why you chose them. They were both incredibly heartwarming. What is the best part about writing a book like this?

Jim: We never really set out to write a book, only to produce a weekly column of 400-500 words. We estimated that we wrote 680 columns. Because we had a weekly deadline, it forced us to come up with a topic every week. For me, I literally got into the habit of making mental notes of things that could become the basis for a column. It got so that Ann and I would often interrupted our conversations with the words, “that might make a good column.” We never missed a deadline.

Ann: My favorite thing about writing is connecting with so many wonderful people after a book is written. My second favorite thing is taking a rough draft and polishing it--seeing it come to life. Sort of like making a pot of soup.

Anne: What is your least-favorite aspect of the whole writing/publishing process?

Ann: For me, creating the initial rough material is the most difficult part. I’ve developed a system for doing this that makes things easier for me, but it’s still hard. Much procrastination is involved: laundry has to be done, the mailbox has to be checked, grocery lists have to be written…. I think getting ready to do a rough draft is a little like the moment at the end of the high-diving board – Do I really want to jump? Is it going to work? What if I flop? The only way I can get started is to jump in and let everything pour out for half an hour, sometimes not even writing in complete sentences. After this whole conglomeration sits for a little while, I go back and try to find something worth keeping and expand on it. It usually takes me four to five hours to get a column of 500 good words out of several pages of mish-mash.

Jim: There were times when our minds were blank and the deadline clock was ticking. We talked about giving up on the weekly column many times over the years. But we forced ourselves to make a list of possible topics. Sometimes we would start and struggle with a couple hundred words, only to trigger another idea which would then become the column.

Anne: Boy, do I ever relate to the blank page and a mind to match! I always am curious about people's motivation for writing. What is yours?

Jim: Ann has been writing all her life. She taught me how to write, not on purpose, but by showing me lots of different ways to get my idea on paper. I am committed to a preaching schedule as well as to presentations. I am more comfortable writing words to be spoken.

Ann: I think I write because I can’t imagine not writing. Jim and I have had very full, busy lives and I have loved every minute of it. (Well, almost every minute!) I am also a person who likes to focus on one thing at a time. So I’ve written some things over the years, but it is only since my late fifties I’ve been able to enjoy writing on a regular basis.

Anne: Ann, I met you at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference at Mount Hermon, California (a lovely setting, by the way). What did you get from the conference that will help you the most?

Ann: First, I loved being with so many people of faith--such energy when so many faith-filled people come together with one mind and heart. Also, I had not been to a writer’s conference in many years. It felt wonderful to hear so many great speakers. (I also found out how much I need to learn!) Also the setting is so refreshing--can’t think of a better place to have this wonderful conference.

Anne: And last of all, what's next on your writing agenda?

Ann: A couple of weeks before the conference, I had an idea for a devotional. A few people at Mount Hermon gave me some encouragement for this idea and I have been working very hard on it since the conference. I would rather not say much about it at the moment because I still have that tip-of-the-diving-board feeling. It’s too early to know whether this one will sink or swim! The good thing is these are short reflection essays and so the skills I once used in writing columns are coming in handy so far.

Thanks for the opportunity to visit with you and your readers.

Anne: I have to say, Ann, that I've really enjoyed your responses and Jim's too. It's obvious to me you two spend a lot of time on your knees. God bless you as you continue to write for the God of inspiration!
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