Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Back in a Bit

I'll be absent from this space for a couple of weeks. Lest you be concerned, it has nothing to do with my health (except that I'm getting more "mature" every day, but aren't we all?), and there's no crisis at home (except the fact that everyone seems to think that, since I'm a writer, I have all the time I need for other things). No, I'm simply going to take a couple of weeks off.

Have I quit writing? Not at all. I've published my latest novella, Bitter Pill, and the response has been gratifying. Soon I'll be able to announce the audio version of this one. I've finished the draft (I edit as I go, unlike some authors) of my full -length novel, working title Critical Decision. After more editing and revisions, and with a wonderful cover designed by Dineen Miller, I plan to release it after the first of the year. I'm considering what's next, but right now I thought it was time to slow down for a bit, so that's what I'm going to do.

If everything goes as planned, I'll be back on October 29 (two weeks from now). See you then.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Writing: Get The Reader's Attention

I've finished the first draft (including lots of editing along the way) of my next novel, working title Critical Decision. While I wait for a macro edit, I've arranged for a cover and for later a line edit and proof-reading. And I'm kicking around a few openings for my next one.

I try to catch the reader's attention in the first scene, ideally in the first page or two, in order to keep them reading. Of course, I write medical mysteries or thrillers (I've written elsewhere about the difference, although it seems to me to be an artificial distinction), so that doubles the necessity to catch the attention of the person looking at the first page. Here's one I came up with while "doodling" on the computer. What do you think?

The hand holding the pistol was steady as a rock, aiming at her chest. The trigger finger was so tense that the knuckles of that digit were white. There was no chance of missing at this range. One squeeze and it was over.
She reviewed her options and found she had nowhere to go from here. This might be the end. She wondered idly if she’d hear the gunshot that killed her.
“Any final words?”
Then, the cell phone in her pocket began to vibrate. At first, she ignored it, but finally she heaved a sigh, turned from the computer, and pulled the instrument from her pocket. As she feared, the call was from her sister. 
“Patricia, I hope this is important.” Actually, she was glad for the interruption. Maybe a way out of the situation she’d gotten her heroine into would come to her. She was barren of ideas right now. 
“It’s Mom. She’s gone by ambulance to the hospital. They think it may be a heart attack. I’ll meet you there.” And she was gone.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Talk Among Yourselves

I've got a bunch of things to do today--and I let this time slip past me (again). Sorry about that. I'll be back on Friday with a post about "the writing life," but for today, I'll have to pass.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Writing: Is An Editor Important?

It's hard to get used to calling myself a "hybrid" author. Such a strange term--like I'm half-man, half-beast or something. What it really means, of course, is that I've had books published by royalty-paying publishers and self-published (or "indie," for independent) books.  As an author who has indie-published, a question I'm often asked is, "If you publish a manuscript independently, is it necessary to employ an editor?" That's a valid question. After all, you've written what you consider the greatest book in the world (well, maybe not the greatest--but you think it's ready to publish). Why spend the money on an editor?

I asked a number of multi-published authors this question: "Do you use an editor, even when you're going to indie publish the manuscript." The response was unanimous. "Yes." I got comments like "I wouldn’t dream of publishing without having the manuscript edited first!" and "I'd never think of publishing something that's not professionally edited". Someone whom I respect in the publishing field and who now publishes only independently uses a person whose judgment they trust as a beta-reader and for developmental editing, then uses an outside editor for copy-editing and proof-reading. Incidentally, I do the same.

So, there you have it. It's not a large series, but I think it's indicative of what authors feel and do. Don't fail to use a professional editor (and the same goes for cover design), even when you publish independently. You'll be glad you spent the money. 

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

State Fair...Already?

There are lots of things I like about North Texas, but when people come to visit in October I always ask, "Have you been to the State Fair?" There's something for everyone. The midway offers lots of rides (including several that I steer clear of--not because they're particularly unsafe, but because I made "chicken" the first time they issued the merit badge). There are other things to and do, of course. If the individual is a "city slicker," the livestock barns offer a viewpoint they've not seen. The various buildings shelter exhibits and demonstrations (plus, of course, sales of some of the things demonstrated there). And the retreat ceremony at dusk is worth seeing--it never changes, and I never get tired of it.

But I just noticed that the Fair (we don't dress up the term as "Texas State Fair"--there's only one Fair around here) started last Friday. It will run into October, and that's as it should be. Various schools will have their "day" that allows students to attend (and leaves parents who have to work wondering what they'll do with their offspring that day). The Cotton Bowl will feature a bunch of football games (but no longer the Texas-Texas A&M or Texas-OU game). And there'll always be the cries in the evening of "Do we have to go home already?" from some children (and a few adults). That's the Fair.

But does it seem to you that it starts earlier and earlier each year? Or am I just getting old?

Friday, September 27, 2019

Writing: Preparing to Write

As we used to say in medicine, "Although you may not be able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you can nevertheless make a better-looking, more acceptable sow's ear." In writing, probably there are people who are born with a talent for putting the words together, and they may turn out better products than those of us who don't have the natural ability they do, but those of us in the latter group have learned to write by reading, practice, and paying attention to advice. In other words, I learned to improve on the sow's ear--and sometimes got a silk purse out of the deal.

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. It's not necessary to attend a large one. There are many good ones out there. If you go, you'll develop relationships with others of the same bent. Writing, like algebra, will eventually start to make sense for you. And you'll pick up small tips that you'll incorporate into your writing until they become automatic.

Notice that I don't mention editors or agents in the above paragraph. 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.

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.

This isn't sure-fire advice. It's just the way I got into it. There was a lot that followed, but this is how I started.  Eighteen novels and novellas later, am I an expert? Not at all. But I hope you'll be on your way with this advice. What would you add?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

What To Post?

I've been on Facebook for quite a while. We're encouraged, as authors, to have a social media presence, and I've tried. I've even developed two Facebook pages--my "regular" one, for friends, family, acquaintances, and some of the people who ask; and my "author" page, where I post links that might be of interest to writers. But the former presents a problem for me.

As I looked through FB today, preparing this post, I decided that there were certain things I wasn't going to do. I don't like posts that have a political flavor. (Although I have my own viewpoint, and will gladly tell you about them, I've never seen anyone convinced by a FB post). I enjoy, for a while, seeing recipes, but eventually they make me hungry. I'm a retired physician, and I keep up with medicine via journals and the Internet, so it especially angers me when people post material--especially that copied from sites--that espouses certain things as sure-fire bad or good things, or for that matter, when they ask medical questions on the Internet. For that matter, when people seek or give professional advice on their FB page, my initial thought is that they might or might not get something useful.

I've gone on and on, considering and rejecting various things I could write about. And, finally, I've come up with a post that no one can find fault with. Enjoy.

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.