Friday, July 03, 2020

Independence Day, 2020

Tomorrow is July 4, the day we celebrate the independence of this great nation. Some people will take off for a varying length of time. Others will work. Some will head for sales. Others will go to the lake. But whatever we do, let's understand the meaning of the holiday. And be especially mindful of that meaning this year.

On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies marked the signing of the Declaration of Independence, declaring themselves free from the British Empire.The framers of our documents of freedom--the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution--didn't all agree. And sometimes, their discourse wasn't very civil. But as Benjamin Franklin put it, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." They argued, but they didn't loot and burn. Remember that these people put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors on the line to help give us the independence we celebrate.  This Independence Day, may we reflect on all that has gone before. What we now have is too precious to lose.

Enjoy the holiday--but recall why we celebrate it.God Bless America.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Where I Stand

I have carefully considered this post for some time before putting it up. Authors are warned to stay neutral. But it's time for me to speak out.

I was born white—I have no more control over that than I do over where I was born, my last name, or the circumstances in which I was reared. There’s no reason to compare what I or my ancestors did with an ideal. The main thing that counts is what I am now. How I feel toward others of a different color is influenced by their actions, not their race. I do not feel that reparations need be paid for something that happened in the past. I don’t plead guilty to white guilt, white privilege, or any other catch phrase that is popular right now. I recognize that there are still inequities, and I hope they are fixed. But don't paint us all with that brush.

The police have a tough job. Without law and order, we are reduced to anarchy. Any thinking person agrees with such an assessment. It's ridiculous to do away with all police because of some bad apples. We remove those, not all of them. But we are faced with demonstrators who appear to be pushing toward exactly that. I'd rather keep the police functioning, and improve them. 

I feel that George Floyd should not have died, and hope that, as the law goes through its process, justice will be served. There are many times when I feel that legalities slow what I feel should be done right now, but one of the things guaranteed to us all is a presumption of innocence until our peers have judged us guilty. When we remove that for a few, we remove it for us all. We can't speed up the process by demonstrating, and certainly not by looting or destroying statues.

I am in sympathy with those who peacefully assemble to petition their government, as is their right under our Constitution. But I am not in agreement with those who loot, destroy, and raise havoc, to those who hope to reshape history by tearing down monuments. To me, it is evident that many of those--perhaps the great majority-- who are currently protesting are not rewriting history, but merely raising their hands symbolically and physically against the country which I hope has learned from some of its mistakes and is constantly moving forward. I wonder if these protesters even know the story behind the statues and monuments they want to deface or tear down (or care about the history they are seeking to erase).

Every time I open my email, I find several appeals, asking me to support the party. What I’d like to see is some action, not just an appeal for more money. Are you listening, elected representatives? And what are you going to do about this?

Comments are closed for his one. If you agree with me, good. If not, post your differing opinion on your page. I’ve posted mine. 





Friday, June 26, 2020

Writing: Common Questions

It's been over a year since I answered these questions on this blog, but I guess it's time to reinforce them:

How to you get your ideas?

I used to say from “ideas.com” until I found there really is such a site. The truth, as is true for most writers, is that I take the things going on around me and then wonder what happens next. Alternatively, I ask the question Al Gansky taught me: “What if…?” Then I take it from there.

Do you need an agent? How do you find one?

If you want the editor of a publishing house to offer a contract, you'll need a literary agent representing you. Often, we find someone who would be just right as our representative, usually when we meet at a writing conference. If we’re fortunate, we ask them, and they accept. In rare instances, the agent will ask us. All this has been made somewhat moot as more and more writers see the handwriting on the wall about the publishing world and decide to self-publish their work. Do you need an agent then? If you’re not established, yes. An agent will give you advice...and if you're just starting out, you'll need it.

How do you go about getting published?

If they’re offered a contract, I think a writer should carefully consider signing with a publisher. Later they might decide to branch out and become a hybrid author (one who’s work is put out both by a traditional publisher and independently) but having that publisher behind you for the first several books—especially the marketing expertise and “muscle”—is quite helpful. Of course, some people start out "indie-publishing," but that's tough, because much of the time we don't know what we don't know. Confusing? Yep.

Once you “go indie,” do you no longer have to worry about editing the manuscript?

No! No! No! One advantage of self-publication (which no longer carries the stigma it once did) may be that you don’t have to write a synopsis or please an editorial board, but it does not free you from multiple revisions, including hiring an outside editor. This may be for a macro (“big picture”) edit, line editing, and/or proof-reading. It’s important for the indie author to put forth the best possible book. And this means using a professional for editing, as well as cover design and execution.

Aren’t all authors rich?

I suppose if your name is Clancy, or Child, or Rowling, you’re probably able to put food on the table by your writing. For most of us, our royalties are welcome surprises that we receive every three to six months but aren’t nearly enough to support our families or allow us to quit our day jobs. Authors get an advance against royalties, and this has to be earned out before we get a penny of additional royalty money. Some small presses don’t even give advances, so the royalties are bigger—but not huge.  

Other questions? Ask away--and if I don't know the answer, I'll ask someone who does.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Influence

Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm a fan of the late author, Robert B. Parker. He had a PhD in English, but didn't really show it off--except for an occasional literary allusion, which he usually explains. The book I'm re-reading right now is titled Sudden Mischief, and has in the front matter a quotation from The Fairie Queene. It fits with the title, but almost seems out of place, and may represent one of the few times I can see evidence of his academic background. It certainly doesn't jibe with the story.

 It's also interesting to see to whom he dedicates his books. In virtually every case, he makes his dedication to his wife, with an occasional dedication to both her and his two sons. But anyone who follows his career knows that their relationship was a stormy one, and once or twice I saw him dedicate a book to another woman. I realize that I probably could ferret out the circumstances behind all this, but I choose to simply make a mental note of it and see if I can tell by his writing what he's going through and how it affects his mindset. Surprisingly enough, it's often possible.

In the present circumstances, with all the extraneous factors at play, I have found it hard to concentrate enough to write. I've had several stops and starts, which I have managed to get past. But I also find that I'm affected by the book I'm currently reading. Whether it's the late Donald Westlake, the late Ross Thomas, the late Robert Parker--and, parenthetically, I wonder why I keep coming back to long-dead writers--but anyway, they have an effect on me and I think it shows in my writing.

It makes me wonder how the circumstances around us affect our everyday lives. What do you think?

Friday, June 19, 2020

Writing: First Drafts

My agent long ago gave me a magnet which still hangs on my refrigerator. It says, "First drafts don't have to be perfect. They just have to be written." Another writer once said, "You can't edit a blank page." So we sit down with our idea, sketch out our characters and plot, and try our best to produce a good work. But the first action is to turn out a first draft.

It's a daunting thought that your words will be reduced to paper and kept there for all the world to see for as long as the work is published. The task, then, is to produce the best possible effort for your novel, since it's our fervent hope that it's going to be read by so many.  The printed book may eventually be consigned to the trash bin--either after having been read and re-read numerous times or partially read only once. The desire is to be in the former group, not the latter. But don't try to make the first draft your best. If so, you'll write it over and over but never get it just right.

The first draft may undergo numerous revisions. The final product may not (in some cases) bear even a token resemblance to the first draft. But it all starts there. Whether it takes a dozen passes to get there or only one or two, it all starts with the first draft. Don't let it buffalo you. Get started on that one...and good luck.

Questions or comments? Fire away.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

We "Should"

I've written before about the Tyrannical Shoulds.  They were made famous by Karen Horney, a psychiatrist who practiced over a century ago. I don't plan to discuss them except to say that I encountered them recently in a book and was reminded that I don't enjoy being reminded of what I "should" do...or think.

Despite what the vocal minority says, I don't think I'm a victim of "white privilege." And I don't think I "should" pay for prior injustices committed by others. Yes, I'm white. That was determined at my birth. I don't feel that I'm privileged. During my active years I worked hard for every penny (and there were times when I wondered if it was worth it).

I've lived through the times when blacks were treated as second-class citizens, I've lived through times when they were given privileges that they definitely deserved. I currently look on what might have begun as "protest marches" but rapidly deteriorated into looting and wanton destruction. And I weep. I weep for our nation, which is divided as never before. I'm ready for healing, but not to be told I "should" do something to atone for it.

It may have begun with the death of a black man, but it soon came to involve the deaths of numerous people--black and white, police and protesters. I agree that change is warranted, but not through lawless actions. And please don't tell me what I "should" do. I know what I think is right. What I'd like to see is some constructive action toward it.

End of rant. Now it's your turn.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Writing: Reason For Writing

I follow a number of writing blogs--probably more than I should, but it gives me an excuse to be at the computer doing something other than writing. Actually, it's helpful at times to see what other writers are going through. But one thing always brings me up short. When I see a post to the effect that "The Lord wants me to write this book." I don't doubt the sincerity of those authors--I felt the same way when I started writing--but there's more to it than that.  I continued to feel that way when four years passed without a contract after four novels garnered forty rejections. Why did I persist? Because I couldn't not write. (Forgive the double negative--you know what I mean).

Why do writers write? I can't speak for most of the writers in the secular field. I've been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of some of them, but I never really asked this question. My writing is in the Christian genre, which means different things to different people. To some, there has to be a presentation of the road to salvation, while others feel that it's important to show how God intervenes in various ways and different situations. It may vary with the publisher, or (if you're indie-published) other factors. But when we talk about that elusive thing called "voice" we usually include what your goal is in writing--how does someone feel when closing the book?

There are a number of reasons to write--for the money (wrong!), for fame (really wrong!), because God wants us to write (true in some cases, but in many instances it's to change the writer, not a reader). When I asked this question of my friends and acquaintances in the writing world, the universal first answer I got, the one that's true here, is a simple one: it's impossible not to write!

There you have it. If the person really feels that they have it in them to write a book, I say power to them. Whether it affects one person or a million is immaterial. Let them write it, and cheer them on. God knows why they write, and He'll see to the outcome.

What do you think?


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Keep Oriented

I am by no means an expert in SCUBA diving--matter of fact, although I'm quite happy looking at water from the safety of dry land, my few experiences involving diving with a mask and flippers left me thinking that a glass-bottomed boat was the way to go if you want to see what's down there. About all I can recall from various times I've tried SCUBA diving is this: always remember which way is up, and if all else fails, follow your air bubbles upward. They'll lead you to the surface.

Orientation is important. So is getting your facts straight. I've always preferred to learn what an authority says (sometimes several authoritative sources) before making up my mind. When it comes to something that's printed or repeated on the Internet, I want to see whether or not it's true before adding it to my list of facts. I believe it was Joseph Goebels (children, you may have to ask your parents who he was and who he worked for) who said that if you say something often enough, even though it's a lie, people will accept it as fact. Hanging your hat on something that's repeated, especially on the Internet, without anything to back it up is sort of like diving with a mask and flippers, but swimming in the wrong direction. If all else fails, follow the path of information--it, like the air bubbles, will lead you in the right direction. Otherwise, though, you may find yourself lost.

Let me know what you think.


Friday, June 05, 2020

Writing: The Two Hardest Parts

As I recall, in one Parker book, his protagonist--Spenser--tells his "sweetie"--Susan--that if she's running only two miles, she's running the hardest two: the first and last one. Her reply is classic. "If I didn't run those, I'd never run any." Whether walking, running, or even writing, the hardest part is always starting out and finishing. But if we didn't do that, we'd never do anything at all. If I didn't start, it would never get done.

While walking in the neighborhood this morning, I was reminded of one of my columns, in which I talked about running the two hardest miles--the first and the last. That came to mind because I noticed that, since I don't like to walk some days, getting started was the hardest part.

I've been trying to start another book--actually, I have two I've been working on--but neither has the "zing" I wanted. One is a book about a doctor who's a failed baseball player. It's dear to my heart (for so many reasons), but as my wife pointed out, it's mainly of interest to me.

The other begins with a bang, and involves a nurse who gets a phone call from the ER that her mother has been brought in with a possible heart attack. I think I have an idea where this one goes from here. If so, that's part of my job. The rest is going forward toward what my friend, Jim Bell, calls a "knock-out ending." If I can do this, you'll see the book after the first of the year. But first, that all-important "last mile." And those that go between.

Do you agree that the first and last mile are the hardest?

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

America: Mixed Emotions

As I write this on Sunday, I'm experiencing mixed emotions. Yesterday, like millions of other Americans, I watched at 2:20 PM Central Time as we successfully launched a space exploration from American soil, sending two astronauts to the International Space Station. Yes, I said "we"--because I felt a sense of national pride that America was once more going into space. It wasn't because I was an Air Force veteran. It was because I was an American.

Not long afterward, I heard the President speak, not only giving credit and congratulations where they were due to the NASA and SpaceX people there, but also speaking about the the thugs and organizers of the rioting that, although it might have started as a peaceful protest against the brutality of a policeman in Minneapolis, did nothing to honor the memory of the man who died. And last night, for the fourth straight night, that rioting continued.

I don't have a solution for the rioting, although I have thoughts about it, its cause and how I'd handle it. But let me say this here: We have an opportunity as a people to rise above the problems that confront us, just as the rocket rose above the earth on its journey. May we take advantage of it. If we don't, we might never again experience the America we once knew.

End of monologue. Now it's your turn. Thoughts?