Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Managing...Or Tolerating...Change

As former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Don Meredith, once said, "Ain't nothin' as over as Christmas." Although we may argue the semantics--the spirit should live in our heart year-round, for instance--there's little doubt that by the time the wrapping paper has completely filled the trash-bin, the batteries on the new toys have been drained, the turkey has been consumed, and the sun sets on the evening of Christmas day, for practical purposes the holiday is over in most of our minds. I hope yours was great.

Next up, of course, is New Year's. Here in Texas, that means eating black-eyed peas for good luck, watching football games, and making New Year's resolutions. Now resolutions are sort of like plastic pieces in a children's toy: they may work for a while, but you know they're going to get broken. The idea behind resolutions is making a positive change in your life. Exercise more, eat less, read good books, increase your involvement with church, spend more time with family. These changes are good and some of us may even be able to carry them through.

There are other changes that aren't particularly optional. Learning to write "2007" on your checks and correspondence, for example. But whether the changes are voluntary or not, we're going to be faced with change, and the changing of the calendar just brings it home to us. This is the time of year when I go back to this devotional I wrote a couple of years ago, print it out, and keep it on my desk. Maybe you'll find it helpful as well.

Best wishes for a blessed 2007. See you on the other side of the celebration.

Ephesians 4:5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure. (NLT)

My family says I "don't do change well." Maybe that's true, but there's so much of it nowadays, it's hard not to rail against it. My bank has had three different names in the past decade. If I decide I want a small coffee, I have to order a "tall," because that's the small one now. Familiar programs have given way to "reality TV." Even my favorite Mexican restaurant has changed the recipe for their salsa. Sometimes I just want to scream and stamp my foot. Doesn't anything stay the same?

Happily, for the Christian, there remains a very big constant, something to hang your hat on, an anchor, a rock. We are the product of God, our sovereign Creator, who allows us to be blood brothers of his Son, Jesus. Because of this relationship, I don't scream as much about day to day frustrations. Instead, I try to reflect to others the unchanging good news that shapes my life. I hope it shapes yours, too.

Father, when we are frustrated by things beyond our control and distracted by unexpected or unwanted changes, help us to look toward You for patience, forbearance, and increasing faith. Amen.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas: What To Say?

"Do we go to your parents' house or mine?" "Where did you put the extra string of Christmas lights?" "Which stuffing recipe are you going to use?" "What would you like for Christmas?" "Where is my Christmas tie?" "Why doesn't this sweater fit anymore?"

Have these become the sounds of Christmas at your house? I hope not. As the blessed day sneaks up on us, I've wondered what to say to those of you who read my random jottings from time to time. What can I say that's new and inspirational? Finally, it dawned on me...I don't have to find something new. Better to stick with something written about 2700 years ago by the prophet, Isaiah. The words bring as much hope now as they did then. May it be ever so.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned....For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Remembering The King

We just received a CD from my daughter and son-in-law with 385 photos from their wedding. I hadn't planned any further postings about the event, but this one has been rolling around in my head since the wedding, and the photo here just brought it to the fore once more. When Ann and Benny called us last Christmas to tell us he'd proposed, we learned that they were going to be married in Nevada, where they both live. I recall asking them for two stipulations: marriage to be performed by a minister, and "no Elvises in the ceremony."

The wedding was beautiful. The setting was a lovely garden at sunset, the trees lit by hundreds of twinkling lights. In keeping with the Las Vegas location, in front of the chapel there was a replica of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign that stands at the city limit. It was ringed by dozens of bulbs, lit by floodlights, and said, "Welcome to Fabulous Ann and Benny's Wedding."

Not only was the ceremony performed by a minister, the minister was Bud Lovell, retiring soon as Music Minister at Dallas' Cliff Temple Baptist Church. He's known Ann since she was a pre-schooler, has been a family friend for all that time, and it was wonderful to have him and his wife, Elaine, there for the event. And there on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Bud performed the most touching Christian ceremony of marriage I'd ever experienced. It was truly a time of worship, as well as celebration.

My son-in-law is a well-known and respected lighting designer and director, and the MGM Grand Hotel is among his clients. The folks there asked his permission to surprise Ann at the reception, and he took his first leap of faith as a husband by saying "yes." (Benny, if you're wise, you'll enjoy this victory but don't do too many things without asking your wife--this is the voice of experience!) But she was surprised and delighted when an Elvis impersonator serenaded her. Even old Dad enjoyed it, and I'm sure everyone else did, as well.

But after looking at the pictures, I had to meditate about the two Kings who were represented at the ceremony. There was Elvis, "the King," dead for many years, whose memory is kept alive primarily through old movies, old records and impersonators. Then there was Jesus, King of Kings, still alive and working in our world, and a central part of that ceremony that took place in Las Vegas that evening. It was fun to have "the King" at the reception. I'm glad, though, that the King of Kings was the centerpiece of the affair.

Go and celebrate His birth, and remember that His story and God's plan didn't end in that feed trough in the barn in Bethlehem, surrounded by animals and farm hands. It ended in triumph, and it continues today.

Have a blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Imitating Real Life or Lazy Writing?

I've just wasted several days reading Nelson DeMille's latest book, Wild Fire. I've read his work before, and it always held my interest. Aside from the fact that this book has a "sagging beginning" (as opposed to the dreaded "sagging middle") and is peppered with dull scenes that typify the kind of writing that Randy Ingermanson calls "look how much research I did," I was struck by the amount of bad language in it. I must admit that in the beginning I did as I generally do--skipped past it. After all, the protagonist is a New York City detective, his wife is an FBI agent, and the circumstances that law enforcement officers find themselves dealing with day after day undoubtedly trigger strong language. But as the book went on (and on, and on, and on) it seemed to me that DeMille just continued to pepper the dialogue a bit too liberally, like a kid showing off. And I eventually began to wonder if, as he's become more and more successful as an author, maybe he hasn't gotten a bit lazy. Don't hold your reader's attention with sharp dialogue and fast-paced scenes, just throw in some words guaranteed to shock and move on.

I'll admit that I finished the book, for several reasons. First, I paid for it and I'm too cheap not to read it. Secondly, I wanted to see how the premise (which is pretty good) played out. And last of all, I wanted to be able to write a review on (which I did), to warn others about what I'd noticed.

It's true that some writers of Christian fiction are more successful than others at crafting a spellbinding book, but there are a number of them out there who can hold their own with the "secular" crowd. If I start naming names, I'll leave somebody out, but if you are at all familiar with the genre you probably know. If not, log on to Charis Connection for a while and you'll see some names whose writing you can trust.

Well, time to climb down off the soapbox and get back to my own writing--which does not contain any bad words, unless you count VISA and Mastercard, both of which make me shiver about this time of year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Recent Interview Posted

My fellow Texan, Christian fiction author Lena Nelson Dooley, has been kind enough to post an interview with me on her blog. I've included the address as a clickable link at the end of this posting. You might find the interview interesting reading, and if you add a comment you'll be eligible to receive a copy of The Tender Scar that Lena will be giving away. Interestingly enough, she liked the copy I sent her well enough that I told her to keep it, and I'll send another autographed copy to the winner that she picks.

That brings up an interesting point. My book was written with a specific audience in mind: someone who had suffered the loss of a spouse or another loved one. But a number of people who have not experienced such a loss have read it and told me that they couldn't put it down--they read my journal entries that introduce each chapter and found themselves caught up in my journey. I never figured that The Tender Scar would reach that audience, but I'm glad that it does. It just extends the ministry of the book, a ministry I didn't seek but am doing my best to further.

As I've said before about my "new career" in Christian writing and speaking: God is doing great things. I just have to be careful not to get in His way.

To read the interview, go to Lena's blog. And thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Letters, and emails, and text messages...oh, my!

I've had to write a few letters recently. Not the old-fashioned handwritten stuff, mind you. A modern letter: sit down and type something on the computer, print it out, run an envelope through the printer, stuff the letter in, apply a stamp, take it to the mailbox. That kind of letter. And it dawns on me that I've become lazy about written communication.

When I was drafted (yes, Virginia, there once was a draft) and sent to serve as a medical officer in the Azores, I was separated from my wife and young son. In the three months it took for me to secure housing for them, I wrote every day--long, handwritten letters. Letters full of news, letters that carried my love for them across the ocean. And they wrote me back. Those were the days when correspondence meant something, because letters were the product of direct effort. Sure, there were business letters, knocked out on an IBM Selectric or even a Royal manual typewriter, but personal letters were handwritten.

Then came the computer, and writing a letter became easier. Type it, hit a few buttons, assemble the finished product. That's when handwritten letters began to go the way of the dinosaur. When email came along, it was great. Open your mail utility, grab an address from your address book, dash off a few words, hit a button. Easy as pie. Use it for personal notes, for business, even (my mother would faint) thank you notes. So easy, and seemingly about as permanent as letters written in the sand of a beach. Only when a few lawsuits and Federal investigations revealed that records of prior emails could be retrieved did some people begin to be more careful about what they committed to the information highway.

Now we have text messaging. My phone is capable of this mode of communication, but it's a painfully slow process for me, and I use it infrequently. I haven't really caught on to the shorthand that converts "My flight arrived on time. I miss you and love you. Let me hear from you," to "Arrvd OK, Luv U, Txt me."

So, other than the inexorable decline of our civilization, is there a point to this diatribe? I think so. Words are important. They're important enough to require thought before they're spoken, or committed to paper, or even typed onto a keyboard and sent forth into the world. As writers, and especially as writers who have a Christian worldview, our words are the currency of our trade. They are a reflection of who we are, as well as what we do. Whether we are writing an article, a short story, a novel, a non-fiction work, or a letter to a loved one, we should strive to make the finished product our best effort.

And that's my last word on the subject.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Paint...or Write...By The Numbers

My wife Kay, whom I call my "second blessing," brought sunshine back into my life after the death of Cynthia, my first wife. I knew that Kay was loving, understanding, and patient, but I didn't know until after we were married that she could paint. I don't mean painting as in "I'm going to paint the house," although she can do that, as well. I mean paint as in "Here's the picture I created from these photos we took on our vacation." She studies and has mastered a number of techniques, but in the end the pictures she creates are her own. No "paint by the numbers" kits for her.

The picture I've posted here is a "paint by the numbers" version of the Mona Lisa. You can see that the general shape has been reproduced, but the master touch of Leonardo da Vinci is missing. It's the talent of the artist that makes the difference.

My friend, Dr. Hugh King, was disappointed when our professional academy decided to "standardize" the lectures at the courses we (and others) taught. The argument was that this way there'd be no variation in what the students were getting. Hugh's reply was, "You can't give somebody the script for 'The Ten Commandments' to read and expect them to be Charlton Heston." In other words, the material may be the same, but the talent of the person involved in the process will make the difference.

What does this have to do with writing? I've just finished reading Elizabeth George's excellent book, Write Away. In it she lists four basic patterns of plotting a novel, plus variations. I was interested to find that my first novel conforms to the pattern of "The Hero's Journey." It also pretty well goes along the lines of Jim Bell's LOCK system, as explained in his classic book, Plot and Structure. But this particular novel was written before I'd read either of these works. Instead, I'd been a voracious reader of good fiction, and I'd apparently subconsciously noted the devices those writers had used. What I did after reading these works, and hearing some very talented writers speak, was to further refine what I'd written, but always trying to keep my own voice and style intact. I didn't just "paint by the numbers."

One of the disturbing things about George's book is that she includes page after page of book excerpts to illustrate styles that she discusses. These are by talented writers whom I could never hope to emulate, and it got sort of depressing reading them. About halfway through the book, I decided just to read the excerpts for enjoyment and appreciation of the talent displayed by the writers. I'll never be a Hemingway, or for that matter, an Elizabeth George. But I can read their work, note devices and styles that might work for me, and then put those into practice using my own voice.

I guess the message here, at least the one I've chosen to believe, is that if I conform to a cookie-cutter style and outline that works for someone else, I'll be like a painter trying to reproduce the Mona Lisa while painting by the numbers. As the late Grady Nutt said in his little book, Being Me, "I am me, and I am good, 'cause God don't make no junk."

You're good, too. Go out and paint your own picture. Follow the guidelines, but don't forget to follow the voice inside you, too. God put it there.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Snow Day

Remember how it was when you were a kid and there was no school because it was a "snow day?" The weather might have been too bad for you to make it to school, but somehow it was never too cold or raw to keep you from getting out in the front yard and scraping together enough snow (never mind the leaves and sticks in it) to put together a snowman. And when your red, drippy nose finally signalled to your mother that it was time to pull you bodily into the house, you could sit at the window with a mug of hot chocolate and watch the flakes fall. Snow days! Paradise for kids, temporary reprieve for teachers, torture for parents.

Today is a snow day in Duncanville. Yesterday it was 80 degrees, and I played golf. This morning it had dropped to 31 degrees, and it's been spitting snow and sleet all day. Not enough to stick on the roads, not really enough to even consider making a snowman, but certainly enough for me to say, "I've written enough for today. This is a snow day."

Oh, I'll get back to writing later on, I guess. My conscience won't let me completely blow off my responsibilities. But for now, I'm sitting at the keyboard looking out at snow flurries and enjoying being dry and warm.

One reason I'll get back to writing is the nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps reminding me of this quote from Elizabeth George's Write Away: "You will be published if you possess three qualities--talent, passion, and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination--either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline...." She goes on to say that if you do not have discipline, yet by some miracle are still published, it will probably never happen again.

George refers to the ability to keep your seat firmly placed in front of the keyboard as one of the most important attributes of the writer. I've heard this from other writers, as well. So, snow day or not, I guess I'd better get back to my writing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Suspension of Disbelief

Well, on Friday, having written about six paragraphs in my work-in-progress, I decided that it was time for a break. Kay and I make it a rule to avoid the malls on "Black Friday" (the day the retailers go into the black and shoppers into the red). Instead, we decided to see a movie. We generally end up going to the movies a couple of times a year. It's not that we're anti-movie. Although many of the films that Hollywood is now producing just don't push our buttons, there are still some family-type shows out there that we think would be fun. Unfortunately, there just never seem to be enough hours in the day or days in the week for us to do all the things we need to do, much less carving out a couple of hours to sit in a theatre. But Friday we decided to play hookey and go to a movie.

I'm a kid at heart, and I'm not sure that Kay has ever grown up, either, so we decided to see the third in the Tim Allen series, "The Santa Clause." (Yes, that's the right spelling--it has to do with the plot). We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and left the theatre classifying it as a "feel-good" experience. Then I made the mistake of reading the reviews, something I rarely do before going to a movie, since the reviewers and I haven't agreed in decades. The experts panned the show like an 1849 California miner. So, how did that make me feel? I still felt good. We'd enjoyed it, too bad about the critics.

All this has set me thinking about why Kay and I liked the film and the professionals didn't. I guess it's a matter of attitude. We went expecting to laugh, to sink ourselves deep into a fantasy world, and--to use a term all you fiction writers understand--to suspend our disbelief. So Tim Allen didn't really become Santa Claus. So he couldn't convince his in-laws (played wonderfully by Ann Margret and Allen Arkin) that he was really a toymaker and they were visiting him and their daughter in Canada. So what? We weren't looking for literary excellence in the screenplay. We didn't expect a hidden message (although there's a bit of "It's A Wonderful Life" feeling toward the end). We went to be entertained, and we were.

A number of my writing friends routinely ask me to suspend my disbelief. Al Gansky, I don't really know about all this transdimensional stuff, but I love your J D Stanton books. Brandilyn Collins, I'm not sure about a woman who can sense evil, but Eyes of Elisha was excellent. Randy Ingermanson, I'm a little dubious about time travel and I get totally lost when you introduce quantum physics, but still you make me want to read more. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief.

Well, it's time to get back to writing. And maybe if my protagonist gets stuck, I can ask my readers to suspend their disbelief as I stretch to get him out of whatever predicament I've created.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

For Family And Friends

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and aside from the Cowboys game (how 'bout that Tony Romo?) it truly is all about family. My family, and I suspect yours, has endured some tough times and some good times this past year. Many of you have commented or emailed me to express your prayers for my son, Allen (who's now recovering nicely) and your good wishes for my daughter, Ann (who's still on her honeymoon). I haven't mentioned my other son, Brian, pictured here with his wife, Catherine, at his graduation from the Naval War College. Brian has worked on Capitol Hill for a number of years now, and I'm grateful that he's serving his country there.

The death of my first wife, Cynthia, was devastating to me, but God has blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman, my wife, Kay. She's my support system in all things. She's also the "first reader" of everything I write, and although she's caused me to work harder and rewrite more often than I might have liked, I appreciate what she's done in that regard.
Kay's children have become like my own, and through her, I now am a "Grandpa." That's so neat--spoil them, then give them back. Wish I could have done that with my own children.

I so rarely take time to tell them this, so publicly and heartily, let me say to Kay, Allen & Lynne, Brian & Catherine, Ann & Benny, David, Phil & Shelly, Connor & Ryan--I love you, and I'm thankful for you.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Writing At Your Own Pace

For all those who've sent their prayers and best wishes during these past two weeks, a heartfelt "thank you." Things are much better now. Allen is recovering at home, with only a residual headache that's clearing slowly. Ann and Benny are on their honeymoon. And my conscience is bothering me something fierce because I haven't done any work on my novels in over a fortnight (hey, I'm a wordsmith--I use big words).

Like most of us who seek to write with a Christian worldview, I've studied (and still study) books by respected Christian writers. I depend on Jim Bell's Plot and Structure, Brandilyn Collins' Getting Into Character, and Terry Whalin's Book Proposals That Sell. I've read Mastering Point of View and Techniques of the Selling Writer. They're all great, and I've learned a lot from them. But there's one commonality there: these are full-time, professional writers. They're extremely qualified and their advice is excellent. But every time I read one of those books, I get depressed because I can't sit down every day and turn out two thousand words. After all, this is my calling. So I must be short-changing God by my sloth.

That's when I remember something from Lawrence Block's neat little book, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. Block is a secular writer, but his advice is just as applicable for the writer of Christian fiction. In one section of the book, he uses the term, "Sunday writer." This is the person who has a full-time position (and ladies, I certainly include housewife/mother in this category), but writes when he/she has the time. When I think about it, this sort of describes me. I'm retired, but I seem to be busier than I ever was, doing all the "honey-do" stuff that's required, staying active in church, taking the time to do things with my wife. I try to put in a couple of hours every day writing, but (as was the case recently) that doesn't always happen. Does that make me a bad person? No, just a "Sunday writer."

Block ends his book with a "Writer's Prayer." It covers four pages, and contains some thought-provoking sentiments. In it, he says, "Lord, let me remember that I'm not in competition with other writers....They have their way of writing, and I have mine....The more I more I focus on comparing myself with them, the less energy I am able to concentrate on making the best of myself and my own work." Great advice! So learn from other writers--take the tips that work for you, discard the ones that don't, and always lean on the One who has called you to this work. He'll direct your paths. May God bless your efforts and mine.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mountains and Valleys

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Henderson, Nevada, looking out at beautiful mountains, trying to remain calm because in a little over three hours I'll be walking my daughter down the aisle. This has been a roller coaster ten days, but maybe the ride is slowing down--temporarily, at least.

My son, Allen, has come through his episode of bleeding into the fluid that surrrounds the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage) with no ill effects except boredom. All the tests were negative for any causative abnormality that would require surgery or make him vulnerable to subsequent bleeding. None of the complications that the doctors warned about have materialized. Today he's being moved out of the ICU into a regular room, and I imagine he'll be discharged sometime next week. My thanks to each of you for your prayers and concerns.

Ann is understandably down about Allen's situation. He's been through a life-threatening episode, he won't be in her wedding today, and the scenario has brought back painful memories to us all of the death of my first wife, Cynthia, seven years ago. Another valley.

But today, we walk on the mountaintop. Today is her day. She becomes the bride of a wonderful, caring man. I'm so pleased, and if my theology is anywhere near correct, Ann's mother is aware of this and is smiling along with the rest of us. I've warned my prospective son-in-law that I'll try not to stumble going down the aisle. Since he's a lighting designer/engineer, working with well-known musical groups (none of which I'll mention here--let them hire their own publicist), he assures me that he will have trained roadies stationed strategically along the route to help me as needed.

When we're in the valley, or climbing to reach the top of the hill (because we assume the mountains are out of reach), we often stumble. But God is there to bear us up. Whether you're working through writer's block, despondent because the agent won't take you on or the editor doesn't like your proposal, or dealing with the everyday problems we all face--bills, hectic schedules, worries about health--we have someone to lean upon. Give your hand to God. He'll guide you. May it be so in your life, as it has been in mine.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

He Gave His Son...

"He gave his Son..." How many times have we read those words, heard them from the pulpit, perhaps used them ourselves in witnessing? Have they become so familiar that they've lost their ability to startle you? Perhaps we need to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the Almighty to capture the true magnitude of that sacrifice. Of course, Jesus was the one who left Heaven, coming to earth to be unjustly condemned and put to a shameful death, all to ransom each and every one of us from paying the penalty required for our sins. But how often do you stop to consider what that sacrifice cost his Father?

Kay and I were on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina this past week. We've gone there for five years now, and this year the fall leaves were absolutely spectacular. Colors changed every day, almost before our eyes. Sunsets were gorgeous. We continually reminded ourselves of how fortunate we were to be allowed to share this part of God's handiwork. Then I got the call. "Allen (my oldest son) has suffered a brain hemorrhage. They need to transfer him to a hospital where he can get neurosurgical care. What do you suggest?" I burned up the airwaves with my cell phone, and with the help of colleagues from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, where I served on the faculty for a decade before my retirement, we arranged for Allen to be transferred there to the care of an excellent specialist. Kay and I packed in a rush and began a 1000 mile drive back to Dallas, praying all the way.

Friends and family joined their prayers to ours. We stopped to rest, but sleep was difficult. The next morning, while driving through the mountains in Tennessee, I got the phone call from the neurosurgeon--the tests looked good. Surgery wouldn't be necessary, at least for now. This was the best of all possible scenarios. This morning I found Allen sitting up in bed, alert and joking, bored to tears with his enforced inactivity. He'll be observed for another week or more, have more tests, but we keep praying that things will continue to go well. For now, it looks as though my son has been spared.

All this has set me thinking about the anguish God must have experienced when He gave up his Son. On the drive to North Carolina, we listened to a CD of an address by Liz Curtis Higgs, recorded during the ACFW meeting. Liz pointed out that sometimes our writing has to have an edge to it, perhaps make readers uncomfortable, and that often this edge in really good writing comes from having experienced the same emotions as our characters. I've been thinking about that a lot. And now, when I read John 3:16, I have a better idea of what it took for God to give his Son.

May your writing convey emotions that will draw your readers closer to God, who loved us enough to send his Son.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Reading Like A Writer

I was at the Christian Writers' Conference in Glorieta, New Mexico. Still wet behind the ears and struggling with the concept that maybe, just maybe, God was telling me that I had more than one book to write. I'd signed up for some instruction that I thought would be helpful to me in writing the book that eventually became The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. But there were some gaps in my schedule, so I signed up to take Alton Gansky's course in "writing edgy fiction."

I learned a lot from Al in that few days. Some of the lessons were so elementary that I'm ashamed to mention them, others wouldn't become meaningful to me for months, even years--sort of like algebra when you finally "get it." But I remember one thing he said, and it's renewed in my mind on a daily basis. "Once you begin writing, you'll never read a book the same way again."

How true! I've always enjoyed novels. I still do. But now I find myself saying, "Why did Robert B. Parker put that comma there? Was that a point of view shift in this early book by Jack Higgins? Man, I wish I could jack up the stakes for my protagonist the way Michael Palmer does." You get the picture.

This gets back to the sermon I've preached here before: If you're going to write, you have to read. But read like a writer. Learn what the author has done right--and wrong. Then go back to your computer and start putting it into practice.

Thanks, Al--and all the other authors and editors who've helped me during the past three years. I appreciate your unselfishness in sharing your knowledge of the craft, with me and with so many others whom God has called to write.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

New Beginnings

Those of you who have been to my web site know about my past history--how I entered the field of Christian writing after the death of my first wife. This is a classic example of a new beginning stemming from an ending, a tragedy. And sometimes that's the way God lets it play out. Something bad happens, we feel that things have come to a crashing halt, and then we see the door open and a new beginning stares us in the face.

At other times, new beginnings happen without an accompanying tragedy. Happily, I'm having the happy opportunity of being involved in such an event. Next month I'll have the privilege of walking my daughter, Ann, down the aisle as she marries Benny Kirkham. Kay and I have been blessed by sharing their joy (and commiserating with them when foul-ups in arrangements threatened). They're truly in love with each other, and we couldn't be more pleased for them.

In writing, as in life, there are ups and downs. Writer's block, rejection, lack of time--things don't always go well. And even if they do, it often doesn't seem to be going as well as we'd like. Whether your path is smooth or rough, be patient and wait on God. You could be surprised with a new beginning.


Monday, October 09, 2006

OK, If You Insist...

I've actually heard from a few folks that they read these random jottings. That's encouraging. And, believe it or not, apparently some people want to know about my writing. Details are on my web site, but here are the salient facts of how I got started. I'll give you the saga of my road to fiction writing in a later post.

Seven years ago, my wife of forty years died of a brain hemorrhage. I was devastated. I used journaling as a healing tool, and after a couple of years I'd accumulated a thick folder of material that covered my emotions, my struggles, all the experiences of a person who's lost a spouse to death. I was encouraged to turn them into a book. All of you writers reading this know that such a thing is easier said than done. But, after lots of work, a great deal of prayer, enough tears to fill a lake, and the emotional turmoil that goes along with "putting yourself out there" and writing about your failures and shortcomings as well as your triumphs--after all that, Kregel Publications gave me a contract and The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse was published. It's been out for about six months and has exceeded my hopes and dreams as a tool to minister to those who have sustained a loss and are mired in grief. In addition, I have been sort of eased into a ministry to the grieving. I thought I'd retired when I left the active practice of medicine almost five years ago, but God had other plans. Isn't that often the case?

The book is available via most online booksellers, and autographed copies can also be purchased online by clicking on this link.

If you want to contact me about speaking to your group, whether it's a Sunday school class, a small church group, a secular audience--whatever the venue, just send me an email at, and I'll respond.

And to those of you who were interested, thanks for asking. Blessings.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Golf As A Paradigm For Life

At the Glorieta Christian Writers' Conference this past spring, I had the privilege of hearing Phil Callaway speak. Phil is an interesting guy and an inspiring speaker, but the thing that was probably most fascinating about getting to meet him was hearing him tell about his book, With God On The Golf Course. It's a good book, and I can honestly recommend it. I even bought a couple of copies for friends whom I thought would understand both the golf metaphors and the Christian outlook presented.

I saw the book lying on the desk today, and it reminded me of something my golf partner said to me quite a while ago. Now, you need to understand that my weekly golf game with Jerry goes back a number of years, but our friendship goes back several decades. We attended the same church, even taught Sunday school together, many years ago. He's been my attorney ever since I first recognized the need for one, and I've handled his medical problems (at least those in the ear, nose and throat area). But Jerry and I played golf together only sporadically until the time seven years ago when I sat in his office and we cried together before walking to the courthouse to probate the will of my first wife, Cynthia, who died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. At the time, Jerry was in a period of respite from the ongoing battle his wife was fighting against cancer. I guess we recognized the need for mutual support, and so we started our weekly game. It's been therapy for both of us, and it's sort of worked out that when things were going better for me, they got worse for him, or vice-versa. So, we've supported each other.

Back to our game and my thoughts on golf as a paradigm for life. I had hit a particularly bad shot (not unusual), digging up roughly an acre of fairway with my five iron. I reached for the container of sand that had been placed on the cart for such a purpose and filled in the divot. That's when Jerry said, "You can tell a lot about a man by the way he plays golf." I agreed that some folks take it way too seriously, but he said it went much further than that. He went on to explain that, in golf, you are on your own to honestly report your score--cheating is easier here than in probably any sport. So if you're honest when it's easy not to be, maybe that's an indication of your character. But he felt that the ultimate test was filling in your divots. Some folks fill in the divots scrupulously, some do it only when they know somebody is watching, and some people just leave the ragged patch and go on their way. Again, a paradigm for life.

Are you on your best behavior when you're around Christians? Do you smooth over the rough spots of life that you leave only when you know somebody is watching? Or do you comport yourself as a Christian should, even if no one you know is there to see you go out of your way to put things right? Could you even be one of those folks who doesn't care about the feelings of those who come behind you, choosing to go on your merry way without any thought of the damage you leave in your wake? Jesus gave us pretty specific marching orders in this regard. He didn't say, "Fill in your divots." But He did say, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This week, whatever you're doing (even on the golf course), try to fill in your divots. You'll feel better about yourself, and you'll set a good example for others. Blessings, and keep your eye on the ball.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Importance of What We Do

"If perhaps the chosen road then leads to crowds and the praise of men, you will be knowing that it was His leading that brought you there, not your own wisdom or talent .... You will also be very careful not to disappoint or thwart His plans. And, you will be very careful that the dust the crowd is raising may not dim your vision of His face." ~S. D. Gordon

These words were quoted by BJ Hoff in the first of two recent postings at that have touched me in a profound way. BJ is a well-known and well-respected Christian author, and in her posts she discusses the negative effects of taking fame and popularity too seriously. Most of us who consider ourselves "Christian writers" are following in the footsteps of Paul, who supported himself with tentmaking while proclaiming the Gospel. We have, or have retired from, "day jobs." There aren't a lot of writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction who are able to support themselves (and their families) solely through the income from their writing. I'm reminded of Jim Bell's story of the matador who was asked how he came to be in that profession. His answer was, "Because of the uncertainty of my previous profession--I was a writer."

Whether we are full-time writers or part-timers trying to squeeze in a few uninterrupted minutes at the computer at every opportunity, our goal is the same: to communicate our faith and God's message to a world that, day by day, is becoming demonstrably more violent and amoral. If we do that, if we work at our craft and give our best efforts, we might have our work published and it could conceivably affect hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of others. But consider the changes that occur in one's life through the act of writing with a Christian worldview. In the three years since I've been involved in this work, I've found myself being drawn ever closer to God. I don't know if that comes from seeking His face and listening for His voice as I write, or if He has just decided to further invade my life. I don't really care, I'm just happy for the result. Even more important than my writing, I hope that my daily contacts with people provide them with a glimpse, through the way I act and speak, of how a follower of Christ comports himself. I haven't attained perfection by any means--don't get me wrong. I require and take advantage of the forgiveness of sin that Christ offers on a daily basis. But I hope that in some small measure, my example is as effective as what I put on paper.

BJ talks about not letting fame dim your vision of Christ. Fame may never come my way, or yours. Other things get in the way of our writing: the pressures of daily life, meeting the mortgage, getting the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons, finding time to bake the cookies for PTA.... You get the picture. It's called "life." My writing may never bring me fame. Other than my currently published book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, I may never have another work see daylight. But my life is an open book for those around me, and day by day I'll try to let my actions be a witness that draws others closer to the One I serve. That's the real importance of what I do.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Musings on the ACFW Meeting

Kay and I were only able to attend one day of the ACFW meeting, but in addition to the Friday events we got to hear Liz Curtis Higgs on Thursday night, and it would have been worth walking the twenty-five miles from Duncanville to Addison just to hear her. I've ordered the CD's of her other talks and can hardly wait to get them.

My first reaction was that if 85 percent of the readers of Christian fiction are women, we have the right mix of the sexes on the writing end. There were other men there, but we were far outnumbered by the women. I think the disproportionate composition was best typified by the fact that, on Friday, the first floor Men's Room was converted to an auxiliary Ladies' Room. I stood in the hall for a few minutes at break time and managed to avert a few catastrophes as men began to walk in without reading the sign. Fortunately for us, other facilities were available one floor down.

The halls were crowded and the ballroom was packed during the time we were there. I suppose this is a good problem, indicating an increasing attendance--this year, over 400 I'm told. I hope that next year, arrangements can be made to make things a bit more comfortable, but since you have to book facilities long before you know how many people are coming, it may continue to be a problem. As my former chairman at the med school liked to say, "You can't have enough churches for Easter."

I've been fortunate enough to attend the conference at Glorieta, NM, once and the one at Mount Hermon twice. The classes offered at the ACFW were very similar, although the faculty had a different look. I attended Randy Ingermanson's Fiction 301 class, and Randy did his usual wonderful job, both imparting words of wisdom and keeping everyone loose with his slightly off-the-wall approach to life. Apparently other folks agreed, since the room was jam-packed. I believe that the serious fiction writer, whatever their level of development, could find something to help them elevate their craft.

For the writer of romance fiction, historical fiction, even suspense fiction, this is a great conference to meet others who wish to write in those genres from a Christian worldview. As a published non-fiction writer, I tried to laugh off the frequent jabs at those of us who don't write just fiction--I hope they were made in fun. But it was a time for bonding as much as for learning. I saw many, many groups huddled together, praying for one another before those sweaty-palm-time appointments with editors and agents. I witnessed friendships being formed, Christian sisters and brothers holding one another up during a stressful time. It certainly was a time when I could feel the pervasive presence of God.

Was it worth it? I think that the 400 people who voted with their pocketbooks to register, then endured the rigors of travel to get there, would agree with me that it's a unique meeting, and from what I saw, they were all getting their money's worth.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The ACFW Meeting

On Thursday of this week, my wife and I will travel to this year's ACFW meeting. I know that lots of folks will be doing the same. However, they'll be parking their cars, checking their bags, securing a boarding pass, going through security (gulping the last of their spring water and Diet Coke before doing so), enduring the cattle-car experience of boarding, scrunching their average-sized (and occasional more than average-sized) bodies into seats designed for folks who are four feet six with narrow hips, watching the luggage carousel spew out everyone's bag but theirs, then finding the Super Shuttle stop or coughing up the cost of a dinner at a five-star restaurant to get a cab to the hotel. Kay and I, on the other hand, will get in the car, drive for about twenty-five minutes on the Dallas North Tollway, and check in. In other words, the meeting is here (well, at least in the Dallas metropolitan area), so there's really not a great excuse for our missing it.

I've never been to an ACFW meeting. I joined after hearing great reports about the group from other attendees at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers' Conference. I've been "on the email loop" a couple of times, but have been forced to opt out of it both times because I just didn't have the time. I perceive that this is a very dedicated group of folks, and I'm looking forward to seeing firsthand how the meeting goes. I'll be taking a course offered by Randy Ingermanson, who led my critique group at the last Mount Hermon conference. I'll be able to renew acquaintance with some of the folks I've met along the way, and Liz Curtis Higgs is the keynote speaker. Kay and I've been fortunate enough to hear Liz before--it's always a pleasure.

Anyway, I promise to give you my impression of the meeting on my next post. From some of the stories I've heard, it should be quite an experience.

And for those of you who'll be flying in--read Psalm 100 when you're frustrated. Of course, a few tranquilizers in your carryon luggage might help, as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What Are Authors And Editors Reading?

In a previous posting [You Have To Read Before (And After) You Write], I preached the need for authors to read the works of others who are turning out excellent material. Recently an editor with whom I'm working recommended that I read the works of Dr. Michael Palmer. He included the caution that the material is at times not "G-rated." I started reading these books and found them to be excellent. Were there occasional words that I'd rather not read? Yes. Could I get past that and learn from the writer? Absolutely. It was both enjoyable and educational to read these novels.

Then I decided to conduct an experiment. I wondered what successful Christian authors and editors are reading. I queried ten people, six authors and four editors, about their favorite fiction author. Some gave me one name, others a laundry list. A few included the caution that there might be explicit material in the novels. But these folks, just like me, could get past that and appreciate the good writing. I thought you might enjoy knowing what these people are reading.

The six authors, listed in alphabetical order, are: KAREN BALL, JIM BELL, BRANDILYN COLLINS, ALTON GANSKY, RANDY INGERMANSON, GAYLE ROPER. Pretty good company, huh? The authors they gave me, also in alphabetical order, are: MICHAEL CONNELLY, KIT CRAIG, MICHAEL CRICHTON, EVE DUNCAN, KEN FOLLETT, MARK HADDON, IRIS JOHANSEN, DEAN KOONTZ, LUANN RICE, NORA ROBERTS, LISA SCOTTOLINE. If I may add my own personal preferences, they are JOHN GRISHAM, MICHAEL PALMER, ROBERT B PARKER. I'm pleased to say that I am familiar with and enjoy the work of a majority of these authors. Am I going to try out some of the others? Probably. By the way, don't try to figure out which of the Christian authors are reading the more worldly books. My lips are sealed.

I also queried four editors. I've decided to let them remain anonymous. Editors have too many people knocking on their doors and peeking over their transoms already. Let's give them some privacy. But it's interesting to see the great variety in their personal reading lists. Ready? JOHN AUBREY ANDERSON, SHERWOOD ANDERSON, TED BELL, STEPHEN COONTS, MICHAEL CRICHTON, DICK FRANCIS, DEAN KOONTZ, ROBERT LUDLUM, MICHAEL PALMER, BARBARA PYM, EUDORA WELTY. Again, some of these are names I know, others I don't. But I'll get to know them.

What can you deduce from this, besides the fact that authors and editors read in their spare time? The writers whose work they choose for their leisure reading are also folks who can teach even these pros. Quoting from some of the responses, these authors speak to them with their "wonderful characters," the "ability to create incredible tension and sympathetic protagonists," and "an amazing job of authentic voice."

So, there you have it. Now go out there and read...then write. And maybe in a couple of years, someone is going to ask you what you, as a successful novelist, are currently reading. Of course, I hope it's one of my novels. Peace.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Do You Need An Agent? Can You Get An Agent?

At every writer's conference I've attended over the past three years, attendees have worked to attract the attention of editors. Personally, I've found that most editors are willing to give you ten or fifteen minutes to listen to your pitch. Sometimes they say, "Send me a proposal," and sometimes we hear, "That's not right for our house. Sorry." But they're not nearly as unapproachable as a lot of fledgling writers think.

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.

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.

A recent Charis Connection blog (see the link at the right) asked a number of very successful Christian writers whether or not they had an agent. The majority had one, and several had gone through the sequence of no agent-agent-change agent. The notable exception was Jim Bell, but Jim's a lawyer, and I'd hate to go up against him in negotiating a contract. (Sorry, Jim--lawyers frighten us doctors). Although most have an agent now, many of the respondents sold their first work "over the transom"--that is, just getting an editor to read a proposal through one means or another. But times have changed, and it's tough to do that now. There has to be a means of getting the work considered, and an agent is the best avenue for that.

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.

In my case, I've been fortunate enough to have one book published (The Tender Scar, a non-fiction work), and my fiction has attracted sufficient attention that I've recently been signed by an agent. I'm hoping that this is a good thing, and I think it is, but only time will tell.

Whether you have an agent or not, the quality of your writing is still the major determinant of whether someone is going to consider your work. So study, pray, work, revise, rewrite, and keep at it. Don't just write one thing and then rework it to death. Sometimes that first book is like the first waffle--the one you practice on and throw out. Keep writing. The rest depends, not on an agent or an editor, but on God.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reading Blogs

One thing that marks the serious writer is that he or she spends an inordinate amount of time reading. Not just books on technique, although they're important, as I've said in this column before. And not just articles and meditations, although they certainly should be a part of the author's reading list. In this electronic age, there's a great deal of knowledge available at the click of a mouse. Nowadays, you've got to have a blog if you're an author. Blogs abound, and although some of them are unashamedly self-promotional, others selflessly offer information that is valuable to those of us who struggle along the road to writing.

I've included links to a couple of my favorite blogs in the margin of this blog. Head and shoulders above the rest is the daily posting from the Charis Connection. This group of Christian authors post material that is interesting and informative, and the diversity of the membership leads to some spirited exchanges, both in the blogs themselves and in the comments that follow.

Another great blog is that posted by Terry Whalin, fiction acquisitions editor of Howard Books. Terry's "The Writing Life" reflects his true interest in educating the fledgling writer, and comes from a background of being a journalist, an author, and an editor with an interest in both fiction and non-fiction work.

There are others out there, and I like lots of them. The blogs of Jim Bell and Alton Gansky are occasional postings, but always interesting and informative. Choose the ones you like, bookmark them, and consult them often. They'll broaden your horizons, and that's always good for a writer.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Getting The Word Out

My only published work in the area of Christian writing (other than articles and meditations in periodicals) is the book that God literally forced me to write: THE TENDER SCAR: LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF A SPOUSE. After its publication, I learned first-hand what I'd been told by other authors. Even though your publisher tries to get the word out about your book (after all, they're in business to make a profit), you are probably the person with the greatest desire for your book to be read by others. So, for the past four months I've done what I could to publicize the work. I want those who are suffering the grief that overwhelms them after the death of a spouse to know that those feelings in which they're drowning are normal, that others have felt them, and that they'll get through them. I want to help them cope, to begin healing, to survive that trip through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and get on with the life God has planned for them.

So, this big opportunity has arisen. On Sunday, I will travel with my wife (the Lord has blessed me yet again--but that's another story) to South Bend, Indiana, to be interviewed on Monday on the Harvest TV show. Frankly, I'd never heard of it until the publicist at Kregel set this up. Then I began watching it, and was fascinated. This show reaches into 46 million homes in the US, another 86 million in Europe, Africa, and South America, and billions of homes via short wave around the world. Am I nervous? Sure. I've done dozens of TV and radio interviews during my medical career. But this one is different, I'm offering a Christian message. So I've prayed that God will move me aside, take away any selfish desires I might have, and simply use me as his vessel. After all, that's what I want to do when I write for him. Speaking should be the same.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Agony and the Ecstasy...Of Writing

Those of us who classify ourselves as Christian writers have a common characteristic--we have felt God's hand upon us, guiding us to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard, but you get my meaning). The end result may be a non-fiction book, a novel, a magazine article. Whatever the means by which we communicate a message, we want our words to reach out. That's the only way we can fulfil the commission we have received. Thus, our second commonality--we long to be published.

As I've pointed out already, rejection is a way of life for all writers, even those whom most of us consider to be successful. Everyone gets turned down, and for many of us it happens multiple times. Then, one day, you get that call, receive that email, open that letter. A publisher is tapping you, choosing your work, tendering a contract. We all look forward to that day.

But there's another scenario, between rejection and outright acceptance. A publisher reads your proposal, and says, "send the manuscript." You sweat bullets, not daring to hope that this might be your big chance. Eventually, you get the word. Your work isn't ready for publication right now, but you have talent. They want you to revise it. And not just a quick tune-up, hunting down and killing the adjectives, correcting point-of-view shifts, doing all the stuff you've learned from class after class and book after book. They want you to tune it up to the next level. You need to move from the high minor leagues to the big leagues. The product needs to be rock solid. That's the agony. Seeing your work torn to shreds by the red pencil of an editor. Seething when the points that seemed so obvious to you are unclear to the reviewer.

Eventually you recognize that everyone probably goes through this. You talk with some other authors, and find that their "big break" often came after the same kind of hard work you're now about to undertake. You seek out an independent editor, a consultant, someone to help you over that last big hump. And if you get over being peeved because what you thought was a fantastic work has to be redone, if you work hard, pray harder, and keep at it--you may yet get to enjoy the ecstasy that comes when you receive the message, "I need to talk with you about a contract."

Although we all want the easy path of immediate success, I recognize that for most of us, any success we achieve will come at the price of the hard work I've just described. I'm about to set out on that journey myself, and having endured the agony of seeing my manuscript critiqued in brutal frankness, I'm now willing to apply myself, hoping to achieve the ultimate ecstasy of having my novel published. Not for my glory, though. For my Creator, who's the driving force behind my writing in the first place.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Writing Doesn't Just Mean Books

In the three years since I became involved with Christian writing, I've learned some interesting things. I suspect that we all start out wanting to write the next Left Behind series or Purpose-Driven Life. Actually, the odds against our ever getting a book published are pretty long. But for those of us who've succeeded, it's sobering to see sales figures (when you can get them).

Terry Whalin, the author and editor, in his extremely useful blog (, had a recent posting about the average sales numbers of books. In 2004, more than 90% of the books published sold fewer than 100 copies. An average sales figure for a book was 500 copies. I'd encourage you to go to that blog and read the whole post. What the figures amounted to is that, aside from the very small minority that constitutes the blockbuster books of the day, most books sell in the hundreds, or low thousands. I recall reading that most books are read by three persons (which is discouraging, if you're looking for a royalty check). Randy Ingermansen, who's a pretty successful author of Christian fiction, told me about sitting in a partially filled stadium for a football game, and thinking, "This is about as many people as my books will ever reach."

I've heard from so many editors that Christian authors shouldn't confine themselves to book-writing, especially if they're trying to break into the field. "Publish in periodicals," they say--"get some name recognition." That's certainly true, but there's an added benefit. Take the example of getting a meditation accepted for publication in The Upper Room. That short piece is going to be read by millions of people, around the world. You'll reach more people with that 250 word piece than you could hope to reach with an average Christian book, either fiction or non-fiction. And, if we're honest with ourselves, we write as a ministry, not to see ourselves glorified. Or at least, I hope we do.

Lately, I've begun doing more writing of articles and meditations. It keeps the writing muscles toned, and is a welcome break from my fiction. Watch for my work in The Upper Room and InTouch Magazine. And I'll watch for yours.


Friday, July 21, 2006

You Have To Read Before (and After) You Write

How does a writer learn to write? Of course, there are conferences and seminars, books and articles. All of these are good, and I've benefited from them all. But, as a retired physician, it seems to me that learning the craft of writing is quite similar to the learning process for a medical student.

You begin by listening to people who have knowledge of the subject. They categorize it and impart it to you in a systematic fashion. You read books and journal articles. But eventually, you have to see the disease process in action, by observing trained physicians as they interact with real patients. When you're ready, when you've had enough training, you try your hand (under supervision) at diagnosis and treatment. And eventually, you have enough experience to become one of the teachers, instead of one of the pupils. There's an aphorism in medicine--not necessarily true, but so close to the truth as to carry a real message: "See one, do one, teach one." More accurately, it's "see a hundred, do another hundred, spend the rest of your life continuing to learn and teach."

Now compare that with writing. The would-be writer absorbs all kinds of "how-to" knowledge from books. He sleeps with THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE under his pillow, brushes his teeth while reading PLOT AND STRUCTURE and GETTING INTO CHARACTER, and does his daily devotions out of TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER and SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. And that's as it should be. If you haven't read (and re-read) these classics, you must.

In addition to that, you go to conferences: Mount Hermon, Glorieta, Blue Ridge--so many, and all have something to offer. You write, and you get critiqued. After that, you cry and sulk, then write some more, and yet again. Rejection follows rejection, but you're smart and you improve with every draft and every new project.

What's missing? Reading the works of successful writers. Not just those authors whose books are listed above, but those whose writing resonates with you. If a Christian author's book doesn't float your boat, move on to the works of another one. And remember that some of the best, most classic writing comes from the secular side, as well. I'd kill to be able to write like Robert B. Parker (well, not really, but he's one of my heroes). Like a surgeon who tries to do an appendectomy after reading it and practicing a time or two, without ever having seen a masterful surgeon perform one, you'll flounder if you aren't a reader, as well as a writer.

So, why are you reading this? Read something that matters. And then write.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Rejection Is A Way Of Life

My first novel was sort of "written to order." At my first writers' conference, I met an editor who was a huge baseball fan. He discovered that I had played in a number of baseball fantasy camps, alongside some of baseball's greats. He said, "Why don't you write a novel about a doctor who goes to one of those camps?" Having no better sense than to think writing a novel was something that could be accomplished by anyone who put their mind to it, I did just that. I completed it in four months, and sent it off to him. He encouraged me to revise it, which I did, and then he took it to the editorial board, who turned it down. "Oh, well," I said, "this is easy. I'll just send it to somebody else."

I obtained permission from several editors to send them a proposal. I also sent my proposal off to The Writers' Edge, a web site that judges your work, and if it meets their standards (about half the submissions do), they send it to a number of publishing houses. I was thrilled when a major publishing house contacted me and wanted the full manuscript of the novel. "Aha, they don't do that with every submission." (True) "They're going to accept it." (False). I got a very nice form rejection letter from them.

But the story doesn't end there. Two weeks later, I got a letter from the same publisher (different person), advising that they'd seen my novel's posting on The Writers' Edge, and asking for the full manuscript. So, I got it printed up (again), and sent it to them (again), and it was rejected (again). It doesn't quite measure up to Steve Laube's story of the writer whose rejection notice came FedEx (they really wanted to be sure, I guess), but it's close.

By the time every publisher to whom I'd submitted novel #1 rejected it, I was well on the way to completing #2. Then, through a series of circumstances, and attendance at another writers conference, there was renewed interest in novel #1. So I've rewritten it yet again, and it's under active consideration, as is novel #2.

If there's a moral in there somewhere, it must be that rejection is a way of life for authors. Don't give up. True, write new work, but keep the old one around and pitch it every once in a while. You never know what's going to come of it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

How Did I Turn Into A Blogger?

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.

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.

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 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?"

Check back from time to time, and I'll keep you posted (no pun intended--well, maybe a little one) on how things are going with this journey.