Friday, September 18, 2020

Writing: Hook 'Em Fast

 I'm re-reading (as is my practice) some of what I consider the best fiction in my libraries, and seeking what I can glean from these masters. One of the people who influenced me early in what I laughingly call my writing "career," and who still exerts a great deal of influence on me, is James Scott Bell. He describes himself as a "recovering lawyer," living (despite everything) in LA, and full of advice that I often take.

One of the things I've learned from what I've been taught about writing is that it's best to get the agent, editor, and/or reader engrossed in the story early. Noah Lukeman says that this should be done in the first five pages. Bell tends to get this done even more quickly. For example, here are his opening lines from his book, Try Fear:

"The cops nabbed Santa Claus at the corner of Hollywood and Gower. He was driving a silver Camaro and wearing a purple G-string and a red Santa had. And nothing else on that warm December night."

Now, if that won't get your attention, nothing will. I doubt that any of my openings are as successful at grabbing the reader as this one, but you get the picture. Look on your shelves and see how the first page or five of your favorites stack up. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


 The late sportswriter, Blackie Sherrod, used to periodically do a feature entitled Scattershooting While Wondering (you fill in the blank--he chose a different one for each column). Well, that's how I feel today. I don't really have one coherent thought to tie it together. So, I 'll just scattershoot.

One of the problems of being retired is that sometimes I have too much time--to much to watch cable TV, too much to think about what's going on around us. I know--most of the time I post about not having enough time, despite what others might say, but today I've had time to think. And it can be dangerous.

It's fifty days or so until the election, and our NoMoRobo app is getting a workout as our phone rings several times a day with political calls. We've already had one metal stand and the garden flag that goes with it removed sometime in the dead of night, apparently because the flag indicated our choice of candidate for president. We've replaced it, but it's a shame that it's come to that. Our neighborhood was formerly quiet, but now I'm not sure.

Sports have resumed, but they're by no means what we were formerly used to. Not only has the Covid-19 all around us caused some significant changes, but all major sports are being politicized to the point of being more statement than athletic contest. And that's a shame, as well. I wish I could enjoy NFL football, but I keep thinking about the sentiments emblazoned in the end zone, and how the players react to what used to be a moment of patriotism--the national anthem and presentation of our flag. 

Too much thinking. How about you?

Saturday, September 12, 2020


 As we watched a retrospective about 9/11, my wife said, "What a contrast with the football players." I thought about the kneeling football players, all drawing significant salaries (much greater than what I've built up through many years of hard work), and those who--without thought of themselves--ran toward the danger. And I asked myself if we're not celebrating the wrong group.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Lest We Forget

 In case you've forgotten what day this is--let us never forget its significance.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Fashion Advice

 I'm writing these lines on the day before Labor Day, and growling about the new interface put into place by Blogger. (Yes, despite others' fascination with Word Press, I continue to publish this blog in the same format I started it in--old dog, new tricks, and all that).

Getting back to the question that sent me here to begin with, I'd always heard that you didn't wear white shoes, white belt, or anything else white after Labor Day. To do so would be gauche. 

Then came the pandemic, and we were all stuck at home for a bit (some still are, unfortunately), and what we were used to wearing deteriorated to yoga pants. tee shirts, and pajama bottoms for some. My summertime outfit was and still is a knit shirt, cargo shorts, white socks and athletic shoes. As for a belt, although I sometimes match the color of the cargo shorts, there are other times when nothing will do but a white belt.

Although Labor Day may be looked upon my many as the official end to summer, it's usually still hot here in Texas, and I'm in my usual outfit--including white shoes and socks, and (gasp) a white belt. Fashion advice advice is apparently desperately needed. Meanwhile, I'll keep on wearing my usual outfit until it becomes fall (really) in Texas--that may be sometime around Thanksgiving.

Hope your Labor Day holiday was good. 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Labor Day, 2020

This has been a year like no other. This weekend, we will recognize those who work throughout the year to keep the wheels of commerce turning. As we enjoy our time off, let us not forget both  those affected by the Coronavirus and the natural disasters that have come our way recently.

The flooding in Louisiana and environs is one of the worst natural disasters our nation has experienced. Of course, it could have been worse. But there are still many it has robbed of homes and property. If you haven't donated (time, things, money, whatever) to relief efforts, please do so...and remember that after the water recedes, there's still lots to be done. I won't presume to mention specific relief sites--you can choose your own--but please give.

I'll be back on Tuesday. Enjoy your time off. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

She Ain't What She Used To Be

Remember the "old" phones? I do. Actually, I remember the ones on a stand, that required you to hold the earpiece in one hand and talk into a microphone of sorts on a stand. I even remember the number we were assigned. You'd pick up the phone and tell the operator what number you were calling--ours was 246--or, failing that, who you were calling. We were fortunate enough to have our own line, not a party line (where you had to make sure someone else wasn't making a call before you could make yours).

Those days are gone, like Frank Green's store where he had a soda fountain, sold newspapers, and had the phone number of "one naughty naught." Gone are the days when you hung your washing on lines in the back yard or even in one of the "new-fangled" contraptions that had lines strung on metal poles and rotated allowing access to all four sides. All gone.

Facebook was supposed to allow people to connect with friends and neighbors. I guess it worked, at least for the first few years, but in going through Facebook this weekend, my impression was that it had devolved into a medium for party (and partisan) political material, intermixed with adventures in cooking, some cartoons and memes, and some other posts. The comments were no longer benign, but in most instances gave rise to full-fledged arguments (despite my observations that few if any of the opinions expressed there were changed by arguing).

Anyway, even though authors are advised to maintain a social media presence, I find it more and more difficult. I'm not always able to keep up with the latest fads in social media--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, and on, and on, and on. And when I dare post something that reflects my opinion, all-knowing "fact-checkers" might take it down. So I'll plan to post my conservative viewpoints here on my blog, where (so far) they've been able to stand. We'll see what the future holds. What does it hold for you?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Writing: Suggestions On How To Start

How to write a novel? The simple advice is, "Just start." Along the way, heed some other advice: "Be prepared for rejection," "It's not easy," and "Don't give up."

Mine is not advertised as "sure-fire" advice, but it's the way I learned. First, I attended a writing conference. Actually, I attended several of them. This may be too expensive for some of you, but if you really want to learn writing, go to one. There are many good ones out there. Now, it's apparent that most are not currently held in the usual format. But if you're serious about writing, start here.  Writing, like algebra, will eventually start to make sense for you. if you keep on. And you'll pick up small tips that you'll incorporate into your writing until they become automatic.

While you're deciding about a conference, start reading. Learn how to plot, with books like James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. Learn how to catch the attention of the reader by reading Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. There are too many books to mention--I have a two-foot shelf of them in my office--but read to learn how to write. And also read books by other authors. Read the good stuff, and imitate it. Read the bad stuff, and avoid it.

Notice that I don't mention editors or agents. If you go to your first conference expecting a contract, prepare for disappointment. If for some reason you do get one, count yourself fortunate. But keep learning anyway. Somewhere along the way, you may make contact with an agent or editor who says they think your writing shows promise. Even if they don't offer representation or a contract, take those words and cherish them. And don't lose the name and number of the person who shows interest. You may be able to come back to them, either with a markedly revised manuscript of the one you showed them or (more likely) another book.

And keep on writing. It's the only way to get there. But even if no one but you reads your work, you'll be the better person for writing it. And that may be enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Tempus Fugit"

People consider themselves fortunate when they find the love of their life. I've been doubly fortunate, because after death took my first wife after 40 years of marriage, God sent another woman who taught me how to smile again. And, no--this isn't our anniversary, but a post on another site made me stop, look around, and see how much things have changed.

Recently I thought it would be neat to have dinner at one of the places where we first got together when we were going out. That's when I first discovered that time changes things. The restaurant where I proposed to her was out of business. So was another one we used to frequent during that time. I wanted to show her the ice cream parlor that my first wife and I used to go with friends after church, but it had become part of a row of businesses in a strip shopping center. And the church where my wife and I used to attend had changed so drastically that I almost didn't recognize it.

What's the lesson from all of this? Enjoy what you have when you have it, but don't try to revisit it years later. Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." I'd add, "You can't depend on things not changing. They do. So enjoy them while you can."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Writing: Where I Fit In

I practiced medicine for almost four decades, first as a solo practitioner and then, for the final ten years, as a professor at a well-known medical school.  I’ve been retired from medicine now for almost twenty years, but despite my having a certain amount of success as a writer, I still keep my medical license active and stay current with my Continuing Medical Education. At first it was primarily because I didn’t know how long I’d be successful at this writing thing, but finally I had to admit that, although I’ll probably never go back to the practice of my specialty, I enjoy staying up with advances in medicine.  And, believe me, it takes a lot of work to stay current. But if I don't, my readers will let me know.
I know writers who continue to teach and keep up with the latest classroom advances in order to do it well. Other colleagues work at their “day job” while still writing. Matter of fact, the number of folks who are able to leave their employment and write full-time is relatively small. The advice, “Don’t give up your day job,” is not just a joke.
As for me, that’s where I stand—with both feet still firmly planted in both professions. Writers, where do you come down? And readers, do you think about an author as someone who follows or has followed a different profession? Or are you just interested in him/her as an author?

PS--in case you're curious, I take tests like this to keep up my CME level. Here is one of the questions from a recent exam:
1. Lumateperone is:
a. a 5-HT2a receptor antagonist and a D2 receptor antagonist
b. a D2 receptor antagonist and an alpha1 receptor agonist
c. a D2 receptor agonist and a histamine (H1) receptor agonist
d. a 5-HT2a receptor agonist and an alpha1 receptor agonist

And, of course, you all know the correct answer is a.