Saturday, September 29, 2007

Writing Tool: Bible In Chronologic Order

In addition to my fiction, I've been working on an article on one of the apostles for a Christian periodical. I knew where I wanted to go with it, but it became important to know the true chronologic sequence in which the events in this man's life occurred. Was this account in Mark something that happened before that story in Luke? How do I reconcile what's written in Matthew with a similar but different story in John? If you've ever tried to do something like this, you recognize how important it is to have a source that will help the pieces of the puzzle dovetail.

Last year, I'd purchased a copy of The Daily Bible in Chronological Order, intending to use it for my daily Bible readings through the year. Well, I'm not above admitting that it got put at the bottom of the stack, from whence my wife rescued it and began reading it, while her well-meaning husband stayed in his usual rut. Then, when this need popped up, I finally dug into the book and found it to be very helpful--for this project and for future Bible readings. You might want to look into it yourself.

Now back to writing. It seems that either no one is interested in my writing or I have to juggle two or more projects simultaneously. Believe me, I prefer the latter to the former.

Come back on Tuesday to read a great interview with Deborah Raney. Deb tells us some things I'll bet you didn't know about herself and gives us a preview of her forthcoming novels. Yes, plural. Busy lady and a very talented writer. Hope you'll be back then.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Interview With James Scott Bell

Today I’m privileged to post an interview with James Scott Bell. Jim was the keynote speaker at the recent ACFW meeting and, as usual, was able to teach, inspire, and entertain with his words. I appreciate his dropping by the talk with us now.

RM: Let’s start with the big news, your forthcoming book, Try Dying. Tell us what’s different about this book.

JB: This is a series character, and while the books will all have plots that wrap up, the inner journey of the characters continues over the whole series. It's also different in that it is aimed at the general market.

RM: What factored into your decision to publish in the general market?

JB: A few years ago I was reading some current suspense, and it started to rub me the wrong way. I thought about a lot of the classic crime and suspense novels of the 40's and 50's, and also film noir, my favorite movie genre. All these managed to be gritty and thrilling but without the more, shall we say, gratuitous elements we see so much of today. I think we've moved too far in that direction and I sense a lot of readers agree. They still want a good read, but they don't want the offensive elements. That's how Try Dying was born. I want to provide something that's needed.

RM: Will you continue to write books for the Christian market as well?

JB: Yes. I have a new one from Zondervan, The Whole Truth, coming out next January.

RM: It’s easy to forget that your writing isn’t confined to novels. I have a copy of Plot and Structure on my desk and refer to it frequently. How did you come to write that one?

JB: I was mad. I wasted 10 years of my writing life believing what so many said: Writing can't be taught. You either have it or you don't. When I finally figured out that I had to write, I went about trying to learn because I had no other choice. And lo and behold, I found out writing can be taught! I learned and tried things and figured some things out, and decided to write a book about it so others wouldn't have their writing lives wasted.

RM: You teach at lots of conferences. You agreed to be the keynote speaker for this year’s ACFW meeting. Do you ever find yourself wishing you didn’t have so many commitments, that you could just hunker down at your special Starbuck’s with your computer and write?

JB: I do love to hunker down and write, but I also like hanging out with writers—published writers, soon to be published writers, beginning writers and writers' friends. It energizes me.

RM: You’ve been a great friend and mentor to a slew of writers, and I count myself fortunate to be included in that group. What final words—I guess you, as a “recovering lawyer” would call it a summation—what would you say to the readers at this point?

JB: Be like Doc Mabry. Keep a good sense of humor about yourself and this writing "thing" and, most of all, keep writing. That's the whole secret. Write, learn, and write some more.

If you want to know a bit more about Try Dying, go to Jim's web site and watch a preview, done in the style of a movie trailer. Of course, I'd expect this from a guy who started out writing screen plays and who knows more about movies than almost anyone I know. Jim, thanks for dropping by.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Quick Note From The ACFW Meeting

I'm attending the ACFW meeting in Dallas--well, actually it's in Addison, which is quite a ways north of the skyline that you see in the picture. But still, it's close enough that we can drive over in an hour without having to go through TSA screening and flight delays.

I've had a couple of good interviews with editors and will be starting to work on yet another novel next week, one that I need to have complete in about three months. I have it plotted and have sketched out the characters. Now all I have to do is write it...and rewrite it...and edit it...and revise it. Well, you get the picture.

It's been great to see so many friends from the profession--editors, authors, and writers like myself. I agree with Jim Bell that one nice thing about Christian writing is getting to hang out with some great folks. This was such an opportunity.

If you haven't read the interview with Brandilyn Collins that precedes this post, please do so. I think you'll find it interesting. And come back on Wednesday to read an interview with James Scott Bell. Two heavyweights (figurative, Brandilyn--just figurative) in a row. How did I get so lucky?

See you then.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interview With Brandilyn Collins

Today I’m pleased to have Brandilyn Collins as my guest. Brandilyn’s new book, Crimson Eve, has just been released, and I can tell my readers that they won’t be disappointed by this latest effort of Brandilyn’s.

RM: Brandilyn, before we get into talking about Crimson Eve, tell us how you’re healing from your snowmobile accident some months back. And how did all that affect your writing schedule?

BC: Doc, don’t ever let anybody tell ya you’ll have “more time to write” after an accident that lays you up. That’s the lamest thing I ever heard (pun intended). There’s nothing time-freeing about taking five minutes to get from bathroom to bed, an hour to take a shower and get dressed, ten minutes to go down the stairs on your butt, etc. I’d have been better off if I was able to crutch, but with my right arm, I couldn’t. So I ended up hopping on my one good leg. Let’s just say that doesn’t get you very far. Throw into the mix my inability to take pain pills, the mind-numbing amnesia the anesthesia gave me, and sheesh. I was a basket case.

Anyway, by God’s grace the book I was working on got turned in on time (accounting for a two-week granted extension). Since then I’ve written another one, and am now working on the one after that. I’m walking okay. Still have some stiffness in the joint (thanks to all the ligaments I tore). Not running yet, due to same ligament issues. I’ll go in probably in October for the third surgery—to get the plate and screws out. That’ll put me back in the boot for awhile. But then it’s onward and upward.

Thanks for asking.

RM: I’ve read the first chapter of Crimson Eve and was surprised that no one was dead by the time I stopped reading, although we are introduced to a “hit man” early on. Are you getting soft? Can we expect a kinder, gentler Kanner Lake with this one?

BC: Are you kidding me? Nobody dead by page two? Man, am I slipping.

RM: Is this the last Kanner Lake novel? And, if so, what is this going to do to the Scenes and Beans blog and the Kanner Lake website?

BC: Actually, Crimson Eve isn’t the last Kanner Lake novel. The final one, Amber Morn, comes out next spring. Amber Morn involves the Scenes and Beans blog big-time. I can’t say any more than that. Once you read Amber Morn, you’ll see what will happen to the blog—and it will make perfect sense.

As for the dedicated Kanner Lake web site, it will stay up, and my main web site will link to it. The Kanner Lake site will house the beginning chapters of each book in the series, and the discussion questions.

RM: Okay, so much for chit-chat. Tell us about Crimson Eve.

BC: This story is different from the first two books in the series. First, it’s more of a whydunit than a whodunit. Second, it’ll take you out of Kanner Lake proper and into the surrounding countryside. Third, as you noted, there’s no body by page two. However, in all of my writing, nothing happens without much aforethought on my part. So all I can say is, there’s a reason for that.

Crimson Eve is similar to the other two in that it’s a past/present story. In this book, the past story is paramount to the present, and in fact, drives the present story. Because of the topics and events, it’s almost a women’s fiction story inserted into a suspense. I think it will have appeal to a wide range of people. Also, like the other two Kanner Lake books, it happens in a short time frame.

For the BHCC (Big Honkin’ Chickens Club) members—Crimson Eve is not as intense as Coral Moon. Perhaps it’s more the intensity level of Violet Dawn. Maybe you’ll be able to make it through this one.

For the back cover copy, visit this page on the Kanner Lake web site. To read the first chapter, go here.

RM: And your plans for the future?

BC: Killing off more people, of course.

RM: Any final words for your fans out there (other than “send chocolate”)?

BC: How about "send DeBrands chocolate." No. How about send money. I’m still paying off that bet with Deb Raney, in which I had to pony up for five pounds of chocolate just ’cause the wimp read one of my books (the one dedicated to her, no less). Two and a half of those pounds of chocolate were DeBrands. After making the bet, I about had a heart attack when someone told me four DeBrands truffles cost $20. My husband and I had to refinance the house.

RM: Brandilyn, thanks for stopping by.

Brandilyn is a hard act to follow, but next week I’ll be posting an interview with James Scott Bell, whose new book, Try Dying, will be released next month. Hope you’ll come back and see what Jim has to say about his latest book.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Small Church....Big Heart

I didn't think I'd be posting this weekend, but I can't let this pass. I'm in Washington, DC, for the annual meeting of my national medical organization. Last night, at the President's Banquet, I was totally surprised with a Presidential Citation for my service to the Academy. That was an honor for which I'm most appreciative, but that's not what I wanted to talk about.

This morning, Kay and I joined my son and daughter-in-law for a drive into the beautiful Virginia countryside to attend the services of the Orlean Baptist Church, pastored by a friend of theirs, a retired Marine general named Randy West. Randy has a full-time job on Capitol Hill and volunteers his time as pastor of this small church. Today he preached, then left to bring the message at yet another small church down the way. He's combining the best features of a circuit-riding preacher proclaiming the gospel throughout the area and a tent-maker evangelist who works to support himself while doing God's work.

I hadn't been in a country church like this in years, but I was touched by the experience. The people welcomed us with open arms. A board at the front of the church indicated that the attendance in Sunday School today was 18, up from 16 last week. The choir came up from the pews to perform their anthem--about twenty people, almost all the adults and older children in the congregation--and the music was inspiring. Randy's message about letting God bear our burdens touched me deeply. It was a wonderful and worshipful experience, with a message of comfort combined with a call to service.

I love being in our nation's capitol. It's been exciting to see the Washington Monument out the window of our hotel room. There's a thrill when I think of the history of this city. I hate to leave Washington, but now it's time to get back home and put into practice what I heard today in a country church.

I hope your Sunday was good. Come back Wednesday for my interview with Brandilyn Collins. And there's another surprise interview on tap for next week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No Reason To Be Discouraged

I've been sort of down about my writing recently—but I shouldn’t be. My first novel was rejected by a number of publishers—but at least they got to see it. My second novel seems to be stuck right now between an editor and the pub board—but if it gets rejected, there are other houses to try. Recently my agent thought my third novel needed a serious plot revision to carry the reader's interest through to the end—but now I’ve written three full-length novels.

I’ve had one non-fiction book published, and The Tender Scar continues to minister to those who have suffered the loss of a spouse. But unless you do a follow-up book, publishers may think you're a "one trick pony." So now I've begun work on a second non-fiction book, aimed at a much broader audience than The Tender Scar and the proposal for that is also "out there" while I wait...and wait...and wait.

Anyway, I was feeling sorry for myself to the point that I was about to turn off my computer and give writing a rest when I got an email from my agent. After that, there were emails and calls back and forth plus a query from her to an editor with whom she has a good relationship. The long and the short of it is that I'm now plotting a novel in a genre that is quite different from what I've previously written... and it's fun. Besides that, there's a decent chance that it will get a long, hard look by an editor at a well-established house. Not the path I’d charted and it may not lead anywhere, but at least it seems to be a step forward. For those of you who are harboring doubts, there really is something to this "God's timing" thing. I'm glad He's in charge.

I just received my first copy of Writer's Digest this week. I'm not sure how I'll like it, but I thought it was worth investing twelve bucks for a year's subscription at a special price. I opened it and my eye hit on this quotation, which seems appropriate for a closing statement. It's from award-winning novelist Ann Brashares. "There are going to be moments of deep, deep doubts, and you have to have faith that your initial idea was good and just muddle through." So I keep on muddling. Hope those of you who are down about your writing will do the same.

For various reasons I may not be posting for about a week. However, be sure to come back on Wednesday, September 19, for an interview with Brandilyn Collins. (Note—No one is dead by the end of the first chapter of her newest novel. Want to know why? Come back and read the interview).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thoughts From A Memorial Service

As in life in general, in our lives there have been a number of tragedies lately. One of these is the death of my daughter-in-law's sister. Lorie was about to turn forty, had been married less than a year, had just discovered she was pregnant, when she fell victim to primary pulmonary hypertension. Another sister had required a lung transplant for the same disease ten years earlier, so Lorie knew where to go for the best possible treatment. She was rushed to the Mayo Clinic, but the specialists were unable to save her.

Her funeral was held in Nebraska, where she and her husband had lived. Yesterday I attended the memorial service here, where she had grown up. It was a sad occasion, of course, but laced throughout the service were continuing references to hope--the hope that we, as Christians, have, through our belief that this life is simply the opening act for one that is to come.

The closing hymn was Hymn of Promise, a composition by Natalie Sleeth.The words really spoke to me, especially the last line:
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Perhaps I'm more introspective than usual as I approach the eighth anniversary of the sudden death of my first wife. Or maybe it's the fact that I've reached my promised three-score and ten years, so that every new day seems to be a bonus. Whatever the reason, I'm glad that God has given me this day. I plan to try to use it however He sees fit. I hope you'll do the same.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Previews of Coming Attractions

Just thought I'd give you what the TV folks call a "tease" about some of the things I'll be posting in the next few weeks. In less than two weeks I'll have an interview with Brandilyn Collins, whose new book, Crimson Eve will be in stores soon. She'll have some interesting things to say about the book and about her life. Don't miss it.

The week after that, one of my writing mentors, James Scott Bell, will drop by. His book, Try Dying, will be out next month. It's different, and Jim will be telling us a bit about it during the interview. Meanwhile, watch this trailer for more about the book.

Keep coming back. I'll try to make it worth your while. Meanwhile, have a great weekend.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Take Your Reader On A Journey

When a friend comes back from vacation, what are the questions you ask? Almost without exception, there are three: “What did you see? What did you do? What did you eat?” Have you ever thought of using these questions to improve your fiction? When you begin plotting your next novel or short story, try keeping these three questions in mind to make your reader a part of the journey.

“What did you see?”
Don’t describe a scene. Put the reader in the middle of it. Let them see it for themselves. Involve every sense. Let’s rewrite Snoopy’s classic opening, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Instead of that simple beginning, we might say, “The drumming of the rain overrode any attempt at conversation. Distant flashes of lightning cut through the stygian blackness, as though an angry wizard had set off celestial fireworks. The rumble of thunder was like a thousand kettle drums, a fit accompaniment to the depression that Heathcliff felt.” See the difference? Read the first description and you see darkness and rain. Read the second and you hear thunder, see lightning flashes, feel the emotions of the character.

Of course, if you do this for every paragraph, you’ll end up with a million-word novel, so the trick is in knowing where to spend precious words setting a scene. Do it in the opening scene and then expend a similar effort with key scenes so that they will enfold your reader. Put him or her in the center of the stage, rather than in the audience, giving a three-hundred-sixty degree view of what’s taking place.

“What did you do?”
Every good story begins by showing the motivation of the protagonist. In order to make the reader a participant, not just an observer, it’s necessary to do more than define what the main characters want. The author should make those goals so desirable, so worthy, that the reader will identify with the hero or heroine and be swept along with them as the story unfolds, cheering their successes and mourning their failures.

Is the protagonist unjustly accused, battling to clear his good name from the slander generated by the antagonist. Make the reader bristle and boil at the accusations. Let him or her feel angry, become anxious to do something to make things right.

Does the heroine have a deadly disease? Is she searching for a miracle cure? When she meets the young doctor, make the reader pull for the research to be successful. Will she be cured? Let the reader rejoice. Does she succumb? Make the reader cry.

“What did you eat?”
You might easily misinterpret this admonition as advising you to include copious details about meals throughout the novel. Not so. But, as my wife has told me so often, a good meal involves all the senses. The background music in the restaurant, either soft and relaxing or loud and jarring, directly affects the dining experience. The sight of the food, the smells from the kitchen, the taste of that first bite—all these contribute to the total event.

In the same way, good fiction should trigger all the reader’s senses. After you have finished your first draft, go back through the manuscript and look for places where you can insert sensory descriptions: smell, touch, sight, sound, even tastes. Use this tool as another means of putting the reader in the midst of the scene. Make them feel the rain, hear the thunder, see the lightning.

Nourishing the reader
The “what did you eat?” question should also serve as a reminder that Christian writing ought to nourish the reader. Scriptures tell us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). Our writing should give the reader such a taste. Whether in the form of a novel, short story, poem, or a non-fiction work, our words should inspire the reader to examine and deepen his relationship with God. Don’t make them leave the table hungry.