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 DrRLMabry@yahoo.com, 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 CharisConnection.com 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.