Sunday, June 29, 2008

More Writing Opportunities

A chapter from my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, has been reprinted (with the permission of my publisher, Kregel) on the site, Good Mourning Lord. I hope you'll click the link and look at the chapter. I continue to be amazed at the way God has used this book to minister in thousands of lives. The site itself is an excellent resource for those who are grieving, and I highly recommend it.

Good Mourning Lord is an offshoot of the site The Dabbling Mum, founded almost ten years ago by Alyice Edrich. If you Google "dabbling mum" you'll find it's a "Christian Parenting, Home, Business, Writing Magazine." I'm not sure how she carries it off, but Alyice manages to do it, month after month. I enjoy the writing portion, of course, and you'll find an article of mine on "Take Your Reader On A Journey" printed there. There's a monthly writing tip from Doc Hensley and other excellent writing helps. Check it out.

For those of you looking for a venue for your articles, check out The Dabbling Mum. It's a great way to get your foot in the door, achieve some name recognition, and do a service for your fellow writers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tools Of The Trade

My grandfather was a carpenter and he was very particular about his tools. Matter of fact, I still have a wooden-handled screwdriver of his that I use frequently. My father was in air conditioning and heating, and even after he moved to the supervisory level, he carried his tool kit in his car and it always seemed to contain just what he needed for any emergency. As a physician, I was very particular about the instruments on which I depended. Tools are important.

Now that I'm masquerading as a writer, I suppose that my primary tool is my computer. Oh, there are other things, too: a couple of shelves of books on writing, a cabinet full of paper, binders, envelopes, stamps, and supplies. But the computer is where it happens. For several years I've used an iBook G4 laptop, hooked to an external monitor and keyboard. When I bought my first home computer, my son advised me to consider a Mac, "because it has a Jewish mother operating system." At that time, a PC was a complete mystery to me, but the Mac guided me through the process and I soon came to understand some of the nuances of its use.

As a true Luddite, untrusting of new technology, I went for years using Mac's Operating System 9, even after OS Ten (or OS X as they prefer to call it) was introduced. By the time I upgraded, they were calling it Tiger. It took a while to get used to it, but now I don't even recall why I didn't want to make the switch. Then came the latest version of OS X--Leopard. It's been out for quite a while, and I finally bit the bullet and upgraded this week. Despite the fact that the installation took almost three hours, plus another hour or more to install all the updates, I think it was worth it. One notable feature, called Time Machine, automatically backs up your entire hard disk onto an external source (I use a second hard disk) every hour. I hope I never have to use it, but so far it's run very smoothly and I can't even tell it's operating in the background. So, the move from one jungle cat to another has been a good one so far. Glad I did it.

The same can't be said of upgrading my Microsoft Office. I'd been using the 2004 version for Mac and wasn't unhappy, but so many Word documents I was receiving were in the new format I got tired of translating them to my older one. So, happy and trusting, I installed the Office 2008 for Mac. The last step in that installation was putting my faithful 2004 version in the trash, advising me that I could empty it at my leisure. Trusting me...I did. After a few days using the new Word, I discovered that it no longer allowed macros (which I use a lot--especially the three asterisks separated by ten spaces each used to mark a scene break), it kept autoformatting when I didn't want it to, and other deficiencies that hadn't been apparent to me when I was considering the upgrade. I'm happy to say that I've uninstalled Office 2008 and reinstalled my trusted friend, Office 2004. It tells me something that the forums are full of people cursing and fuming about the deficiencies of MS Word 2008, and that Microsoft has included an "uninstall" tool with the disk for this version. In this case, "new" and "improved" are not necessarily synonymous.

So, I'm back at work now. Upgraded operating system, comfortable old utilities, computer humming along with automatic back-up. I haven't done much writing during all this, but I've got some great ideas for a scene involving a writer who goes berserk while installing new computer software. Now if I can just work that into my work-in-progress.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Church Librarians Are Your Friend--And Vice-Versa

I've just returned from speaking to a regional meeting of church librarians. Once again, I was reminded that we Baptists are a hospitable people, and that includes feeding guests well. The folks of Harmony Hills Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas, did a magnificent job of hosting the event.

I discovered that the women and men who maintain the libraries of our churches take their responsibilities seriously. This is a labor of love for them, and they expend lots of time and effort--often unrecognized by those who use the library--in keeping the resources up-to-date and accessible. This wasn't just a social get-together. There were classes on the Dewey Decimal System (doesn't that take you back to high school?) and classification. Workshops helped provide and upgrade computer proficiency for librarians. And attendees learned new ways to promote the church library. I experienced this firsthand when I saw the posters over every...shall we say, every bit of porcelain in the men's room, all urging the user to visit the church library.

In my closing remarks, I tried to emphasize that the church library is for the entire family (the theme of this year's conference), but that those books are there because someone cared enough to write them. Someone sweated and cried to get the words right, struggled to find an agent and editor who would accept them, corrected the galleys and helped choose cover art, and continued to get the word out about them even after publication. When the book appears in the church library, the librarians become partners with those authors, helping put the right books in the hands of the readers. Only when a book is read does it begin to satisfy the reason for which it was written.

If you're a published author, I hope you've made liberal donations of your work to your church library and others around you. If you're not yet published but have learned something about the inner workings of publishing on your journey, offer to share these with the staff of your church library over coffee sometime. They were fascinated (and sometimes shocked) to hear the things I presented during my class.

The church library is an important resource. The people who staff it provide a valuable service to the congregation. I salute them.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Speaking Opportunities

I'll be speaking and teaching this weekend at the regional conference of Baptist church librarians of Texas, and I look forward to the opportunity to share with them. I was originally invited to speak at their banquet, where my subject will be "Publishing The Pain." After I accepted that invitation, they mentioned that there was an opening in their schedule and asked if I'd like to teach a class. I agreed, choosing the topic "A Look Inside Christian Publishing." For those publishing houses that have rejected my novels, including one prestigious house that requested a full manuscript--twice--and then rejected it--twice--you may wish you'd been nicer to me. Seriously, I won't be poor-mouthing anyone. However, I do look forward to giving these folks a look at what I've learned over the past four years as I made the transition from physician to writer and author.

Most of these engagements have been either in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or in conjunction with a trip I was already planning. I've spoken in North Carolina several times, once in Birmingham, and lots of times in other parts of Texas. I don't ask for an honorarium or even payment of expenses, simply considering this a part of the ministry to which God has called me.

I'll have a report on my experiences early next week. Meanwhile, I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Writing and Golf

Like millions of Americans, I watched the US Open Golf Tournament yesterday. The US Open is either the ultimate test of golf or an exercise in sadomasochism sanctioned by the US Golf Association. It has rough tall enough to hide a small dog. Sand traps are placed at strategic spots to grab the shots of those whose aim is just the slightest bit off. The greens are fast, undulating and slanted, often dropping off into barrancas (steep rock-filled gullies) that would deter even a mountain goat. Each of the two men who finished tied for first shot one under par for the seventy-two holes of competition. In an average golf tournament, the winning number is generally eight to twelve or more shots under par. The Open is a tough test.

I’ve realized that writing is a lot like golf. (Pause to let the laughter and catcalls die down). No, really. To begin with, lots of people take up both activities, but not many of them get serious. To do that requires an extensive knowledge of the subject, lots of practice, perseverance, and the ability to experience defeat time and time again without giving up. Professional golfers do it. And serious writers do, as well.

I’ll never be a professional golfer, and I doubt that I’ll be able to shoot my age unless I live to be eighty-eight and am still able to play. But I enjoy it. I don’t know if one published book and a handful of pieces in periodicals qualify me as a "serious” writer, but I enjoy that, as well. And so long as God gives me the time and inspiration, I’ll keep after it.

Like the US Open, writing is a tough test. But if it were easy, everyone would do it. So I’ll keep striving to improve my game. I hope you do the same.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Tool For Writers

The arrival yesterday of this month's issue of Writer's Digest reminded me once more that it's a great tool for those of us who are constantly trying to improve our writing--and that's pretty much all of us. Admittedly, not everything in it is applicable to me...nor will it be to you. For instance, the current issue has an article on how to format a screenplay and a stage play. Yet I found it fascinating to see the differences and similarities, and to see that those writers work under rules that are as strict as the ones we butt our heads against in writing fiction and non-fiction.

Another noteworthy piece was an article by Kevin Alexander on his struggles to choose an agent. He's fortunate enough to have become friends with an agent who likes his work and has told him she'd really like an exclusive opportunity to represent him. His friends point out that trying for an agent associated with one of the "heavy-hitter" firms would get him a much larger advance (if an editor decides to buy his work). This is a choice that a lot of you, my faithful readers, would like to be faced with, but when you are I suspect you'll experience the same angst that Kevin did.

In the back of each issue is a section called "Writer's Notebook." In this issue, Steve Almond talks about background and how much information to give the reader in the first paragraph. Notice the difference in the two examples he gives:

I can remember the first time I saw her. It was hard to miss her that night.

The first time I saw Tammy Feldman was at Deke's Sadie Hawkins bash. She was wearing a plaid mini and...

Interesting, no? As with every segment in the "Writer's Notebook," Almond provides some exercises at the end of the piece.

I'm not selling subscriptions to the magazine. You can do that without my help. However, I can tell you that I've subscribed for over a year and plan to renew when the time comes. It's been a helpful tool.

PS--After Shirley (AKA "Book Owl") left her comment, I checked her blog and found lots of excellent tips for writers. This one was absolutely God-sent to me, because it addresses where I've found myself this week. See if it speaks to you as well. Thanks, Shirley.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Flex Your Writing Muscles

Want to flex your writing muscles? Agent Rachelle Gardner has a contest at her web site that lets you do just that. Using the picture you see here as a starting point, she asks you to write a short story of no more than one hundred words. She’s awarding a prize to the winner. Hurry, though. The contest ends in a couple of days.

I encourage writers, especially those still growing in the craft, to do things like this from time to time. Here’s another exercise you can try with your crit group or just with a writing buddy. I believe it was Karen Ball who introduced me to this one. Write a few lines that center around a character that is either very good or very bad. Then another person has to take what you’ve written and add a few paragraphs that make the reader have a different view of the character—switch them from bad to good or good to bad. Once you get into the swing of it, it’s sort of fun.

And for those of you who don’t have a writing buddy, I’ll give you a starter. Try this:

“I don’t care if you are my sister, you’re a talentless hack,” Simon said.

Mary stepped to the balcony and looked at the dark, cold water below. “But I’ve staked everything on this. If I fail, I might as well jump into that river.”

Okay, that’s it. Take it from there and make Simon a good guy. (American Idol, take that!)

Here's another site you may want to check, especially if you consider your writing to be "chick lit." Literary agent Jessica Faust of Bookends LLC Agency has a post that confirms what we've been hearing for a while-- chick lit is indeed dead. But take heart. She points out that's just a label. Your writing may sell just fine if it's labeled appropriately. She gives some examples. In my opinion, this is where an agent can really help. They know the market (which seems to be changing more rapidly than gasoline prices) and can help you when doors seem to be slamming in your face.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Fun With Adverbs: Tom Swifties

As writers, we’re admonished to avoid adverbs. But if you’re tired of going through your work-in-progress and killing off these helpers, here’s an exercise that lets you use them while producing a few laughs and an occasional groan. It’s time to play “Tom Swifties.”

Tom Swifties are adverbial puns. The quip takes its name from Tom Swift, a boy's adventure hero created by the prolific American writer, Edward L. Stratemeyer. Under the pseudonym Victor Appleton, he published a series of books featuring the young hero, Tom Swift. Tom Swift rarely said anything without a qualifying adverb. For example, "Tom added eagerly" or "Tom said jokingly". This gave rise to adverbial puns that became known as Tom Swifties. A classic example is, “I’ll run right over,” Tom said swiftly. Some of these are true groaners, like this one: “The doctor had to remove my left ventricle,” said Tom, half-heartedly.

Below are a few examples. If you really want to read more, you can do a Google search and find—of all things—a Tom Swiftie dictionary, as well as other extensive collections of these puns. But remember, after you’ve stopped playing and have gone back to your writing, you have to put away the adverbs for a while. After all, that’s one of the rules—and you know how much I love writing rules.

"We have no bananas," Tom said fruitlessly.

"Have a ride in my new ambulance," Tom said hospitably.

"I haven't developed my photographs yet," Tom said negatively.

"I've removed all the feathers from this chicken," Tom said pluckily.

"I'm just an ordinary soldier," Tom said privately.

"How do you get this horse to stop?" Tom asked woefully.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Writing Tips: Avoid Cliches

None of us wants our writing to be dull. We try to spice things up, but in our efforts we may include some phrases that are over-used. A recent critique of some of my work included the admonition to avoid using cliches. Today, Mary DeMuth has a great post with an extensive list of these shopworn phrases. There's also a link that allows a trial download of a tool to find them in your own writing.

Check out her post. She really hits the nail on the head, pulling no punches and letting the chips fall where they may. Thanks, Mary.

Monday, June 02, 2008

It's A Juggling Act

I don't see how some people do it--write while holding down a full-time job (and I include being a wife and mother in that category). I'm retired, don't have to punch a time-clock or adhere to a work schedule, but I still find it almost impossible to get the time to write. It seems that, just as the creative juices are flowing, some family need or other obligation crops up. That's what's happened to me over the past week. But that's okay. God didn't make me a one-dimensional person, nor do I think He intended those of us who feel called to write to engage in the practice 24/7. We're to be well-rounded humans, sensitive to the needs around us. At least, that's my feeling.

In this short post, let me simply make an observation and let you chew on it a while. I'm currently re-reading a novel by one of my favorite authors, the late Ross Thomas. This one is Briarpatch. It won the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America, an honor that I think was richly deserved. I just read the introduction to a chapter in which Thomas uses omniscient voice to give a page and a half of explanation--the history of the city to which his protagonist is summoned when his sister is blown up by a car bomb. Then Thomas picks up in third person and moves on. He does it smoothly. He held my attention with all the "telling." In other words, he broke a couple of rules and did it with such good writing that the story proceeded smoothly. I don't plan to set out to deliberately break "rules," but if I could write as well as Ross Thomas, I'll bet I could get away with it.

Okay, back to work--and maybe a little writing later today.