Friday, January 17, 2020

Writing: Resist The Urge To Explain

Anyone who's taken a writing class or attended a writing conference has probably heard the initials R.U.E. I learned "resist the urge to explain" at my first real conference, when I sat in a group taught by Gayle Roper. She had each of us read a section of our work in progress, but didn't let us answer questions about it. The reason, of course, was because we wouldn't be present looking over the reader's shoulder to explain. We had to make it self-evident, and if it wasn't, we should rewrite it. The author should give just enough information for the reader to draw his/her own conclusion, but not so much that the person looking at the book bogs down with explanations. It's a fine line that we have to walk, and some are more successful than others.

One example of an author who gets it right is Susan Sleeman in her new novel, Seconds to Live. She writes about the witness protection program (which is actually called WITSEC--Witness Security Program) and computer hacking. There are lots of terms used, most of them unfamiliar to most of us, but Susan does a good job of making them clear without going too far over the line.

As a writer of mystery novels that have a medical component, I have a dual task. I have to sprinkle any necessary clues into the novel without being obvious about it. I also have the task of making it possible for the reader to follow along and understand any technical jargon--any "doctor talk" if you will--without being obvious about it. Thus far, I've been fairly successful, but every once in a while I find myself going too far. That's when I have to back off and tell myself, "resist the urge to explain."

Have you found this to be a problem in some books? Any tricks for hitting the middle ground, not going to far in either direction--not explaining enough or too much? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Who Do You Believe?

In the world of instant news that we inhabit, have you found yourself wondering which news source to believe? I'll admit that I have. Cable news, regular TV and radio programs, podcasts,  newspapers, Twitter, Facebook... The list goes on and on. It's reached the point where you can find out, any time of the day or night, what the latest opinion is. And if you don't like that one, move to another news source and get an opposite one.

My philosophy has always been to hear the facts and make up my own mind. But facts are sometime difficult to come by, although opinions aren't. How do you separate the two? Do you have any suggestions? I'd like to know.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Writing: Pay Attention To The Ending

I'm editing (for what I hope is the last time) my next novel, Critical Decision. As I went over (and over and over) it before sending it to the printer, I decided that there are a couple of things that should be carefully gone over by the writer: the opening and the closing.

The importance of the opening is obviously important. It's been said that this is the spot where you "hook" your reader and encourage them to keep on reading. Thus, the need for polishing that part of the book is evident. People spend literally months getting the opening just right, and I see why that's true. But the closing should also get the author's attention.

If the opening is what makes the reader turn the page and keep on turning, the closing scene(s) are what they take away when they're through with the book. Another way to put it is that you sell this book with the opening, but with the closing you sell the next one. Which is important to me? They both are--but I certainly spent more time on the closing of this one than I did on the opening.

What's your opinion? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Anyone Having Trouble Getting Started?

The long weekend (or however long you had off) is over. For the adults, it's time to go back to work. Kids, you have to go to school again. But throughout the land echoes the cry (either voiced or silently), "I'm not ready."

It reminds me of the story of a male or female (it works either way) who doesn't want to go to school. The woman standing over the bed says, "You'll go for three reasons. Number one, you have an obligation. Number two, there are things there you need to do. And number three, you're the teacher."

Well, I'm not the teacher, and my profession no longer demands that I go to work, but nevertheless, I guess it's time for me to move. But I really don't want to. How about you?

Friday, January 03, 2020

Writing: Next Novel

I've been promising it, and here it is: the cover for my next book. I think the cover artist outdid herself. I've been through many revisions myself, did more after input from my first reader (my wife), then had it edited (twice) by an editor, and as soon as it's ready, you'll be able to read it--probably sometime in February.

Meanwhile, here's the first scene to pique your interest. Enjoy.

Dr. Kathy Hoover stood at the back door, but soon found that shouting “Go do your business” to her canine companion had little effect.  She was anxious to return to the office, but the dog didn’t seem to understand. She really hadn’t wanted to take the time to come home at lunch, but Darren was out of town, and Kathy forgot to let Archie out this morning before she left. If she didn’t want to clean up a mess on her return home, she figured it was best to go at lunch time and take care of that chore. 
Finally, patience and the passage of time accomplished what she couldn’t manage by exhortations, and the deed was done. The dog at the center of all this seemed to sense that Kathy was leaving now. He whined to signal his disapproval. The master was at home and Archie was ready for playtime. 
She looked down at the dog and shook her finger. “No time for play. I’ll be back this evening. Now be good.” She wasn’t certain the golden retriever understood, but when she turned toward the kitchen, the dog lay down quietly. Kathy headed for the garage but didn’t quite make it before the doorbell stopped her.
Kathy paused and listened to the door chime’s reverberation fade. The local TV news had run a feature just yesterday about packages disappearing from porches. What if… She sighed and reversed direction. It would only take another minute or two for her to open the front door, check to see if FedEx or UPS had left a package, and bring it in if one were there.
Kathy looked through the pane of glass beside her front door and saw a panel van just pulling away. It wasn’t the familiar dark brown of UPS, nor did it bear the blue and orange logo of FedEx. And it didn’t look like a Postal Service delivery truck. Didn’t she read that Amazon had their own delivery service in some areas? Were those vehicles marked in some way? Whoever brought it, she might as well look at what they’d left.
She unlocked the door, took one step onto her front porch, and saw a small box lying on the stoop. The package was about the dimensions of a shoebox, wrapped in plain brown paper, with her name on a label. Otherwise, it bore no address, no return data, nothing to indicate the carrier. Strange. 
Kathy reached down to pick up the box. Now that the dog was taken care of, she needed to get back to the office. Then again, she couldn’t turn loose of the situation with the box. She wasn’t expecting a delivery. Had Darren ordered something without telling her? No, that would be totally out of character for him. If he’d purchased anything, whether a small household gadget or a new car, he would have discussed it with her. Even if he’d done it on his own, he would have alerted her to expect it. 
She really needed to go right now. But her curiosity fought with common sense, and her curiosity won. Before she could change her mind, Kathy took the package inside and headed for the kitchen, where she rummaged in the “junk” drawer until she found a pair of scissors with one blade partially broken off. Using the intact half of the instrument, she removed the plain wrapping and cut through the tape that held the box closed. When there was no explosion, she let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Kathy dug through the packing peanuts in the box until she found what it contained—a cell phone. 
By now, the dog had become interested in Kathy’s actions. He stood, stretched, and trotted to station himself beside her, where he watched with his head canted to one side.
Meanwhile, Kathy hesitated over the package. Had Darren arranged for a loaner phone to be sent to their house while his was being repaired? But she’d talked with him just last evening on his cell phone, and it was working then. And wouldn’t a loaner or replacement be an iPhone such as they both used? This was nothing like that. Matter of fact, she’d never seen one exactly like this one. 
Kathy looked at her watch and decided she’d deal with this after she got back home this evening. She was about to put the phone back into the box when it started to vibrate in her hands. She almost dropped the instrument. Surely this was a mistake—probably a wrong number. The caller ID was no help. It showed a blocked number. She decided to ignore the phone, but found it impossible. Kathy finally pushed the button to answer the call.   
The voice she heard had a mechanical quality. The caller obviously was using a voice changer of some sort. Nevertheless, the words were clear enough. “Dr. Hoover. Don’t hang up. This is deadly serious. Carry out my instructions or your husband will die.” 
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. But this didn’t appear to be a mistake. The phone had been delivered to her house. The voice addressed her by name. 
So far as she knew, her husband was in Washington, DC, attending a conference. Yet the voice was threatening his death. Kathy’s first thought was to call Darren and check on him.
The next words that came through the phone made her wonder if whoever was behind the voice could read her thoughts. “Don’t bother calling your husband. No one will answer his cell phone.” 
            The voice continued as though Kathy hadn’t responded. Maybe it was a recording. Probably so. “I’ll call you later with more instructions. Keep this phone with you at all times. If you do as I say, perhaps you’ll see your husband again.”
            Just as Kathy prepared to ask a question, there was one more message from the electronic voice. “Don’t tell anyone about these instructions. And if you’re thinking of replaying this message for the authorities or anyone else, don’t bother. It will erase itself in ten seconds.” 
            A click in her ear signaled the end of the call. Kathy stood for another minute, holding the dead phone, wondering how she’d gotten into the middle of all this.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's 2020

As has been our custom for quite some time, we will probably usher in the New Year at about 10:30 Central time from our living room (or, more likely, our bed).  We've often said that New Year's Eve is amateur night, and we don't care to participate. Whatever time zone you're in and however you plan to mark the exit of the old year and entrance of the new--happy new year. 

Thanks to each of you who've made this "second profession" of writing an interesting and (mostly) pleasant experience for me. After leaving medicine after so many decades, I probably would have been bored with inactivity.

I'll be back next year. Meanwhile, however you celebrate it, here's hoping 2020 is great for you.

 (And for those of you who can hardly wait for my next novel, I'll share the cover after the first of the year. Soon, people. Very soon).

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas, 2019

"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.

(My next post will be New Year's Eve. Enjoy the holiday.)

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Texas Christmas

I've had several requests to republish this. Hope it makes the Christmas season more real for you.  It did for me while I was writing it. 

The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did. 

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It didn’t take place in a bunkhouse, it occurred in a stable. And it wasn’t just a baby—this was God’s own Son--the Christ child was God in blue jeans, as one of my friends puts it. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God Himself in a diaper, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine. 

Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas, Already?

I look at the calendar and do a double take. Surely it can't be a week until Christmas. Maybe you're ready, just waiting for the big day. But some of us are not. Around our house, it appears that my wife will be, as always, able to pull it all together, but like a duck, the surface may be calm but below the surface is furious paddling.

What's on your to-do list for Christmas? Is it getting out the cards? Our friends who usually send several pages about their past adventures simply sent us a simple photo card this year. Others are sending their Christmas greetings electronically, while many simply find the practice too time consuming in the midst of everything else that demands their attention. We used to use these cards to keep up with our friends and relatives. Now we depend on social media.

Is it the gifts? Have we spent as much on couple A as on couples B and C? Did we remember to get a gift for that person? Did they give us one last year? Is a gift card out because it's too impersonal? If we decide to give one, how much should it be for? Our society has become fixated on gifts, without thinking of the Gift we've all received.

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus' birth. Oh, I know that it probably happened in the summer (let's not get into that right now).  We're celebrating, so take advantage of it. I'm noticing that songs about Santa and snow are replacing traditional Christmas hymns, but they haven't drowned them out completely. In the midst of all this, let me suggest that you stop and consider the reason for the holiday. And thank Him for the best gift of all. I will.

You may wish to check out my guest post at Carrie Schmidt's blog, and register to win a signed copy of my Christmas novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Writing: Effect Of The Holidays

At one time, I never gave a thought to when my publisher was going to release my next book (except to wish it could be sooner). However, one of the things "hybrid" or "indie" authors learn is that pretty much everything is up to them--writing, revising, publication, marketing, the whole bag. And that includes choosing a time for release of the work. 

We're always told to "wait until it's ready." But that's a hard lesson to learn. Like most authors, I felt that my first book (and those that followed) was ready for release as soon as it was written. But I finally learned that editing will improve the book--even though it takes time.

Not a Christmas novel or novella? I can live with that. Enjoy the fruits of my colleagues labors and celebrate the season. How about right after the new year? No, it's best to wait until at least mid-January, and maybe later. After twelve novels, seven novellas, and one non-fiction book, I've finally learned to wait. Maybe I've become smarter in my old age. Then again...

So, you'll see Critical Decision after the first of the year. Meanwhile, enjoy the season--and remember the reason for it. Blessings, all.