Tuesday, February 19, 2019

It's Winter---No, It's Summer--No...

Throughout the US, especially the northern part, there's been lots of winter weather, with snow, ice, and even some school closings. In the southern part of our nation, people are talking about sunshine, and approaching it in shorts and flip-flops.

Here in Texas, we've had the usual roller-coaster of cold, warm, cold, warm--but no snow, ice, or other souvenirs of winter. Matter of fact, although it's cold now (I haven't been able to play golf on Wednesday in what seems like forever), there's the promise of another warm-up on the way.

But for all of us, there's one harbinger of spring that always pops up at this time of year. Baseball spring training is about to begin. And I'm ready.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Writing: RUE

One of the rules of writing is "RUE"--"resist the urge to explain." That's good advice, and there's a valid reason behind it..

One of the best bits of advice I was given came from well-known author Gayle Roper, who conducted one of the first writing seminars I attended. At that one, we each had to read a segment from the novel we'd written, but once we'd read it we had to sit silently as the group dissected it. Imagine holding your tongue while a group of other writers questioned your work. Each of us was anxious to say,"But what I was trying to do..." and "You don't understand..." but we had to sit by and listen without speaking. Why? Because, as Gayle put it, "You aren't going to be able to stand next to the potential reader and explain what you meant." In other words, make it clear to begin with. Let it stand on its own.

I've encountered the same thing as I put together my stories. When my first reader says, "I don't understand this," my first inclination as a writer is to explain. But instead, my eventual reaction (after pouting and sober reflection) is to rewrite the line, or scene, or even the working title, to avoid this misunderstanding. I don't explain--I simply make explanation unnecessary.

Have you ever seen something in a novel that requires explanation? How would you rewrite it to make explanation unnecessary?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Bored

What do you do on those long weekend afternoons, without a football game to occupy you? Personally, I've not had to work to find things to occupy my time--apparently people look on "being retired" as a synonym for "having nothing to do." I'm glad to help, but retirement isn't a long stretch of naps and watching TV. At least, not at our house.

What do we have to occupy us? For example, there's that stack of receipts and forms on the desk that have to be brought into some semblance of order as the tax deadline approaches. It seems as though there's always something to do. How about at your house?

Anyway, what do you do to avoid boredom on weekend afternoons? I think it would be interesting to hear.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Writing: How Did I Turn Into A Blogger?

I thought it might be interesting to turn back the pages over these past 13 years and see what my first blog post was about.

When I retired from medicine, I envisioned travel, golf, and lazy mornings drinking coffee while watching Good Morning America. An uncontrollable compulsion (some might say a commission) to write about my experiences after the death of my first wife, Cynthia, led me into the field of Christian writing. That book, by the way, is THE TENDER SCAR: LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF A SPOUSE, and is available through online booksellers as well as book stores. 

Along the way, seeking direction and instruction, I attended a Christian Writers' Conference. That led to my meeting and becoming friends with some neat writers and editors. This, in turn, gave me the itch to write fiction. And so the story goes.

And, as for the question I asked in the title of this piece, once my non-fiction book was published, I discovered that the fun had just begun. An author, whom I once thought was cynical but now consider practical, told me that nobody was as interested in telling others about my book as I would be. And that's right. So I set up a web page--well, actually, my wife did (and did a nice job). You can check that out at www.rmabry.com. And from there, it's just a hop/skip/jump (actually, a feet-first dive with nose firmly pinched shut) into this thing called a blog. Not really a marketing tool, though. More a case of "all my writing friends have one, so why don't I?"

My fiction works continue to be under consideration--which is sort of like an actor saying he's "between engagements." But over the past thirty months or so, I've had quite an education about the field of writing and the publishing industry. Since everyone likes a good horror story, I thought I'd share some of those experiences from time to time with those of you who have nothing better to do than surf the internet. I hope you'll find them entertaining, educational, and occasionally inspirational.  

Well, that's how it started. We never know what God has in store around the corner for us. So I guess we'd better be ready. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

To Save Time And Effort...

... at next year's Super Bowl, why doesn't the Patriot team's offense scrimmage against the defense, and just let everyone else stay home?

Maybe it's me, but other than the NFL commercial (with all the players at a dinner party), I can't recall a single one of the commercials--and those are usually the best part of the festivities.

Oh, well. Pitchers and catchers report to camp in just a few days.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Writing: Time Management

One reason I have an attitude of "I've got to participate but sometimes I don't like it" toward social media is that I'm frustrated when I read some of the posts of my fellow authors. And the phrase they use that makes me envy them sometimes is "under deadline."

As a writer who, after publication of ten novels by traditional publishers, has decided to publish via the "indie" route, I somehow miss one aspect of having a contract with a definite deadline. It's not so much approval of the cover design (I have a wonderful cover designer--it simply costs money) or the editing (again, I've found a good editor and am willing to pay for that function). It's not even arranging the publicity for the forthcoming book--I've always found that what I do works best for me.

No, I mainly miss the deadlines. Let me hasten to say that I've never missed a deadline imposed by an editor or publisher. Matter of fact, I almost always got my work in early. But in the indie-world of publication, it's up to me to set (and keep) deadlines. I have to decide when the book will be released and work backwards to get everything done. And there's always the temptation to put off the work that I know I need to do--from idea to rough draft to finished product plus all the things I've already mentioned.

That's where I am now. I started with the idea for a novel of medical suspense with a bit of romance--what I usually write--but in the middle of writing it my attention turned to a novella I've had on my computer for some time. It's a bit different, but I really like it and the message it has. I envy the authors who say they are always working on two or more novels. I'm used to being single-minded, going to work each day on one novel until it's done. So, like the donkey who starved to death between two hay bales, I feel stuck.

What am I going to do? Probably indie-publish the novella once I get the corners rounded off, then finish the full-length novel. What would you do? I'm anxious to read your suggestions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The March Of Time

I was thinking the other day about changes in our lives. I grew up in a small town in Texas--population 2578 (and don't ask me why that's stuck in my mind) when I left. I went for my pre-med to a college that became a university while I was in attendance. It was in a larger town, but not huge. Not like Dallas, where I went to  see about financial help for my medical school attendance. While I was looking for my destination, I inadvertently turned and went the wrong way on a one-way street. I was able to get by without a ticket because the policeman believed me when I told him I'd never encountered one before--because I hadn't. Welcome to the big city.

When we moved from a suburban town, population 35,000, to a different suburban area, population about three times as large, it took some adjustment. But after we settled in, we discovered that almost anything we wanted to visit--restaurants, church, groceries, other stores--could be reached in about 15 minutes. It was about twice as long as we were used to, and three times as long as what I grew up with, but it was okay.

Then the population boom hit, and our particular suburb jumped to about 175,000 people over a 10 year period. Although it still only takes 15 minutes to get to most of the places that are important to us, we've been known to almost double that if we decide to go to a new restaurant or store...or if the traffic is too heavy.

People are moving north from our suburb to the next one and the one past that. They're looking for the simple life, the unencumbered existence, in a small town. But my prediction is that, as time marches on, they'll find the population increasing in their area. And so it goes.

The answer? I don't have one. But what we've done is accept that population shifts and growth spurts are going to happen. How about you? Have you noticed this going on in your neck of the woods? And how have you handled it? I'd love to know.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Writing: Getting Noticed

Bowker reports that about three million books were published in 2010. I'm certain that almost a decade later, that number is much larger--I don't know exactly how large, and I'm afraid that if I saw the exact number I'd probably take to my bed, the covers pulled firmly over my head. Amidst all this competition, how can a writer get noticed.

When I got into this writing game, I was told that I needed a website and a social media presence. This was long before I had anything in print (unless you counted the textbooks I'd edited or written, or the scientific papers I'd published). As expected, I  said, "Why?" and dragged my feet on getting started. But it was soon apparent that I needed to be noticed--and, mind you, this was in the days that independent publication of a novel was a dirty phrase. Now, when people are much more interested in who the author of a book is than who published it, that is even more important.

A web site? Yes, I'm afraid that one's a necessity. A blog? People are starting to debate that, but I think it's important. Facebook? I have both a personal site and a professional one. Twitter? Yes, although I don't use it as much as I should. But don't stop there. There's Pinterest, SnapChat, Goodreads, and many more. An author can spend all his or her time maintaining a social media presence.

The best advice I've received: choose two or three Social Media venues in which to be active. Interact with those who comment there. But also spend your time writing the best novel possible. Because word-of-mouth is still the most effective means of advertising--getting noticed, if you will--that any author can have.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Neighbors

I was thinking a few days ago about neighbors. I grew up in a smaller town in North Texas. I can picture our street, and still recall the names (and, in most cases, the faces) of everyone who lived for about a half-mile or more in every direction from our house. Although pick-up trucks weren't as common then as they are now (at least in Texas), it seemed that everyone who drove any kind of a vehicle carried both a tow rope or chain and a set of jumper cables. And, not only did they know how to use them, they were willing to unlimber them to help out neighbors.

I tried to put names to our neighbors here, but beyond those who are immediately on either side of our house or across the street, I couldn't do it. Oh, I know the faces of almost everyone on our block--I see them when I walk or go to the mailbox--but I don't know the names. Some have moved to be replaced by others whose names I don't know. Some keep to themselves. It's a different society now.

People are not "neighborly" like folks used to be. We don't have a tow rope or chain in our cars. We could put our hands on some jumper cables if necessary, but it would take a bit of time before we recalled exactly how to use them. We'd rather call AAA.

I don't know if it's a function of living in a larger city or the evolution of our society, but things have changed. I sort of miss those earlier days. How about you?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Writing: More Things An Author Needs To Know

Here are a few more of the things an author needs to avoid--call them rules, call them suggestions, but they're important if you want to be successful in writing.

1. Using passive words and construction: Active verbs tend to involve the reader. Writing in the passive voice is generally to be avoided.

2. Generalization: Avoid "things" and similar words. Be specific and concrete. If you can't think of a word, use a thesaurus or dictionary. Don't make your reader guess.

3. Telling instead of showing: The classic example is Chekhov, who said not to tell him the moon was shining, but to show the glitter on the water. (He also said that if a gun is mentioned early on, it later should be fired).

4. Neglecting transitions: Avoid jerkiness. One paragraph should flow seamlessly into the next.

5. Not reading your work aloud: This not only helps see whether the work needs further editing, but is especially helpful in determining whether what you're writing would do well in an audio version.

6. Overuse of dialogue tags: "Said" is a perfectly good word. The use of "...interjected" or "...exclaimed" or "...whispered" calls to mind rule #3. Let your words show emotion, rather than describing them.

7. Not inviting or accepting criticism: Some authors don't let anyone read their work until it's finished. Others use beta-readers or critique groups. But, even though writing is a lonely business, get another set of eyes (maybe several) on your work...and then listen to it. This varies with the expertise of the person giving the critique, but if two or three experienced readers say it should be changed, then change it.

What do you think? Have you seen writers flaunt these suggestions? Did they get away with it?

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