Friday, September 20, 2019

Writing: Conferences, Editors, and Agents

It doesn't seem possible, but I began blogging over a decade ago. I looked back at one of my first posts (dating to my attendance at the ACFW conference that year), and found it needed very little "touching up" to be relevant today. See what you think.

"I'll be attending the ACFW meeting here in my home city of Dallas in a couple of weeks. I've kept an eye on the appointment logs for editors and agents, and it's interesting that many editors (including a number from well-respected houses) have open appointments. On the other hands, agents are booked from sunup to sundown. Everybody wants to have an agent...

"The group whose dance card fills up the quickest at these gatherings isn't those who wear the hat of "editor." It's the agents. Moreover, the high-profile agents are the most sought-after. Somehow, there seems a dissonance to me in that. These folks have well-established clients whose writing has proven itself over and over. Why should they even bother talking with prospective clients? The answer, of course, is that they're sifting through all the proposals they get, hoping to find the author of the next best-seller.

"Most publishing houses won't look at an unsolicited proposal now. The two primary avenues for getting your work considered are attending a writer's conference and receiving a go-ahead from an editor, or having an agent who will shop your work around. I've said before that getting an agent is like getting a loan at the bank. It's easiest if you can prove you don't need one."

Of course, nowadays there's not the stigma that used to go with "self-publishing." Many of us have either become "hybrid authors" (with experience in both publication via a traditional publisher and self-publication) or gone the "indie-route" entirely. The answer, of course, lies in the quality of your writing. If you have all the resources needed to self-publish, you may not need an agent. But it's still nice to have one in your corner if you're a "pre-published" author waiting  for that first contract or unsure about going "indie" for the first time. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"Deal" on Surgeon's Choice

One of my favorite novellas is Surgeon's Choice. In case you missed it the first time around, I've arranged for a special price for the Kindle version of the novella, starting later today and continuing for the next couple of days, with gradual increase after that to the normal price. Here's a bit more about Surgeon's Choice: 

"Dr. Ben Merrick and his fiancĂ©, Rachel Gardner, can’t get her divorced parents to stay in the same room, much less attend their wedding together.  He is also looking over his shoulder expecting more trouble from a very senior surgeon who has shown he is still smarting from a previous dust-up. Ben doesn’t know if a series of mishaps and accidents are caused by a disgruntled patient’s relatives or represent more from the older surgeon. 

"Then his prospective father-in-law approaches him, needing money for reasons Ben can’t fathom. Rachel has an idea about the cause of the request, but she doesn’t want to accept it. Then, when the deaths begin, Ben and Rachel begin to wonder if they can escape unscathed…and alive."

As we near Christmas, I'll be arranging a special price later for my Christmas novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. I'll also have an announcement about a new audio format for my novella, Bitter Pill. I'm just full of surprises over the next few months, so I hope you'll check back regularly.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Writing: The Hard Parts

One of my favorite authors is the late Robert B. Parker. I re-read all his books regularly, and usually find something worthwhile in each of one. As I recall, 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.

Starting a book is usually not that difficult. All authors have a bunch of beginnings in their head. They usually start out with "what if...?" The hard part is following up that idea. My wife once suggested to me starting a book with a female doctor getting a strange package. When she opens it,  a cell phone inside begins ringing. Finally, her curiosity gets the best of her and she answers it. A voice calls her by name, tells her that her husband has been kidnapped, and says that to get him back she must give a patient medication that will kill him.

Now, all of us will admit that's a pretty decent opening. The hard part is keeping the suspense up for the duration of a novel, ending with what Jim Bell calls a "knockout ending." In other words, starting a novel is relatively easy. Keeping one going and ending it with a flourish is what marks a writer.

I've almost completed the first draft of a novel based on that opening, working title Critical Decision, and you should see it sometime after the first of the year. Because I ran the two hardest miles--the first and the last--this one is almost ready for the reader.

PS--I'll be announcing some price specials for the Kindle versions of my novellas soon, and hope to have the audio version of my most recent novella, Bitter Pill, ready to go by winter. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Let Us Never Forget

September 11, 2001. I remember where I was and what I did afterward. Do you?

Friday, September 06, 2019

Writing: Chekhov's Gun

Writers are always talking about the principle of "Chekhov's gun." But how many of us know that he was a practicing physician? At one point, he was quoted as saying, "Medicine is my lawful wife, while literature is my mistress." He was multi-talented, and I certainly don't deny that--even though I'm going to take some exception to the principle he espoused.

He was known as a master of the short story and four of his plays are classics. "Chekhov's gun" is a phrase that's quoted often, but do you really know what it means? It says, in essence, that if a loaded gun is evident in the first part of the story, it should be fired before the story ends. But to expand further, his philosophy was really to remove all extraneous things, whether physical or pertaining to dialogue, in the writing.

When most of us speak of Chekhov's gun, we think in terms of an actual gun. And on more than one occasion, I have introduced a pistol or long gun into the plot of a novel, whether it is fired later or not. But putting aside the reference to firearms and applying his principle to removal of extraneous things or ideas, I take exception. Most of us who write mysteries (whether cozy, romantic, legal, medical, or whatever) have learned that it's a good idea to introduce "red herrings" into the plot, so that the reader is always wondering who the "bad guy" is going to be. And this introduction of false clues goes against the principles that Chekhov espoused.

I certainly don't want to put myself up against one of the geniuses of the writing world, but I'd encourage all the writers who read this blog to think twice before they introduce Chekov's gun into their plot. And when they do, remember that he wasn't talking about just a gun.

What do you think? Good idea, bad idea, or one you never really considered?

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Thank You For Your Service

 On this day after Labor Day, let me ask you a question. Did you think about all those who were working to make it possible for us to enjoy the holiday? 

I did--perhaps because I was once one of those who were working while others were taking a long holiday. I considered the personnel who made possible our shopping for groceries, clothing, hardware, and so many other items. I thought about the medical personnel who were working during this holiday time. The more I thought about it, the longer my list became. Unfortunately, we've come to take this service for granted--even on Labor Day.

So, if you enjoyed some time off this past holiday weekend, please join me in saying "Thank you" to everyone who was working during our "time off." We appreciate your service.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Writing: It's A Lonely Business

Anyone who's been in an allergy course I've directed may find it difficult to believe, but I'm an introvert. When it came time to face 250 or so attendees, I often said, "Time to put on my game face." At that point, I was an extrovert. But at other times, not so much.

Writing is like that. We sit down in front of a computer and imagine words that we might not say out loud in real life. We imagine people in situations that are made up of whole cloth, saying words that we pluck out of the air, and keep on doing that until we've filled our allotment of pages for the day. And when it comes time to send our manuscript forth into the world, we "put on our game face." However, instead of facing people for a limited amount of time, we're going to  put our words out there for thousands (we hope) to read and comment on for as long as the book is in print. 

Some people like to use a critique group for the exchange of ideas. Others prefer to do it solo. As one author of my acquaintance says, "No one reads a single word I've written until the manuscript is sent to my editor." Whichever way a writer prefers to do it--whether with others contributing ideas and reacting to what's written or by never sharing the manuscript until it's completed--ultimately the responsibility for what's going down on that paper is the sole responsibility of the author. And that's a scary thought.

I love the quotation that I sometimes use as a signature line. "Some people hear voices when no one's around.  They are called mad, and sit in a room all day and stare at the walls. Others are called writers, and they do pretty much the same thing."  I may not have the words exactly the way writer Meg Chittenden said them, but writers will know what I mean--and nod. How about you?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Wheel Of Fortune

It comes to us all. Life is like a wheel, and the further it turns, the more we notice. I'm reaching the point in my life where I occasionally groan when getting up. I don't hit a golf ball as far as I used to. When writing, I sometimes sit for several minutes before the computer searching for a word that used to spring to my mind almost instantaneously. Am I frustrated? Well, yes. But am I glad that I've lived long enough to get this way? Definitely.

I doubt that most of my readers have reached the stage where you say that you're not as young as you used to be. My statement is "I'm not as young as I used to be, and probably never was." And I always add the thought (if not the actual words) that I'm fortunate to have reached this time. So long as I'm able to dress myself and take nourishment, as the saying goes, I count myself fortunate. How about you?

Friday, August 23, 2019

Writing: Too Much Information?

The eighth rule for writers from Kurt Vonnegut is "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. " As I recall, Vonnegut felt that, if for some reason it were necessary, the reader should be able to finish writing the book. I'm going to take some exception to this.

The late Donald Westlake did a pretty good job of writing mysteries. His "Dortmunder" books are quite good, featuring a guy who, if he didn't have bad luck, would have no luck at all. But they are extremely entertaining (or, at least, I found them so). He followed the plan he called "push fiction"--we'd call it writing by the seat of our pants. His philosophy was that if the writer didn't know what was coming next, the reader couldn't, either.

My wife, who's been my first reader through all my books,  got after me about keeping information to myself. Since I knew what the backstory was, I sometimes neglected to share it with my readers. I had to work to get over this, but I think I've finally done it. I've learned to sprinkle clues (plus a few "red herrings") throughout my mysteries so that I don't end up introducing a new character as the end as the "bad guy," or having the books end with "Deus et machina" (God out of the machine--used in some Greek tragedies to end them by sudden intervention beyond that of the actors).

There's a fine line in mystery between giving the reader all the information and not enough information. It's tough to achieve, but then again, that's what keeps us writing...and reading.

What's your opinion about Vonnegut's eighth rule? Let me know. I'd like to hear it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Summer's Almost Gone

Judging from the number of pictures on Facebook of children heading back to school, the summer's just about over. I sort of assumed that when my last child graduated I'd be through with all that. Wrong! Then came the grandchildren. And, for at least some of my readers, the great-grandchildren. We never really get through caring about them, do we? And it's kind of a bittersweet moment as we watch each of them grow into their own individual.

On a somewhat connected subject, are you old enough to remember when the last day of school was Memorial Day or thereabouts, with resumption right after Labor Day? The story I've always heard, at least here in Texas, is that during the summer time out of school children were expected to work in the fields, so school would be out during the season of growing and harvesting. Since the season for cotton begins in July and extends until fall, that makes sense. Of course, nowadays it's almost unheard of to see children (or adults) in the field doing what we have machinery to do.

Now school starts up in mid-August, and although we theoretically say "good-bye" to summer with the Labor Day weekend, in actuality our children, grandchildren, and the "little kid next door" will have been back in school for a couple of weeks already. Summer seems to be getting shorter each year, doesn't it?

How about you. Does the resumption of school bring back memories? Are you ready for school to resume, or would you like to keep the kids at home for a while longer? Let me hear.