Friday, June 28, 2013

Writing: Learning From Other Writers

I mentioned on my Facebook page that I'd recently re-read Lawrence Block's excellent book, The Liar's Bible. That and Block's book, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, are writing books that I find both instructive and entertaining. The same can be said for books on writing from writers like James Scott Bell. I've had the privilege of hearing Jim Bell speak, and although I haven't had the same opportunity with Block, I'd love the chance. These are men who have walked the walk, so they can talk the talk. And, believe it or not, writers often have an ego that's large enough it keeps us from wanting to hear advice about our work. Go figure!

I once worked with another ENT specialist who proudly said, "I've never had a post-operative patient bleed after tonsillectomy." I discovered that he could make that statement because other doctors, such as I, were taking care of those patients. When I choose a physician, I don't want one who thinks he's perfect. I want one who can admit he's made mistakes and learned from them, hopefully so he won't make the same mistake in my case.

So must it be with writers. When we think we know it all, watch out. We don't. We never will. Writing is a continuing learning process.

So, what do you think? Have you ever read a book by a writer whose work you previously enjoyed, only to find that apparently they'd gone stagnant? Think they might have decided they know it all? Let's hear your opinions.

(The photo is of Lawrence Block--Jim Bell's much better looking, he says)


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Replacing Your Divots

My friend, golf partner, and attorney (pretty much in that order), Jerry Gilmore, said something once that has stuck with me. He was adding sand to the divot he'd created with his shot and remarked, "I read once that you can tell a lot about a man by whether he fills in his divots when no one is looking."

For those who aren't golfers, a divot is the hole that remains after the shot of a good golfer. It's customary on the pro tour for caddies to replace the piece of turf knocked loose, while duffers like Jerry and me use sand to fill in the holes. But the idea has stuck with me, and I saw an example just the other day.

Recently I saw a grocery cart in the middle of the parking lot in our neighborhood shopping center--either someone had just left it there or it had rolled away from the nearby row of carts stowed by other shoppers after loading their cars. I sat there for a minute and watched car after car swerve around the obstacle and go on their way. Finally, I parked, put the cart where it belonged, and looked around. No one saw me do it. No one rushed up to congratulate me or give me a commendation. No one would have known had I not written this post. It was a case of replacing a divot that I hadn't made, even though no one was looking.

If you're thinking, "He's blowing his own horn," you miss the point. It wasn't what I'd done--it's what others had failed to do. How about you? Do you replace your divots? Maybe even fill in some that others have left? If you haven't, I suggest you try it. It feels pretty good.

I look forward to your comments on this, maybe some examples (good and bad). Let me know.

NOTE: My guest post is up at the LitFuse blog today. Hope you'll drop by and check it out.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Writing: Where Do Books Go To Die?

Kay and I were shopping in a local Christian bookstore last week--yes, we try to patronize them as often as we can--when we came upon two large cases labeled "Bargain Books." They were marked with colored tape on the spines, the colors indicating the price, which ranged from $5 down to $1 per book. I was immediately sad, as I saw familiar names, names of friends and colleagues, on the covers. Kay picked up half a dozen by some of her favorite authors, books that had come out years before and that she had missed. But I felt guilty as I paid the clerk. Not so much guilty at the bargain I'd found, but at the knowledge that my own books would be on that bargain table soon enough.

Some of you may be wondering what happens to books that no longer sell. Perhaps the book store bought too many, possibly the publisher was one that wouldn't take back unsold books (most will, but not signed ones--something I learned early on in writing; don't sign more copies than the bookstore tells you, they may wish to return the others if they don't sell). That's where the bargain table comes in.

Of course, in this day of e-publishing, all this changes. An e-book never really goes out of print. It doesn't take up warehouse space. And although it may have its price reduced, there's no "bargain table" humiliation for it.

I don't want to get into stripping (removal of covers from paperbacks for return to publishers, while the book itself is pulped and recycled) or remaindering (liquidation of a poorly selling book by the publisher at greatly reduced prices). I guess the point I wanted to make was that books have a life cycle, just as people do. I just hope that mine have a positive effect before they suffer whatever fate awaits them at the end of their lives.

Let me close with a poem that I learned about from fellow author James Scott Bell. It deals with an author who has just found that the book of his arch-enemy has been remaindered. Hope you enjoy reading it here. Hurry back.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Late-breaking news: Word from my publisher that until June 24, by special arrangement with Barnes & Noble, when readers purchase 3 or more qualifying books from a huge list of Thomas Nelson books, the least expensive book is free. In order to take advantage of this offer, just place all 3 qualifying books in your BN.com Shopping Bag. Your credit for the least expensive product will appear at Checkout.  This offer is NOT valid at B&N retail stores, but only physical copies purchased at BN.com.  NOOK books are not included.
   Here's the link.
(And, of course, Stress Test is included in this list).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

 By the time this posts, I will have received the editorial letter for my book, Critical Condition, which means I'm going to be busy editing and revising for the next little bit. And that set me to thinking about how I should apportion my time.

Some time ago I asked the readers of this blog to let me know what they wanted to read. At that time, the respondents indicated they didn't really want to read more author interviews, and certainly no more book reviews. What they were interested in fell into two major categories: life in general and the writing life specifically. Thus, I've devoted Tuesday to "stuff" and Friday to various aspects of the publishing industry.

Now I think it's time to take another look at my blog. In addition to composing a couple of posts per week to share with you each week, I am reasonably active on Twitter (RichardMabry), and have two pages on Facebook--my personal one (RichardMabry) and my author page (rmabrybooks). I guess it's sort of like the old question of a tree falling in the forest if there's no one there to hear it. If a blog is posted but no one reads it, does it really matter. Am I spinning my wheels? You tell me.

Actually, I know that a couple of hundred of you do indeed read these scribblings each week. (I track the numbers). Thanks to all my loyal readers for dropping by, even if you don't leave comments. But I'd really appreciate your input as to what you'd like to see in the future.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Writing: Increasing The Tension

I received an email recently from a reader who was half-way through Stress Test, and (although they were enjoying the book) said something to the effect that I'd certainly found lots of ways to put my hero in jeopardy. I took that as a compliment. Even though I pride myself on writing "sleep with the lights OFF suspense," I try to keep the reader involved, making them want to turn the pages.

Recently, I've found myself involving firearms more in my books. It hasn't been a conscious decision. Probably more related to the state of our world today. But, as Chekhov said, if a gun is shown on stage in the first act, it must later be fired. And to do that requires some ingenuity.

My email correspondent was just starting his own road to writing, and in light of the subject matter of this post, let me pass on some of the best writing advice I've ever received. This came from agent, Donald Maass, who is something of a legend in the writing world. At one of his workshops, he said, "Think of the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist." There was silence, followed by a few shivers, as we all considered that. Then Maass said, "Now make it worse."

That, friends, is one of the secrets of writing good suspense.

Any questions about writing? If I don't know the answer, I'll bet I know someone who does.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Making Choices

One of my favorite TV shows is The Big Bang Theory. As we've watched it over the past several years, Kay and I have remarked that the producers have done a great job of assembling an excellent ensemble cast. No matter that nerd-in-chief Sheldon is a staunch proponent of creation via the Big Bang. I have my own ideas of how the earth came into being, and let's just say that I see the hand of a Creator in the whole thing. But that's not a major part of the show's plot. So we made a choice to watch and enjoy it.

On the other hand, we stopped watching some other shows long ago, deciding that they'd descended to depths with which we're not comfortable. We took Two and a Half men off our regular TV-watching list even before Charlie Sheen's off-screen antics ramped up to ridiculous levels. And Ashton Kucher didn't do much to redeem the show. Likewise, with some regret, we stopped watching How I Met Your Mother for pretty much the same reasons--fewer laughs and more sex.

There are other shows we enjoy--Blue Bloods, Shark Tank, and the like--but more and more I find that I agree with Groucho Marx, who said that he found TV quite educational. Every time someone turned on the set, he left the room and found a book to read.

What about you? I'd love to hear your opinions on this?

(photo via freedigitalphoto.net)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Writing: What's Next In Publishing?

In the picture here the sun is just rising over the mountains of North Carolina, one of our favorite places to go to get away from it all. But if I told you the sun was setting, you'd probably accept that as well. It's hard to tell from just one picture.

When I retired from medicine, my intention was to play golf, travel, read, enjoy my family, and in general relax after thirty-six years in my chosen profession. Instead, through a series of circumstances in which God's hand was obvious, I began to write--first, a non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, and then a series of novels. After four novels written over four years, garnering forty rejections, I got a publishing contract. Since then, I've had five novels published, with the sixth and seventh scheduled. I've even managed to get some excellent reviews and win a few awards and honors.

But now things appear to be changing in this second profession of mine. E-books are becoming more popular, while printed book sales may be declining. Self-publishing via the medium of e-books seems to be taking on a life of its own. A new term is creeping into the vocabulary of authors: "hybrid," referring to authors who have had books published by conventional publishers but also are e-publishing some of their own books. And in the midst of all this, some publishers are being bought by other, larger houses, while some are changing what they publish.

So my question to you, gentle reader or fellow author, is this: Is the sun setting on conventional publishing, or is it still rising? My crystal ball is pretty cloudy, so I'd love to hear what you think.

PS--Thanks to all of you who voted for Stress Test on Clash of the Titles. I'm happy to say that it won. You can see details here.

(photo by the author)

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Dodging The Tornadoes

When I was asked to speak to the Tulsa chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers, I was happy to accept. I'd spoken previously to WIN (Writers of Inspirational Novels), and figured the four hour drive to Tulsa would be worth the effort. When I was first getting started in writing, I learned a great deal by listening to other authors. This was my opportunity to give back.

As the time approached, Kay and I began watching the weather more closely. Tornadoes had already struck near us in Texas, and more recently in Oklahoma. Now they were threatening the particular area of Oklahoma into which we were driving. Should I cancel? I've been a program chairman for a number of events, and I knew the problems a last-minute cancellation could cause. I decided to make the drive.

As we sat in our motel room in Tulsa, every local TV station was showing the same thing--radar images interspersed with video that showed an inexorable march of tornadoes across the area in and around Oklahoma City. Fortunately, when the storms approached Tulsa, they split like the Red Sea under the hand of God and went around us.

The talk the next day went well, but I kept thinking as we drove back home how this bunch of tornadoes seemed somehow more real to me than those that devastated communities near us in North Texas. I decided that the answer lay in the fact that as we watched and waited, we weren't at home, amid familiar surroundings. And that led me to pray even harder for those whose lives had been disrupted by the loss of things that represented "home" to them.

Sometimes we take our safety and shelter for granted. After this past weekend, I'm not sure I will again.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)