Friday, August 18, 2017

Writing: Keeping Up With Characters

I'm sometimes asked why I write free-standing novels. This is true in the majority of cases, although I think there've been a couple of times when I revisited a setting, such as using the same town and a few of the same characters from Diagnosis Death in my novella, Rx MurderI've mentioned why I did that in my last Friday post. The answer to why I don't write series is simple: my first publisher didn't care for them, and I've simply continued the practice through eleven novels and three novellas. Series work for some people, and I applaud their success. For me, it's probably inertia that's kept me writing this way.

Granted, it's easier in some ways to write a series. There's no need to invent new characters or settings. But an author needs to be aware of the evolution of his/her characters. For example, I'm reading my way (once more) through  the Spenser novels of the late Robert B. Parker. In one of his earlier books, he introduces The Grey Man. In this book, he's a hired assassin, and a good one. But he talks like a thug (although an educated one, and an accomplished hit man). That same character shows up at least a couple of times more Parker's books, and by the last time we see him he's a suave man-of-the-world with a background of working for the CIA and speaking several languages... You see what's happened. He's not only matured, he's changed.

Many authors try to avoid this, whether they write series or stand-alones, by keeping some type of character log. One writing app, Scrivener, even has a place for one. Let me say that, although I applaud those who like it, Scrivener has never worked for me. I write in MS Word, and it has served me well thus far. Here is a screen-shot of a part of the character list for my latest novel, Cardiac Event.

Of course, a good editor will catch any incongruities in the story, including having the character live in an apartment in one scene and a house in another, or driving two different types of cars, or--and it's happened--being a blonde in one scene and a brunette in the other. But an author wants to submit a manuscript that doesn't need a lot of editing, which is why the character list comes in handy.

So that's how I keep up with my characters (and why it's important). Do you have comments, or questions about writing? Leave them and I'll address them down the line.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fun (Sort Of) Facts About Me

I've had a request to post a bit more about myself. When you've done interviews for eleven novels and three novellas, you sort of forget that not everyone has read (or recalls) what you said. And I guess it won't hurt me to give you a bit more about me.

I sort of got into writing by the back door. I wanted to share my journaling after the death of my first wife, and at the writer's conference I attended I was challenged by a couple of established authors to try my hand at fiction. The book I wrote about life after the death of a spouse (The Tender Scar) was published more than a decade ago, and is still in print. As for fiction, after four novels over four years that garnered forty rejections, I was an overnight success. Cardiac Event was my eleventh novel, and there's a novella due out later this year.

I served almost three years in the Air Force in the Azores, and was written up in Stars and Stripes when my hospital commander and I removed a coin from the throat of the daughter of our seamstress. (It was simple for us, but the local doctors either couldn't or wouldn't do it). The other thing about my Air Force service was that I'm deathly afraid of heights, but was called upon to perform (and executed) a helicopter rescue.

I've played semi-pro baseball. I could throw a curve ball, but not hit one, so I never made it beyond that level. However, I've attended a number of baseball fantasy camps, got a hit off Whitey Ford, and watched Mickey Mantle hit a home run (although one of the campers had to run it out for him).

I've preached (not my best talent) and served as an interim minister of music for a small church (very happy when they called a full-time one) and both a fill-in for the General Protestant services and a full-time one for the Baptist congregation while in the Air Force overseas.

There may be other things about me, but I guess this is enough for now. Got suggestions? Lay them on me.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Writing: Naming Characters

On my blog post a few days ago, I asked for suggestions. One of the comments posed some excellent questions: "I always wonder if real people are the basis for fictional characters? Elements of real personalities? Many of your characters come to life on the pages. I also wonder if real-life news or events spark the main story of novels on occasion?"

I've made the mistake (and it is a mistake) in one or two of my earlier novels of using real names for characters. One particularly memorable occasion comes to mind when I wrote a character as a deputy sheriff and left the reader wondering if he was a good guy or bad guy. And I used the name of a high school classmate!Then I went back to my home town for a class reunion, and the chairman of the event was the wife of the man whose name I used. Fortunately he was happy about it, but I wrote him into a subsequent novella and made certain he ended up wearing a white hat.

Some of my characters are based in part on individuals I have encountered, and often I see an event in the news that sets me thinking, but after that I turn my imagination loose. In my latest novel, Cardiac Event, there's an undercurrent of professional jealousy in the start of the book. I have seen professional jealousy color actions. (Yes, it happens with doctors, the same way as with novelists and any other profession). But I've never seen it taken to the extreme that I portray in the book.

As for setting, some of my earlier novels took place in Dallas at the medical center where I trained and finished my career as a professor (a nice closing of the circle in real life). Recently I have set my stories in fictional towns drawn from the city where I live and the one where I attended college. I can make them larger or smaller as the occasion demands, and no one seems to care. And it's no mean task to come up with these names--I have to make certain there are no actual Texas towns with these names. 

What other writing (or non-writing) questions would you like to see addressed? I'm waiting.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Do You Have A Question?

According to Blogger, I've posted more than 1200 times here. When compared with some of the other blogs, the number who read these posts, and especially those who post a comment, isn't large. Today my well seems dry, so I thought I'd ask you what (if anything) you'd like to see here in the future. Or does it matter?

My usual schedule has been Tuesday--general stuff, and Friday--the writing life. Do you like that? Is there a particular question you'd like answered? Or are you too busy with life to care?

I'll be like the cat who ate fragrant cheese, then waited by the mouse hole with "baited" breath. Let me know.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Writing: How Long Does It Take?

When I'm asked how long it usually takes me to write a novel, I always think of the reply of Abraham Lincoln when he was asked how long a man's legs should be. His answer? "Long enough to reach the ground." In like fashion, the answer to the question about how long it takes to write a novel is, "As long as it takes."

Some authors may take years to write an unforgettable novel. Other writers produce several books a year. I've always thought that a novel a year (a time period contractually specified by my cyber friend, the late Dr. Michael Palmer) was a good time frame. However, my contracts have always been for a new novel every six to eight months. I made those deadlines with plenty of time to spare, but there were times when I longed for a more leisurely pace. Then recently, when more than twelve months separated the publication of my novels, I realized that I'd gotten used to the six- to eight-month time period, and I found myself doing what I always advise unpublished writers to do while waiting for a publisher to sign them: I wrote another novel.

I've gone into the circumstances elsewhere that led to my becoming a hybrid author--one whose work has been published by a traditional publishing house, but who now publishes his/her work independently. So far, your response to my latest novel, Cardiac Event, has been gratifying. To keep you posted on my plans, I have one completed novel, one completed novella, one novella nearing completion, and at the present time my plans are to release these over the next year. Of course, plans can change, but that's what I have in mind.

How long should it take to write a novel? Why, as long as it takes...whether that's a few months, a year, or longer. And now, while I get back to writing, I'll let you answer that question. And I'll be interested to see what you think.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Forgotten Man

On Sunday, Kay and I watched on TV as Adrian Beltre collected his 3000th hit. It was a great moment, and despite the loss by the Texas Rangers, it made the headlines, both in the sportscasts and the local news. I noticed that in addition to the players on the Texas team pouring out of their dugout to congratulate Adrian on his accomplishments, there were several congratulatory remarks aimed at him by the visiting team. It must be a thrill to be part of history, even when you're wearing the uniform of the opposition. My congratulations to Adrian, who has been a model player for all the years I've been watching him.

But what about the people not in the spotlight? The pitcher for the other team didn't want to be the one who gave up that historic hit. Believe me, I know, because I've been on the mound in that situation. His name will forever be part of a trivia question. I doubt that his fateful pitch will have the same staying power as Bill Buckner's error in the World Series, but it will nevertheless link him to the record-setting hit.

And what about Jonathan Lucroy? He didn't play in the game, but he'd been a part of the Rangers for a year. I don't know when he found out that he'd been traded, but he had to know his name was floating around as part of trade talks. Was his joy for his teammate diluted by the fact that he was about to leave for another team, another league, and another part of the US?

I can't help thinking that, although there are lots of people happy about their part in a record-setting athletic accomplishment, there are others whose joy is affected by the way in which they're associated with the event. What about you? Have you given any thought to those who come in second or third, or who don't even place, in a contest? Can you be as gracious in defeat as you are in victory?

These are my random thoughts. How about yours?

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