Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year-End Thoughts

If my agent hadn't warned me about using cliches, I might have used a phrase like "standing on the brink of a new year" to begin this blog post. As it is, I think I'll just say that, for all of us, December 31 is a time of reflection, a day for looking back and looking forward.

This has been an eventful year for our family: experiencing both family tragedies and triumphs, moving to a new home, watching the world economic crisis play havoc with retirement funds, struggling to take rejections in stride, and rejoicing with that phone call in October that announced the sale of my first novel. And through it all, God has been in control. Both Kay and I have seen some tough times in our lives, times when it seemed as though no one--even God--could help. But looking back with the perspective of time we can see that God was with us through it all.

Our pastor, Chuck Swindoll, preached a sermon several weeks ago that left me with one phrase I determined to hang my hat on through this coming year: "God is sovereign." So as we stand on the brink of a new year (sorry, Rachelle; had to use it), I commend that phrase to you as well. Whatever happens, God is sovereign. Who could ask for any greater assurance?

May your new year be happy, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful. See you next year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Writing and Editing

This weekend I typed "###" at the end of the first draft of my most recent novel, number two in the Prescription For Trouble series. The draft was about thirty percent done by the time of my interview with Abingdon Editor Barbara Scott at the American Christian Fiction Writers meeting in September. After that interview and subsequent contacts led me to believe that a contract might be forthcoming, I began working more seriously on the novel, but (as it always does), life intervened: a move, family needs, the holidays. Of course, there were other factors, such as sloth and inertia. But now the first draft is completed. Kay, my first reader, has gone through it and made her comments. (Actually, I was working hard to stay ahead of her as she read). Now it's back to work. Time to edit.

I've always enjoyed editing more than writing. When I finish writing the first draft of a novel, I feel a little sad. The tale is told, there've been some surprises along the way--like a character dying when you don't expect it--and now you're saying good-bye to folks you've come to know well. Sort of like sending a youngster off to college. You know you'll see them again, but they're pretty much out of your hands.

With editing, on the other hand, I get a sense of accomplishment that rivals what I feel when I take pieces of unfinished wood and turn them into a table or bench. When it's over, I'm happy to put the work aside and move on to the next project. No tears with this good-bye. Just satisfaction at a job well done.

Soon I'll be getting the macro-edits of my novel that's due for publication in just over a year. And I'm already at work on the third novel in the series. All this activity may play havoc with my golf game, but I guess it keeps me off the street corners and out of pool halls.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a stack of manuscript pages calling for my attention.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas: Light In The Darkness

"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 can we give him/her?" "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 22, 2008

Christmas Without Them

Christmas is a time of strong emotions for most of us. It's a family time, but sometimes the family is broken--by separation, by divorce, by death, by circumstance. I wrote this last year for our local newspaper and posted it on my blog. I’m repeating it this year, hoping it will minister to some of you whose hearts are heavy during this season.


After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one--in our area, options include the North Texas Food Bank, the Salvation Army, and numerous charities. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Privacy Or Platform?

Authors are constantly being reminded that they need a "platform." My understanding is that your platform is the sum of things like name recognition, contact with the public, opportunities to "get yourself out there" so that, in the end, people will buy your books. It goes without saying that for a platform to work, you first have to have books for folks to buy. However, we're also encouraged to start working on our platforms even before getting that elusive contract.

A web page is supposed to be a "must," as is a blog. I defy you to find many authors who don't have both. Then came the social networking sites, like Facebook. And more recently, Tweeter has become popular. With Tweeter, you post brief messages--limited to 140 characters (not words, characters)--that your "followers" can read. I grudgingly signed up for both these sites, but now I must admit I'm having second thoughts. One high-profile person has just had both his Facebook and Tweeter sites hacked into, with inappropriate messages posted under his name. In addition to having a close look at my passwords, I find myself wondering if this "getting myself out there" is worth it. When my novel is published, will everyone who follows me on Facebook run out and buy it? If I have a book-signing, will all my Tweeter followers show up? If I had the answer to these questions, it might be easier to either drop the accounts or keep them in place.

You'll notice I haven't linked to any of these sites. I'd rather let you decide whether to check them out--it's easy to find them. But what's your opinion? Is social networking a valid tool for building a platform, or just a chance to gossip via electronic means?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Should You Take A Holiday From Querying?

In line with my holiday policy of short posts, stolen when possible from others in the field, here's a great post by literary agent Nathan Bransford, who addresses the question: "Is there a best time to submit a query?" For those of you who are too lazy to click the link (shame on you), Nathan suggests you hold off if you know the agent is out of the office or during the "weeks around major holidays, i.e. Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus." (For those of you who don't recognize Festivus, you don't watch enough Seinfeld reruns).

Nathan explains that, although agents and editors theoretically give equal attention to submissions at any time, coming back from a holiday break to find a mountain of queries waiting may result in a quicker "No" than under other circumstances. It may not be fair, it may not even be an accurate assessment for the particular editor or agent you're querying, but why take a chance?

As for writing during the holidays, I've rationalized my inactivity by saying that the last few scenes of my work-in-progress are important enough that I need to mull them over until inspiration strikes. My guess is that's going to occur about December 27 or later. Meanwhile, I intend to be guilt-free and enjoy the season. Hope you can do the same.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Matching Editors And Writers

My agent, Rachelle Gardner, does a fantastic job of giving readers of her blog the inside scoop on the publishing industry. But there are other agents whose blogs are also educational. One of these is the agency, Bookends LLC, where Jessica Faust had a thought-provoking post today. In it, she addresses a question that goes something like this: "Do you have favorite editors, ones who get all your submissions? And do you try to match the personalities of the editors with those of your authors?" Jessica's answer is interesting, and I hope you'll read it for yourself. I especially like her comment to the effect that "This is a literary agency, not a dating service."

That brings me to a question for you: If publication of your book depended on your working with an agent or editor who was absolutely a terrible fit with your personality, would you still go along with it?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If It Were Easy....

Writing is a tough business, and if you read the publishing blogs (such as the recent posts of my agent, Rachelle Gardner) you'll find that it takes real work and real talent to succeed. But, I guess that if it were easy everyone would be doing it. If you've ever sat down and drafted a novel of 80, 100, 120 thousand words, you know that writing isn't as easy as it may sound to the unitiated.

Just recently I signed a contract with Abingdon Press for the publication of my work of romantic medical suspense. They're just getting their fiction line started, and I'm thrilled at this opportunity, but there are bound to be some of my readers who are thinking, "Why him? Why not me?" Honestly, I've thought that many times as well. Let me offer an explanation and a word of encouragement.

First, the explanation. I've paid my dues and done my homework. I've been to conferences and been mentored by some of the best (and most giving) Christian writers around: Jim Bell, Gayle Roper, Alton Gansky, Randy Ingermanson, Karen Ball, and others. I've read book after book on writing--right now I'm looking at a bookshelf that contains more than twenty-five books on the craft, and there's no dust on any of them. I've practiced the art of what Anne Lamott calls keeping your rear end on the chair and your hands on the keyboard, even when I didn't want to.

That brings me to the second point. I persisted. Many writers of my acquaintance work for years to perfect a single novel. They revise, rewrite, agonize over words and scenes, getting them just right. I did that initially, as you'll see in a minute, but I've learned better. I just went over the chronology of my road to writing, and it might interest you that it's taken me a bit less than five years to become an "overnight success" and sign this contract.

I submitted the initial query for my first novel in the summer of 2004, just about the time I also submitted the proposal for what was to become my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse (which was accepted after seven rejections). That first novel garnered ten rejections. I revised it extensively, reworked it meticulously, and tried again. This time I garnered thirteen rejections. My second novel was rejected seven times, including a couple of revisions. My third novel was so bad that my (then) agent rejected it as not good enough to send out. My fourth novel was rejected ten times, and I figured that was enough. By that time I'd been writing for almost four years and, although I'd had a non-fiction book published and my work had appeared numerous times in periodicals, I felt like I wasn't cut out to be a novelist. So I ended my representation agreement with my agent and stopped writing.

Then editor-turned-agent Rachelle Gardner had a contest on her blog, offering a prize for the best first line for a novel. I dashed off one and was totally surprised when I saw that I'd won with my line. The prize was a critique of the first several pages of a work-in-progress, so I sent Rachelle the first scene of my latest novel--the one that had been rejected ten times. Her comment was, "Send me something that needs editing." One thing led to another, and I submitted a query about representation. She accepted me, and I got back to writing.

But the happy ending didn't come yet. There were three rejections before Rachelle pitched the work to Barbara Scott, the new chief fiction editor for Abingdon Press. Barbara liked the work, she and I met at the ACFW, and about six weeks later I got the call from Rachelle: "You've sold your first novel." It was wonderful, but the point of all this is that, before that call came, I'd written four novels (five counting totally reworking number one) over a period of over four years, been rejected more than forty times, and completely quit writing once!

So, to my colleagues who haven't received that phone call yet, my hope is that you won't give up. Just remember, "Nothing is impossible with God."

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Christmas Thought

My posts are going to be a bit sketchy for the next month. As it always does, Christmas comes on December 25 this year, so it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who can read a calendar. But it always seems to catch me less prepared than I'd like.

Our pastor, Chuck Swindoll, used a phrase yesterday that got my attention. He spoke to us about the encounter between Gabriel and Mary related in Luke 1:26-38. Gabriel was given a commission by God to deliver good news to Mary. Will we encounter someone this week who is waiting for us to be their Gabriel?

Chuck reminded us that this season is a perfect time for such sharing, a season when "they're singing our songs." Right now there are people around us who don't understand the deep meaning of the words they hear or sing. Whether we do it in a conversation, through our actions, or in our writing, let's be ready to bring those words to life for those we encounter.

Enjoy the season. After all, "They're singing our songs."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Wait Is Over

Now it can be told! About five weeks ago, I got "the call" from my agent, Rachelle Gardner. Abingdon Press had bought my novel of medical suspense, working title Run Away Home. But Rachelle suggested I not make any announcement until the contract had been settled and signed. Anyone who knows me well knows that silence is not my forte, and being silent about this good news was doubly difficult. But today I signed the contract.

Of course, the work is just beginning. There will be responses to a macro-edit, then proof-reading and correction of the galleys, and even after publication there's marketing and promotion. Besides that, I can't just stop writing. I've almost finished the next book in the series and have sketched out the plot of the one after that. But this is that big first step.

I am so grateful to so many people: my wife, Kay (my first reader, biggest fan, and severest critic); my agent, Rachelle; all the authors who have mentored and supported me (you should have or will get an individual email with thanks, and I hope I don't forget anyone); my friends in the writing community. Now I sound like a recipient at the Academy Awards, so I'll stop. But I have to give one more acknowledgment. I'm grateful to God that He didn't just put me on this road to writing and forget me. He's been there all along, during the times of disappointment and those of triumph. If there's any glory to be had, it belongs to Him.

Thanks for sharing this moment with me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

'Tis The Season

Maybe I'm the only person in the nation who's having trouble getting started today. Then again, maybe not. The five days just past have brought us Thanksgiving (otherwise known as the feast day of gluttony and football), Black Friday (the day when the stores get into the black and families get into the red), the weekend when more Americans travel than at any other time of the year, and Cyber Monday (when employees--according to one survey--spend an hour of their boss's time doing their online shopping to take advantage of bargains). I'm not sure there's a word for today, but I'd call it something like Torpid Tuesday.

We are twenty-three days from Christmas. When we look at a calendar, some of us break into a cold sweat. It's time to buy presents, send Christmas cards, get the tree down from the attic and decorate it, risk life and limb on a ladder putting up decorations, start thinking about menus, figure out where the house-guests are going to sleep, and the list goes on. I have to wonder how we manage to squeeze Christ into Christmas each year. And sometimes we don't.

But there are other things to do, things that celebrate the true meaning of the season. The red kettle in front of the Wal-Mart reminds me that the Salvation Army needs our support throughout the year, not just now. The North Texas Food Bank (and, most likely, a similar organization in your area) is struggling to meet the needs of more people than ever during this economic downturn. Here we have Toys for Tots, the Angel Tree, and many others. Undoubtedly, you'll find similar opportunities near you to share what you have, even if it's a bit less this year than in the past. I urge you to do it. Then you'll be celebrating the season appropriately, and it will truly feel like Christmas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interview With Alton Gansky

I’m extremely pleased to have Alton Gansky as my guest today. I first met Alton at the first writers' conference I attended, the Glorieta Christian Writers’ Conference, where I took a couple of his classes. I still give him credit (or blame, take your pick) for getting me started on my road to writing.

RM: Al, you write both fiction and non-fiction, something that’s not the norm nowadays. How did that come about? And do you have a favorite between the two genres?

AG: One thing that makes writing so interesting is the wide range of disciplines. I occasionally write articles, write for businesses, and dabble in other forms. I believe writers should stretch their skills to master new outlets. I’m working on a screenplay now. Still, fiction is my love. Nonfiction brings a different kind of satisfaction, but with fiction I feel greater creativity.

RM: Your book, Enoch, has just come out. Also, you and Robert Cornuke wrote The Bell Messenger, which was recently published. How did you come to have two books hitting the market at about the same time? And can you tell us a bit about these two books?

AG: The first thing a writer learns is he is not in charge of when his work is released. That’s a publisher decision and sometimes release dates get pushed around. With Enoch, I’m the sole author. Bob Cornuke is the primary author of The Bell Messenger. I’m the “with.” My job was to take his vision and work and add my experience to it. We have a second book coming out next year called the Pravda Messenger.

Enoch is a supernatural suspense novel in which I bring Enoch back to Earth. The Bible lists two men who never died: Enoch and Elijah. I wondered what it would be like for Enoch and for the world if he returned. Mysterious messages begin to appear where no message could—in the middle of an action movie, over the radio, in the New York Times, and even and old I Love Lucy episode. The message is simple but mysterious: “Look for the one I am sending.”

Enoch, who goes by the English transliteration of his Hebrew name Henick, encounters various people on his journey. A New Age preacher sets out to steal his fame and his life.

The Bell Messenger is a story created by Christian explorer Robert Cornuke. I worked with Bob a few years back rewriting some of his nonfiction work. The book takes its title from a Civil War boy who traveled with the Confederate army armed only with a Bible. When he is killed, the Bible falls into the hands of his killer. In the book the Bible travels from person to person and to far off lands changing whomever comes to own it.

RM: I still recall one of the first things you taught me was to ask, “What if?” Do you still have that card file of “what if” ideas, and if so, what’s the next one coming out of it?

AG: I maintain a list of about 20 ideas for novels and a half dozen for nonfiction books. At the moment my writing/editing business Gansky Communications is keeping me busy helping writers, editors, and agents. As I mentioned earlier, I’m working on a screenplay and treatment for one of my earlier (now out of print) books.

RM: In addition to writing, editing, and speaking, you give a lot of your time teaching at writers’ conferences. Not long ago, you were named to head the annual Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference. How do you keep all those balls in the air?

AG: Who sez I do? You should see all the balls on the floor of my office.

RM: Is there anything about the next conference you’d like to share?

AG: We always have a great faculty at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and the May 17-21, 2009 conference is no different. In addition to the stellar team we’ve had in the past, we have Angie Hunt, Cecil Murphey, Sally Stuart, and others.

RM: You had a recent blog post on the BRMCWC site that had some excellent advice for writers. Can we expect a few more lessons from you in the future?

AG: I’m trying to strike a balance between education, conference information, and general encouragement. The blog site will become more active as we get into the new year. Again, we should have postings from the faculty and conferees.

RM: Do you have any final words of wisdom about writing for my readers?

AG: Sure, read the best writers then try to out do them. It’s all about craft and craft is all about practice.

Al, thanks for dropping by. I loved Enoch. The phrase is overworked to the point of becoming trite, but I truly found it hard to put down. I'm looking forward to your next "what-if" project.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm thankful that, despite the chaos that seems to surround us and deepen each day, God is in control. His continued sovereignty is the reason I can say--today and every day--"Thank you." I hope you'll join me in doing that. And don't forget to tell someone you love them. Have a blessed day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving Thanks

It hardly seems possible. November is almost gone, Thanksgiving is upon us, with Christmas right behind. Where has the time gone?

This is traditionally a time to count our blessings, to give thanks for what we have. I know--it's hard to think about blessings when our nation is struggling with economic changes that threaten to sink us, while carrying on a war with terrorists that seems to have no end. But nevertheless, we are a blessed people. And I count myself to be truly blessed.

I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat--I am blessed. I have a family and friends, people who love me and care for me--I am blessed. And I have accepted God's free gift of love and redemption--I am truly blessed.

To my readers, thanks for continuing to drop by Random Jottings. I'm thankful for you, as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who's Behind The Wheel?

We all get stories--lots of them--in our emails. I thought this one was funny. But once I stopped laughing, it raised some serious questions in my mind. See what you think.

The Reverend Billy Graham had just flown into Charlotte, NC, and his hosts had sent a limo to pick him up. After the luggage was stowed, Graham said to the chauffeur, "You know, I've always wanted to drive one of these stretch limousines. Would you let me get behind the wheel for a few miles?"

The driver wasn't sure about this, but decided that he'd go along with it. He gave the preacher his cap and climbed into the back seat. Rev. Graham was enjoying the horsepower under the hood when he noticed lights and a siren behind him. He pulled over and lowered his window, already regretting his mistake.

"Sir," said the State Trooper, "I had you at 70 in a 50 mile per hour zone." Then he did a double-take, tipped his hat, and hurried back to his patrol car.

"Commander, I need some advice," he said on the radio. "I've stopped a speeder. I was about to write a ticket, but I know we're supposed to show some respect for important persons. I just don't know what to do here, though. This is a really important person."

"The Governor?" the commander asked.

"Higher than that."

"The President?"

"Higher than that."

"Nobody's higher than that. Who do you think this is?"

The trooper scratched his head before answering. "Well, I can't see into the back seat very well, but I think it must be Jesus. You see, Billy Graham is the chauffeur."

Sure, it's funny, but it made me think. Who's driving the limo of my life? Is God up front, steering my course? Or have I relegated Him to the back seat while I take things for a spin, sometimes ignoring the speed limit or taking a wrong turn. Maybe I need to take off my chauffeur's cap and let Him drive. Because, if I don't, that's not funny--it's dead serious.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Get A Look At Brandilyn's Latest

I recently did an interview with Brandilyn Collins, in which she talked about her latest novel, Dark Pursuit. Now you have a chance to win a copy of that book. Go to the Facebook group, Fans Of Brandilyn Collins for details. Also check out Brandilyn's blog for information on getting signed bookplates for copies of her books you may already own.

If you want a preview of Dark Pursuit, you can sign up for Zondervan's Breakfast Club and get emails with the first portion of the book. I've been getting these for almost a year, and it's a great chance to evaluate books that might be of interest. Try it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Too Busy To Write

Just watched an interview with the late, great Red Skelton, done when he was 80 years old. The clip runs for ten minutes, and is well worth your time. The world lost not only a comedic genius but a truly humble, kind, great man when he died over ten years ago.
In the interview--and remember, he was 80 years old at the time--he tells about his typical day, which began at 5:30 AM and included writing music (a number of symphonies), poems (hundreds), a love letter to his wife (one each day), short stories (52 a year) and painting. Whew! I can't complain any longer about not getting things done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: Billy

I recently took advantage of an offer made by Michael Hyatt, President of Thomas Nelson Company. The company would send me a free copy of one of their books if I’d post a review—good, bad, or indifferent—on my blog and on Amazon. At first glance, none of the books on the list appealed to me. Then I saw Billy. This book purported to be “The untold story of a young Bill Graham and the test of faith that almost changed everything.” Sounded interesting. I requested it and have just finished reading it.

The book uses a clever device to carry along the story. It’s told as a series of revelations made in an interview by a television reporter with evangelist-turned-atheist Charles Templeton, once a close friend of Graham’s. I was fascinated as I learned about Billy Graham’s early years. For instance, I had no idea he once sold Fuller Brushes, or that he was the youngest college president in the US (although the college was small and struggling). I had forgotten that his wife, Ruth, was the daughter of missionary parents and had no plans to ever marry.

The “crisis of faith” is the turning point of the book. Graham’s close friend, a man with whom he’d shared the platform at Youth For Christ rallies, decided that he could no longer believe the Bible was God’s Word. Not only that, Templeton seemed to delight in making fun of his friend’s continuing faith.

It’s probably a reflection of my own preferences as a writer, but I didn’t care for the way the authors handled the scene where Graham wrestles with his own doubts. The section, which continues for eight pages, begins this way: “Had Billy been able to see beyond the thin veil that separates this world from the spirit world, he would no doubt have been surprised and possibly terrified at the spiritual battle being waged in the heavenlies all around him. Lucifer, also known as the accuser of the brethren, the longstanding enemy of Yahweh, and now the personal enemy of Billy’s soul, was bidding high for him that night, commanding his minions to do everything within their power—which allowed for significant oppression—to divert Billy Graham from the destiny God had planned for him.”

This book shows Billy Graham to be a humble man, used by God to communicate the Good News of salvation to multiple thousands, yet always aware that he was just the messenger, not the Message. In my opinion, if you like reading biography, this one--with the exception of the section I've already mentioned--is well-written and worth a read.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans' Day

Please pause for a moment and give thanks for the men and women who have served America in her armed forces. I'm proud to be among their number. May those efforts never be forgotten, nor be in vain, and may God bless America.

Richard L. Mabry, Capt, USAF, MC
1605th USAF Hospital

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Getting "Out There"

I'm a very private person. Given the opportunity (which I rarely am), I'd be happy sitting at the computer for long periods of time, just writing, occasionally surfing the web, sending and receiving emails, and in general hiding out. But, like all authors, I recognize the need to put myself forward in order to promote my writing. At least that's what they tell me.

For me, some aspects of this are good. For example, as the author of The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, I am frequently invited to speak about grief and loss. I did this just last week, spending a couple of hours with an Ecclesiology class at Dallas Theological Seminary to try to help these pastors-in-the-making prepare to minister to their church members in times of crisis and loss. Will that cause any of them to buy the book? Maybe, maybe not, but that wasn't the object of the meeting. I consider this a ministry, just as I think the book represents a way to serve others. I don't call that marketing.

On the other hand, I also write fiction, and if/when it's published, I'd like for people to buy it. One way for that to happen is for them to recognize my name. So, today I signed up for Facebook. My friend, Brandilyn Collins, once called Facebook a "stalker's dream," but she's signed up so I figure it's not a bad deal. I'm still not sure I should have done it or what I need to do next. For example, apparently I have a "wall," but I don't know what it represents and whether I'm responsible for painting it and putting up pictures. Nevertheless, authors are supposed to get their names "out there," and apparently a blog isn't enough. So I'm now on Facebook. Do I need to do even more? Probably, but I think I'll stop right there, at least for now.

Some of my friends are enamored with Twitter, which, as best I can tell, is sort of like a nationwide party line where everyone knows what everyone else is doing at all hours. I can't see the appeal, but my friend BJ Hoff, an admitted technophile, has urged me to join her in tweeting. I'd appreciate hearing from any of my readers about their experience with Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking sites. But right now I feel as though I've taken the "do not disturb" sign off my door and opened it to let the world in.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Around The Bend

What do you think lies around the corner in the picture? Does the road run into a tunnel, one that's dark and winding with no glimmer of light at the end? Or does it open into a vista of a green valley below with snow-capped mountains in the distance? What's out there? We don't know. We can guess. We can conjecture. We can pontificate. But the only way to be certain what's around the bend is to travel the road.

No matter what the pundits and pollsters may say, no one knows what lies around the bend for our country. The only way to acquire that knowledge is to travel the road, one mile at a time. And as I do it, I will ask God to uphold our nation's leaders--all of them--and give them wisdom and discernment. I hope you'll join me in praying to that end.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Pray--Then Vote

Political ads, political rhetoric, political debates...we've all had it up to here. I suspect that just about everyone, even the candidates, will be glad to see the end of the campaigning. On Tuesday, multiple offices will be decided at every level throughout the land, the most important being the choice of who will lead the US for the next four years. We're living in troubled times, and the person who occupies the Oval Office is going to bear a heavy burden of responsibility. I pray that the American people will choose wisely.

I have my own opinion, formulated after careful study and a great deal of prayer. Kay and I have already voted, casting our absentee ballots before leaving for our recent vacation. If you have not yet voted, on Tuesday please do so. But take a moment before you do and pray for two things: for God's guidance in your decision and His blessings on our nation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"For The Beauty Of The Earth"

The Mabry Travel Curse struck again--we carried rain with us from the Texas-Arkansas border eastward all the way to North Carolina. Last night, driving the curving highway from Knoxville to Asheville in the rain, with the black asphalt eating the illumination from our headlights like some dark monster and the lights of oncoming cars dazzling my retina, I had to think, "And why am I doing this again?" Then this morning we saw the beautiful fall colors and I knew why we came: To have our minds and bodies refreshed and to once more be reminded of the omnipotent Hand that painted colors no human artist ever could across the broad landscape of these mountains.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Soon Kay and I will be driving to Lake Lure, North Carolina, enjoying the beautiful fall colors along the way and getting some much-needed rest and relaxation. I'll be taking my laptop and hope to get a lot of work done on my next novel. My writing has been curtailed--scratch that and make it brought to a screeching halt--by the activities of our move. But it's time to start writing again.

It seems as though each time I begin to wonder whether I should stop writing, God sends me a sign of encouragement. I've had several such signs recently. This year, three of my meditations have been published in Upper Room. I've just had a free-lance piece published in the November issue of In Touch magazine. (The November issue isn't online yet, but if you go to the site and click "magazine," then "current issue" it should be up soon). Another free-lance article has been accepted by Christian Communicator and should appear soon. And there's significant interest in my latest novel. So I'm encouraged to get back to writing. It should help that I can do it while watching the leaves turn. It generally does.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Dabbling Mum: Interview With Alyice Edrich

Today I have as my guest, Alyice Edrich. Alyice is a freelance writer, editor, and aspiring artist. She is also the founder of the award-winning magazine, The Dabbling Mum®. Alyice describes herself as the mother of two beautiful children, a devoted wife, a hardworking businesswoman, and a child of God.

RM: Alyice, let’s start with your name. Help us out here. How do you pronounce it, and what’s the story behind it?

AE: My name is pronounced a-lease. My grandma’s name is Alexandra but she often went by Alyce and pronounced it Alice. My mom threw in a “y” and altered the pronunciation.

RM: I don’t recall how I stumbled upon The Dabbling Mum®, but I’m glad I did. If there’s anything that exemplifies the word “eclectic,” DM is it. Tell us a bit about how it got started.

AE: Originally it started out as a way for me to show off some of my work and sell a single e-book. One day a gentleman emailed me stating that he’d love to see me showcase other writers on my site. I had wanted to start a print magazine, but didn’t find the cost feasible so I thought, “Hey why not? An online magazine would be far more cost-effective and a lot less work.”

RM: DM has an excellent Writer’s Corner. I always read the writing column by Doc Hensley, and I’ve donated a couple of articles that you’ve been gracious enough to run. But you have lots of other things, as well. Are there ways my readers can contribute to DM and see their words in print?

AE: Doc Hensley has been a great asset to the publication, as have the other columnists and writers I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. One thing I try to tell people is to look for areas that need to be strengthened and write for those areas.

Currently, we’re in dire need of articles for our home business center. It seems that the freelance writers I encounter through my publication prefer to share their expertise on the subjects of writing and parenting far more than they like exercising or stretching their creative talents in the area of home based businesses. I often get a lot of generic articles for the business center that I turn down, but rarely get hard core, in-depth articles on the actual workings of a business. I’d love to see more articles on how to get started in a niche business. I really want to grow in that regard.

RM: You also have another site, Good Mourning Lord, for persons who are grieving. It has some excellent articles as well as a list of recommended books. How did you come to start that one?

AE: I lost a child. The loss was so devastating that I wanted to die. It took a long time for me to overcome the death of my child, and there are still days that I struggle with grief, depression, and longing to hold my child again. When my mother-in-law asked to read my journal entries, she cried. She said she finally understood what I was going through and that I should share my journal entries in the form of a book—to help others like me. I set out to write that book and even pitched it to a few places. It was in the final stages of going to print when the publisher went out of business. At that time, I had developed the website to showcase the book and wanted it to be more than a sales site. I wanted to reach out and touch the lives of others. When the publisher went out of business, I pulled the book. By then I decided the book wasn’t needed as much as a place for people to find comfort. So many people search the Internet for comfort that I wanted an outlet that they could trust.

Just recently, I pulled the book reviews I had and opted to request excerpts from authors instead. I believe that excerpts will give readers a better glimpse into the actual books, thus allowing them to make informed decisions about the books they purchase. After all, my reviews were subjective, based on my own experience, and might not match the needs of a particular reader.

RM: I notice that you’re beginning to emphasize your freelance writing work more. Your background is pretty impressive along those lines. How did you get into writing in the first place?

AE: I’ve always been a writer. I know you hear that cliché a lot but it’s true. My mom said that I could never write a letter without it looking like a book. Ironically, none of my teachers ever told me to pursue writing as a career. Maybe if they had, I wouldn’t have wasted 3 ½ years of my life taking business administration courses because I didn’t know what to do with myself after high school.

In 1999, a friend introduced me to the idea of working as a mobile notary. The information was so scarce that once I finally got the inner working of this career worked out, I took all the information I had and formed a book. I began selling it online. From there, writing just became second nature. I realized that I could write and people would pay for this talent.

I began writing for small paying publications online and in print. I had a lot of fun and found that with each assignment I learned something new and grew as a writer. When I began publishing The Dabbling Mum®, however, my writing more or less took a backseat to the publication. There is a lot of work involved in promoting a publication, putting together issues, marketing e-books, and hiring writers—so much work that I didn’t always have the creative energy to pursue glossy magazines or work on more books.

This year I realized that I missed being creative more than I’d miss putting the magazine together so I decided to cut back on the hours I put into the magazine. The extra hours will be used to complete edits on an e-book I’ve been putting off for over a year, writing for some art magazines (hopefully), working on a few art projects, and hopefully, writing another e-book.

RM: Any final words for my readers?

AE: Don’t be afraid of change. Take personal inventory from time-to-time and do what’s best for you and your family first and foremost.

Two years ago I realized I was getting burnt out with the magazine and wanted to slow things down a bit, but I was too afraid to make the necessary changes because I didn’t want to look like a failure. My publication was a success. Not only was I making a living from my writing and the sales of my e-books, but I was able to pay writers for their submissions and pay for the publication’s business expenses through advertising dollars. I was receiving 40,000 unique visitors a month and I had a total of 9,000 e-zine subscribers.

But it wasn’t enough anymore. I felt drained. I felt like something was missing from my life and I wanted to do more with my writing again. I also wanted to tap into the creative side of my brain and get off the computer more—I wanted to sell art, design wall art, and to be around people more. Writing from home could be so isolating and lonely, and I was ready to get outside more.

Yet, I couldn’t make the necessary changes. I was too afraid of what others would think instead of doing what I felt was best for me. And I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had built with the publication.

What I discovered, however, was that the more drained I felt, the less passion I had for the publication and unless I did something about it, I would lose everything I had worked so hard to build. I wasn’t ready to sell, though it had crossed my mind, but I was ready to cut back.

So little by little I started stepping back from the publication until eventually I was able to say, “Ten hours a week is enough to keep this publication afloat and allow me time to pursue other ventures. Whether or not this publication receives x amount of visitors or has x amount of subscribers doesn’t make it a success. What makes it a success is the fact that it is filled with quality articles from very talented writers who want to make a difference in the lives of others—not just their bottom lines.”

Thanks, Alyice, for stopping by. I hope my readers will check out your various web sites and maybe even crank up their computers to write something for submission to The Dabbling Mum.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Article Online

I have an article in the latest issue of the online magazine, The Dabbling Mum. It's titled, "What Do I Have To Do To Get Published?" I hope you'll check it out. While you're there, scan through the other information offered--business, home, parenting, shopping, cooking, and...of course...writing. There's a wealth of material, and I think you'll enjoy it. I'm hoping to have a post by the site's creator up soon. Watch for it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Interview With Brandilyn Collins

Today I’m chatting with one of the premier authors of Christian suspense, Brandilyn Collins.

RM: Brandilyn, you’re just back from the American Christian Fiction Writers meeting, and it seemed as though everyplace I looked, there you were. I know that ACFW is very dear to you. What were some of the high points of the meeting for you?

BC: Although I’m “out front” a lot since I serve as emcee, each year the highlights of the conference for me take place out of the limelight and in a very quiet venue—the prayer room. Since God granted me a merciful healing from Lyme Disease over five years ago, He has allowed me to have the gift of healing prayer for others. I just love to be present to watch Him work! Every time I’m amazed, even though I know He’s capable of anything. But the way He leads prayer toward areas—spiritual, emotional and physical—of people’s lives because He is choosing to heal that within the person is remarkable. These may not be areas the people were aware of. If some cases the reason for prayers—particularly for physical healing—don’t become apparent until later. It’s wonderful to talk to people who made an appointment to pray with me a year or two previously and see how far God has brought them.

RM: Your latest book, Dark Pursuit, is due out shortly. What can you tell my readers about it?

BC: The protagonists: twenty-two-year-old Kaitlan, estranged from Darell Brooke, her elderly and muddle-minded grandfather, once known worldwide as the King of Suspense. The premise: Bitter, recluse, and no longer able to write after a brain injury, Darell must create the suspense plot of his life to save his granddaughter from a cunning killer.

In creating these characters I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of their ages and experiences in life. Also, through Darell’s character I had fun dealing with the real-life processes of writing suspense. The conventions of the suspense genre and his struggles with writing are highlighted as Darell’s mind morphs from fiction to reality.

As to the symbolism and theme running beneath the story, for years I’ve loved the passage from John Milton’s Paradise Lost about Satan and his cohorts, kicked out of heaven and bemoaning their fate. In revenge Satan visits Adam and Eve on Earth and woos them away from their God. Satan offers them spiritual death—disguised as life. Man falls for the deceit. And so the need for redemption is born. Down the ages some of mankind would embrace redemption; others would be blind to their very need for it.

You can read more about Dark Pursuit, including the first chapter, here.

RM: Dark Pursuit is a stand-alone work, a departure from the four series you’ve previously had published. Why the change?

BC: Series have worked pretty well for me. All the same in marketing/sales with books two, three, whatever there’s the issue among readers that if they haven’t read book one they’re less likely to pick up book two off the shelves. And by the time you get to book four, the bookstore may not have restocked book one. Stand-alones give a fresh chance to market each time. That’s not to say I won’t ever do a series again. If the right idea strikes me, I will.

RM: You’ve also co-authored a YA book, Always Watching, with your daughter, Amberly. What was that like?

BC: Actually, we’ve done two. Last Breath is the sequel to Always Watching in the Rayne Tour Series, which features Shaley O’Connor, teenage daughter of a rock star. The process has been good, although I think the most fun is yet to come—Amberly’s and my teaming up to market the novels when they release starting next spring.

RM: All your friends and fans are glad you’ve recovered from your snowmobile accident of last winter. Olympic Gymnast Kerri Strug says that, years after her ankle injury, people would still stop her in airports and ask about her ankle. Do you still get those questions as well? And, by the way, how is that ankle?

BC: Always the doc, you are. ☺ Thanks for asking. It’s doing fine. I’m back running regularly. Interesting—I still receive numerous hits every day on my blog, Forensics and Faith, from people googling “broken ankle,” or “screws and plate in ankle,” or something else to that effect. In order to help those poor folks who find themselves in the same situation and want to know what to expect, I’ve linked all my scattered posts about the “Saga of the Broken Ankle” together so they can go from one to the other and hopefully find their answers. I’ve put a link to this saga in the sidebar under “Stories” on the blog. Of course, my saga is told in a light tone, and people suffering from a broken ankle need some humor.

RM: Any last words?

BC: For the readers in your audience: Buy Dark Pursuit. Many galleys have gone out to bloggers, and the resulting reviews are starting to come in, both from people who are already loyal fans and those who’ve never read me before. The responses are very positive. “Where has Brandilyn Collins been all my life” one new reader wrote. Well, ya know that makes me smile.

For the novelists in your audience: This is a hard business. If you’re struggling, my heart is with you. We’re all struggling, no matter what point of the journey we’re on. Don’t look at the people in front of you or behind you. Just keep your feet on the path God has given you and keep praying about your next steps.

For you, Doc, a great big thank you for allowing me to be on your blog.

And thank you, Brandilyn, for taking the time to do this interview and for being such a friend and supporter. Please don't kill me off as a character in one of your novels anytime soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Review: THROUGH THE STORM by Lynne Spears

Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, recently had a post on his blog dealing with his decision to publish Through The Storm, a non-fiction book by the mother of Britney Spears. I’ll admit that I was somewhat surprised that a Christian publisher would do this, but since I hadn’t read the book I was willing to withhold judgment. Then Michael made an offer I couldn’t refuse. If I agreed to read the book, then post a review on my blog and on Amazon, he’d send me a copy. I did, he did, and this is the result.

If you’re planning to read this book to learn more about Britney Spears, you’ll be disappointed. The majority of the material deals with Lynne Spears, her own upbringing and background, her troubled marriage, the way she tried to bring up her children only to be alternately thrilled and disappointed. This isn’t a look inside the life of Britney Spears, nor a revelation of the factors that account for her substance abuse, weird behavior, and marital break-up. Rather, it’s about the roller coaster of emotions a mother goes through dealing with all these things along with the dissolution of her marriage to an alcoholic husband and the loss of her beloved sister.

Some parts of the book struck me as attempts on Lynne’s part to justify her behavior or that of her daughter. Some of the reasons assigned for their actions seemed to be a stretch. And a few of the passages meant to demonstrate Lynne’s faith appeared to me to be a bit forced. But that’s just my opinion. Maybe that’s just the way it came out.

The writing could be better. The book is laden with clichés, including, for example, several uses of the phrase “little did we know.” I have no idea how much of the book writer Lorilee Craker actually wrote and how many of the words are Lynne’s, but I can’t imagine a professional writer penning the words, “When Britney left home for the first time, I felt a deep pit in my stomach.”

The chronology was a bit difficult to follow. For instance, it was sometimes hard for me to know whether Lynne and her husband Jamie were divorced or together at any particular time in the story. Then again, they had an on-again, off-again relationship so maybe that’s the way it lived out.

I’m not a Britney Spears fan, so this book held no attraction for me in that regard. Would I have bought it? Probably not. Should you buy it? Depends on your circumstances. For instance, if you’re a parent whose children have disappointed you in some way or another, perhaps this book will encourage you as it says, “See, someone else has suffered the way you’re suffering—suffered even more publicly.” If it does that, and if it imparts a Christian message to some of the readers, I suspect it will have done what Michael Hyatt and the folks at Nelson hoped it would.

Michael, thank you for making the book available to me and for inviting reviews, even if they're lukewarm, such as this one.

To my regular readers, come back on Thursday, when I'll be interviewing Brandilyn Collins about a number of things: what she took away from this year's ACFW, her latest novel, the YA series she co-authored with her daughter, Amberly, and the infamous ski-mobile ankle injury.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Interview With BJ Hoff

Today I’m privileged to chat with BJ Hoff, one of my favorite people. BJ has been writing excellent works of historical fiction for over twenty years. In a changing climate of publishing, BJ is a refreshing constant. I appreciate her taking the time to answer a few questions for my readers.

RM: Most people don’t know of your background in music—former church music director and music teacher. Has that experience colored your writing in any way?

BJ: Yes, I’m sure it has. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever written a book—except possibly one of my very early novels—in which music isn’t in some way related to the story. I’ve also received a number of comments about the “rhythm” of my prose, and I think that definitely has something to do with the musician’s “ear.” It’s interesting to me that many writers have a background in music, and in talking with them I’ve discovered that most of us “hear” the rhythm of our prose or at least are extremely sensitive to the cadence of words and phrases.

RM: BJ, your love for all things Irish is no secret to anyone who spends any time with you. Can you tell my readers how that came about?

BJ: Blame it on my family tree. It’s exceedingly green, other than a couple of misplaced Scots. Rumor has it that there was also a mysterious French woman somewhere in the mix, but we don’t give much credence to that tale. Because of all the family stories passed along as I was growing up, and a near-obsessive interest in the 1800s potato famine and our ancestors, I began to “study” Ireland and Irish Americans at an early age. I was fortunate enough to come across some journals and diaries written during the famine, and the fascination about Ireland and its people simply kept growing. I think I always knew that eventually I would have to write my own stories about these fascinating folks who played such a huge part in building America.

RM: Your historical fiction novels often center on the Irish, but your latest novel, Rachel’s Secret, also features an Amish element. Did anything specific trigger your decision to incorporate Amish culture into your writing?

BJ: I live close to the largest Amish settlement in the country, and another smaller settlement is located nearby, so I’ve long had an interest in the Plain culture and faith. My proximity to these communities gives me easy access to research. But there’s also the fact that I love to work with contrasts in my fiction. I wanted to write a story set among the Amish, but I also wanted at least one or two prominent characters from the “outside world”—and so Jeremiah Gant, an Irish American riverboat captain appeared on the scene, along with David Sebastian, a transplanted British physician. Then, too, because so many of our Amish novels have a contemporary setting, I liked the idea of developing a story among the Amish in an 1800s timeframe.

RM: You’ve told me in the past that no one reads your work until you’re ready to submit it. Do you occasionally run a concept of a bit of dialogue by your husband or a close friend, or do you truly keep everything under wraps until it goes to your editor?

BJ: My husband’s a great help with maps, distance calculations, and practical matters such as “how do you do this?” or “how would this work?” It seems to me he knows just about everything, so I count on him to answer “guy questions” for me. But he reads the book for the first time when it’s released. I do discuss ideas with my editor and ask for his feedback on situations--there’s actually a lot of discussion that goes on between us before I begin to develop a story, and also throughout a book’s progress. But for the most part, he sees it in its final form when I complete the manuscript (“final,” except for his edit, that is). I’m fortunate to work with an editor who loves fiction, who cares deeply about the art and craft of writing a novel, and who has wonderfully keen instincts into character motivation. If he says “but he wouldn’t do that” (regarding a character and a situation), I’ve learned to listen!

RM: Your editor at Harvest House is Nick Harrison, whom I’ve found to be one of the nicest people in publishing. Have you and Nick ever disagreed about something in one of your novels?

BJ: He’s also one of the most patient people in publishing. Ask his authors. So far as disagreeing--I don’t remember any specifics, but naturally on occasion we see something from different angles. Then we simply talk it through until we meet at the same point or agree to the necessary changes. Nick never suggests change for the sake of change, so when he does suggest a change … I listen.

RM: Rachel’s Secret is the first novel in a new series. In the back of your mind, are you already plotting the next ones, or are you taking a bit of time to relax after getting this one done?

BJ: Well, I took time to shovel out my desk and office. But I was already planning and lining up additional research for Book Two while I cleaned and caught up on errands. And then there’s this other series that’s been simmering … and the one after that …

RM: And finally, I’ll ask for any advice you’d give the writers among my readership.

BJ: I don’t usually quote myself, but I’m going to here. I’m asked this question so often that it’s difficult to come up with a variety of answers. So I apologize if you’ve heard it before, but I happen to believe it’s important to step back before the actual writing and consider a few things. That’s why my reply to this question has become, I suppose, kind of “standard.” But I believe in it, for myself and for other writers:

If you’re a new writer just starting out on this incredible journey, face the fact now that it can be a one-step forward, two-steps backward adventure. Fortify yourself with plenty of prayer, patience, and perseverance—unless you’re the exception, you’ll eventually need a lion’s share of each. Be prepared to deal with the bitter as well as the sweet. But don’t let the frustrations and disappointments overshadow your joy in and your appreciation for the gift you’ve been given. And don’t forget that it is a gift. Nothing more, nothing less.

Learn as much as you can, write as often as you can, and read everything that you can. One of the most important vehicles, if not the most important, that will take you where you want to go as a writer is the reading of good books by good authors. Read and study. Read, read, read.

But keep in mind that, in the long run, writing is not about books or deadlines or sales or marketing or success. It’s definitely not about competing, unless you attempt to make each of your own books better than the one that went before. It’s not about getting somewhere; it’s about the way you get there. It’s about life and how you live it with the people God has given you to love, as you try to be faithful to Him--and your gift--along the way.

Thank you for your interest and the questions, Richard. Your interviews make me think. I like that.

Thank you, BJ, for the interview and for those excellent words of advice. I can’t think of anything better to use in closing than this quote from—of course—BJ Hoff:

“It matters not if the world has heard
Or approves or understands…
The only applause we’re meant to seek
Is that of nail-scarred hands.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Words That Endure

I was organizing some picture albums when I came across pictures taken in Jordan. I was there with a number of other physicians to teach local physicians, and during the trip Cynthia and I joined a group that traveled to the ancient city of Petra. As I saw the first picture, these words jumped into my mind: "A rose-red city - half as old as time." That line has stayed in my mind for over ten years. A bit of research tells me that it was penned by John William Burgon while he was in college, as part of a poem that won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1845. Burgon went on to become a clergyman and faded into obscurity, but his words will probably be quoted for decades more.

Have you written anything that you think might grab your reader and hang in their minds? I guess the best writing I've done along those lines was a description of my hero, a failed baseball player who's now a doctor, finishing a boring case. He's stitching up the skin when he begins to feel guilty about letting his mind wander. "Any guilt that Ben felt quickly passed. He’d always thought that closing an incision was sort of like driving through Kansas: boring, monotonous, and you could do it in your sleep."

Let me know your nominations for the best lines that are likely to hang in the reader's heads.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Interview With Author Kathryn Cushman

I first met Kathryn (“my friends call me Katie”) Cushman when we were both in Randy Ingermanson’s mentoring class at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. It soon became obvious to me that Katie was going to be one of the first ones in that group to be published, and that was borne out when Bethany House brought out A Promise To Remember. I’m pleased to have her as my guest today.

RM: Katie, which came first for you? An agent or a book contract? And what was your reaction to the big news?

KC: I had an agent first, but I made the contact with the editor (that eventually brought about the contract) at an appointment at Mount Hermon. As for my reaction to the news—I fell to my knees and cried a while, then shouted a while, then jumped up and down a while. I still didn’t quite believe it until I held my book in my hands.

RM: Your next book, Waiting For Daybreak, will be out in October. Was it easier or more difficult to write a second book?

KC: I wrote a couple of (unpublished) manuscripts before A Promise to Remember, so Waiting for Daybreak is actually my fourth written book. But… it was still the hardest. I really had a difficult time getting the details of the story dialed in, and consequently did a TON of rewriting.

RM: Tell us a bit about your non-writing life. Who is Katie Cushman when she’s not slaving over a hot computer.

KC: These days I’m mostly a busy mom. I have two daughters who are involved in sports, drama, etc., so a good bit of my time is devoted to taxi and cheerleading services. I am a registered pharmacist, but I haven’t worked in that field in about a dozen years.

RM: Are you already at work on your next book? And if so, can you share a bit about it?

KC: Yes, I’m just starting my next book. It’s about a mother who destroys the evidence that would prove her recently-returned prodigal guilty of murder. Later, when another young man is arrested for the crime, she must decide whether to tell the truth and sacrifice her own son, or let an innocent person go to prison.

RM: Based on your own experience, do you have any advice for the writers in my readership?

KC: Keep writing, get hard critiques (these are slightly less painful if you pre-medicate with chocolate), and most of all, pray for guidance. Trust God with the results.

RM: And, as I always ask my guests, any last words of wisdom?

KC: Throw the word “networking” out of your vocabulary. Make friends with other writers because you like them, sit with multi-published authors at lunch because they are interesting, and help newer writers along the path because it’s the right thing to do.
Thanks for having me on your blog today!

And thank you, Katie, for taking the time to be with us.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mysteries and the Hook

Quick note for my readers who write mysteries. Jessica Faust, literary agent at Bookends LLC, has a great post today about "Does your hook match your genre?" She discusses the three types of mystery novels: cozy mystery, mystery, and suspense/thriller. The distinction is important on several levels. First, as Jessica points out, the hook should match the genre. Second, you need to have a clear idea of what your work represents as you prepare to pitch it to an agent or editor.

For those of you nearing that stage in your writing career, read the three-part post on Contracts, the last installment of which was posted today at Writer Unboxed. It's excellent. Something to file away for future reference.

Come back tomorrow for my regular post--an interview with author Katie Cushman.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Teaching By Example: Gayle Roper

At my first Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, I was in the mentoring class taught by Gayle Roper. I really can’t recall how I came to choose Gayle’s class, but I’m certainly happy I did. As the time drew near for her to critique my work in front of the class, I thought of all the mistakes I’d seen her gently point out in the writing of others and realized that my submission contained examples of almost every one of these transgressions. But Gayle epitomized the lessons of I Corinthians 13. She was patient and kind, she didn’t keep score, and she didn’t delight in my shortcomings. Instead, she treated my work the same as she had that of others. She pointed out ways to improve the writing, and rewrote portions of the material to illustrate her points. In other words, she taught by example.

Gayle’s latest novel is Fatal Deduction, and it’s apparent to me that Gayle is still showing by example. The first chapter not only hooked me, it demonstrated the way a master writer can reveal backstory and set a stage without resorting to the obvious.

Here’s what I, as a novice writer, might have written four years ago: Libby Keating, an antique collector, had been forced to leave her comfortable home and move to Philadelphia, to a small house on a cobblestone lane.

Gayle does it this way (writing in first person, which I find extremely difficult): I studied the block of Olde Philadelphia as I walked toward Aunt Stella’s house, the bags bumping and complaining their way over the uneven surface. I should be happy to be living here, being in the antiques and collectibles business as I was, but I guess no one likes having her life rearranged without her permission.

Fatal Deduction is one of Gayle’s best books. Publisher’s Weekly apparently agreed, giving it a glowing review. Here’s an excerpt from what they wrote: “Roper's dialogue and character development are spot-on, which is no small feat, considering that Libby's world is peopled by everyone from elderly patricians to two-bit gangsters.”

Let me note here that Gayle didn’t ask me to post this, nor am I trying to ingratiate myself with the folks at her publishers. I just wanted to steer my readers to an excellent novel, one that is entertaining while modeling the way an accomplished novelist writes. And we all know that to write good novels, we need to read good novels. Fatal Deduction should be on that list.

Friday, September 26, 2008

From ACFW: Emotions In Writing

It was Saturday afternoon, and I was exhausted. I'd just climbed down off the bus, fresh from the book signing at Mall of America, where I'd been inundated by the sights and sounds of a mega-mall populated by a never-ending stream of people. Before that, there'd been a ninety-minute class, an appointment with an editor, and a hurried lunch. I didn't want to be around people. I didn't want to listen. I didn't want to be told my writing needed to be taken up a notch. What I wanted was a cold Diet Coke, a quiet place, and a soft bed. But I resisted the temptation. Instead, I attended a workshop by Susan May Warren on adding emotion to your writing. And I'm glad I went.

We all know that fiction needs emotion to keep the reader's interest. But we can't just write, "Scott was angry." That's level one. Third grade writing, if you will. So, how about falling back on the use of adjectives. "Scott spoke angrily." Will that do it? Nope. Mark Twain suggested seeking out adjectives and killing most of them. Now we're up to high school level writing.

Even if there weren't a label on the movie flyer above, it would be pretty easy to deduce that Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson are angry. It's evident in their posture, their facial expressions. If we could see them in motion, we'd see that their actions are angry ones. That's what we need to do as writers. Try this for size: "Scott felt his collar grow too small. He balled his hands into fists and planted them on his hips. 'You can't mean that,' he spat." That's anger.

I'm sure you can do better than that. I hope I could as well, given enough time, but maybe this example will be enough. Give the adverbs a rest. Convey emotions through the scene, the characters, the action. Put your reader in the character's mind and body. Show their emotion. That's good writing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ACFW Report: Writing The Dreaded Synopsis

At the recent ACFW meeting, I ran into Jeff Gerke. I first met Jeff when he was editor at NavPress. He reviewed one of my first novels in an appointment at Mount Hermon, and we both recalled how he tore it apart. But his critique was fair, and I learned from it. Now Jeff has started his own publishing house, Marcher Lord Press. If you write “speculative fiction,” check out his web site.

At ACFW, I sat in Jeff’s class as he addressed the part of writing that many authors absolutely hate: writing a synopsis. I’m not sure I came out of the class with a magic bullet that makes synopsis writing a breeze, but Jeff did make a number of points that I believe bear emphasis. (For those who want more detail, Jeff's web site has a full explanation of the material he covered in the class).

First, pay attention to format. We’re all told to do our manuscripts double-spaced, with one inch margins, in 12 point Times New Roman font. But the synopsis is an exception. It’s single-spaced. I’m not sure why, since it seems to me it would be easier to read in double-spacing, but I don’t set the conventions or make the rules. Further, Jeff feels the synopsis should be one page in length—maybe run over a paragraph into the second page, but no more. That’s tough!

The synopsis should quickly reveal the setting and the genre of the story. It helps editors and agents keep the characters straight if their names are in all caps the first time they are introduced into the story—but just the first time. And yes, names are helpful. Not just “the protagonist” or the “female lead.” In the CBA, it’s also important to show the Christian content of the novel in the synopsis.

Synopses are written in the present tense. They are meant to reveal only the high points of the story, and these should center on the journey of the hero: the starting point, the chief goal and obstacle, the moment of truth, and the resolution. And don’t forget to reveal the ending! This isn’t back-cover copy, meant to hook a reader. The synopsis is a tool that helps the editor sell the concept to a pub board, so don’t hold back.

Since I’ve mentioned the hero’s journey, it gives me a chance to tell you once more about one of the books I believe every fiction writer should study: The Writer’s Journey, in which Christopher Vogler shows how most fiction works correspond to the structure of mythical tales. It’s not light, bedtime reading, but it’s worth studying.

That’s enough for now. Come back again for more from the ACFW meeting. Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ACFW meeting: Mall of America book signing

Kay and I returned yesterday from three whirlwind days at the annual meeting of the American Christian Fiction Writers. There are so many things to relate, but some of them will require a bit of reflection. I think I'll start with an event that I suspect represents a record of some sort: the mass book-signing at Mall of America.

On Saturday, well over 100 authors who write for the Christian market boarded buses and made the trip from our convention hotel to Mall of America. I'm not unfamiliar with large malls. After all, I'm from Texas, and we have a number of them here. But this was sort of different. For those of you unfamiliar with this gigantic mall, it's not's BIG. It has an amusement park inside, if that tells you anything. And on Saturday there were a bunch of people in the mall.

We were set up in the rotunda and along one hallway, the tables butted together and back-to-back, a sea of authors sitting with display copies of their books, most with free bookmarks, many with candy and freebies. Some of the better-known authors took the stage in the rotunda to speak for brief periods. Most of us just sat at our tables and smiled as folks walked by.

The idea was for people to buy our books at Barnes & Noble, then bring them to an author for an autograph. However, selling or signing books wasn't the chief purpose. We wanted the people in the mall to see what Christian authors looked like. There we were, young and old, every ethnic group represented, physicians and biophysicists sitting side-by-side with housewives and even a few students. We talked to lots of people. We let our writing and our lives witness. And if we reached even one or two of the multiple hundreds who stopped by, it was worth it.

I autographed a few books, talked with a lot of people, got to know the authors around me better, and felt privileged to be in the company of some high-powered writers. All in all, it was a great experience.

I'll post later this week about some of the things that happened to me at the meeting--good things, things that may be the first stirrings of a major boost to my writing future. Stay tuned.