Friday, December 21, 2012

Writing: When A Project Nears Completion

I thought you might be interested in what's going on in my writing life. Stress Test is not due for release until April 1 or so (yes, the significance of the date isn't lost on me), but I now have one of the Advance Reader's Copies, and there's just something about seeing your name on the cover and reading the endorsements that gives an author a boost.

I'm thrilled that after reading advance copies, some heavy hitters in the fiction world saw fit to give these endorsements:

"Packed with thrills, Stress Test is a lightning-paced read that you'll read in one breath."
     Tess Gerritsen, New York Times best-selling author of Last To Die.

"Original and profound. I found the Christian message engaging and fascinating, and the story a thrill-a-minute."
     Michael Palmer, New York Times best-selling author of Oath of Office

"Sirens, scalpels, and the business end of a revolver--Stress Test offers Code 3 action and a prescription for hope."
     Candace Calvert, best-selling author of Code Triage and Trauma Plan

"Stress Test comes with a warning: Prepare to stop life until you finish the last page."
     DiAnn Mills, author of The Chase and The Survivor

"Recurring legal, medical and romantic thrills. Diagnosis: pure entertainment."
     James Scott Bell, award-winning suspense author.

 If you'd like a taste of Stress Test, click here to hear me read a selection from the first chapter.

I wish the book were available in time for Christmas, but if you wish to pre-order a copy (they're currently discounted significantly), drop me a line at Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com with your address and any personalization you want, and I'll mail you a signed bookplate and a bookmark.

Merry Christmas, all. With that commercial message, I'm going to close down the blog until after New Year's. See you January 4.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Without Them

 I had this scheduled to post today--in light of the tragic events of the past few days, it still seemed appropriate to share it.

Many of you know that I started writing after the death of my first wife. I used segments from the journaling I did to craft a book with chapters dealing with the situations I faced in the months afterward. I pulled no punches, detailing my failures as well as the victories I eventually won. That book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, is still in print and continues to help thousands of grieving people each year.

Because I know how difficult the holidays can be after the death of a loved one, I decided to post this article which I wrote for a small local paper several years ago. I hope it helps those of you who are facing this situation. If you know of others who need it, please forward it to them.


              THE FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THEM

    After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

    After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

    Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

    The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

    For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

    When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Whatever your situation, I hope this is a wonderful and meaningful Christmas for you. Blessings, all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Writing: Author's Schedules--Michael Palmer

I'm back with more about the writing schedule of various writers. My friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Palmer, is a New York Times best-selling author many times over. In addition to writing seventeen published novels of medical suspense, Michael is an Associate Director of the Massachusetts Medical Society Physician Health Services, devoted to  helping physicians troubled by mental illness, physical illness, behavioral issues, and chemical dependency. Keep that in mind when you read his reply to my question about his work schedule.

 
How long I write depends on what stage of the creative process I happen to be in.



If I am sitting with nothing to do except trying to figure out what I want to write about, I get about 2 hours and then maybe another hour later in the day.



When I am scratching out an early outline and proposal, three or four hours is a triumph.



When I am outlining, say 5-10 chapters, 4-5 hours is a goal, and working with my son helps.



When I am finally writing (the easiest part), I can do 6-8 hours.



Personal record (rare) may be 10 hours with scattered 15-30 minute breaks.

Thanks, Michael. By the way, his latest book, Political Suicide, just released. I've had the privilege of reading a copy, and I think his work just keeps getting better.

And, if you'll allow me a bit of self-promotion, my guest post about how I got started in writing is up today at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference blog site. I hope you'll click the link and check it out.

If you have any questions about writing, leave a comment. If I don't know the answer, I suspect I know someone who does.  


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Music

I may be the last person on the planet to discover it, but the other day I found that our satellite TV package included a channel that plays Christmas songs from early AM to late PM. "Great," I thought, and it was. But I've certainly heard some Christmas songs that were unfamiliar to me. (By the way, if you have DirectTV, you can try channel 801 and see what you think).

When I think of Christmas songs, I think of carols--my favorite is Silent Night, not only because it's beautiful but also because I learned in college to sing it in German. ("Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht...") I love most of the standard carols. But recently I heard Frank Sinatra, with choral accompaniment, do a lovely song called Bells of Christmas, set to the tune known as Greensleeves. I heard a song called I Believe In Father Christmas that still has me scratching my head about whether it carries a deep message or sacreligious.

What are your favorite Christmas songs? And do you find yourself singing them, even though it may be sunny outside (as it is here in Texas)? Let me know. And Merry Christmas.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, December 07, 2012

Writing: Macro or Substantive Edit

While I wait for the publication of my next novel, Stress Test, I'll be working on responses to the macro or substantive edit of the next one, Heart Failure. And, of course, in my spare time I need to get going on the third book of my contract, Critical Condition. Confused yet? Then you can sympathize.

The macro or substantive edit, often shortened to the "sub edit," is a big picture thing. The editor reads through the entire book and makes notes--which is why this is sometimes called getting "notes" on a book. They may not like the beginning or the ending or any of the scenes in between. They may suggest ways in which the book can be made better--increasing tension, showing emotion, adding details that enhance the reader's experience. Sometimes there are a lot of notes, sometimes not so many. But there will always be some!

For those of you who still picture a book as proceeding from a writer's mind fully fleshed out, polished, and ready for publication, maybe your perception will change when you discover the character of the sub edit. And to answer the question some of you have, if the author and editor disagree and are unable to compromise, it's still the author's name on the cover. They have the final decision. So far, I've tended to take the advice of the publishing professional in these situations. After all, as they say in Texas, "You don't buy a dog and bark yourself."

There's more on this particular edit and how I handled it on the blog of my agent, Rachelle Gardner. You can click here to read more details about my initial reaction and subsequent actions.

And if you wonder how an author should (and shouldn't) deal with an editor, check out this post by Susan J. Morris.

Any questions about edits, or other aspects of writing and publishing? Let me know, and I'll try to answer them.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Christmas Decorations

I heard Christmas carols played in the store when I was out on Thanksgiving. Some stores have had Christmas decorations displayed for sale since shortly after Halloween. As I write this, the prediction is for temperatures in the 70's by the time this post goes up, so it doesn't feel much like Christmas outside. On the other hand, inside the Mabry house, Kay is busy putting out our mugs and glasses with a Christmas theme, adding wreaths and Christmas stuff, and doing all the stuff she loves at this time of year. We've almost completed shopping for the grandkids. And, before you ask, we don't have our Christmas cards done and mailed yet.

How about you? When do you plan to put up your Christmas tree and decorations (or have you already done that)? Where are you in the process? I hope you take a moment to consider the true meaning of the season. Blessings, all.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Writing: How Much Time...

In my "writing" post last week, I answered the question about how much time I spent writing. The answer, in case you don't want to go back to that post and check, is "it depends." I thought it might be interesting to see how other writers approach this.

My friend and mentor, James Scott Bell, is one of those writers who writes to a quota. Here's how Jim handles it:

"Sometimes I get my quota done in the morning. Then I cruise the rest
of the day, writing more if I feel like it, or doing other things,
like editing, running my self-publishing business, or research and so
on.

"Other days, it's like playing tennis in the La Brea tar pits. It can
take me a lot longer to get the quota in. But I fight through to get
it done.

"On rare occasions I just go, Forget it! Not worth it today! And then I
make up the words the next day.

"If I were to estimate an average, I'd say it takes me 2-3 hours to do my quota."

Thanks, Jim. Incidentally (and this is unsolicited), Jim's books, both fiction and those on writing are excellent. I especially recommend Plot and Structure, wherein he details his LOCK system.

Any questions on writing you'd like addressed here? If I don't know the answer, I suspect I know people who do, and I'm not afraid to ask.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shopping and "Black Friday"

According to Wikipedia, the name, "Black Friday," originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation began to be offered: that "Black Friday" indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are "in the black".

I've always thought Black Friday was a peculiar phenomenon. When our local news channel showed people lining up outside Best Buy five days before the event, the anchor said, "I like a flat screen TV as well as the next person, but..." He didn't have to finish the sentence, at least, not for me.

So, did you participate in the Black Friday shopping? Do you have your Christmas shopping done? Have you even started?

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Writing: How Much Time...?

Kim has asked the question, "On average, how much time do you spend on your book writing? Is it a daily job?" I guess the most accurate answer is, "It depends." Let me explain.

I'm retired, so I don't have a "day job." However, as any retired person can attest, I'm busier now than I ever was when practicing medicine (which was my full-time profession for over 36 years). That means that there are times I'd like to write, but life intervenes.

That having been said, my usual routine is to go to my office (which is twelve steps from our bedroom) after breakfast and fire up the computer. After checking email and reading about a dozen blogs that I follow, I open the book I'm currently writing and read through the previous scene. This gets me into the flow of things, as well as letting me do a bit of editing. Then I try to write.

How long do I write at a time? Do I have a daily word quota? I write until I'm tired of writing--sometimes as little as 30 minutes, sometimes for a couple of hours. There are breaks, but I try to stay with it until I reach the end of a scene (and I write fairly short scenes and chapters). Then I save my work and walk away. I come back in the afternoon if I can, but sometimes there's no time or opportunity.

This is in contrast with writers who set a word count goal for every day or week. I find that it doesn't work for me. And the closer I am to deadline, the more I tend to write.

Kim, thanks for the question. Unfortunately, there's no "one size fits all" answer. I suggest you find what works for you (usually over time, by trial and error), and forget what others may do.

Do any of you have questions about writing? I'd love to tackle them.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We have been blessed individually and as a nation. Give thanks, but also plan to do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

Blatant commercial note: Borrowing a page from my colleague and friend, author Michael Palmer (whose medical thrillers are excellent), if you'd like to give one of my novels of medical suspense as a Christmas gift, please contact me with the desired message and your mailing address, and I'll mail one or more autographed bookplates. You can email me at Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com, with "bookplate" in the subject line.
And for signed ebooks, go to authorgraph

Friday, November 16, 2012

Writing: Galley Proofs

Books don't spring from the mind of an author full-blown and ready for publication. Far from it. There are drafts, revisions, the macro or substantive edit, the line edit, and finally, when the book is ready to be printed, the author and one or more proofreaders read through the material, now called a "galley proof," to pick up errors and do final fine-tuning.

I've just completed going over the galleys of my next book, Stress Test, and I'm amazed there were still things I and the editors who've read the previous versions let slip through. Then again, this is why there are so many layers of editing involved in the process. My edits of the galley proof ranged from removing stray punctuation marks to cleaning up wording to--in one case--a slight change in the job description of a minor character. But it's done.

Meanwhile, I've sent my editor at Thomas Nelson Co. the manuscript for the book that follows Stress Test. Heart Failure won't be published for about a year, but I have to stay ahead. While I wait for those edits to begin, I've  started to outline Critical Condition. The fun never stops, does it?

Do you have a question about writing? I'd love to hear it, and promise to answer to the best of my ability.

(photo via professionalnoveleditors.com)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Week After...

Following the election, I've listened to a number of pundits, read the pronouncements of many more, but nothing has made more sense to me than the words of a pastor (not my own) spoken during a service I attended one day after the election.

In effect, he said that just because what we wanted to happen didn't take place doesn't mean it wasn't God's will. In my own life, I know that God can use even the most catastrophic event for His own purposes. Dr. Steve Farrar, who teaches the men's Bible study at our church, continually quotes this passage: "Our God is in the Heavens, and He does as He pleases." And what He pleases isn't always what we want.

I've just finished proof-reading the galleys for my next novel, Stress Test, and came upon these words, spoken by a character falsely accused of a crime. I think they're just as applicable to the citizens of our nation today.

"God, I could pray for deliverance, but it’s either going to happen or it isn’t, and whichever way it goes, You’ve already planned it out. So what I really need is patience to get through, and wisdom to do the right thing."

What's your reaction to where we find our nation today?

(photo from freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, November 09, 2012

Writing: Let's Stop Fighting

I was going to write about this subject anyway, but last week I read an excellent post on the blog of the International Thriller Writers wherein Michelle Gagnon made an appeal for an end to the bickering between self-published and traditionally published authors. So, rather than repeating what Michelle said, let me just refer you to that post.

What's my take on the situation? I couldn't agree more with what she said. Some of the comments, including an excellent one from James Scott Bell, are worthy of reading, so don't stop at the end of the post.

If you like, pop back here and leave some comments of your own. Are you as tired of the war between the two camps as you were tired of the campaign ads and rhetoric just past? Feel free to sound off.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Pray, Then Vote

 Tomorrow is election day--the most important election in my lifetime, and perhaps in the life of our great nation. Kay and I have already voted, thanks to early voting in our state. Perhaps you have, as well. If not, please, please take the time to pray about your decision, then vote.

I was touched by these words from Billy Graham. I commend them to you. I hope they touch you as well.

"The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God."

May God bless America.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Writing: Choosing Characters

I'm about to start writing my next novel. (Yes, I know I still have to proof the galleys for Stress Test, respond to editorial comments and get through the revisions of Heart Failure, but that's the way writing goes).

The first step for me is to populate the story. I choose the main characters and as much of the supporting cast as I can envision. Then I make up what I call a "character sheet" for each of them. Here's such a sheet for the main character in my forthcoming novel of medical suspense, Stress Test.


MATT NEWMAN—general surgeon, 5 yr in solo practice, just hired onto faculty at med school. Single; dating Jennifer Ball (below). 6’1”, swimmer’s build. Black hair with tendency to fall into eyes—later, after op, head shaved and allowed    to grow out in Jake Gyllenhaal look. Blue eyes.     
 Of course, all this can change as the novel progresses, but I need a place to start. And, in case you wonder why I chose this particular photo--look how many potential characters there are in that scene. If you're a writer, you should be taking note of the people around you. One sweatshirt I own bears this on the front: "Careful or you'll end up in my novel." If they only knew...

If you're a writer, where do you get your characters' descriptions and names? And for readers, does it help if the writer gives you a good handle on each character as they're introduced?

 
     

      

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween--What's Your Position?

Tomorrow evening is Halloween. I've noticed that all around our neighborhood, houses have been festooned with faux spider webs (some complete with large spider replicas), skeletons, gravestones, and other evidences of the holiday. At other houses, decorations lean toward pumpkins and similar fall symbols.

Let's don't get into the origin of "All Hallow's Eve" or Mexico's "Dia de los Muertes." Rather, the question I'd like to pose is whether those of you with children and grandchildren plan to help them with trick-or-treating? Will they attend a "Fall Festival" somewhere, perhaps at church? Do you turn off your porch light and refuse to encourage the tradition? Or do you don a costume yourself in order to answer the door and give out candy?

Just asking. Hope you'll let us know where you stand on all this.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monster Mash Book Bash

"Shedding Light In A Dark World." Have you ever considered that this is what the authors of Christian fiction do? Matter of fact, that's the dedication of my next book--to the authors who shed light on a dark world. It seems fitting that in this season, we talk a bit about that.

A number of authors of Christian fiction will be moderating sessions and offering comments at this website October 29-31. I hear rumors of books to be given away as well.  I'll be talking tomorrow, Tuesday, October 29, between 9 and 10 AM Central time about characters, good and bad. What's the worst character (not badly written, just bad) you've ever encountered? The best? Which would be harder to write? I hope you'll drop by, "like" the group and join in the discussion.

(Disclaimer--I have no idea how all this is going to work, but then again, I have no idea why the light comes on when I flip the switch.)

Come back tomorrow on our regular day and we'll discuss your attitude toward Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Writing: Pushing Onward

Most writers have a "day job" (which they're generally advised not to give up). Rare is the writer who chooses writing as their sole means of support. Not only is it a dicey way to make a living, it means that whether they want to or not, they write. I like what William Faulkner said: "I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."

And often, life gets in the way. Just today I learned of two writers, one of whom has significant health problems that will require her to curtail her activities, another whose wife is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer...and it's not helping. Imagine yourself writing under these circumstances.

Having to "soldier on" despite what life throws at you isn't confined to writing, of course. In every profession and walk of life there are days, even weeks and months, when it's all we can do to get out of bed and face the need to be productive. We may be motivated by  economic need, by external circumstances, by promises made or contracts signed. Surely you've been there, done that. So now I invite you to tell us about what made you push onward when it was tough to do so. I look forward to reading about it.

(photo courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Are You Here?

 Today I'd like to ask you a question. Who are you? Why did you come here? I have to confess that I've tried several times to make a leading survey tool work (okay, it's survey monkey--but it's probably not their fault).

So let's do this. Please leave a comment. Let me know who you are--writer, reader, interested bystander, family member, etc.--and why you read Random Jottings--like my posts, want to learn more about the writing life, referred by a friend, got here by mistake, etc.

Thanks for your participation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing: taking time to dream

Last week, Kay and I were in beautiful Monterey, California, for a retreat held by Books & Such Agency, of which my agent, Rachelle Gardner, is a part. I can't recall another writing "conference" from which I came back so refreshed. That's not to say that the trip wasn't without some hiccups--such as the return flight from San Francisco during which our plane dropped like a rock when it hit turbulence. But, all in all, it was great.

Writers, like everyone else, need time to step back and take a look at where they're going. At the retreat, we were encouraged to list five things--five "dreams," if you will--and then think about how to achieve them and what it would mean if we could. I may never achieve mine (one writer's dream included ownership of the Seattle Seahawks), but it did help to slow down and plot my course.

And, speaking of plotting, on the drive to the resort Kay helped me get started on the plot of my next book. That one won't be out for almost two years, so I think I've got time to fine tune it.

Have you ever stepped aside and taken time to dream? Results? Recommendations? Let us hear from you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Roller Coaster Of Writing

Tuesday is normally my day to post about "stuff," with Friday reserved for tidbits about the writing life. But I'm just back from an author retreat held by the agency representing me (Books & Such), and after spending three days talking about writing, its challenges and rewards, that's on my mind. So when I saw this cartoon on Writer Unboxed, I had to ask the artist for permission to reprint it, and she graciously consented.

So, courtesy of Debbie Ohi, here's the writer's life in a nutshell. And if you don't think this is true, ask any writer, whether unpublished or multipublished.
I don't think this attitude is confined to writers, though. I'd love to know your reactions and applications for this.


(roller coaster photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Writing: Balance

I've posted about many aspects of the writing life, but today there's one that's especially on my mind: balance. As I discovered when I got deeper into this profession, there's a lot to writing. It's not just putting words on a computer screen. Of course there's editing, revising, marketing, etc. But a writer doesn't function in a vacuum. Although there are a few writers who make this their profession, most of us--for one reason or another--have other responsibilities.

My friend and mentor, James Scott Bell, made a tough decision some time back. Jim describes himself as a "recovering attorney," but now he earns his living by writing. That means that he sets a schedule, makes sure he produces a weekly word count, and sticks with it. I applaud Jim and all the others who've chosen this route, but for most of us, the advice is still "Don't quit your day job."

In my case, I'm a retired physician, so my day job is helping around the house, doing a lot of grandfatherly stuff, and occasionally playing golf. In the case of other writers, the day job involves different things, but all of them are the same in one respect--they require time and commitment. And that means that, if we're to write, we have to carve out a time to do so. Thus, the hard part of being a part-time writer. Achieving balance.

I've gone through a tough loss in my life. My first wife passed away after forty years of marriage. I, above all people, know that we're not guaranteed another day. So I keep in mind that, although my writing is important, my family are even more so. That's why I make sure that Sundays are devoted to worship and family, not to writing. That's why, when we're asked to keep one or more of the grandkids, the answer is always, "Sure"--even if I should be revising a manuscript.  It's all about balance.

What do you have to balance in your own life? I hope you'll share with us.

Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

If I Were King...

Maybe you never thought it. I have. Maybe you never said it. I have. "If I were king..." "If I were in charge..."

It seems to me that I'm thinking it (and occasionally mumbling it) more nowadays. When I first began to drive, I was given a two-word mantra that I've used successfully since then: "Idiots abound." The long version is that the safest way to drive is by pretending everyone else on the road is using their car as a weapon, aimed at you. More and more I see people totally flaunt the rules of the road, even ignoring common courtesy, and think, "If I were in charge, they'd never get behind the wheel again."

Lest you think I've had a bad experience driving recently, let me assure you that on the highways and streets it's been life as usual for me. This actually came up when Kay and I were talking about a news story that was presented in such a confusing way it sent both of us to the Internet for more information. Who's writing these scripts, anyway? If I were in charge... Before that, we watched both local professional sports teams lose. Why didn't the manager bunt that runner along? Why did that receiver run the wrong route? If I were in charge...

Confession time, now. Are there situations that make you mutter, "If I were in charge...?" I'd love to hear them. By the way, if I were in charge...the Captcha letters and numbers would be a lot easier to read.

Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt

Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt!  This weekend I'm participating in an online scavenger hunt that features a number of authors of Christian fiction. If you at any time need to read the instructions for the hunt, please visit this link. Otherwise, look for the BOLDED word in the post that follows, then go to the next link (bottom of the page).

I was hesitant to join this activity, because my latest book is almost a year old and my next one doesn't come out until this coming spring. However, it sounded like fun. What follows mirrors what you'll find at each site. Good luck.
About me: For those of you who might not know me, I'm a retired physician, current Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and the author of four published novels of medical suspense. My books have been finalists in competitions including ACFW’s Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. My latest novel, Lethal Remedy, won a 2012 Selah Award, and that's the book that will be included in the prize given to the winner of this scavenger hunt. My next medical thriller, Stress Test, releases next spring from Thomas Nelson and Sons.
About the current book, Lethal Remedy: Dr. Sara Miles’ patient is on the threshold of death from an overwhelming, highly resistant infection with Staphylococcus luciferus, simply known to doctors as “the killer.” Only an experimental antibiotic, developed and administered by Sara’s ex-husband, Dr. Jack Ingersoll, can save the girl's life. But potentially lethal late effects from the experimental drug send Sara and her colleague, Dr. Rip Pearson, on a hunt for hidden critical data that will let them reverse the changes before it’s too late.
And here's a sample: 

In the midnight darkness, the lamp spilled a pool of yellow light onto the papers strewn helter-skelter over the scarred surface of his desk. The page shook in his hand as he stared at the figures scrawled in the margins. It all came down to this.
The man scrabbled through the mass of documents and pulled another sheet. What was the line from Macbeth? “If it were done, ’twere well it were done quickly.” Decision time.
He eased himself from the chair like the unfolding of a carpenter’s rule. Do this, and he could say goodbye to this tiny office. He envisioned a corner suite with a view—maybe even a private washroom. But tonight the community restroom down the hall would do.
The man locked himself in a stall and dug in his pocket for the dog-eared match folder he’d carried all day. He struck one match. It fizzled impotently. Two more attempts before one lit. He bent it against its fellows and the whole folder ignited. He touched the improvised torch to the papers he held and watched as they burst into flame.
Would the smoke set off the fire alarm, activate the sprinklers? He cursed under his breath for not thinking of that. He held the flaming mass lower in the toilet and fanned the air furiously with his free hand. The ashes dropped into the water, and he breathed again. He flushed twice, and it was over.
He washed his hands, splashed water on his face, and walked back to his office. FOR good or for evil—probably a bit of both—it was done. 

To order this or any of my books, look in the right sidebar of this post and click on the link to your favorite bookseller. Now, here's the link to the next site in the scavenger hunt.

 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Hurrying Along The Highway

Recently our national writers' organization held a meeting at the airport that's a forty-minute drive from our home. My obligations made it necessary for me to be at the meeting hotel most of the time, but a couple of times I sneaked home to sleep in my own bed. As I did, I traversed a busy, six-lane divided highway. Like a good, law-abiding citizen I held my speed to the legal limit--and watched cars pass me right and left. This made me think about our fast-paced lifestyle...not just mine, but everyone's.

The Message translation of the Bible says, “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run." As I watched the billboards fly by on my drive, I wondered what kind of message my life carries. Do my actions work like a billboard, visible and legible even to those on the run with their hectic lives? I hope so.

Are you doing anything to make certain others can read the billboard of your actions as they whiz by? Or would you rather they didn't slow down to look at what you do? Are you moving so fast you can't take time to change? What's your opinion?

(photo from colinjong.com)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writing: Free book downloads

Popping in a day earlier than usual to remind those of you who haven't already bought it (thank you), received it as a gift (hope you liked it), or pirated it (shame on you) that my publisher, Abingdon, continues its practice of making some of its fiction line available as free e-book downloads for Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers.

According to the schedule I've received, Diagnosis Death is one such free download today, along with several other worthwhile Abingdon books. Hope you enjoy them. And tell your friends.

Now, to relate this to writing--some publishers think the practice of free e-book downloads is good, others don't. I've address this in a previous post, but I'd like to get your opinion. Do you watch for these? Do you take advantage of them? And have you ever, through this means, discovered an author you like and bought other books by them?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Conferences and Meetings and...Whew!

I'm back from the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a 2000+ member group of writers of Christian fiction. As usual, it was excellent, packed with opportunities to learn more about writing and publishing, to meet and interact with editors and agents, and to network with old friends and make new ones.  But I'm exhausted.

I attended similar meetings when I was in the medical profession. And the reasons for attending were the same--to learn, to interact, to network, and to retain one's visibility among peers. I'm sure there are similar situations in many other professions.

So here's your homework for the day. Do you attend meetings and conferences? Is it because you want to or your job requires it of you? What's the best thing about them? And what's the worst?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a nap.

(picture courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing: The Lost Chord

Do any of the authors out there write in your sleep? I confess that I have. Just recently I stopped working on my most recent novel just before what I thought would be a climactic scene. Then, during my sleep, I wrote a scene of such heartbreaking beauty I could hardly stand it. Unfortunately, although I went straight to my computer on awakening, I couldn't reproduce it. It was good, but not great. But I'll continue to polish it, and eventually will have a scene I can turn in. However, I'm not sure I'll ever achieve what I did in my dream.

Adelaide Proctor wrote the words to a beautiful song (music by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan fame). The title is The Lost Chord, and although some of you may be too young to have ever heard it, I strongly recommend you check it out. The line that sticks with me is "...But I struck one chord of music like the sound of a great Amen." The gist of the song is that, while letting my fingers run over the organ's keys, I hit a chord like no other ever heard. Although I couldn't reproduce it, maybe I'll hear it again in heaven.

Writing's like that. I know writers who work on the same novel for years, trying to make it the writing equivalent of that lost chord. Sometimes we just have to settle for "as good as I can make it." But we all strive to achieve work that "sounds like a great Amen."

Writers, how long do you work on something before deciding it's not going to be perfect? Readers, have you ever read a scene or even a paragraph that's the literary equivalent of the lost chord.

(photo courtesy James Joyce music)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Photos

Later this week I'll be at the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers. I'll attend some classes, be a part of the deliberations of the Operating Board, attend the Gala where I'll have the privilege of presenting one of the awards, and enjoy visiting with friends and colleagues. And it will all be good except for one thing--I've made an appointment to have a new headshot done while I'm there.

There was a time in my life when I enjoyed being the subject of a photo. But that was long ago, in a galaxy far away. Now, the hair is thinner, the face is fatter, and I've decided that there's no way I'm going to be a contestant on America's Top Model. But it's still a necessity for a writer to have a headshot--a head and shoulders photo for use on book covers, blogs, press releases, and a bunch of other stuff that I had no idea ten years ago would be a part of my life.

I've used the same headshot since starting to write, and I sort of like it. Informal, sitting in front of a computer, with a stethoscope slung around my neck. And for more formal occasions, I use the second one I've posted here. And that should be enough. Right?

Oh, well. The photographer is a very talented lady. If she can't make a silk purse out of this sow's ear, maybe she can at least fashion a better-looking sow's ear. We'll hope so.

How about you? Do you like being the subject of photos? Or are you more comfortable on the other side of the camera?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing: "Christian fiction"

I'm currently working my way through novels by some of my favorite authors. I was a fan of John Grisham and his books before I knew that he was a practicing Christian. But since I've been writing it myself, I've reread his books with an eye to determining whether they'd qualify as "Christian fiction." I've tried to define the genre before, and I won't try again--it is what it is, and like a giraffe, I find it hard to describe but you'll know it when you see it. But to me, Christian fiction need not contain a conversation scene, a trip down the "Roman road," or an altar call. See what you think about this one.

The book I just finished is The Last Juror, published in 2004. In it, the protagonist, editor of the newspaper in a small Mississippi town, becomes friends with an elderly black lady named Miss Cassie. Early in the course of the book, Miss Cassie asks him, "Are you a Christian child?" When he says his parents "dragged him to church" every Easter, she proceeds to educate him, complete with Bible references, on what it takes to be a Christian, on the sinfulness of all mankind, and God's offer of eternal life as a gift. Later in the book, he visits various churches in the area (in order to write about them), and the reader is treated to vignettes that emphasize the love of a church in action. The ending is sad, but includes a heartfelt prayer.

Now I'm about to finish The Testament. I chose it randomly from the bookshelf and was amazed to find that a major character is a Christian missionary, a woman working deep in the jungles of Brazil. In a number of scenes, Grisham portrays God at work in her life and her influence on a not-fully-recovered alcoholic lawyer sent to find her. There's no question in my mind that Grisham probably reached thousands of non-Christians through this book.

So, there you have it. Best-selling novels by a best-selling novelist, each containing Scripture, a presentation (although indirect) of the method of and need for salvation, and a commentary on the way God can impact and change a life. That's Christian fiction in my estimation, even though the publisher is not a member of CBA. Personally, if I could write a novel that contains a message as compelling as The Last Juror or The Testament, I'd feel that I'd fulfilled my calling to write Christian fiction.

What about you? Would you call this Christian fiction? Why or why not? I'd like to know.

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9-11: May We Never Forget

We all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As we pause to recall those terrible moments and all that has come since, may we renew our commitment to our country, our fellow citizens, and our God.

God bless America.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Writing: Book Covers Revisited

In a previous post, I discussed book covers, how they were designed, who has input, etc. At that time, I shared with you the proposed cover design from my publisher, Thomas Nelson, for my next novel of medical suspense, Stress Test. Some of you liked it, a few didn't. But the decision was made, and I thought that was the end of the matter.

          Well, things changed (as they sometimes do in publishing). There was more input, this time from the sales and marketing team and even from the buyer for a large retailer. As a result, that cover is out, this one is in. And I have to admit that it certainly reflects the main arc of the book--a doctor, stressed to the limit, then put in an even worse situation. Or, as the blurb says, "They may not have enough evidence to convict him of murder, but they have enough to ruin his life."

Eventually, this cover will show up on the various bookseller sites, where Stress Test is already available for pre-order prior to its late-March/early-April release. In the meantime, I'm delighted to read some of the early endorsements of the book. Let me share just one with you, from New York Times best-selling author Tess Gerrittsen: "Packed with thrills, Stress Test is a lightning-paced read that you'll read in one breath." 
Were you surprised that a cover design, once done and accepted, would be changed? Do you like this behind-the-scenes view of what goes in in an author's life? Let me know. 

Heads-Up: Author Jean Henry Meade is interviewing me tomorrow on her blog, Mysterious Writers. The interview will be up for a week. Hope you all will drop by and let Jean know that Christian fiction has a broader appeal than some folks may realize. Thanks.
 


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Have A Healthy Meeting

It's September, and many of you reading this blog are preparing to attend the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers. This year, it's at the Hyatt at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

In case you haven't heard, this area is the epicenter for cases of West Nile Virus this year. There have been multiple deaths, most of them elderly people or those with pre-existing health problems. The whole thing is scary. So, what can you do to protect yourself while you're here?

West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected mosquito. Health authorities have carried out an extensive campaign of ground and aerial spraying of a chemical to reduce the population of infected mosquitoes, and it appears to be working. (And, lest you have fears about the spraying, it should be done by conference time, and it has a great track record of safety for humans). But West Nile cases will probably continue to show up through September. To protect yourself, simply get an insect repellant, preferably one that contains DEET (check the label), and use it before going outside. You might also want to avoid perfumes and colognes, but the conference asks you to do this anyway.

What about flu? The flu vaccine may or may not be available in your area yet, but as soon as it is, I'd advise taking it. We just took ours, as we have done for years. Meanwhile, when you're around crowds (such as in an airport, airplane, crowded car or train, or--oh, yes--at a conference), cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands frequently, using soap and warm water and maintaining the activity long enough to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" a couple or three times. (If you like, you can sing the Alphabet Song instead.)

Nothing fancy--just common sense advice. Hope you take it. And have a great conference.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day: 2012

The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, in Boston, by the Central Labor Union of New York. It became a federal holiday in 1894. The September date was originally chosen by the CLU of New York and has continued to be observed since. All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made Labor Day a statutory holiday.

Labor Day means different things to different people. Kids who are tired of school already rejoice at a three-day weekend (and their parents groan). Football fans start thinking about that sport, and baseball fans look forward to the World Series with a variety of emotions, depending on how their particular team is doing. Community swimming pools prepare to close. Stores start putting out their Christmas goods (if they haven't done so already).

This weekend I hope you'll pause and give thanks for the people whose work makes our lives more tolerable. Remember to voice a prayer that those currently out of work will find employment soon. While you're at it, express your gratitude for your freedom, and pray for this country and its leaders. And if you haven't already done so, promise yourself that you'll vote in a couple of months. It's important.

 I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hazardous Journeys

This post is in response to an interesting challenge I received last week. Author Ed Cyzewski, in conjunction with the release of the book by him and Derek Cooper, Hazardous, challenged other authors to post their own stories of stepping out in faith and overcoming hazards. When I thought about it, one story kept coming to the forefront: how I became a writer.

In September, 1999, my world ended--because my wife of 40 years sustained a fatal brain hemorrhage, and I was desolate. To help me get through the depression that overwhelmed me, I began to journal: emails to friends, posthumous messages to Cynthia, random jottings on my computer. After almost two years, I had a huge collection of these writings. A friend read them and suggested that I share my experience with others going through the same thing. But I had no idea how to do that. I was a physician, not a writer. But maybe I could do it.

Moving from an area in which I'd achieved not just competence but prominence into one where I was an absolutely ignorant newbie was frightening, to say the least. Finally, an editor took pity on me and directed me to a Christian writing conference, where I felt myself being dragged into this new endeavor. Two years and lots of frustration later, I was given a contract by Kregel Publishers, and The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse was on the verge of being born.

The book was published in 2006 and remains in the top 100 of Amazon's list of books on grief and loss. It continues to minister, and I am constantly amazed at how God has taken this terrible event--the most tragic loss in my life--and used it for good. He also used the experience to point me into a new career. Although I intended my retirement to be devoted to such things as golf, I'm now writing Christian medical suspense. God knew all along this was going to be my path, but not only was I ignorant of it, I fought it. Guess who won?

If you have a story of stepping out in faith, check out this link for other stories in this blog event. And feel free to share your comments with me. Thanks for stopping by.

(top photo courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Writing: Consistency

Nothing stops a reader and quashes their interest like encountering an inconsistency in a book. Imagine what you'd think if in the first half of a novel the heroine has brunette hair, but she becomes a redhead (without benefit of help from Clairol) in the second half.

One of the ways an author keeps things consistent is through some form of a style sheet. In it are brief descriptions of each character, background notes, and anything else that the writer might need to keep things consistent throughout the book. For instance, here's a character description from my next book, Stress Test:



SANDRA MURRAY—diminutive, aggressive red-headed lawyer in solo practice. (Left large firm because they objected to her Christian principles). Specialist in criminal defense. Single (once “almost” engaged—to Matt’s neurosurgeon—they called it off).  5’4”, petite. Red hair, moderate length. Green eyes. 

Have you run into inconsistencies in books you were reading? Did it diminish your enjoyment? Let me know. 
 (photo courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net)