Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas, 2016

(This has been my Christmas post for several years--I still don't know how to say it any better)

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Guest Posting

My short story, A Christmas Story, is on the Suspense Sisters blog today. I hope you'll enjoy it, and that it will help you look at Christmas a bit differently today.

Merry Christmas, all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Writing: Holiday Schedule

When I was practicing medicine, I could look at the call schedule for the holiday period and know when I'd be free (and when I'd be working). Now that I'm writing, you'd think I was pretty much in charge of my schedule...but you'd be wrong. Although many publishers do essentially close down during the latter part of December, this is a busy season for writers in a number of ways.

As I've said before, writers never stop marketing. We have to make people aware that books make excellent Christmas gifts. And if a writer wants to produce a "Christmas" book to fit into the pattern of those sold at this time of year, they have to start a number of months ahead of time. I became acutely aware of this when I decided to publish my novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. We had to struggle to get it available for the season, then I had to make people aware of it...which I just did, if you're a reader of this blog. (Sneaky, I know).

And even when I'm not writing, my brain never stops. Only yesterday I was telling Kay something that caused her to say, "That would be a great premise for a novel"--so I jotted it down. See how it works?

But, despite all the things I've detailed above, I'm going to try to take a holiday hiatus--if not from writing, at least from blogging. I hope to post a Christmas message, as well as one wishing each of my readers a happy new year, but otherwise I'm going to shut down for a couple of weeks, in order to... Hmm. Hang on.

Just had an idea for a holiday murder mystery. Better make a note. See you all soon. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Without Them

Warning--this post may be a downer for some of you...but I think it needs to be said. Although I've had nine novels and two novellas published, my first published book (and the one of which I'm most proud) was a non-fiction one, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. In it, I talk about what I went through after Cynthia's death, in order to encourage others who have suffered a similar loss. Years ago the local paper in the city where we lived at the time asked me to write about that first Christmas after her death. I'm repeating that message here, in hopes that it will help someone who's having a tough time during this normally joyous season.

         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 a 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 Wal-Mart 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 if you celebrate it alone, remember the true meaning of Christmas.      

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Writing: What Do You Want To Know?

If you're a regular follower of this blog, you know that I've settled into a pattern of "stuff in general" on Tuesdays and various facets of writing on Fridays. As I wind down this year, I'd like to hear from you about what you want covered in the future. I'm far from an expert in the industry, but I've worked hard to learn more and more about the craft and publishing in general. I won't say that I wouldn't have gotten this deep into writing had I known them, but they were a revelation, to say the least. I believe it was Will Rogers who said that there were two things one shouldn't see being made: sausages and laws. To that list, one might add "books."

So leave me a comment about what you'd like to see here next year. Let me know if you're a writer or a reader (or both). Pose some questions you'd like answered. My aim is to make it worth your while to click this link and read what I've posted.

And, in case I forget to say it later, have a wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling Christmas season.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

'Tis The Season

The song encourages us to deck the halls with boughs of holly, but as I look at some of the decorations going up in our neighborhood, I wonder if something hasn't gotten lost in translation. The manger scenes I used to see years ago have given way to inflatable dolls of Santa Claus, elves, and even Snoopy. Now, it's not that I don't love all those characters--I think A Charlie Brown Christmas is a classic, and Kay and I have Elf recorded on our DVR to be watched later this week. But let's not forget about the true "reason for the season."

Our outside lights and Christmas tree will go up this week, and we're looking forward to having family with us soon. But the songs we sing will always include carols that are really hymns, and we'll try never to forget that the true meaning of Christmas can be found in the passage that begins with these words: "Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise..."

Feel free to leave your comments about what Christmas means to you. I look forward to reading them.

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Oh, and my news? I've been advised that my publisher has nominated my most recent novel, Miracle Drug, for a Christy award. Now, it's a long way between nomination and being a finalist, and I don't harbor any hopes of actually winning, but in this case it's true: "It's an honor to be nominated." Thanks to all of you who put Miracle Drug on one of the November best seller lists.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Writing: Marketing

Most writers, when they start out, feel that once they have a signed contract from a publisher, their work is done. Not true, of course. If you've been following this blog, you know that after the initial acceptance come at least three edits--the editorial letter (or macro edit), the line edit (or copy edit), and the proof-reading. The names may change, but there are more edits along the way--not to mention forms to fill out and input on the cover-- before the book appears in print.

What most writers fail to realize--at least, initially--is that a good portion of their time will be spent after the book's release in marketing it. Certainly, your publisher will do their part, but, as one writer told me early on, "No one is more interested in sales of your book than you are." And if the book is indie-published, the whole thing falls on you. So either way--traditional publisher or self-publication--the writer has to spend some time in marketing.

Let me give a personal example. Miracle Drug is my ninth novel published by a traditional publisher. The first, Code Blue, came out five years ago. I'll admit I took the publisher's marketing efforts for granted at that time, but it didn't take me long to start paying attention to what they were doing. And by the time my first self-published novella, Rx Murder, came out, I knew what to do--sort of. I refined that even more when my latest novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, came out. And, whether it was a self-published work or one from a traditional publisher, I've continued to spend a good bit of time on marketing.

My own personal feeling is that word of mouth is the best advertising, and a great way to add to this is via giveaways. The latest one, featuring my novella, is here. And, if you're interested, my last two novels are included in this huge giveaway at the site to which I contribute, Suspense Sisters.

What do you think? What factors influence you to buy a book? Do you think authors spend too much time marketing their work? How would you change that?

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NOTE: Check back next week when I'll have an interesting announcement for everyone.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Christmas Decorations

Thanksgiving is past, the flurry of shopping that goes with Black Friday has left everyone washed out, and preparations for Christmas have begun (except for those of you who began preparing this summer--you're excused from this discussion). So the question now is, "Did you start your Christmas decorating before Thanksgiving, or are you a traditionalist like me who lets the rush from one holiday die down before starting on the next one?"

The only way I'll know is if you leave a comment, so please do so. I promise not to spam you. I won't even make fun of you. But take a moment out of your schedule to let me know.

Oh, and while you're at the keyboard, you might have a quick look at my novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, which is set in the period between Christmas and New Year's. Or consider buying my latest novel, Miracle Drug, either for a Christmas present or for yourself.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Wriiting: Guest Interview at Suspense Sisters

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I sort of hate to see the Christmas shopping season start so early, but if you're taking a break from the Black Friday activity, I think you'll like this, especially if you're a writer.

Last week I talked about this book, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. Today, on the Suspense Sisters blog, I'm interviewing one of the editors of that book. And there's a chance to win a copy of it by leaving a comment. Check out the site. And come back here next week for more of my Random Jottings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The day 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 are blessed people. Give thanks, but also plan to do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

May I wish you and yours a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving. I'll be back Friday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

I thought I'd give readers of this blog a sneak peek at the first chapter of my latest novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. It's available on Amazon in both Kindle and print formats. Readers of my newsletter have already had a preview, but I wanted everyone to know about it before the prices go up. Right now, the Kindle version is $1.99, the print version $5.99.  The Kindle price goes up a dollar after Thanksgiving. (End of commercial message).

     Here's a preview:

It was a scene that made you want to sing “Silent Night”—or at least hum a few bars. A full moon shone on the blanket of snow covering the yard of the home. Drapes at each side of a picture window were drawn back to display the holiday decorations within. Although Christmas had come and gone five days earlier, the tree’s colored lights still burned, reflecting off the ornaments and tinsel scattered through the branches. Holiday lights on the eaves of the house at Redman Lane cast a multicolored glow over the scene. 
The only false note was the front door of the house, standing wide-open and spilling light onto a narrow path across the porch. 
Officer Adela Reyes of the Hilton Police Department slowed her cruiser to a stop at the curb. An open door at three in the morning indicated either trouble or a careless homeowner. She scanned the scene before lifting the microphone from its clip on her patrol car’s dashboard. Reyes pressed the button to transmit. “This is Officer Reyes. I’ve got an open front door and lights still on at 7710 Redman Lane. I’m going to check it out.”
“Roger. Are you requesting backup?”
“I don’t think so. It’s probably just someone who forgot to lock up. I’ll call in if I need help.”
She flipped on the car’s strobes to warn anyone coming up on her cruiser, although she doubted there’d be any traffic on this residential street at this time of night—or rather, of morning. With one hand on her holstered Glock, a five-cell flashlight in her other hand—both for illumination and a use as a club—she carefully approached the house, slogging through the undisturbed snow of the front yard. 
When she reached the front porch, Reyes knocked loudly on the frame of the open door. “Police. Anyone home?” She repeated this several times before she walked inside. She’d learned that houses give off vibes when they were occupied, and her gut told her this one was empty. Nevertheless, she went through each room, calling out, scanning every hiding place. When she had satisfied herself that the house was unoccupied, she keyed the microphone secured to the epaulet near the collar of her uniform. 
“This is Reyes again. That house with the open door seems unoccupied.” She paused to think about her course of action. “I’ll push the button to lock the door when I leave.”
After shutting the door, she walked back to her squad car, when she noticed a peculiar mound of snow off to one side of the path. The little hill was about three feet by six, roughly the same dimensions as a grave. There was nothing unusual about snow piling up in mounds and drifts, but this one looked different somehow. Reyes was curious about what might be under that mound. Was it a toy of some sort, left in the yard and covered with snow? She decided to give it a look. As she approached, the flashlight in her left hand, her right hovered near her holstered weapon.
Reyes edged over and kicked a bit of snow away from the mound with a booted foot. She aimed her flashlight downward to see what she’d exposed, then stepped back and gave an almost-silent gasp. Up from the hole she’d made in the snow stared a pair of eyes—eyes in the face of a dead woman. 


Friday, November 20, 2015

Writing: Twelve Fatal Flaws

I rarely do book reviews on this site, but I recently had the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of a book I think should be on every writer's bookshelf (or e-reader). It's The 12 Fatal Flaws Of Fiction Writing. It's a multi-authored book, which means you get the collective wisdom of editors C. S. Lakin, Linda S. Clare, Christy Distler, Robin Patchen, and Rachel Starr Thomson. And they do a masterful job of weaving everything together into an understandable work that I found very helpful.

The book not only talks about each of the flaws, but also gives examples of them and how to correct or avoid them. The chapters include Nothin' Happenin', Too Much Backstory, and Pesky Adverbs and "Weasel Words," among others.

In the section on showing and telling, the editor talks about an author who is told they should reveal backstory through dialogue--but instead of jettisoning their precious words, they simply put them in quotation marks. Rather than simply saying, "Don't do this," the editors go on to provide examples of what not to do, then how to correct these flaws.

In several places, the Rule of Three is invoked. It not only makes good sense, it's easy to remember. One application is that, when a character speaks three lines of dialogue, the writer either switches to speech by another character or inserts an action beat. Good advice, and it works.

The section on adverbs and weasel words is one I bookmarked for that final review of a manuscript--and we writers know how important that can be.

For those who think novels spring, fully formed, from the keys of an author's computer, this book will be eye-opening. For authors who are sweating out a manuscript, whether their first or fiftieth, this book serves as an excellent review. I highly recommend it.

I'll be doing a follow-up interview with one of the editors of this book on the Suspense Sisters blog in a week, and there'll be an opportunity to comment and win a copy. Stay tuned.

My question for you: What fatal flaws have you encountered in either reading or writing? I'd like to hear.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Resolving Conflicting Stories

If you follow this blog or my posts on Facebook, you know that I enjoy golf (although the game Jerry and I play might shock purists--we don't keep score). As some kind of reward--I don't even recall what I bought--I get a complimentary subscription to Golf Digest. And the most recent issue contained an interview with writer James Patterson, one that raised an interesting question.

It seems that Patterson's books are published in both Great Britain and the US, and through circumstances that aren't important, the British book was released first. Patterson didn't like the ending, so he rewrote it for the US book. That's all well and good, but it left Patterson with a dilemma. This was a series, and the plot of the new one depended on the ending of the preceding one. How did Patterson handle this? He didn't say.

So here's your chance to be a writer. How would you resolve this conflict? I look forward to reading your solutions in the comments section.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Writing: Resources

If you ask me what it takes to be a writer, I guess it's sort of like the old joke about the New York tourist asking how to get to Carnegie Hall, and getting the answer, "Practice, practice, practice." In order to write you have to write...and write...and write some more. But there's more to it than that. Your work should be critiqued by someone who is knowledgeable. I can tell you from first-hand experience that this may hurt. You may even be tempted to argue. But think about it, and usually you'll find that--although you might believe it's tantamount to sacrilege to change a word of your masterpiece--the suggested changes will make the work better.

But there are other things that a writer can do. They can attend classes given by experienced writers. If you can't afford the travel and registration costs, look in your own back yard. Here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area there are several groups that meet regularly, and they often have speakers presenting worthwhile material. I imagine the same is true in most places.

Then there are the writing books. If you only buy one, start with James Scott Bell's book on plot and structure. Get a book on self-editing, like the one by Browne and King. And unless you're a genius at punctuation, you might want a book about that as well. I found Noah Lukeman's book, A Dash of Style, to be both informative and entertaining, believe it or not. Are those three all you need? Not by a long shot. My shelf of reference books is full and overflowing, and I've read every one of them. Most are highlighted and dogeared. Just like "There's always room for Jello," no matter how many books you've written, there's always room for improvement.

What is your absolute, very favorite resource for writing? I'd like to know.

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NOTE: My novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, is now available for Kindle. The print version will follow shortly. I've initially priced it at $1.99 for the ebook and $4.99 for the print, but that will go up by a dollar for each version after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans' Day 2015

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a holiday once celebrated as Armistice Day, the anniversary of the declaration of a cease-fire on the Western Front in World War I. Now it's a day set aside to honor those who have served or are currently serving our nation in the uniformed services--the living and the dead.

I'm proud to say that I am a veteran, having served three years in the US Air Force. I salute my fellow veterans, and give special thanks to those currently serving. Sometimes that sacrifice seems so little. Sometimes it's the ultimate sacrifice.

To mark the day, I plan to do three things:
1) Fly the American flag
2) Thank a serviceman for his or her service
3) Pray for our nation

I hope you'll do the same. God bless America.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Writing: Who Reads What...And Does It Matter?

The Barna Group has recently released the results of a survey about reading, and the findings are interesting both to writers and readers. You can read the entire survey here, but a few of the high points include these:

Roughly two-thirds of the general population read five books per year. It varies a great deal according to the age of those queried, and one quarter of the Generation X respondents didn't read any books at all. Where do you fit into this?

In general, readers prefer fiction. However, among practicing Christians, there was a definite preference for non-fiction. This is attributed to the reason many of these people gave for their reading—“to grow and develop spiritually.” I've encountered this mindset a good bit when talking with other Christians. It's laudable, but what does that say to those of us who write Christian fiction (or, to use the newer term, inspirational fiction)?

About one-third of adults buy their books via brick-and-mortar outlets, while ten percent primarily order their books online. It’s interesting that about fifteen percent of adults across all age ranges usually borrow books rather than buying them. If the book is bought by a library, the author gets a royalty. If it's borrowed from a friend, though, the author gets nothing. And I've been told that the average book is read by five people, so there's a good bit of borrowing and loaning going on.

The summary of the study that I read didn’t give a definitive answer to one big question—are e-books replacing print books in popularity?  As best I can tell, though,  it appears that the printed word is still favored by a significant number of respondents.


All that’s very interesting, but it leaves a big question unanswered for writers. Do the results of this survey affect what you write and how it's published? And readers, do your habits match what Barna found in the survey? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

"Best Seller"...So What?

I was notified last week by one of my colleagues that my novel, Miracle Drug, had made the best-seller list of the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). I couldn't believe it, but when I clicked the link she sent I found that--sure enough--there it was at number five for suspense, on the same list as titles from some of the colleagues I've admired for quite a while. I was a "bestselling author."

I wondered if I could really claim this title, so I checked around. Agent Chip McGregor (who's not my agent, but is highly respected among authors) has blogged about this: "So if your book hit the New York Times list, the LA Times list, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Denver Post, CBA, ECPA, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other bestseller lists, you can promote yourself as a 'bestselling' author." Then I asked my own agent if I could call myself a "bestselling author," and she sent back a one word response: "Yes."

But my question is whether this makes any difference...or even should. You see wines that have won a gold medal at this competition or that. Certain products are "best-selling." But has that ever made a difference to you or other consumers? Does it affect your decision to purchase? The people who write ad copy apparently think so.

What do you think? Have you ever bought something because it was "prize-winning" or "best-selling?" Let me know.

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NOTE: I'm pleased to announce the winners from my recent Miracle Drug 5-book giveaway and blog tour. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Congratulations to the winners: Rebecca Maney, Andrea Schultz, Heather Thomas, Zoe Schoppa, and Jennifer Tipton. My publicists from Litfuse Publicity Group will be in touch via email with details on how to claim your prize. You can also email your mailing address to info {at} litfusegroup {dot} com. Congrats!