Friday, April 23, 2021

Writing: Learning From TV Shows

My wife have recently been celebrating our (relative) independence as retirees by binge-watching recorded episodes of The Closer. We also have been fans for a long time of Blue Bloods, which we also watch regularly. As an author of medical mysteries, I'm always ready to learn something from my TV-watching (as well as my reading), and this has been no exception. Just keep an eye open for something we might use.

At somewhere around the 3/4 point of each episode of The Closer, someone says something that gives the lead character an idea of how to solve the particular mystery that is the subject for that hour. And it's made me realize that, although an author of mysteries need not hide such a clue at the first of a book, it's not a bad idea to plant a clue early in the book and then reveal the real key late in the book that solves everything.

This isn't valid in every instance, but it is helpful every once in a while. What have you discovered when watching your favorite shows that is applicable to the book you're reading or writing? 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

"Permanent Record"

How many times have you heard it (or said it)? "That will go on your permanent record." True, it's mainly  said to children, and we're beyond that. But did we ever change our behavior?

There's an old joke, told among physicians. What do you call the person who graduated last in a medical class? Doctor. I've followed the careers of my med school classmates, and some of the ones that finished at the top of the class turned out not to have such great successes. Others, who finished near the bottom, had stellar careers. (For those interested, I ended up in the top quarter of 100 students). The point--a great education doesn't guarantee success. A great work ethic does.

When I was a junior in med school, it was either a simpler time or I'm remembering it that way. When I was trying to decide where I was going for my specialty training, I looked around and chose the program I wanted. I talked with the chairman there, he said I was in, and that was that. Nowadays, a residency is chosen after careful deliberation, followed by application to several programs with a fervent hope that the one choosing the applicant would be the best one. But I had a more casual approach, I guess. Simpler times.

To close the loop, let me say that when I finished my residency I felt well-prepared. I had some excellent training. I took some courses in rhinology along the way, and as my experience grew, I  became interested in allergy, so my specialty--when I finally sub-specialized--became rhinology/allergy. I was able to do very well in that sub-specialty. My assessment, in the end, was that where you studied didn't matter so much as what you did with the knowledge you gained.

The point to this story (if there is a point) is that one need not be at the top of the class nor graduate from the best school with a fabulous record to be a success. It's up to the individual to use whatever they are given to the best advantage. Have you?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Writing: The Changing Face Of Publishing

I'm sort of unique, I guess, and some other authors are, too. I've published with a recognized publisher, put out a handful of novellas  and two novels as an "indie" author, and in the process had not one but two agents. So I guess it's okay for me to opine on the current state of publishing, and how it got there.

There once was a time when the only way to get published was to have an agent accept you as a client, then hope they were successful in interesting a publisher in your work. Then, you wrote three or four books under contract, and hoped that the publisher--after looking at your figures (it is, after all, a "for profit" enterprise)--would give you another contract.

Tired of this chronic uncertainty, first a few and then many more authors struck out to independently publish their works. These "indie" authors found that there was a good bit that publishing houses did for them--covers, editing, even marketing. But they also found that they got more money to keep once they'd covered the expense of doing or having done for them these chores. 

Now, we're seeing publishers calling themselves "hybrid" houses. It used to be that a hybrid author was one who'd published both independently and under contract to a publishing house. Now a hybrid publisher was one that will charge an author to do all the things the publisher had usually done. This "pay to publish" entity used to be called a "vanity press" and was looked down upon. Now it's got a new name, and a sense of legitimacy. 

Things are still changing. Agents are branching out. Hybrid publishers are springing up. And if you get a handle on it, check back next week--it will probably change.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The More Things Change...

For those who are interested (both of you), the epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr translates loosely as "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I'm not going to argue the original French, or the provenance of the quotation, but simply say that it's flitted across my mind several times in the recent past.

I still remember the first big change in my life. It was when "my pastor," the man whom I'd heard preaching regularly for years, accepted a "call" from our church to another. I couldn't believe my ears. Surely this man had made a mistake. I thought I'd spend the rest of my life hearing Brother Dearing preach, but he was about to leave. I even talked with him, and heard him use such phrases as "God's will." Of course, I eventually accepted his moving on, just as I accepted other changes, some even more significant, in the forthcoming years.

 Things change. Recently, my golf partner moved to a retirement home, and because of weather, advancing age, and several other factors, we've had to put our regular golf games on hold. Maybe we'll resume them, maybe they won't. But I've learned that change is inevitable, and have learned to accept it and make the best of the circumstances.

Since the pandemic began, I've written "at" another book, and I'm about half-way through it. Maybe I'll get it finished, perhaps not. But I'll either persist and get it written, or I won't. Either way, I'll accept the change. Because change will occur, whether we want it to or not. 

How about you? Have you seen any changes in your life? How have you handled them? I'd like to know.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Writing: The First Draft

I've published both contracted and self-published books, both fiction and non-fiction, and both novels and novellas (a distinction that seems artificial). And there's one aspect of all of them that requires writing: the dreaded first draft.

Ann Lamott talks about the "s****y first draft." Jim Bell writes about "writing fast, editing slow." Every author has their own way of doing things (for those that might be interested, I edit each preceding section before writing another, like Al Gansky), but no matter what method you use, it all starts with a first draft.

Lately, I've found myself revising over and over, still not fully satisfied with the premise and the way I express it. I've done this enough that I no longer fear "running out of soap," as one preacher of my acquaintance calls it. But I do want to make certain that every book fulfills two criteria--1) it tells how average people deal with their circumstances, either with God or without Him, and 2) it's the best work I can put my name to. 

But the first step, whether it takes a month or a year, is that first draft. As the refrigerator magnet sent me by my agent says, "First drafts don't have to be good. They just have to be written." What is your opinion?

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Spring Is Here

 Two days after Easter. Here in North Texas it's cool enough in the morning to make the fireplace feel good, and warm enough later in the day to make the air conditioner kick on. (Glad we have the kind of systems that automatically go from one to the other).  But there's no snow or freezing rain, so I'm glad for that.

Watched the Texas Rangers for a bit on Sunday. Just about the time I'd decided that maybe they'd win a game or two this year, realized that MLB--going along with cancel culture and saying that any action that disagrees with them is bad--is going to move their All-Star Game out of Georgia. So switched over to golf, which hasn't (yet) been taken over by the liberals. 

All those things we were putting off until "after Easter" are now due, so it's time to get moving. Is your list long, or have you got it down to a manageable size? Mine has sneaked up on me, so I'll get on it--as soon as I get around to it. How about you?

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Easter, 2021

 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. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Writing: A "One-Trick Pony"

 It's no secret that I've had problems with turning out a new book since I published my last about a year ago. Fortunately or merely by accident, it was published just before our nation--actually, the entire world--went into lock-down mode during the pandemic. It has more to do with my age and status--I'm retired from medicine--than with my sympathies (if you follow my blog, you know where they lie). Without going into the politics of the matter, let me just say that in the past few weeks I've opened a couple of documents in my laptop and begun work on what should be my next book. Meanwhile, I thought about the advice I often offered to fellow writers who were about to publish their first effort--don't stop there. You may never have another work published, but surely you have another book in you. Put it out there and let the decision rest with someone other than you. Don't be a "one-trick pony."

I have finally come up with the outline (in my head, of course) for what will probably by my next book, and my wife (who reads all my stuff) just today gave me the key to revising an older book on my computer which will be yet another book after that. Of course, all this may change, but for now I'm ready to plunge onward. I don't plan to be a one trick pony in my writing. I've published seventeen or so novels and novellas (not sure, and don't want to count),  and as long as God gives me the ability and the breath, I guess I'll keep on writing. And I hope that the rest of you who have even a spark of creativity will do the same. Let me know.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"To Protect and Serve"

After consulting several of the writers' groups of which I am a member, I would venture a guess that the phrase, "Life begins after coffee" would serve as a motto for most of us. And for those non-coffee drinkers in the group, perhaps something that involves chocolate, tea, or a caffeinated soft drink would be better. I, although I head (slowly) toward the coffee pot first thing in the morning, have been thinking about another motto--To protect and serve.

Admittedly, my reading lately has moved toward detective stories of various types so I have encountered it a lot, but that motto has come to mean more to me as I apply it to my own life, as well as those whom I know.

Is it our duty as authors to protect those with whom we come in contact? I think that after listening to us or reading what we put into writing (whatever the format) the listener should have no doubt that the ideas we put forth are the result of reasoned logic, not what someone else says, whether it be on the Internet or in conversation. We've all seen examples of The Big Lie, that if told often enough, may be accepted as truth. Let us be spreaders of The Big Truth.

What about serving? Like it or not, we are all setting an example of service--either positive or negative. My wife puts me to shame when she includes in her prayers those in our circle who need God's special touch--for healing, for resolution of circumstances, for help in any way. We can't always serve in a physical way, but when we can, let's not be like those in the parable of the Good Samaritan and "pass by on the other side."

Admittedly, to protect and serve may not be the most popular motto around, but I think it is applicable not only to others, but to ourselves. What do you think?

Friday, March 26, 2021

Writing: Every Word Is Important

 I don't know how you read through a manuscript before subjecting it to print. Some folks read their work aloud. Some go over it, word by word, backwards (I guess if it's in Hebrew you go over it in the other direction). A few simply leave it alone, thinking that autocorrect will straighten everything out. 

I've had something like 17 or 18 novels and novellas published (I don't want to go back and count--that's close enough). Some have been self-published. Others have been published by various publishing houses. All have been subjected to proof-reading to a great or lesser degrees. And there have been errors in almost all of them, errors that slipped by the author and various people whose job was to catch errors.

Don't think that's true? I was just re-reading one of the published works of a novelist whose name would be familiar to many of you, a novel that was published by a reputable publisher and which (I'm sure) was proofread. And I came upon this sentence: "He had back hair that was slicked back upon his head..."  I think the correct wording included BLACK hair--can't see back hair going all the way up on the person's head. But if you leave it to autocorrect to clean up your errors, this will slip by, because "black" and "back" are both accepted words.

So what is an author to do? My suggestion is to accept the fact that sometimes a word slips by that makes a good example on a blog post. What about you?