Friday, February 14, 2020

Writing: What's The Endgame

We all know that railroad tracks can keep running, parallel to each other, for as long as the rails are laid. In actuality, they never meet, despite what our eyes see. There's an end of the line, but our vision shows them continuing until they meet at infinity. Sometimes a writer's life is like that. Depending on our location, we can see the next several rails, perhaps even a mile down the track, but we can't see the true end. To our finite eyes, the path keeps going to infinity, but our brain tells us there's an end of the line.

In my own case, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of publishers behind me for the publication of the first ten of my novels. And I was even more fortunate to have built up a following, people who read and enjoyed my work. When it became apparent that my "run" with traditional publishers was coming to an end, I took advantage of agent-assisted self-publication to put out two more (soon to be three) full-length novels plus five novellas. Every time I go through the publication process, I'm reminded of how much a traditional publisher does for an author. Of course, every time I see a royalty check, I'm reminded of how much a self-published author does.

My next novel, Critical Decision, is now available for pre-order in Kindle form on Amazon. The print version will be available before the March 17 "publication" date. And I'm making arrangements for an audio version of the book. Twenty novels and novellas of "medical mystery with heart." Twenty opportunities--not just now but as long as those books are out there--to reach people with these stories. It's more than I even hoped for, and I'm grateful.

I have another book already started on my computer--Medical Mystery features an unmarried nurse, a widowed doctor, a woman with a blood pressure issue, and a cast of characters that promises plenty of opportunities for me to see where they're going. I don't know if the rails will keep running for a while, or if the train will stop. I guess we'll just have to hang on and see where the journey goes.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How Do You Keep Up?

My wife keeps a "to-do" list. I don't. Then again, according to her she has a thousand things to do, and I don't. Besides that, if I kept a list, I'd forget where I put it.

We also keep a calendar on the refrigerator (doesn't everyone?). Of course, occasionally things don't get written down, which makes for some surprises when they turn up. So it's only as good as my wife and I make it.

No matter how you keep up with your schedule--via a list, notes on a calendar, a spreadsheet on your computer, however--it's probably immaterial the method, as much as the execution. And there's always the niggling feeling in the back of your mind that you're forgetting something.

Right now, I'm tying up the loose ends for publication of my next book. I've sent out the proof copies, made arrangements for several blog interviews and giveaways, settled on a release date, and a few more things. And that brings me to my announcement.

My novel, Critical Decision, will be released on March 17. For those of you who prefer to read on a Kindle (or have the app available free from Amazon that allows you to read Kindle books on your computer or phone), you can pre-order the novel at a savings. Click here for details and to order.

Enough marketing. We're half-way through February, and I have a number of things to do this month. How about you? And how will you make sure you get them all done? I want to know.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Writing: Like A Sparkler

Remember when you were a kid and fireworks were going off all around you. You wanted to participate, but were told that shooting off bottle rockets and lighting firecrackers were too dangerous. Some adults, and even teen-agers, held Roman candles, and that sounded like fun, but you weren't allowed. Too dangerous. But, before the firework "show" wound down, you were allowed to hold a sparkler--maybe two. You were big stuff. You were shooting off fireworks--sort of. It was fun while it lasted, but after it had run its course, there wasn't anything left but a wire with a bit of burned material on it.

I won't say that writing a novel is totally like shooting off fireworks, but one similarity struck me. You labor for months--sometimes a year or more--getting the content just right. Launch day is sort of like a fireworks display (although the rockets and firecrackers get muted later on in some cases), but when it's all over you can find yourself holding a burned out sparkler and thinking "is that all?"

An author has to start hyping his/her book weeks before it is released--sometimes months. It's necessary to keep reviews coming in. And there's the time-tested giveaway (which sort of fizzles if participation is weak). But eventually, the fireworks are over if you let them. If you've been writing that next book, the quiet period doesn't last too long. If you put it off, though, you may find yourself holding a burned-out sparkler, looking around and wondering where those fireworks you see are coming from. They're coming from someone else who's launching the book they've been working on. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

What Is Our Legacy?

Author Mary Higgins Clark died last week. As I thought about that, I wondered what my own legacy would be. I enjoyed her novels, as did thousands of those who read them. But although she will be remembered mainly for her more than 50 books, she was a person, not just an author.

As a physician, I was privileged to treat thousands of patients.
As a professor at a medical school and an authority on certain subjects, I had the opportunity to do a great deal of teaching--both in person throughout the world and via articles and book chapters--that had a hand in the education of many professionals.

As an author (who came late to this "second profession") I've been privileged to write things that will live on after I have gone to my reward. And, as a teacher, I've passed on the principles to others of what I've learned in this short time in that profession.

I have been blessed with the love of two wonderful women--at least twice what many men have received. I have wonderful children and grandchildren, of whom I'm inordinately proud. I enjoy watching sporting events (events in some of which I used to be a participant), and still play golf (sort of).

I have been fortunate in my ability to leave behind a legacy that will outlive me--and I hope it is a positive one. No, I don't have a fatal disease. I've just been thinking about legacies. And that brings me to a question I always asked prospective residents for our program during their interviews at the med school where I spent my last decade in practice: What would you like to be remembered for? It's something all of us should think about. If you don't know the answer, now is the time to work on it.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Writing: Does It Involve Self-Promotion?

I get email almost daily that involves books that are on sale--sometimes discounted, sometimes at full price, but always with descriptions that lead me to wonder how I've live this long without reading them. In case you've wondered (and even if you haven't), most authors make money from the books they've written from the advances they're given and (sometimes) from royalties after these books have "earned out" these advances. And why are these books bought? People hear about them, are interested, and buy them.

One of the things I was told when I first got into this writing racket was that no one was as interested in a book I'd written as I was, so the only way to get the word out get the word out. All of us who use social media have heard of the 40-60 rule or some variant of it. Plug your book in no more than 40% of your posts, reserving the other 60% for other things. Also, I've found it true that the best advertising is word-of-mouth, which starts with someone liking a book and telling others about it. But how do they learn about it? Ultimately, you get the word out.

The bottom line (if you'll excuse the hackneyed phrase) is that an author has to either get past his/her fear of self-promotion or employ someone who'll do it for them--publicist or whatever. Done well, and not beaten into the ground with admonitions to "buy my book," it can get past self-promotion and be a decent way to get the word to others. Not done well, it can be a real turn-off. It's a fine line we walk. Do I stray from that line? I hope that, if I do, you'll let me know.

BTW, my next novel, Critical Decision, should be available for purchase within a month or so. Those signed up for my newsletter (see right margin of this column) will hear about it first. End of self-promotion message. How'd I do, folks?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Reflections From A Road Trip

My wife and I don't travel much. In my "more mature" days I've come to agree with the words of Nolan Ryan: Anyone who thinks travel is glamorous hasn't done enough of it. But we needed to go about 150 miles to Oklahoma for the funeral, and we decided to drive. I'm glad we went, but I don't think we'll do all 300 miles in one day again.

Things I learned from the trip? Quite a few, actually. First, it was nice to go to a smaller town where people still stopped their cars until a funeral procession went by. That simple gesture has almost been lost in some of the larger towns, but it was good to see that it hasn't gone completely. It's nice that people can still take five or ten minutes out of their busy lives to show respect, both for the passing of a fellow human being and for the family and friends who accompany them on this last ride.

Second, it was good to have the enforced "togetherness" of the trip. We're always in a hurry, and it seems that Murphy's second law holds true for most of us: Things expand completely to fill all available time. Admittedly, we had our cell phones, so it wasn't as though we were totally cut off from communication with the rest of the world. But it was good, nevertheless.

How about you? What lessons have you learned lately? Whether going about our normal business or when life causes a bit of disruption of our schedule, have you been struck by something that you didn't otherwise notice? I'd like to hear.

BTW, for those interested in my recent column about whether blogs are dead, let's just say that although some are still being read, others--and maybe this one--are on life support. We'll see.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Writing: No One Ever Tells You Everything

There are lots of things we learn along the way to becoming an author. The volume of material, the things that we have drilled into us until they become automatic, the steps that are necessary all make me cringe when I hear someone say, "I think I'll write a book." Oh, I don't discourage their trying. Maybe one in a hundred will stick to it long enough to string together 75,000 or even 100,000 words. And maybe yet even a smaller proportion will write one that's publishable.

We have lots of rules drilled into us: keep point of view constant (in a scene, chapter, even a whole book). Avoid the passive voice (keep the reader interested). Try to hook the reader from the start of the book, and don't let things wane too much or too often. Avoid the "sagging middle" in your book. Pay attention to the antagonist, as well as the hero. And on, and on, and on.

But the rule I find most helpful is one credited to Elmore Leonard, who "leaves out the parts people tend to skip." If the segment doesn't advance the story, doesn't hold the reader's interest, out it goes. Even if I like it. Even if it's one of my "darlings." Yes, we have to kill our darlings sometime.

You may study. You may take courses. You may have multiple books published. But you'll find that there's always more to learn. No one ever tells you everything--because, if they're honest, there's always something more.

Should that deter you from writing? No. But don't dismiss criticism out of hand. If it comes from someone who knows what they're talking about it, consider it. If you get the same criticism from two or more knowledgeable people, really take it to heart. But keep on. The writer who thinks they're beyond taking criticism is the one who doesn't realize that we all have to keep learning.

What do you think is the best advice for a writer?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Every Author Needs A Blog...Don't They?

I was musing about this blog, and along the way I looked back at my first post, which hit on June 19, 2006. Since then, I've posted (according to blogger) just shy of 1500 of these bits of deathless prose. And now, I'm beginning to think that blogs--like bell-bottoms and convertibles--may have had their day.

Why did I start this blog anyway? If you read the link I've furnished to my first blog, you'll find that I thought establishing one would be neat, since most of my colleagues were also blogging. Since then, newsletters, tweets, Facebook posts, and even Instagram pictures have become popular. Why do I continue to do it? Why, indeed? You tell me.

Years ago, I was advised to establish a social media presence, to "get my name out there." With the explosion of social media, as detailed above, I've seen authors gradually drop blogs in favor of some of the other forms Some have even (gasp!) totally eschewed social media, depending on word of mouth (which I maintain is the best form of advertising) to carry them forward. Publishing, whether via a conventional publishing house or "going indie," has changed. Is this another change for authors?

So I'm asking. Do you think this blog has any relevance? What about other social media? What should an author do to "get themselves out there"? I really want to know. And the comments, or lack thereof, will give me a pretty good idea.

PS--In case you're interested (and even if you're not), my next novel, Critical Decision, should be available on Amazon by mid-March, maybe earlier. I know, I know--it's taking a long time, but I hope you'll find it worth the wait.

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.