Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Thanks to those of you who've accompanied me on my writing journey via these posts. Stay tuned. I think it's going to get even more interesting from here on out.

May tomorrow's dawn mark the start of a year that gives each of us a renewed closeness to the God who placed us here, and a vision of His purpose for us.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas: Light In The Darkness

This was the Christmas message I posted last year. I don't think I can say it any better. May your holidays be blessed. Random Jottings will return on January 4.

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"Do we go to your parents' house or mine?" "Where did you put the extra string of Christmas lights?" "Which stuffing recipe are you going to use?" "What can we give him/her?" "Where is my Christmas tie?" "Why doesn't this sweater fit anymore?"

Have these become the sounds of Christmas at your house? I hope not. As the blessed day sneaks up on us, I've wondered what to say to those of you who read my random jottings from time to time. What can I say that's new and inspirational? Finally, it dawned on me...I don't have to find something new. Better to stick with something written about 2700 years ago by the prophet, Isaiah. The words bring as much hope now as they did then. May it be ever so.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned....For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Previews Of Coming Attractions

I've just learned to write "2009" and now 2010 is already around the corner. I may not necessarily be having fun, but nevertheless time is flying by. Other than a Christmas message on December 24, this will be my last post until next year. Here's a preview of what you can expect at that time.

I've invited Maegan Roper, the new Marketing and Publicity Manager for my publisher, Abingdon Press, to answer some questions about marketing and publicity. You'll want to check out that interview, although it may give many of the authors among us heartburn as we learn how much we need to be involved in selling our books.

New York Times best-selling author, my cyber-friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Palmer joins me for a discussion of medical details in fiction and a preview of his forthcoming novel of medical suspense, The Last Surgeon. Oh, yes, we may just touch on my own debut novel, Code Blue.

I try to make these posts interesting enough to keep you coming back to read them. If there's something you'd like discussed here, leave a comment, won't you?

Meanwhile, may I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Please Join Me In Celebrating

I'd like to share some good news with all my readers. I've just signed a contract with Abingdon Press for the publication of the second and third novels in the Prescription For Trouble series. In addition to Code Blue, which will be released April 1, 2010, you can look for Medical Error in the fall of 2010 and Cause Of Death the following spring.

I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to my agent, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary, and Barbara Scott, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Abingdon Press for all they've done to make this dream a reality. Thanks to you both for believing in me.

You can pre-order Code Blue now from your local independent bookseller, Amazon, Christianbook.com, or Cokesbury books. If you do, drop me an email (using the "email me" tab at the upper right corner of this page) with your mailing address and the name of the retailer from which you ordered, and I'll send you a signed bookplate for the front of the book. As an added bonus, at the end of Code Blue you'll find a preview of Medical Error. I hope it piques your interest.

Thanks for letting me share this exciting news with you. My sincere wishes to all my readers for a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year. Blessings.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rules Of Writing

When I first stumbled into this thing called writing, I had a very simplistic view of the whole enterprise. After all, I'd had my full measure of English classes in high school and had done well. I'd edited or written eight textbooks that are still in use. Over a hundred of my papers had been published in medical journals. I knew how to put the words together. This fiction stuff should be a snap. Right?

We'll now pause for all the writers out there to stop laughing. No, despite being reasonably conversant with the language, I still had a lot to learn. And I'm still learning.

Of course, one of the things that frustrates every writer is seeing a novel on the shelves at our local bookstore, opening it, and seeing that the author has violated one or more of the rules we've had hammered into us.

Bill Pronzini is a well-respected writer of thrillers. He's been nominated numerous times for the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Publishers Weekly called him "a master of the modern mystery." Here are the opening lines of his novel, Quarry:

Cool, windy Monday in late April. Pale sun, scattered cumulus clouds. Nice day for a long, solitary drive into the country, especially when you had a partner and best friend who was getting married in a few days and who was turning everyone concerned into basket cases with his prenuptial mania...

There wasn't much traffic on Highway 101 south of King City, and when I turned off at San Lucas there was no traffic at all...


Now, this turns out to be a good book. I've read it a couple of times, and like Pronzini's work. But all you writers out there, what rules did he break? Here are the ones that jumped out at me. Never start a book with information about the weather. Don't write in first person--it's extremely limiting. Avoid "passive" phrases that depend on "was ---ing" verbs. Don't put too much backstory into the first few pages. Introduce tension early. Hook the reader with the first sentence if you can, certainly with the first paragraph.

How did Pronzini get away with it? The simple answer is that he'd developed a following (including me) and they knew that if they just waded through the first few pages it would get better. And, in this case, it did.

Do writing rules serve a purpose? I think they do. I've just completed the final edits of Code Blue, and I have to admit that when I followed my editor's suggestions to got rid of some of my pet words (I seem to favor "just"), when I changed "was starting" to "started," and when I applied some of the other standard "rules" for writing, the resulting prose flowed better and held my attention. But I dream of the day when I've written a couple of dozen successful books and, like Bill Pronzini, I can ignore the rules and just write.

Writers, do rules bother you or do they help? Readers, what's your take on openings like this one?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview With Author Jennifer AlLee


Fellow Abingdon author Jennifer AlLee has so many fascinating stories to tell, it’s hard to know where to start. She’s agreed to take time away from chewing her nails—she’s awaiting the February release of her novel, The Pastor’s Wife—to do an interview. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know Jen. I know I have.

RM: Let’s start with your name. It’s not Allee, it’s AlLee. Can you clarify that for us?

JA: Thanks so much for noticing the fine nuances of my moniker. AlLee is my married name, so it’s really all my husband’s fault. The origin is French, and it’s morphed quite a bit over the years. Part of the family spells it like I do. Another part uses two lowercase “el”s. And a third rebel faction spells it with the capital “el” and an accent mark. I know it can be quite confusing. But it sure looks nice on a book cover when they get it right!

RM: I understand that you have had connections with the entertainment world since very early in life. Would you share that story with my readers?

JA: My grandparents met on the vaudeville circuit. Grandma was a dancer and my grandfather was a concert violinist from Hungary: Duci deKerekjarto (how’s that for a last name?) Duci immigrated to make his mark in Hollywood, which is how our family ended up there. He remained friends with another Hungarian performer, an actor named Bela Lugosi. (Yes, the original Dracula. Take that, Edward Cullin!) Bela died before I was born, but my mom remembers being bounced on his knee and calling him Uncle Bela.

My own minor brush with fame came on the day I was born. Michael Landon Jr. and I were in the same hospital nursery in neighboring basinets. My Aunt Karen nearly passed out when she realized proud father Michael Sr. was standing at the window next to her!

RM: The Pastor’s Wife isn’t the first thing you’ve had published, not even your first novel. What else have you written?

JA: Early in my writing journey, I sold a few short stories. Later on, I had the honor of being recommended for a project at Concordia Publishing House. My pastor at the time writes for them and he thought I’d be good for a book of skits they were putting together. I did that, which led to other projects including writing for their My Devotions series. To date, I’ve written over 100 devotions. My other book is The Love of His Brother, a contemporary inspirational romance for Five Star. You can read more about it on my website.

RM: Would you give my readers a preview of The Pastor’s Wife?

JA: I would love to. Maura Sullivan never thought she’d see Granger, Ohio, again. But when circumstances force her to return, she must face all the disappointments she tried so hard to leave behind; a husband that ignored her, a congregation she couldn’t please, and a God who took away everything she ever loved.

Nick Shepherd had put the past behind him. At least he thought he had, until the day his estranged wife walked back into town. Intending only to help Maura through her crisis of faith, Nick discovers his feeling for her never died. Now, he must face the mistakes he made and find a way to give and receive forgiveness.

As God works in both their lives, Nick and Maura start to believe they can repair their broken relationship and reunite as man and wife. But Maura has one more thing to tell Nick before they can move forward. It’s the thing that finally drove her to leave years earlier, and the one thing that can destroy the fragile trust they’ve managed to rebuild.

RM: Before you began writing the book, did you have any special insight into the life of a pastor and his family?

JA: I served as a church secretary for many years, which definitely gave me a unique perspective on the lives of a pastoral family. I worked at two different churches. One was a large denominational church, the other much smaller and non-denominational. But the lives of the pastors were quite similar. There’s always another meeting to go to, or one more person that needs counseling. People feel very possessive about their pastors. This usually manifests itself in positive ways, but sometimes it crosses a line. You have to watch out for that. And the pastoral family faces challenges no one really thinks about. They basically live in a glass house and are expected to be active members of every church activity, whether they’re interested in it or not.
When I was working on the original concept for this novel, I thought about the pastors’ wives I’ve known over the years. They’ve handled themselves with amazing grace under pressure. But what if another woman couldn’t? What if a young woman thinks she knows what she’s getting into, but the reality of losing who she is and becoming a “pastor’s wife” is more than she can handle? What if some other tragedy pushes her over the edge? Would she run? And what would happen if she had to return to the scene of her heartbreak years later? All those questions eventually became The Pastor’s Wife.

RM: You also speak to various groups. I notice that one of your subjects is journaling, an activity in which I engaged after the death of my first wife, resulting in my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. What got you interested in journaling?

JA: I’ve kept journals since I was in high school. I have a big plastic storage box full of notebooks I can’t bear to part with. But when I realized the healing aspect of journaling was about 16 years ago after my son was born. I went through a bout of post-partum depression, although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I would lie in bed at night wanting desperately to sleep but not being able to. My head was such a jumble of emotions and confusion I wanted to scream. One night, I picked up a notebook I kept next to the bed and started writing. All these feelings just poured onto the page. It didn’t matter if it made sense or if the writing was pretty, I just needed to get all this stuff out. I did that every night for at least a month until the depression finally took off. Journaling helped me hold on to my sanity. That, and I Love Lucy reruns.

RM: What’s your next project? Is there another book on your hard drive right now?

JA: Oh, Richard, there are so many books on my hard drive! All are in various stages of completion, but I hope to find a home for each of my babies one day. I have a completed manuscript that’s in a publishing competition right now. By the time your readers see this interview, I’ll know whether or not it won. If you want to know more about the fate of Vinnie’s Diner, come on over to my website or blog.

RM: And finally, any last words for my readers?

JA: Thanks so much for having me here, Richard. And thank you, readers, for going on this journey with me. One of the best things about being a writer is meeting new people. I’d love to keep in touch. Here are some places you can find me:

My Website
My Blog
On Twitter
On Facebook
And last but not least, check out The Pastor’s Wife book trailer on YouTube:
Be blessed!

Jen, thanks for stopping by Random Jottings. I’m looking forward to reading The Pastor's Wife. For my readers, here's a link where you can find out more about the book and pre-order it at a substantial discount.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Farewell To An Icon

Kay and I recently watched the last episode of the TV show, "Monk." It would be an understatement to say that we hated to see it end. We didn't start out as fans of this show, but after we decided to try it, we were hooked.

Eight years ago, gifted actor Tony Shalhoub introduced us to the obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk. I'd seen Shalhoub in "Wings" and thought he was funny. But he brought more than comedy to the role of Monk. We felt his angst as he sought to find the person responsible for killing his wife, Trudy. We identified with his frustrations--at least, I did--and smiled when those around him made allowances and loved him for what he was.

This was something rare: a cable TV show without nudity, sex, profanity, or other things shown by cable networks just because they could. There was some violence, but even that was toned down compared with some of the images and situations I've seen on network shows.

Maybe I liked Monk because he gave me one of my favorite catch phrases: "I don't mind change. I just don't like to be around when it happens." Well, now my Friday nights have changed. But for all the good ones they've given me, my thanks go out to Shalhoub, the other actors on the series, and the people at USA network. Thanks for the memories.

For the writers among you: I'll be teaching two courses at the Mount Hermon Writers' Conference next spring, one on medical details in fiction, the other on "what I wish I'd known when I started." I'd like to know what you wish you'd learned earlier in your writing journey. Leave your contribution in the comments section. I'm looking forward to reading your responses. Thanks.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Interview With Author CJ Lyons





It’s always a pleasure to welcome a fellow physician and writer to my blog. Today we’re visiting with pediatric emergency room doctor CJ Lyons, who writes “cutting edge medical suspense.” Her first three novels follow four nurses working in the emergency room of Angels of Mercy Medical Center in Pittsburgh. They’re best sellers because CJ combines excellent writing with an insider’s knowledge of emergency medicine. It’s good to welcome CJ back to Random Jottings.

RM: I’ll start with the question I’m always asked. Are the situations in your novel taken from your own experiences, or are they purely a product of your imagination?

CJ: The medicine is all as real as I can make it (I just take out the boring bits) but all of the patients are purely fictional. One of the situations in Urgent Care that is especially timely is the deportation of patients who are uninsured—the New York Times recently did a series of articles on a case similar to the one I created for Urgent Care.

RM: Tell us about getting your first contract with Berkley and the leap of faith you took in response to it.

CJ: Berkley gave me the opportunity to create a new kind of thriller, something fresh and different that hadn’t been done before—a cross-genre medical thriller with romantic elements, told from the point of view of women. It was quite exhilarating! Since there are no books like these out there right now, it makes marketing and helping readers to find them (in General Fiction/Literature to the left of Moby Dick) a challenge.

RM: Three novels in the series have been published. Can you give my readers a bit of insight into each of them? And are they interdependent enough that it would be best to start with the first novel, Lifelines?

CJ: To get the full effect of the character development, I would start with Lifelines. I try to make them readable in any order, revealing any important info to new readers, so no worries about reading them out of order.

Lifelines is basically a stranger comes to town story. On "the most dangerous day of the year," July 1st, Dr. Lydia Fiore loses the wrong patient. Her quest for the truth behind his death eventually places her, her new friends, and the entire city of Pittsburgh in danger.

In Book #2, Warning Signs, medical student Amanda Mason is investigating the suspicious deaths of patients. When she begins to experience the same deadly symptoms, she realizes that time is running out.

Book #3, Urgent Care, follows ER charge nurse Nora Halloran as she confronts her greatest fear. The man who brutally attacked her two years ago has returned—only now he’s killing his victims and both Nora and the man she loves are his next targets.

RM: How has your life changed since you became a full-time author?

CJ: Wow, life as a writer is sooooo very different from practicing medicine! No more rigid schedules, no beeper interrupting every family meal, no more driving in the snow at 3am for an emergency. As much as I miss my patients, I am enjoying my newfound freedom.

RM: What’s on the horizon for CJ Lyons?

CJ: Book #4 of the Angels of Mercy series, Isolation, will be out December, 2010—which means I need to finish writing it! Isolation is going to be very intense, think Die Hard in a hospital, with a compressed time period, so it should provide folks with quite a thrilling holiday read next year!

RM: Your web site has some really great links to help writers. You also teach writers’ workshops. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you do that?

CJ: As a pediatrician, teaching was always a part of my everyday life—a part that I loved. I didn’t want to give that up, so I began teaching writing classes. I must be doing something right because I’m booked through 2011 and to date more than thirty of my students have gone from unpublished to published—not that I can take any of the credit, but I’m very proud of them!

Thanks, CJ, for dropping by Random Jottings. We'll let you get back to your writing and teaching now. I look forward to reading Isolation next year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Imagine That!

Many years ago, when I was a child and the earth's crust was cooling, I listened to a program every Saturday morning. It was called "Let's Pretend," and it featured the dramatization of a fairy tale or children's story. There was no TV in those days (hard to imagine, huh?) so the listeners could let their imagination run wild in picturing what was happening.

Imagining things isn't dead, even today in this age of movies, TV, YouTube, and other visual presentations. That's why I most often enjoy a book more than a movie or a TV adaptation. I can apply my own imagination, paint my own pictures to go along with the words. And that's a good thing, in my estimation.

This is what writers do, whether they craft short stories, novels, screen plays, or TV scripts. They let their own imagination guide them to set up scenes and scenarios where the reader/viewer can paint the picture in their own mind. When that happens, when the audience finds themselves in the middle of the action, identifying with the lead character, the writer has succeeded. Has a book, play, or TV show done this for you? I hope so.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some imagining to do. What will Allison do in response to this latest challenge? Matter of fact, what will be the next challenge? I can only imagine.