Monday, June 28, 2010

Brief Hiatus

I'll be away from the blogosphere this week. My grandson, Connor, and the members of his 12-and-under baseball team will be at Cooperstown, New York, for a baseball camp. I'm looking forward to making the trip with him.

Of course I have one novel I need to market, I should be preparing for the launch of another, and the edits for my third are waiting for me. But family comes first, and all that other stuff will still be here when I turn my computer on again in a week.

Talk among yourselves until I'm back. Meanwhile--play ball!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guest Post: Maria Morgan on The Right Prescription

Our guest post today comes from Maria Morgan, who won the right to be a guest blogger in a recent contest on this site. (See, aren’t you sorry you didn’t enter).  Along with her other talents, Maria is a writer, and several of her articles have appeared in Christian publications. Today she gives a lesson in being prepared for some of life’s temptations and trials.

All the symptoms were there. Headache. Runny nose. Extreme fatigue. The classic cold. I armed myself as if preparing for a fight. I was determined not to give in to this nasty virus. With vitamin C, echinacea, and acai at the ready, I psyched myself up for the battle.

Whenever I feel like I'm coming down with something, I consciously try to eat healthier, get more rest, and just generally take it easy. I eliminate sugar from my diet, and try to eat more vegetables and fruit. I go to bed earlier, and pare down my schedule to include only what has to be done, in order to focus on recuperating.

If I'm fortunate enough to recognize the symptoms of a sickness early on, and make the necessary adjustments, I'm often able to outwit the crafty virus and walk away the victor. Other times, I just ignore the nagging symptoms until it's too late...and I'm in the clutches of a full-blown virus.

Not only does this strategy work when I'm battling those sneaky viruses, but it also allows me to be the victor when temptation comes calling. Do I recognize the tactics of the enemy? If I stay alert and prepare myself properly, I can meet the attack head on, ready against his wiles. It pays to get a peak at his game plan.

Peter gives us the heads up we need, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8; KJV). When I'm sober, I'm characterized by self-control, rather than being out of control. I would be considered 'vigilant,' if I were watchful and alert. My enemy is constantly seeking to derail me. I must be on my guard. What better way to be prepared for battle, than to be intimately acquainted with God's Truth.

When I am wearing the belt of truth, wielding the sword of the Spirit, and holding up the shield of faith, I can defeat any of the fiery darts Satan shoots at me. It's true that by observation, my enemy is aware of my weaknesses. But when I, too, am aware of my weaknesses, I can stock up on the truth in God's word to replace the lies I've believed. I can recognize the difference between a lie and the truth. I am equipped to hold up my shield of faith and put out the enemy's fiery darts of deception.

We all face temptations. Being aware of the schemes of the enemy is important. But even more important, is knowing the Truth of God's Word that allows us to refute the lies of Satan. Don't give in to temptation only to find yourself trapped by sin. Allow the Lord to help you. Know your weaknesses, remain watchful and alert, and come out of your next 'battle' victorious. The right 'prescription' makes all the difference!

*Sincere thanks to Dr. Mabry for allowing me to post a guest entry on his blog site. I've thoroughly enjoyed both his books, Code Blue and Medical Error, and would highly recommend this series to anyone looking for an inspirational, medical mystery. Kudos to the author!
Maria I. Morgan is an inspirational/devotional writer, with regular contributions to Around About Cumming. She resides in Georgia with her husband and daughter, two dogs and cat. Visit Maria at her blog.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Handling Praise and Criticism

We've heard it said many times: "Consider the source." In other words, give credence to what we hear, or read, or see in proportion to the source of that information and any agenda or prejudices associated with it. What brought this to mind? Funny you should ask.

I was exchanging tweets (i.e., short messages on Twitter) with a fellow writer. She and I have been in several classes together, and we frequently see each other at writer's conferences. She mentioned that she'd just received an Advance Reading Copy of Medical Error, the second book in my Prescription For Trouble series, and was really enjoying it. I basked in that short bit of praise for about fifteen seconds. Then I heard my mother's voice, telling me "Consider the source." Carrie likes my writing. Carrie is a friend. She's unlikely to say, "I'm reading your book, and I have to tell you, you could have done a lot better."  Nevertheless, it was nice to hear it. But I considered the source in evaluating the comment.

Then there's criticism. Authors are cautioned to develop thick skin in a hurry if they're to survive in the profession. We get rejected by agents, by editors, and by readers. For the former, it's part of their job. For the latter, it's a personal choice and has nothing to do with my worth as a person.

One of the greatest lessons I've learned in life came via a taped lecture loaned to me by my friend, golf partner, and attorney, Jerry Gilmore. In it, the speaker said, "I have decided that I will never be universally loved and respected." Wow! If we can come to grips with that, we've got a leg up on getting through life with fewer cuts and bruises to our psyche. And that goes not just for authors. It's equally applicable for pretty much any of us.

I know that as my books are reviewed  online, some of those reviews are going to be really great, while others may hurt a bit. But I'll take the good ones with a grain of salt and realize that the bad ones just prove that I can't please everyone. I guess that's about all any of us can do.

For more on handling praise and criticism, as well as contradictory advice on your writing, I'd recommend a recent post by my agent, Rachelle Gardner. If you're not reading her blog, you're missing out on a good thing.

PS--Nice in-depth interview with me by writer Mark Young on his blog, Hook Em and Book Em. Hope you'll check it out.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Signing--What If No One Comes?

Fellow author Ronie Kendig and I will be signing our books at the Mardel book store in Frisco, Texas, today at 1:00 PM. I'll be signing both Code Blue and The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, while Ronie will have her debut novel, Dead Reckoning. They're also having a big pre-Father's Day sale, so I'm hoping for some traffic in the store. But this isn't my first book signing, and I've learned to keep my expectations low.

Authors soon come to realize that book signings can be a wonderful opportunity to meet readers and potential readers, or they can be an occasion to sit for two hours and squirm. I don't like to stroll around the store and buttonhole customers, steering them to my signing table like a pitchman at the fair, even though some writing publications recommend just that. No, I'm pretty easy-going about these appearances now. It's fun to talk with the people who do stop, even if they don't buy the book. Who knows? Maybe they'll do it later.

The "what if no one comes?" syndrome isn't confined to authors and book signings, though. Pastors must feel this way when there's a storm that coincides with a service. Merchants undoubtedly have this type of jitters when they do a big sale or open a new store. Even public speakers are vulnerable to it.

Here's an example that's been kicking around for years. A well-known doctor was asked to speak to the County Medical Society. As luck would have it, there was a terrible blizzard that day. He managed to slip and slide to the lecture hall, went inside, and found it empty. Finally, one man came in, stamped his feet to clear the snow, shucked out of his overcoat, and took a seat in the middle of the auditorium. The speaker set up his slide projector (I told you it was an old story), gave his lecture, and listened as the audience of one applauded. He answered a couple of questions the man had, thanked him for attending, and began to gather his things to go.

"Where do you think you're going?" the man in the audience asked. "Sit down. I'm the second speaker."

I guess the moral to that is that if even one person shows up, we give it our best shot. Just don't leave too early.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Greatest Achievement

In a recent post, I talked about interviews. One of the questions I continue to be asked when I'm interviewed is "What do you consider your greatest achievement?" You may or may not be surprised at the answer.

Although I've been fortunate enough to be given significant recognition in the professional realm--president or vice-president of every one of our medical professional societies; awarded my academy's Lifetime Achievement Award; edited or wrote a number of textbooks--those aren't even in the running.

I've been to a lot of places--honeymooned with Kay in Thailand, where I almost pushed her off an elephant (honest, it was an accident!)--and done a lot of things--shared a locker room with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford of the New York Yankees-- but those aren't on the list either.

My most cherished title isn't "Doctor." It's "Grandad." My favorite memory isn't about striking out a former major leaguer with three wicked curve balls. It's not about chairing a panel or delivering a paper before a packed lecture hall in Vienna. It's about holding my granddaughter for the first time. And even if I get that elusive hole-in-one (which is unlikely, since I'm just happy to be on the green with my tee shot on those par 3 holes), it can't possibly match the anticipation of taking my grandson to a baseball camp at Cooperstown and sneaking in a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So, if you were being interviewed and were asked, "What do you consider your greatest achievement?" how would you answer. Don't know? Give it some thought. It will affect the way you live the rest of your life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview With Author Mark Young

Mark Young lives in the Pacific Northwest. His background includes newspaper reporting, service in the US Marines, and a distinguished career in law enforcement. Mark is the author of three as-yet-unpublished books, but I have a distinct feeling it won’t be long before we see his name on a book jacket. He also has a very interesting blog. I’m pleased to welcome Mark to Random Jottings today.

RM: Mark, your background is impressive. How has each of these facets of your life contributed to your writing?

MY: Thank you, Richard. It is a pleasure to join you here on Random Jottings. I view my professional experiences as part of many stages in a life God pre-ordained, including my current fiction-writing efforts. These experiences included my involvement as a combat U.S. Marine in Vietnam, six years as a newspaper reporter, almost three decades in law enforcement, and as a financial investigator working with a major bank in San Francisco tracking down financial criminals. Each phase—war, journalism, law enforcement, financial investigations—brings certain experiences to mind as I sit down to write.

However, life is more than what we do as a career. People put a lot of time, thought and energy into their careers, but I believe life is really about people and relationships. All that we do impacts others. It took me a while to learn this lesson, and I’m still trying to understand this concept. By nature, I am a loner—just ask my lovely wife Katie. But even loners like myself, at some level, come to realize our Creator did not intend for us to be separated from the rest of the world or from Him. So, my writing tries to make use of those experiences and relationships to create a captivating story.

RM: You currently live in the state of Washington, but I understand you’re very familiar with California. Did this help you in establishing the settings for your first two books? And what prompted the change to a reservation in Idaho for your third?

MY: Somewhere in my writing journey I learned to “write what you know.” California is a place I know well. It will always be my home state where I lived and worked for most of my life. It is a place and a culture I know well—beautiful and ugly, sane and crazy, crowded and isolated. It is a place of contradictions. My first two novels—Broken Allegiance, and its sequel, Shadows—are police procedurals set in the same California police department  where I worked for twenty-six years.
However, the Pacific Northwest has since become my home. I’ve learned to enjoy and appreciate this area’s people, its beauty, and its own unique cultures. I felt my third novel—Clearwater—needed to be uniquely different and try to capture what I’ve grown to enjoy. I’d spent some time along the Lochsa (shown above) and Clearwater Rivers in central Idaho learning to fly fish, when we moved here five years ago. Lewis and Clark traveled down this same river on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The last battles waged between Native Americans and the U.S. Calvary reverberated through these mountains. It is a land steeped in the past. I thought this would make a great setting for a new novel. Clearwater also pulls from a literary heritage, as well. For example, author Tony Hillerman’s characters—retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police—always enriched my world of story. I thought this new novel would give me an opportunity to write a similar police procedural with a twist—a white ex-cop-turned-university-criminologist reluctantly working with a grizzled tribal police chief to solve a series of murders. A blend of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch meets Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn.

RM:  You have a fascinating blog, Hook ‘Em and Book ‘Em. How did you come about this title? How would you describe Hook ‘Em and Book ‘Em to someone?

MY: Honestly, I don’t know who coined the phrase “Hook’Em and Book’Em.” I know it’s been thrown around in law enforcement circles for as long as I remember. ‘Hook’ is one of law enforcement’s euphemisms for handcuffs. ‘Book’ is law enforcement’s term for processing and incarcerating an arrested suspect. These two words—welded together into one phrase— succinctly communicate a cop’s plan to arrest and jail a suspect without wasting any words. Katie and I tried to come up with a catchy title that clearly advertised the blog’s purpose. She is a published poet and a sales/marketing wonder who knows when words sparkle and communicate. She reminded me of this phrase. We immediately latched on to it because of the double-entendre for law enforcement and the publishing industry.

I developed this blog idea to help mystery writers, readers and law enforcement connect with each other. As a police officer, I knew officers often work in an environment where the world became divided between us and them, between those in law enforcement and those outside law enforcement. And, conversely, the community often views those in law enforcement as sometimes threatening and aloof. This blog tries to bridge that gulf.

In the writing environment, I find writers sometimes hold unrealistic views of those in law enforcement. Unfortunately, writers and readers may interpret the real world through the dramatic vision of Hollywood and television because they are unable to directly connect to law enforcement. At writing conferences, I’m surprised when writers came up to me and asked how they might get answers to certain law enforcements questions. These writers look shocked when I suggest they call up the police and ask them. One writer responded, “I never thought of that. I didn’t know you could just ask.”
Sometimes, I believe writers tend to view our world from afar. To get answers, you need ask the questions. Many police officers are willing to give their time and expertise to someone who truly wants to find out the truth. One caveat: You may have some resistance if you’re a news reporter. I speak from experience having been on both sides of that fence. Once in a while, you might just run into one of those cantankerous officers straight out of Joseph Wambaugh’s novels. Oh well. Life can be exciting.

RM:  The blog has an interesting mix of interviews with authors and law enforcement personnel. Do you have a plan that helps you choose your guests, or is it sometimes a matter of who’s available?

MY:  I would say it is a mixture of the two. Sometimes it is planned, and other times I’m scrambling to meet a self-imposed deadline. Interviews alternate each week. One week I’ll invite someone from law enforcement to join us about various topics mystery readers and writers might find interesting. Gangs, human trafficking and homicide investigations are a few of the latest topics. The following week I’ll invite an author to join us about their latest novel and their writing journey.

I try to invite a mixture of authors from both the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) and the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Again, it gets back to relationships. CBA and ABA books are normally divided in most book stores, while CBA books are not carried at all in others. And readers entering a book store may never venture between these two publishing worlds. I feel we can learn from each other no matter what our backgrounds and experiences. I think there are wonderful CBA authors who never get ABA readership exposure due to a number of issues. And, readers in CBA may well find their next favorite writers hidden in the ABA shelves. Beyond these brick and mortar barriers lies a whole new world as electronic publishing changes the publishing landscape. Again, sites like Hook’em and Book’em try to bridge the gulf between readers and writers of both markets.

RM: And, although it sounds like what the warden might say in one of your books, any last words?

MY:  I’d like to address my ‘last words’ specifically to those aspiring novelists reading this post. Don’t give up! Keep using the gift God entrusted to you. Create a story our world hungers to read. I know those feelings we face as writers with each mounting rejection—frustration, questioning our abilities, a desire to chuck it all.

Don’t give up! Keep writing!

One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:31. Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Let us help each other to wait on the Lord. Our lives—and our words—are in His hands.

Thanks, Mark, for joining us here. I hope my readers will check out Hook 'em and Book 'em. They'll find that it's fascinating.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why I Didn't Write On Monday

This is for all my friends who say, "It must be great to be a writer. Just spend a couple of hours at the computer every day, then take the rest of the day off." This is also for all my writer friends who are probably at this moment berating themselves for not getting their word quota written at some time this week. If you recognize yourself in this scenario, you have my sympathy. And to my agent and my editor--honest, I'll do better.

We've had our share of problems recently, but I decided that it was time to get back to a more normal schedule. On Sunday night, I made plans to put in a full day of writing on Monday. Then the phone rang. My granddaughter was running a fever, my daughter had to go to school the next day (she's in post-grad training), and her husband is out of town. No problem. Kay, seeing a chance to spend a whole day with one of the grandchildren, said she'd be over early the next morning.

I rolled out of bed Monday morning, kissed Kay and watched her drive away, and decided that since she was going to be gone all day, I'd help out around the house before I started writing. After breakfast, plus another cup of coffee consumed over the morning paper, I took off to run a few errands. I started at the cleaners, and things went so smoothly I decided to keep going.

Another granddaughter will have a birthday this weekend, and Kay had ordered a rocking chair for her. I picked it up at Lowe's--after a 20 minute Abbot-and-Costello routine wherein no one knew where the merchandise was--and loaded it in the car. While I was in the neighborhood, I stopped at WalMart to return a purchase (a cushion that didn't work out) and since I was there decided I might as well buy groceries. It was a short list, so that shouldn't take long. Of course, I also had to wander through the rest of the store, and came out with two toilet flapper valves (always pays to have a couple of spares) and a box of golf balls (great price, and I'd been meaning to try that brand anyway).

Since I'd bought ice cream, I had to go back home to put the perishables in the refrigerator. Then I saw a couple of letters on my desk that needed to be mailed, and that reminded me that I hadn't gone to the post office on Saturday. I made that trip, and suddenly it was lunch time. I fixed a sandwich with some left-over smoked turkey from our trip to Rudy's this weekend and ate it while watching a recorded sitcom. Then, good husband that I am, I put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and cleaned up the coffee pot so it would be ready for tomorrow.

Okay, now I was ready to write. But I kept thinking about that rocking chair. If there was something wrong with it, we needed to know in time to return it and get another birthday present. The instructions said "Some assembly required." They were written by the same model of understatement who wrote the dentist's script--you know, the one where he says, "This may hurt a little." An hour later, after lots of pounding with a rubber mallet, insertion of screws, wiggling of parts, and getting furniture glue all over myself,  I had the rocker put together with only one minor flaw. Kate will never know that the arms are reversed, and by and large I think it looks pretty good.

Now I absolutely had to write. Then the phone rang. It was my nephew, Scott, who'd come to town to buy a copy of Code Blue and get me to autograph it as a surprise for his wife's birthday. (Kimberly, I hope you enjoy it). We talked for a while, I signed the book and ended up giving him an Advance Reading Copy of Medical Error as a reward for making the trip.

After Scott left, I sat down at my desk, started my computer, and put on my computer glasses, which promptly slid off my nose because one of the nosepads had come off. When I found it, I discovered that it was broken, which meant a trip to the optical shop for a repair. Since I was going to the mall anyway, I decided I might as well return the pair of shoes Kay had decided didn't fit. That took another forty minutes.

Back at home, I went through the mail and tossed most of it in the paper recycle bin I keep in my office--the one that fills up twice as fast as the wastebasket. Then it dawned on me. It's Monday. Early tomorrow morning the trucks will come down the alley and empty our bins of trash and recycle material. Better get that out. A quick run through the house for one final wastebasket emptying, another to gather the recycle material, then wheel the bins to the end of our driveway like a good citizen. Duty done. Now I can write.

Back at my desk, the phone is silent. The doorbell hasn't rung. Errands have been completed. There's still time for me to write a bit on my novel. But first, there's something else I need to write: this blog post. My story isn't unique, I guess, and it's not really the writer's equivalent of, "The dog ate my homework," but I thought you might enjoy it. Ever had a day like this? If so, you have my sympathy. If not...just wait.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Interviews

Interviews--love 'em or hate 'em? I don't mean an interview for a job or a position in an educational program. These are mandatory, and so far as I know, nobody likes them. I mean interviews on TV with celebrities, interviews on the web with writers, interviews in the newspaper with whatever sports or entertainment figure is hot at the moment. What's your reaction to interviews? Do you follow them, skip them, believe them, dismiss them as hype?

Authors submit to interviews whenever and wherever possible. After all, we're constantly told that it's important for us to achieve name recognition. And it's sort of fun--at least initially. But after a while we find ourselves answering the same questions over and over. I'm guilty of this when I'm on the other side of the interview process, setting up an interview for this blog. I try to interview interesting people--mostly authors, because that's the world in which I move nowadays--but I must confess that it's tough for me to find something new to ask them.

Book critic Rel Mollet, in the "land down under," has a great website in which she reviews books, posts character sketches, and interviews authors, and she does a very good job of it. I recently completed one of Rel's interviews and found it to be both fun and fascinating. Even my brother-in-law told me that he felt like he knew me better after reading this interview, so Rel succeeded when she crafted the questions.

But that brings me back to my original question. If an interview lets you "inside" a personality, are you more likely to watch their movie, buy their book, attend a sporting event that features them? I'll be interested to see your opinions. Meanwhile, I've just agreed to do a couple of podcasts, which are the 21st century equivalent of an interview I guess. I'll post details on them later. After all, I'm sure you'll want to catch those interviews.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Frustration

Early in my medical training, a very senior staff physician told me this: "In this life, you can either get ulcers or give 'em. I choose to give 'em." When it came to doing most things it was a case of "my way or the highway," and he wasn't afraid to let people know about it. I'm not that pigheaded aggressive stubborn forthright, but sometimes I think it might be easier to take the "Dr. John" approach to life.

There are times when I find myself frustrated over simple things, things I can't control and stuff that in the final analysis doesn't amount to a hill of beans. I fume when someone is ahead of me at the grocery check-out with 28 items in the "20 item or less" line. I gnash my teeth when a driver pulls out in front of me, causing me to slam on the brakes. I roll my eyes when people flout the 140 character limit on Twitter by using half a dozen sequential posts to get their message across. Dr. John would undoubtedly say something to the person in the check-out line, blow his horn repeatedly at the discourteous driver, and post a few well-chosen words about the Twitter messages. However, I choose to neither get ulcers nor give them. I just take a deep breath and try to let it slide.

I must admit, though, that despite my best efforts there are times when I feel the need for a stress reduction kit like the one above. How about you? What are some of your frustrations in life? And how do you handle them?