Non-Didactic Chastity in Teen Fiction with Author Carolyn Astfalk

In today’s episode, I speak with author Carolyn Astfalk. You’ll hear about:

  • Congratulations to Ariana, our Liturgical Colors giveaway winner
  • Ending of Season 1 of the Catholic Kidlit Podcast – Thanks for joining me!
  • Book launch updates for Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server and Seven Gifts of Baptism
  • Just a little longer to join the CKWC for 2022
  • How the true story of lost treasure in Pennsylvania inspired a teen romance author
  • How Catholic themes of chastity tie in with lost treasure
  • How fiction creates a launching pad for important conversation and big choices
  • A giveaway of the Catholic teen anthology, Treasures: Invisible and Invisible
  • And more!

**Affiliate disclaimer: Some links may be affiliate links where I earn a little money from your purchase at no cost to you. Thanks for helping an author out! 🙂

Congratulations to Our Winners!

Huge congratulations to Ariana, our winner of my board book, A Little Catholic’s Book of Liturgical Colors! Thanks for participating, Ariana!

Liturgical Colors and God’s love for babies!A Little Catholic’s Book of Liturgical Colors

Today on the show, we are speaking with an author of a Catholic book on the upper age end of kidlit, young adult. Her book Rightfully Ours came out in 2017 and I wanted to highlight it this season because it is important that we don’t forget our teen readers, usually voracious readers, if they are given books that they actually want to read.

So I’m very much looking forward to sharing our interview with you today. I also wanted to congratulate the winner of our Liturgical Colors, giveaway. Ariana, thank you for participating in our giveaway.

Today’s Giveaway

If you want to win a book, we have one more giveaway this season that is today at the end of this show, it is a Catholic Teen Books anthology that you’ll hear more about from Carolyn Astfalk.

Official Ending of Season 1 – Thank you for joining me!

I said that this is the last giveaway of the season, because this is the last regularly scheduled episode of the season. I may have some bonus episodes coming out later this year. But we’ll take a break after this episode. So make sure that you have subscribed to the show if you want to know when we’re coming back with some more interviews.

Catholic Kidlit Writers Club

There’s still time to join the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club until the end of February. We have a small group going there and I’m just excited that we’re together and we can lean on each other. It’s one of those things where you get out, what you put in. I have a feeling that in the group some people will use it more than others. But I’m just glad that we have a space where we’re starting to exist together. 

CWG Conference – February 11

Are you attending this year’s online conference with the Catholic Writers Guild? I will be speaking there along with other Catholic writers on the weekend of February 11th. My talk is all about, can you guess? Catholic children’s literature: writing it, getting it published, et cetera. So join me there. And and you can meet a bunch of other Catholic writers. There are also pitch sessions. If you want to pitch your book to Catholic publishers. 

Second Annual Writing Contest! Participate for free this Lent

Then this spring during Lent, I will be hosting a free kidlit writing contest. This will be our second writing contest on my blog at www.TheresaKiser.com. Take the writing challenge to try your hand at writing a very short 200-word or less story on a surprise topic that I will reveal on the blog.

Prizes will include books and critiques, and of course the comradery and fun of joining in on the challenge. So join me there. It’s all free. It’s all for fun. And it’s to celebrate Catholic kidlit. 

Book Launch Updates

Finally, an update on my books that are coming out this year. If you listened to the last episode, you have heard about the supply chain disruptions that have occurred in the publishing industry.

And they have come around and impacted my book launch. So Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server, which was originally scheduled for spring will be coming out in the Fall of this year which I’m very excited about. It gives us kind of more time to prepare and keep the suspense, but just stay tuned. I know if you were super eager for that just stay tuned on the blog and my website, because I will be revealing when the pre-order link will go up and I’ll be doing a cover reveal there.

I just got the proof back of what the inside is going to look like. And that was just a very exciting moment. It’s just all coming together. 

And then Seven Gifts of Baptism is coming out this year, too. It was originally going to be in the spring and it’s looked like it’s pushed back at least until late spring or early summer.

I don’t have a firm date on that yet. But just stay tuned because those are both books that I think can really just uplift some of our kids. So I’m looking forward to them being out. And I would love for you to join me on that adventure with those books. 

Want to be interviewed?

If you would like to be interviewed on the Catholic Kidlit podcast, if you have some insight into Catholic children’s books, if you are an author/editor, you can apply at Catholic Kidlit dot com or send me a message through the contact form.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce our interviewee, Carolyn Astfalk. Here’s the interview and enjoy the show.

Now for the Interview with Author Carolyn Astfalk

Theresa Kiser: What got you into writing books and which book are you highlighting today? Which are you most excited about? 

Carolyn Astfalk: Well, I kind of got into it by accident just by doing a National Novel Writing Month and then kind of getting bitten by a writing bug. The book I’d most like to focus on is more a young adult book than my others.

And it’s called Rightfully Ours. It’s a coming of age story that is chastity themed actually. 

Theresa Kiser: It can be so impactful to read a novel like that at that age. I was blessed to read Carmen Marcoux’s Arms of Love when I was a teenager and it really impacted my whole view of romance.

So tell us a little bit about this book and its chastity focus. 

Carolyn Astfalk: Well, like I said, I started it during National Novel Writing Month and I really didn’t know what I was going to write. Just that I wanted to accept this challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I looked for an idea and found a newspaper clipping.

It probably was an online newspaper clipping, but it was about some lost treasure in Pennsylvania. I still see news stories about it every so many months and it’ll pop up again. There was gold traveling to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia during the battle of Gettysburg.

At some point they lost track of the men transporting the gold. The gold disappeared; the men were dead. It was just a mystery. They still don’t know exactly where this gold is, but there are active treasure hunters looking mostly in Northwestern, Pennsylvania, and then where my book is set is up in Williamsport, which is more central and Northern Pennsylvania.

So I just had this glimmer of idea and just started writing. And I really didn’t set out necessarily to write a romance, but that’s what it ended up being. And I hadn’t read romance heavily. So it was kind of an interesting thing. And after that, I did start to, so I could learn more about the genre and the conventions of it.

But that was sort of what was on my heart to write and what my other books ended up being: mostly contemporary Catholic romances. 

Catholic Author Carolyn Astfalk

Experienced Author of Contemporary Romance

Theresa Kiser: So your other books are mainly for adults or for teens? Was this your first teen book or… what’s the age group for all your books? 

Carolyn Astfalk: So for my other novels, there are four other full-length novels. 

They’re geared mainly towards adults. Now there’s nothing in them that I don’t think older teens can’t read. It’s just mature subject matter. But there are no explicit scenes of any kind or foul language or anything like that. But this particular book is geared more toward young adults because the main characters are teenagers.

And so it’s more appealing, you know, to that audience, as well as to people that like to read coming of age stories. 

Treasure Hunt

Theresa Kiser: That’s great. I am one of those people who likes to read coming of age stories. So these are teenagers who go on a treasure hunt?

Carolyn Astfalk: They do that. It’s kind of an accidental treasure hunt.

There’s a young girl, Rebecca. This young man, Paul comes actually to live on their property. His father has been deployed; he’s with his older brother who’s come to the area to take a job in the fracking industry where they’re mining natural gas. And they build a friendship and notice some kind of obstacles along the way. And a friendship grows into real affection for each other.

But they also at the same time have discovered what they think could be gold. And so that’s a kind of a parallel storyline, although it kind of comes together with a treasure that they’re discovering in the love between them and the treasure that there’s the physical treasure under the earth that could be there. Their dilemma is how you take things that are rightfully yours or not yours to take. And whether that means in a relationship being selfish or truly loving, or that means actual things that don’t belong to us, you know, objects, and how we treat them and how we respect others. 

Theresa Kiser: Oh, that’s great. I love that. That’s such a thematic tie in between the internal and the external conflicts. I’m excited to see how they would resolve that and what they would decide for each of those things.

Carolyn Astfalk: Oh, it’s funny. When I write a lot of that, I think, was subconscious. After I completed the novel, I’m rereading and that all occurred to me like, “oh, wait, that resonates with this.” And it’s, it’s really amazing how your subconscious and the Holy Spirit and everything works together. And sometimes subtle things in there that you didn’t intentionally put in there, really ring true. 

How the Book Came About

Theresa Kiser: When did this book come out?

Carolyn Astfalk: This came out in 2017. Yep. That’s right. April, 2017. And started writing it in that National Novel Writing Month in 2010. It was the first thing I had written and it took those seven years.

So I did a couple other books. Then I came back to that one with a little more experience and was able to rewrite it so that it was a more cohesive, better written story. 

Theresa Kiser: That is awesome. Yeah, you’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but National Novel Writing Month for people who haven’t heard of it, it is during the month of November. You have 30 days to write 50,000 words. And people from all around the country write down their stories on their computers. 

People meet up in cafes and try to write as many words as they can. They have Word Wars to try to get out words. And it’s a really fun way to, to write stories. Another young adult novel that was drafted during NaNoWriMo was Cinder, that kind of dystopian Cinderella adaptation.

I know there are several others, so it’s really cool to hear that that’s where your story was born. Once you came back to it, what was that journey like? How did you get it published? 

Carolyn Astfalk: Well, the story itself still stood on its own pretty well. It was all the mechanics of writing that I had learned along the way that I need to improve, whether it was dialogue or “showing and not telling” and all those little details that make it a much more enjoyable book to read. 

And by that time, I had published one book with Full Quiver Publishing, and I had had another one that I independently published and I went back to her with Rightfully Ours. And so she accepted that one and that was where that was published.

So I’ve kind of gone back and forth between taking books to Full Quiver. And then as I’ve become more experienced with doing my own, just doing it that way too and independently publishing. 

Theresa Kiser: That’s great. There’s so much to learn. One track informs the other track and vice versa. So that is awesome. 

Non-Didactic Chastity Themes

One of the challenges with writing for teens, especially with a kind of hot button topic, like chastity is how to share that message without preaching or moralizing. So what approach have you taken towards that? How does your story achieve that? 

Carolyn Astfalk: I think the most important thing is the story comes first.

I don’t want to create a story to serve some message I have to get out. I’d rather have the characters come alive in my imagination, and then they just play out whatever their dilemmas are. So they tend to be, I think, which are more interesting, very flawed characters or even mildly flawed, but certainly not perfect people so that we can all relate to them.

Besides that you also have the drama of their redemption, their self-discovery and improvement and that kind of thing. 

So the only time to have someone preaching in a book is if they’re actually a preacher. So you have a priest delivering a homily in a snippet…? Okay, well, he’s legit allowed to preach, but more often than not your other characters, aren’t gonna be preaching. If they are, it’s not going to come across well to the other characters, let alone the readers. 

So I just try to make it as real as possible in my imagination. Like: how would this play out in a conversation? How do people speak to each other? What does this character have to say to someone else in the context of their relationship? 

So in Rightfully Ours, some of the messages that are about the truth of chastity and what the church teaches come from the character Paul’s older brother who has his own experiences that he’s lived and regrets what he has. And he’s able to speak to genuinely to his brother in the absence of their father. Or from Rachel’s parents, who are trying to instruct her and through the way they live their lives and what they’ve brought her up to believe. So I think the more natural it is and the more it’s serving the story and not a message that the better it comes across.

The Value of Story

Theresa Kiser: I feel like that is the value of a story to bring a theme to the front of the mind… it’s that you don’t have to take it like a message. You can just explore the question through someone else’s eyes. Then the reader has time to think about, well, what do I want? 

Carolyn Astfalk: Right. And it’s a great for conversation too. I’m part of a group called Catholic Teen Books where some authors work cooperatively. And one of the things that we always share is that stories are a great way to open conversations too, because it’s kind of uncomfortable to talk directly about a subject, but to talk indirectly about fictional people in their problems is a great way to talk about things that are really important.

You get that little bit of distance. You build empathy by reading it, but you also have a distance because you’re not talking about yourself. You’re talking about Paul and Rachel and their circumstances. 

Theresa Kiser: So with your book having been out, have you heard about any of these conversations that families are having at home based on reading your book?

Carolyn Astfalk: Some of my favorite couple of reviews are when people say, “boy, I wish I had had this book when I was a teenager.” Because like you said, when you’re reading at that age, some stories are very impactful. And I read a few romances at that age, but they were secular. There are clean romances, but I never felt like they fit with what my worldview was developing to be and how I was being raised.

And so whether it’s for young people or adults, I think while there’s a place for books that really transport you and allow you to see totally different experiences, there’s also a place for you to be able to identify with a character and even their practice of their faith. 

So I read a lot of Christian fiction for Evangelicals that I love very much. It’s also, I really enjoy reading something that’s happened to where the characters do the things and practice their faith the way I do. 

And so I think for teens to, to see a Catholic who’s struggling to develop their own faith or make it a coming of age story, they’re really taking those values and making them their own for the first time. “I’m not just what my parents told me to do, what I was taught at school or whatever, but here’s what I believe. And here’s why, and this is how I’m going to behave accordingly.”

To see that and see it reflected with subtle Catholic nuances, I think is very affirming, especially to a young person. 

Theresa Kiser: Yes, absolutely.

What Age Reader?

One of the difficulties that I have encountered in the past with books for this age group is, okay, you have middle schoolers, some of whom are starting to crave reading a little bit about romance kind of thing.

But a lot of the books that are out there are kind of too much for you know, maybe. Middle school girl, who’s more chastity minded and wants to read a book that’s not boring, but also is not, and does have romance, but has also not. Just *too much* in that department. So what is maybe the youngest reader that would be able to read your book?

Cause I know it tackles some more advanced themes. But how does it treat it? Who would you feel comfortable reading your book at what age? 

Carolyn Astfalk: I would say generally speaking, I would say 16. Yeah. Every child is different and some kids are more sheltered. Now, if you have a 13 year old who reads contemporary romances or the secular YA’s, this will seem extraordinarily tame to them.

But if you have a very sheltered young man or woman that doesn’t have a lot of experience with romance then… With my own daughter, she hasn’t read my books yet. She’s read the short stories, but she’s going to be 14 and she would probably be fine with it, but I think she could wait.a little longer for that. 

So it’s an individual thing. 

It’s always great if parents read something first, but I know that that’s not always realistic when you have a bunch of kids and a bunch of books, and it’s just time consuming. 

One of the nice things we did on our Catholic Teen Books website is for the books that are there, we put up a content guide, and that is an aid to help parents or teens themselves gauge who they think this is appropriate for. So you get an idea of any violence or sexuality or anything that might be uncomfortable or that the teen might not be ready for yet. 

Catholic Teen Books

Theresa Kiser: That sounds like a great resource. Is it the books just by the by the authors which are reviewed or are there more books reviewed?

Carolyn Astfalk: The books that are all there are all books by our selected authors. So I think there’s about a dozen authors. And it’s not necessarily every book they’ve written because my adult books aren’t on there, or some other authors might do some non-fiction. It’s just fiction by these authors that we’ve all vetted in and put on the website.

So they put them there with outlines, there’s links to discussion questions, or study guides, the content guide. That kind of thing helps teens and parents discover not only what they like, but what’s best suited to them. 

Theresa Kiser: That sounds really helpful. 

So what message do you want readers to take away about your book?

Carolyn Astfalk: I think that Catholic fiction, first of all, is a thing for adults and teens and for young children too. But it exists, and it’s not necessarily preachy or boring or pious, but it’s actually fun and adventurous and can be a fun supplement to your other reading that it can be part of what you enjoy.

Theresa Kiser: Absolutely. 

Giveaway

Well, thank you so much. Carolyn has offered up to give as a giveaway, a copy of Treasures, Visible and Invisible, which is an anthology by eight Catholic Teen Books authors. So can you tell us a little bit about the anthology?

Carolyn Astfalk: So this project was so much fun. We had done a couple other anthologies where we each contributed a short story, and there are a variety of genres.

So we have saint stories and we have historical fiction. We have romance, we have mystery. We have dystopian.. All these things together that all the different authors bring. And what was so special about this book is that we decided we wouldn’t just tie them by a theme but by an object. 

So there is a Relic of St. Patrick that moves through each one of these stories and they cross continents in Europe and north America a couple of times. And it moves from, you know, like 300 A.D. all the way up into the two thousands. So it was really a fun project to see how that, that object moves through each of our stories so distinctly. 

Where to Find the Author

Theresa Kiser: Really fun. Well, thank you so much for offering that. And if you are interested in reading some of these stories yourself we will have a giveaway going on. So check the show notes for that. And Carolyn, for those who are interested in reading your books where can they find you?

Well, the easiest places to go to my website, which is Carolynastfalk.com. I have all the links to my books and audio books and anthologies there. And I do a lot of reviews of Catholic fiction. So there’s a lot of that on my blog as well. So you can find more than just my books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Carolyn Astfalk: Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much!

 Carolyn, as you heard is the author of several books and has a lot of experience with indie publishing and traditional publishing with Quiver Full. So if you want to hear some tips from her, come and join us in the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club for our exclusive interview with Carolyn about writing.

So we will see you there in the meantime join our giveaway. And thank you so much, Carolyn, for joining us today on the podcast. 

Theresa Kiser: This has been Theresa Kiser with the Catholic Kidlit Podcast. 

The best way to support the Catholic kidlit creator you heard from today is to buy their books, leave reviews, and spread the word on social media and in person.

If you want to write meaningful children’s books with a Catholic heart, check out the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club at CatholicKidlit.com. 

Together we can create and discover books to nurture children’s souls.

Thanks so much for tuning in, and see you next time!

What fiction has helped shape your values? Were you connected with non-didactic teen books at that age?

Let me know in the comments!

Theresa Kiser

I’m Theresa Kiser, speaker and award-winning children’s book author of the picture books Arthur the Clumsy Altar Server (OSV, Coming Fall 2022), Seven Gifts of Baptism (Holy Heroes, coming 2022), and Liturgical Colors (Holy Heroes, 2019), as well as the fantasy adventure series The Manakor Chronicles. Find more about my books at theresakiser.com and engage with me to write better Catholic kidlit in the Catholic Kidlit Writers Club!

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