Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Behind The Mask

The first time I recall seeing people wearing a Guy Fawkes mask was during the Occupy Wall Street movement. For those who don't know, Guy Fawkes was one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot, an effort to blow up the British House of Lords. The mask was popularized in the movie, V for Vendetta.

Over the past few years the stylized mask has evolved into a global symbol of dissent, employed by everyone from shadowy computer hackers to Turkish airline workers. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled out, I haven't seen much of people actually hiding behind a mask...until I started (against my better judgment) to read some of the comments posted on a few Internet sites and realized that the mask (that is, hiding one's identity) was alive and well.

Is it just because people can hide behind the "mask" of screen names that they feel free to post the vitriol I saw there? Or is that the state of our society now? I'd write more, but I'm afraid I'd descend to the depths of those people who currently cloak their identity with that mask.

On my own Facebook site, I see differing opinions, and I'm OK with that--to a point. Some of these people are friends, even relatives, and their civil disagreement with me is reasonable. But if you're using my Facebook page to spew trash, I'm going to "unfriend" you. I've already started...and, frankly, it feels good.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Writing: Rules

We never went as far as the picture shows, but when I was practicing medicine I saw numerous signs to turn off cell phones before entering an area, seeing the doctor, etc. Although sometimes the reason given was they might interfere with electrical equipment in the area, most of the time it was actually so they wouldn't interrupt the activity going on there. The rule might be expressed in different ways, but the reason was there.

When I first started writing, one of the first rules I learned was to choose active verbs, rather than passive ones. The reason, I was told, was to take the action forward at a faster pace, and this made sense. Then I was told to use verbs in a special way in order to keep the reader's attention. I never fully got the reason behind this, but I saw examples like, "Her fingers fisted" and "the artery in her temple pulsed." These, unlike the others, didn't make as much sense to me. I preferred the more conventional, "She made a fist" and "the vessel throbbed."

There are lots of rules in writing--some make sense, others don't (to me, at least). I suppose that's why I like the work of the late Robert B. Parker. He wrote in simple declarative sentences, and I never had to employ a dictionary to translate the words. Nor did I have to stop and think about the writing. It was clear.

Do you ever encounter writing that makes you take a step back and ask yourself why the words were put together that way? What is your opinion of rules? I'd like to hear.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Spring

Spring is here. I've never kept up with the differences between meteorological and calendar spring--I leave that to the weather persons. For me, I can tell it's spring when baseball season has started, we can take the freeze-proof covers off our outdoor faucets, the golf courses are more crowded, and kids start itching for school to be out.

What does spring mean to you? Let me know in the comments section.

And come back Friday to read my "writing" post.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter Weekend


The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed...Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead'...."
(Matt 28:5-7a, The Message)

In the ancient world, the message was this: "Christos anesti; al├ęthos anesti."

In our modern language, the words are different, the message the same: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!"

Have a blessed Easter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Only In Texas

We were playing golf recently and my partner (who has never met a stranger) was talking with a man he met on the first tee. "I was born in Memphis, Texas. That's near Turkey." Because I'd heard this before, I almost missed the man's response. "Yep. Home of Bob Wills." For those of you who aren't acquainted with Texas music, Bob Will and the Texas Playboys pioneered the type of music known as "Western Swing."

My own history goes back to Decatur, Texas--best known through the dice-rolling chant, "Eighter from Decatur." We had the Waggoner Mansion, the Chisolm Trail (which ran through the men's room at the Wise County Courthouse, leading to some jokes I won't repeat here), and several other things for which we were famous, but nothing topped "Eighter from Decatur."

What's your favorite town, and why? It doesn't even have to be in Texas. Leave a comment with your answer. (I'll be away from a computer today, so talk among yourselves--and play nicely).

Friday, April 07, 2017

Writing: Too Much Information?

Writers are encouraged to make use of social media to make a connection with readers. I'll have to admit that when I take off my "writer hat" and assume the role of "reader," I enjoy knowing more about some of the authors whose work I read. But, whether you realize it or not, those of us who use social media--and that number seems to grow exponentially each day--have to walk a fine line between making a connection and giving out too much information.

I notice that authors' social media posts fall into the usual categories: publishing information as these people sign new contracts, public appearances and signings, interspersed with recipes, travel, and snippets about everyday life. But, whether you think of it or not, there are some things about which we're warned, and the same would go (so far as I can see) for anyone, not just those of us who write.

What should we avoid? I've been told not to get too intense in posting about my political beliefs. Why? One reason is that some of my readers may not agree with me, but they still like my novels. In the recent presidential election, I've discovered that a number of my friends and acquaintances in the publishing industry don't share my political views. I still like to read their work, but I have to admit that I now look for their politics bleeding over into the writing. I've made my views known, but not to the extent of some people, who post some pretty combative stuff.

What about trips? We're all happy when we are about to go back home to visit or start a long-anticipated vacation. But, although we're anxious to share this information, realize that it might tip off the unscrupulous that you're not going to be home for a bit. We're careful to put a "hold" on our newspapers and make certain our mail doesn't pile up in the box, but why let the world know that our home is an inviting target for burglars?

There are other things those of us who participate in social media are advised to avoid. Do you think we share too much information? Too little? What do you see as the reason behind communication via social media? Let me hear from you. I'd like to know.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

No Pain, No Gain

We've heard the phrase repeatedly. Athletes especially are encouraged to continue their work-outs, even when the activity hurts, because there's no improvement in strength without some discomfort.

I was having lunch late last week with someone in the publishing business who asked me, "How did you get started writing?" I'd told the story so many times, I thought it was familiar to everyone, but once more I related how Cynthia's death and my journaling afterward led me--slowly and painfully--into the writing and publication of The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, and subsequently into my second career, this one as an author.

That got me to thinking about why so many writers of my acquaintance have deep hurts and difficulties in their personal life. Most of us, because we're not privy to those lives, don't realize this is true, but it shows up in their writing--and it's the better for it. This, too, is a case of "no pain, no gain." As A. W. Tozer said, "Whom God would use greatly, He will hurt deeply." And I believe it.

How about you? Can you think of a situation in your life when you had pain, yet gain ultimately came from it? You may not wish to publicize it, but if you don't mind I think it would help us all to see it.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Writing: Guest Blog Posts and Interviews

For years authors have been admonished to establish a social media presence. This has included guest blog posts, interviews, and even a series of such appearances in the form of "blog tours." But when was the last time you saw an extensive physical author tour, with signings and readings? This virtual disappearance, in my opinion, is due to two things: lack of a return on investment for the publisher and a tightening of the purse strings of various publishing companies.

Since my recently released novella, Doctor's Dilemma, was self-published, it fell to me to arrange any publicity it received. I have appeared on various other blogs with interviews and guest posts, the most recent one yesterday on Reading Is My Superpower. In conjunction with most of those, I have offered a free copy of my novella. And the return has been good, in my opinion.

My question to you is whether you have ever participated in such an activity--as an author, a host, or by leaving a comment hoping you'd win the copy of the book being offered. I'd like to hear your experiences and motivations. And I promise not to tell anyone--it will be our secret.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Interviewed Today

Interviewed at "Reading Is My SuperPower" blog today. Read whether I like apples or oranges better (and maybe win a copy of my latest novella, Doctor's Dilemma). Come back here tomorrow to read about interviews and guest blog posts in the life of an author.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Two Hardest Miles

I am not a runner. To me, the only reason to run is if you're being chased. But there are runners who read this blog, even some of you who run the 26+ miles of a marathon. Power to you, but as for me, no thanks.

I'm rereading (for the umpteenth time) the books written by the late Robert B. Parker, and I came across this bit of dialogue that hit home. Spenser, the protagonist, is going for a run with his girl-friend, Susan, who only wants to do a couple of miles.

"You realize you're running the two hardest miles," he says, referring to the first and last mile of a run.

"Maybe," she replies. "But if I didn't run those, I probably wouldn't run any."

If you think about that, the same applies to a task we don't look forward to. The first mile corresponds to getting started, something we put off as long as possible. Then, when we get started, we always encounter other stuff we need to do along the way. I know both Kay and I have that feeling sometime. And that brings us to the last mile--completing the task we set for ourselves.

So, are we running the two hardest miles? I know I feel that way sometimes, and I suspect you do as well. Want to tell me about it? I'd like to hear.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Writing: Return On Investment

Before I got my first publishing contract, I figured that when that contract came it meant all I had to do was furnish a manuscript (12 point Times New Roman type, 1 inch margins, contractually specified word-length) and the publisher would do the rest. But I soon learned differently.

There were edits to respond to: a macro edit, a line edit, then proofread the galleys. I needed to give input to the artist who'd be putting together the cover. And finally I had to do what seemed like tons of blog interviews, guest posts, and other social media obligations. The good news about the latter, of course, was that my publisher would provide the books that have become an integral part of such a blog tour.

When I got serious about self-publishing, one of the facts that sort of hit me between the eyes (and this wasn't until I had two or three self-pubbed offerings under my belt) was that I had to purchase all those books. I had always done a lot of my own marketing (because, as I've said before, no one is more interested in the sale of your book than you are), but when I self-published I needed to do all of it. That included sending out copies of the book to selected reviewers. And it was then that I got serious about the initials I'd been hearing for a couple of years--ROI, or return on investment.

When you're a member of a "street team," or an "influencer" for a book, realize that the book you received was one paid for by the author. In return, there are a number of things you can do to help get the word out. (The list I send is one I adapted from the one from author Jody Hedlund). Not every influencer can do everything on the list, but the author will ultimately look at the ROI of those efforts. The same goes for blog interviews and guest blogs, with the book giveaway that goes with them. If only six people comment, that's a poor ROI--if three dozen do, it's a worthwhile ROI. See the picture?

Here's my question for you: Have you ever been an influencer or member of a street team? Have you ever been influenced to buy a book by word-of-mouth recommendation from another person? Do you think blog tours, endorsements, and other marketing tools make a difference? I'd like to know.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Another Guest Post

I'll be posting today at the Suspense Sisters blog, where I talk about the question, Aren't All Published Writers Rich and Famous? All comments (that include their email address) will have a chance at an Amazon gift card.

Incidentally, this will be my last post there. It's been a great time with those authors, and I hope you'll continue checking out their blog (as well as this one).


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Has Sprung

I could have sworn I already posted this, but then again, maybe I just dreamed it. That's what happens when you're in the midst of launching a new book (well, a novella), going through the regular "stuff" of which life consists, and trying to make time for the important things in your life (like golf and such). Anyway, it's officially spring and I wanted to ask your opinion.

To me, spring means that flowers will soon appear. Baseball season is almost with us. Kay is bustling here and there with spring cleaning. And both kids and parents look ahead to the end of school (with differing emotions). So, to you, what does spring mean? Leave me a comment. I'd like to know.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Writing: Guest Posting

I was supposed to post at Fresh Fiction today, but (even though I sent the material) the post hasn't appeared and I haven't received the URL. I'll let you know if it shows up.

However, there's another place you can read about me and have a chance to win a copy of my latest novella.  I was interviewed yesterday on the blog of Lena Dooley, where a commenter has a chance to win a copy of Doctor's Dilemma. Click on over there and post your comment.

I'll see you back here next Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Another Appearance Today


Beckie Burnham (otherwise known as Beckie By The Book) is having me as her guest today. Click here to join the conversation. Commenters will be entered to win a copy of my latest novella, Doctor's Dilemma. Click here to join the fun.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Don't Come Up Short

My usual route for walks takes me by the second green of a nearby golf course. When the wind is behind the golfers, I sometimes find golf balls that have overshot the green and rolled into the yard across the street. But, as I watch, most of the time golfers come up short of the green with their shots. I saw this a number of times, and wondered why it occurred. The answer, I think, is that sometimes these golfers tend to overestimate their ability.

Those of you who play golf can identify with this. The announcer tells us that Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth just hit a pitching wedge dead to the pin on this 150 yard approach shot. Now there's no way in the world I'm ever going to hit a wedge that far, but the next time I play golf I'll probably remember that. As a result, I'll select a club that would make the ball carry to the green if I hit the best shot I've ever played. But because I'm trying so hard, most of the time I'll either stub my club into the ground or hit the ball way offline. It's so much better to take a less lofted club, swing easy, and see what the result is. I may be on the back of the green, even over it, but I won't be short. Cut back on my self-assessment, swing easy, and watch the result.

Is there a moral to this story? I think there is. All of us are vulnerable to what my golf partner calls "delusions of adequacy." I don't mean we shouldn't shoot for the moon--not at all. But we have to do it with the tools at our disposal. My favorite Texas Rangers baseball player was Rusty Greer. He didn't have major league speed, or power, or any of the other attributes of a star, but he made up for all of that with desire. He worked hard, and as a result he played in the majors for years. He made the best use of what he had. And so should we.

We can make it to the green. We might need to take a 5 iron instead of a wedge, but if we stay within our capabilities and don't fall victim to "delusions of adequacy," there's no limit to what we can accomplish.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Writing: New Novella (and Giveaway)

I'm posting today at the Suspense Sisters blog, where I'll be talking a bit about the differences between publishing via a "traditional" contract and self-publication. One commenter there will receive a free copy of my new novella, Doctor's Dilemma. But EVERYONE who reads through the post will see a special pre-publication price for the Kindle version that runs through this weekend. Hop over and see what I mean.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Change

Kay and I enjoyed watching the TV series that starred the obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk. I'll have to admit that I, like the character Monk, don't care for change. Actually, his words were, "I don't mind change. I just don't like to be around when it's happening." I'll echo those words. But about the time I got into this writing thing, changes were starting, and they've sped up recently.

If you arrived here late and don't know how I got into writing, you may wish to click here to read about me. I've been fortunate enough to have ten novels and two (soon to be three) novellas published, in addition to the book that started all this, The Tender Scar. But in case you haven't noticed, traditional publishers of Christian fiction (the newer word is Inspirational, but I'm old-fashioned) are slowly dropping these lines. At last count, about ten have done this in the past couple of  years. And I got caught up in this change. The publisher with whom I signed my most recent contract encountered financing problems, and the book that was supposed to be released last November, then was rescheduled to this February, has been permanently shelved.

Around me, I saw authors producing anywhere from one to three or four books per year. Would my readers even remember me if a year passed with no book of mine to remind them? So I wrote and arranged self-publication of a long novella (a bit over 40 thousand words), which will be released next week. I've been assured by my readers that they're ready to read what I put out there, so in gratitude I've arranged a pre-publication price of 99 cents for the Kindle version of Doctor's Dilemma. Sorry, but there's no special deal on the print version. The regular price goes into effect on Monday, when the book releases.

To order the Kindle version (and you can read any Kindle book on your PC, Mac, or smart phone--do a Google search for the free app that makes that possible), click here. It's my way of saying, "Thanks for waiting.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Writing: Is There A Shift Toward Self-Publication?

Have you noticed more authors whom you follow self-publishing their work? And have you wondered why this shift?

Authors may choose self-publication for a number of reasons. Some of them don't wish to give up a significant portion of the monetary return for their efforts in return for a publisher taking over all the responsibilities that go with publication of a novel. Some of them who would like publishers to give them a contract can't get one because the genre in which they write no longer sells...and publishing houses are a for-profit business. And that's where the industry is right now.

In case you haven't noticed, a number of publishers have chosen to discontinue their fiction lines over the past year or two. When a well-known publishing house did this a couple of years ago, life seemed to move forward for most people. It was like the comic definition of shame vs. catastrophe: When an earthquake ravages a foreign land, we think "What a shame." When we get a splinter in our finger and can't get it out, that's a catastrophe. This change in publishing might have caused a bit of concern, but it wasn't a catastrophe...except for the writers affected by the change (and their readers).

That movement away from published Christian fiction has gained a lot of traction, and it's time to ask you, the readers, this question: Does it make any difference to you whether the novel you read comes from an established publishing company or is self-published? There might have been a time when some self-published work was filled with typos and covers were less than optimum. But in the past year, writers have begun to employ professional editors and designers. They've learned to pay attention to proof-reading. Does it show? Can you even tell nowadays when a book is self-published? And do you care?

Leave your opinions in the comments section. I'm anxious to read them. And, by the way, I've self-published a novella, Doctor's Dilemma, which releases a week from Monday. If you have a Kindle, you can get it for a pre-publication price of 99 cents.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Life Isn't Always Smooth

This past week, like most weeks, has provided ups and downs in my life. I suspect it has in yours, as well. I've been looking through the archives of this blog and was reminded of the hills and valleys in my life thus far. It seems that life isn't a straight horizontal line nor does it trace a smooth upward course, but it more closely resembles the ups and downs of a roller coaster. But even experiencing those "downs" can be useful, if for no other reason than to help us recall the way we were pulled out of tough times, even when we couldn't see a way out ourselves.

Years ago, multi-published author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs said that sometimes our writing has to have an edge to it, even make readers uncomfortable. And sometimes this edge in really good writing comes from having experienced the same emotion as our characters. She's right.

I'll take that even a step further, and say that whatever we do with our days--writer, teacher, executive, physician, technician, roofer--our life experiences can prepare us for what's around the bend. When I wrote my last novel, Medical Judgment, I was able to draw on my feelings of loneliness and isolation experienced when my first wife died.

I'd like to know if you've ever gone through something in which you saw no way out, but afterward were able to look back and say something good came from the experience.

Tweet with a single click: Do the tough times we experience sometimes help us cope with what's around the bend? Click here to tweet.

NOTE: If you're not already signed up for my newsletter, please click here to do so now. I'll be giving subscribers a preview of my novella, Doctor's Dilemma, in the issue I send out tomorrow, plus a special pre-order price.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Writing: Too Much, Too Little, Just Right

People ask how long it takes to write a book. Like so many questions, the answer is, "It varies."

Some of my colleagues are like writing machines, turning out two, three, or even four books per year. Others publish one book per year. Personally, I'd love to be able to take the time to have one book a year published, but my contracts have always called for a book every six months or so. So sometimes the interval is a contractual matter if the author is working for a conventional publisher.

I thought I was going to have a novel published in November, which would have been six months since the last one appeared. But the publisher decided to change that from November, first to January, then to February. As that time approached, it was evident that there were problems, and the upshot of all that is that Critical Condition won't be out for a bit (even though it's written and edited). In the interim, responding to repeated queries by my readers, I've written a long novella (about half the length of a conventional book) which will be self-published, releasing in about three weeks. More about this as the time draws nearer.

But that brings up the question I want to ask. Do you tend to "forget" about an author if he/she doesn't have a new book out every three months, or six months, or nine months? What do you think the ideal interval for publication would be? As readers and writers, chime in. I'm waiting to hear.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Political Posts

I honestly believed we'd see the rhetoric on social media tone down after the election. Not so! It's still going on, and sometimes it seems to me that, if the people commenting were in the same room, we'd see a fist-fight. C'mon people.

On one writer's loop of which I'm a member (not, I might add, one populated just by Christian writers), I recently read this: "I have been appalled by what others have said in public and how they have said it."  I can only echo that sentiment.

Another writer said, "It's changed my opinion of some authors." We in this profession are urged to participate in social media to let our readers know more about us. But has this round of political posts been too much? Has it cost us some readers? Should we back off, or post our opinions no matter what?

Thus far I've posted "writing stuff" on my FB fan page and avoided political opinions and postings on my personal page. However, I'm getting tired of blocking posts that raise my blood pressure and even unfriending a person or two after looking at their sites after they left pretty far out comments. I'm considering a change. Stay tuned.

Without mentioning a political party a particular person, or your personal preferences, answer this question in the comments: Have you ever encountered a post or comment on social media that made you change your mind? And, to extend the question further, has one of your posts or comments ever resulted in someone else changing their mind?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Writing: Free Books

Note in apology: This was inadvertently posted last week before it was completed, and it was probably my fault--technology isn't my strong suit. Would those of you who commented last time re-post your comments? I promise to react to them. Thanks.


I've recently begun to wonder about the author practice of offering a free copy of their book to a person leaving a comment on an interview or a guest blog post. It probably is a good way to introduce your writing to someone unfamiliar with it, but are there people who leave comments in hopes of winning free books, yet never post a review, tell others about the writer's work, or help the author in any way afterward? 

In writing, we learn to look at ROI--return on investment. Is there ROI for giving away our books? I realize you can dine on free samples from Sam's sometimes, but do dry cleaners give away samples? Grocers? Dentists?

I queried several of my colleagues about this. All of them are established writers, some traditionally published while others had gone the "indie" or "hybrid" route. Here's the question I asked: “Do you really think giving away a copy of your latest novel helps sales?”


The response of one author echoes one of the concerns writers have: "Only if a review is actually posted online." Unfortunately, as you'll see below, there are those around who enter every "contest" but never follow through with the review we ask them to post--it doesn't have to be good, just an honest opinion.


Another author is probably a bit less cynical, and answered yes, saying that many people had become loyal readers "after reading a gift, contest, or giveaway copy." Okay, that definitely represents ROI.


Another writer voiced a concern a bit different from the one already detailed. "I fear that most free books go to (people who are already) fans. (They) tell me how delighted they are when they get a free copy from the publisher or a site like NetGalley. If our fans are no longer buying our books because they have learned to get them for free for the promise of an honest review, who will buy them? I think the 'culture of free' is harming Christian fiction a great deal.” Well, at least it's harming the pitiful monetary return most of us have. I've heard that becoming a writer is essentially "taking a vow of poverty." 


A well-known author has a different take on the subject. "If you mean doing a blog post interview, which includes giving away one copy—I don’t know. The interview gives some publicity. I don’t know that giving away a copy gives any more. But it might be a requisite for doing the interview." And this is correct--some bloggers and reviewers expect the author to offer one (sometimes more than one) copy of their book at the time they are given blog space.


A number of blogs encourag interviews or guest posts be accompanied by a free book to a randomly selected commenter. To this, yet another author says, "Why should we pay people to read our work?" I don't have an answer to that, at least not when it's phrased that way. Do you?

Well, it's your turn. Do you leave comments in hopes of winning a "freebie?" Have you ever won a free copy of a book? Did the book inspire you to post a review, tell a friend, or in some way help "influence" on behalf of the author? Have you ever been tempted to sell (or give away) a book you've won? I'd like to know. And if you'd prefer to remain anonymous, feel free--I'm not offering anything to commenters except my thanks.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guest posting today

I'm over at Seekerville, posting about what makes a story great. Hop over and join us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day. If you intend to take your wife or sweetheart out for dinner tonight and haven't made a reservation already, enjoy your hamburger or pizza! I made the mistake once of that oversight. Fortunately, we were friends with the restaurant owner, so the wait wasn't long. But let's just say I won't do it again.

In case anyone is curious, the stylized "heart" you see about this time of year, often as  a box containing pieces of chocolate, looks nothing like a human heart. There are a number of stories about how this shape came to be used. For instance, I've heard that the curves at the top indicate the vessels running from the heart downward to supply the rest of the body--anatomically incorrect, but the thought is there. If you want to read other theories, click this link.

How do you plan to celebrate Valentine's Day? Leave a comment telling us (or say it's none of our business). Either way, happy Valentine's Day.

PS--My apologies to those who read and commented on my post about free books that appeared briefly in this space. It was meant for this coming Friday, and for some reason the incomplete draft got published much too early. Come back in three days for the finished product. Thanks.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing: Devising A Twist

The late Donald Westlake called it "push fiction," which I like better than the more common designation, "pantser" writing. He wrote by the seat of his pants, rather than outlining, reasoning that if he didn't know what was coming next, neither could the reader.

Although I don't advertise it, there's no secret to the fact that I don't know who the "bad guy" is in my novels until I'm writing the last third of the book. I try to leave the option open, which means setting up some blind alleys and rabbit trails for the reader. Sometimes that works, at other times it doesn't. And, as James Scott Bell taught me long ago when I learned his LOCK system, I want to have a "knockout" ending ready.

There are a number of twists that can be used to keep a reader engaged. One is the "tasteless, odorless, traceless poison." Another is the "locked room" death, popularized by Edgar Allen Poe. And Agatha Christie even brought a dead person back to life to be a murderer. (I read that last one while alone in the Bachelor Officers' Quarters in the Azores, and kept the lights on the rest of the night).

If you ever have the opportunity to be in the same hotel as a writers' conference, keep your ears open in the elevator. A person who doesn't know what's going on might call the police!

So, what's your favorite twist? Let me hear them. I promise I won't use yours--well, maybe, but I'll try to disguise it so you won't recognize it.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Change In Occupation

For over forty years, I practiced medicine. In that time, first in private practice and then as a professor at a prestigious medical center, I looked at myself as a physician. The facets of my occupation included patient care, surgery, writing, lecturing, teaching--but when asked my occupation, I replied, "Physician."

My first wife, Cynthia, died less than a month after she retired. We were set to move to some acreage we'd bought and enjoy the time we had left together. But God had other plans. The result of her death was the publication of  the book that came out of my journaling: The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. And at a writers' conference (the first of many I attended) came a challenge to try my hand at fiction. As I've said before, after four years spent writing or rewriting four books that garnered forty rejections, I got my first contract. Now I've had ten novels of medical mystery published by traditional houses, plus self-publishing two (soon to be three) novellas.

After a decade, the publishers of The Tender Scar decided to print a second edition, which will be out soon. I didn't want to change a word from the first edition, but I have included an additional chapter, one on the blended family. As always, I hope the book continues to minister.

I still haven't come to terms with my switch in occupations, but I suppose that when pressed I'd give a qualified answer: I'm a retired physician, now writing. Some would say my story bears out the adage, "Man proposes, God disposes." I prefer to look at it this way: "God doesn't make bad things happen--but He can use even the worst of them for His purposes."

What about you? Have you experienced an unexpected turn in your life? How did that work out? I'd like to hear.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

Writing: Choosing A Book Cover

It's been three years since I posted about writer input on cover design. If you don't know about that process, I strongly suggest you check this link and read it. Today, I'd like to talk about the difference between that process and the one involved in self-publication.

Admittedly, I'm a neophyte compared with some of my colleagues whom I consider the experts in this field. But I've learned a bit from self-publishing my novellas, Rx Murder and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Now I'm in the final phase of preparing my somewhat longer novella, Doctor's Dilemma, for self-publication. (For those interested, it should be available for Kindle in a month or less, with hard copies coming out at about that time as well).

Self-publication means just that: the author either does or arranges everything: changing a Word manuscript to the ebook format such as MOBI, designing or having someone design the cover (including the back cover copy and spine), marketing, arranging reviews, and a hundred other things that we authors never think about, choosing to leave most of that to the publishing house that signs us to a contract. A number of self-published authors have developed their own methods of doing this. Here's the way I go about arranging for a cover design.

For Doctor's Dilemma, I had an easy job. I write medical mysteries and suspense, and the covers reflect that. Other genres demand other images, but mine were easy to come by. I gave the artist whom I chose the physical descriptions of the male and female protagonists, along with an incident occurring early in the book that typifies the story. (In this case, the hero's car blows up). The artist put together a suggested cover, and after I approved it, purchased the stock photos as necessary. I wrote the back cover copy (I always do--even for novels traditionally published). You can see the finished front page above.

Just as there are many genres of book, there are other ways of arranging for a cover of a book that will be self-published, and many excellent sources for such covers. This happens to be the one I've adopted. What questions do you have? I'd love to hear from you.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Posting Today At Suspense Sisters

Ever wonder what happens to a series an author has created if the writer passes away? We'll talk about that at the Suspense Sisters blog (I'm an honorary Suspense Mister) today. And one randomly chosen comment will win a copy of my novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. Join us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Super Bowl thoughts

There's some kind of football game this Sunday night--not sure I have the names of the teams right, but I know the Dallas Cowboys aren't playing. There's a lot of hype about the game. Then again, there was a lot of hype about the Pro Bowl, played a few days ago, but a month or two from now I daresay few if any football fans will be able to tell you who won, much less the score.

The Super Bowl has been played 50 times--number 51 takes place in Houston in a few days. I have to agree with Dwayne Thomas, who--when asked--said, "If it's the ultimate game, how come they're going to play it again next year?"

Some of you will be rooting for one team or the other. Others will tune in primarily hoping to see a particular coach or player lose. How about you? Will you watch the Super Bowl? And why?

Note: I'll be posting at the Suspense Sisters blog tomorrow. Click over there to see what I have to say about carrying on a writing tradition.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Writing: Post-Release Marketing

Every writer has them, certainly for the release of the first book, and often for every book that follows. They're the thoughts of "How will it sell?" Some writers are totally in it for the money, some want their work to be read by as many people as possible, but we all agree that the "reach" of the book is the final indicator by which we'll judge its success.

It's fairly well recognized now that one thing a publishing house will do for an author is to release and help market the book. After all, they're in business to make money, so they're interested in having a book purchased by the largest number. The "indie" writer has to do or arrange all these things himself/herself. But one thing that many readers don't think about is the post-release marketing.

I just saw several award-winning books advertised for a really low price. When these were released, the price was set (either by the publisher or the author) at a given level. But now, probably as a marketing tool or to introduce the authors to those unfamiliar with them, the novels (in this case--the same holds true of non-fiction) were offered for much less. Some books are offered at a lower price by the publisher, some by authors, and this is all a part of a continuing effort on their part to keep marketing the works.

Does it work? I'll confess that I've often bought some books after such a price reduction that I found to be too expensive initially. Have you? And as a result, have you found new authors? What do you think of this post-release marketing measure? Good idea? Much ado about nothing? I'd like to know.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Social Media Is Like A Christmas Letter

Kay and I enjoy watching recorded episodes of Last Man Standing. I especially like the character Tim Allen plays, one with whom I often identify. In an episode we saw last week, he decided to make Christmas less hectic for his wife by farming out the associated chores to his family. The two daughters who were charged with writing the Christmas letter decided it was boring, so they spiced it up by saying the mother had joined a cult, the father was now a member of a biker gang... You get the picture. And the kicker was that people recognized that this was fictional, but enjoyed it.

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, posted last week about jealousy felt by authors. I have to agree with her, because social media posts by authors often read like a Christmas letter--accounts of triumphs and nice things. Few, if any, of them post the boring details of life: the everyday problems we all face, the humdrum situations we all find ourselves in. Why? Because they'd be like many of our Christmas letters, and no one would read them.

Do you find yourself skimming past posts made on social media because they're boring? Or do you sometimes catch yourself wishing you had the life of those who post only the good things they're going through? What's your opinion on social media--or, for that matter, Christmas letters? I'd like to hear.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Writing: Pen Name

One of the questions that comes up occasionally when writers get together (or correspond via a writers' loop) is the subject of using a pen name. You might think this is a rarity, but I discovered that a number of writers, at one time or another, use or have used a pen name. Think it's people you wouldn't recognize? Try J. K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, and Ed McBain.

Why would someone write under a name other than their own? There are a number of reasons. Perhaps what they're penning is different from what readers have come to expect from them. It's possible that the want to self-publish a book while maintaining their contract with their publishers to put out a different type of novel. Maybe they don't like their own name, so they choose one that's more easily remembered. (Remember, many actors do the same thing. For example, Robert Taylor was born Spangler Arlington Brugh).

Of course, sometimes this is a two-edged sword. There are a couple of authors of Christian fiction who have been writing under a nom de plume for so long that I have trouble recalling their real names. That leads to some embarrassing moments when I encounter them at a conference and don't know what to call them.

Do you look at authors' names when you browse the shelves of a bookstore? What if you found that Author A, whose work you look forward to, was the same as Author B, who produces novels for which you don't care? Do you think having a pen name is a good or bad thing? I'd like to hear.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

After The Game Is Over...

The Dallas Cowboys are out of the NFL Playoffs! There, I said it. Like so many other fans of so many other teams, I've looked forward to these Sunday afternoon games. But now that the Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers on what one columnist called a "Half Mary" (not quite a Hail Mary) pass by Aaron Rogers, a fantastic catch by the receiver, and a field goal that just sneaked past the left upright...I feel a bit of relief. I'll watch the final round of playoff games next Sunday with interest, but whichever team wins, I'll nod wisely and go on with my life. As we say in Texas, "I don't have a dog in that fight."

Let me also say that, so far as I know, no one hacked into the communication system between the Dallas coach and quarterback. I have no first-hand knowledge that there will be demonstrations or organized efforts to stop the Packers from playing their scheduled game next weekend. And I don't believe it's been necessary to declare a "safe place" to which Dallas fans can retreat after this loss. Maybe that's because it was just a game.  Of course, try to tell that to diehard Cowboys fans.

Now that's out of the way, I can get back to a regular blogging schedule. See you all Friday, when I talk about the writing life.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Writing: Choosing Mode Of Publication

I wrote last week about my own experience with a publisher that encountered problems preventing their publishing my next novel. Then one comment that was left set me thinking. Apparently, some people don't realize that publishers choose to give authors book contracts, not the other way around. And getting a publisher isn't all that simple. How does one go about selecting the publishing houses they query about a novel? And the big question everyone seems to be asking nowadays: why not self-publish?

Selecting sites for querying can be done solo, but here's where I think an agent earns his/her money. They know the ins and outs of publishing, who wants what type of novel, which house isn't accepting queries right now... There are a lot of questions, and by and large agents know the answers. It won't be as simple as querying one house and getting an immediate answer. And even if the answer is "yes," it takes months for a deal memo and ultimately a contract to be hammered out. When it is, it takes about a year from turning in a manuscript to release of the book. (We've talked before about everything that goes into that year's work, and I can discuss that again sometime if you'd like).

What about self-publishing? The ranks of  writers doing "indie" (i.e., independent or self-publication) publishing are swelling. Part of this is a reaction to increasing numbers of books and authors (over 300,000 new titles per year, and those figures are old now). There are only so many publishers and slots for books from them, so not everyone gets a contract. As a result, some folks turn to this method.  It also is being driven by the disparity in royalties between contracted (i.e., "traditional") publishing and "indie" publication. In return for lower royalties, the contracted author relies on the publishing company for marketing, getting the book into retail channels, assistance entering contests, sending the book out for reviews, etc. Some individuals like the control indie publishing gives them, so they don't mind doing all this. Others prefer to leave the other stuff to their publisher and collect a smaller royalty in return.

That's a quick and admittedly superficial review of the processes and differences. What questions do you have? I'll try to answer them (or find someone who can do it). Let me know.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snow Days

Here in Texas we're not totally unfamiliar with bad weather--rain, excessive heat, the occasional "blue norther"--but apparently snow isn't one of the things our citizens handle well.

The picture shown at left was taken when we had almost six inches of snow. People were calling it "Snowmageddon," and it brought the DFW Metroplex to its knees. But that's unusual. Most of the time we get anywhere from a light dusting to an inch or two, and it's often gone soon.

On Friday, we had what the weather forecasters were calling a "light dusting" of snow. I thought it was pretty for a while, but things didn't seem hazardous...at least, to me. Then the ten o'clock news started to show pile-ups and wrecks, there were reports of high numbers of calls for ambulances, and in general the word was "don't drive unless you have to."

This week, the forecasters are calling for a temperature in the 70s on Wednesday (which means golf may take place that day), but a dip to the 50s by next weekend, possibly with rain. Up and down, up and down. Welcome to Texas weather. And I wouldn't live anywhere else.

Got any comments about weather--yours or somewhere else? Feel free to leave them.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Writing: Personal Reflections

I'm writing this on the last day of 2016 (because family obligations will keep me busy after that), and like so many others I thought a look back at the year just completed and a look ahead would be in order.

First, my hiatus from blogging. It was freeing. I'll admit that I didn't stop checking email, reading other blogs, staying up with Facebook friends and posting the occasional Twitter "tweet." But despite continuing all that, not writing a biweekly blog freed me to do a lot of writing and even get some personal stuff done.

What are my future blog plans? For now, I'll resume my pattern of Tuesday blogs about things in general, Friday posts about writing. I'll also be posting periodically at the Suspense Sisters blog. How long will that last? I have no idea. Probably until I run out of ideas or get too busy to post.

What happened to Cardiac Event and the release planned for February? I was full of optimism when I chose to accept the offer from Gilead Publishers, a new publishing company with experienced folks at the helm. Unfortunately--and this is the first time I've seen this happen in my years of writing--the financing lined up by the publisher hit a snag. Not to put too fine a point on it, the entity promising the finances backed out. After a prolonged delay, the  publisher graciously granted a reversion of the rights for Cardiac Event. Whether it and my future novels (some of which are already written) will be released by another publisher or self-published remains an open question. Stay tuned.

What about my future writing plans? In addition to what I've said above, I'm completing the final edits on a long novella (looks like about 40K words), Doctor's Dilemma, that I'm planning to self-publish. There's no definite release date yet, but I'm shooting for spring, so whatever else happens with my novels, you'll be able to read my stuff again soon.

What's my take on the state of Christian publishing? As all of us in the industry have said for years, although there are ups and downs, the future is hopeful. Some publishers flourish, others have closed down their fiction lines or shut down entirely, while new publishers spring up from time to time. Indie  (i.e., self-published) and hybrid (i.e., both indie and via conventional publisher) authors are increasing in numbers. Both e-books and print books are still around, despite dire predictions of the demise of one or the other. TV and gaming notwithstanding, I think there are still readers out there.

What do I plan to do? Keep on writing. My approach to Christian (or inspirational, as some call it) fiction differs from some others, but there's room for us all. As we say in Texas, "That's why they make both Fords and Chevrolets." I hope you keep on reading my work. And thanks for your support.

Do you have comments, suggestions, or questions? Leave them here. I'd love to hear from you.

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