Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Thanks to those of you who've accompanied me on my writing journey via these posts. Stay tuned. I think it's going to get even more interesting from here on out.

May tomorrow's dawn mark the start of a year that gives each of us a renewed closeness to the God who placed us here, and a vision of His purpose for us.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas: Light In The Darkness

This was the Christmas message I posted last year. I don't think I can say it any better. May your holidays be blessed. Random Jottings will return on January 4.


"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 21, 2009

Previews Of Coming Attractions

I've just learned to write "2009" and now 2010 is already around the corner. I may not necessarily be having fun, but nevertheless time is flying by. Other than a Christmas message on December 24, this will be my last post until next year. Here's a preview of what you can expect at that time.

I've invited Maegan Roper, the new Marketing and Publicity Manager for my publisher, Abingdon Press, to answer some questions about marketing and publicity. You'll want to check out that interview, although it may give many of the authors among us heartburn as we learn how much we need to be involved in selling our books.

New York Times best-selling author, my cyber-friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Palmer joins me for a discussion of medical details in fiction and a preview of his forthcoming novel of medical suspense, The Last Surgeon. Oh, yes, we may just touch on my own debut novel, Code Blue.

I try to make these posts interesting enough to keep you coming back to read them. If there's something you'd like discussed here, leave a comment, won't you?

Meanwhile, may I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Please Join Me In Celebrating

I'd like to share some good news with all my readers. I've just signed a contract with Abingdon Press for the publication of the second and third novels in the Prescription For Trouble series. In addition to Code Blue, which will be released April 1, 2010, you can look for Medical Error in the fall of 2010 and Cause Of Death the following spring.

I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to my agent, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary, and Barbara Scott, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Abingdon Press for all they've done to make this dream a reality. Thanks to you both for believing in me.

You can pre-order Code Blue now from your local independent bookseller, Amazon,, or Cokesbury books. If you do, drop me an email (using the "email me" tab at the upper right corner of this page) with your mailing address and the name of the retailer from which you ordered, and I'll send you a signed bookplate for the front of the book. As an added bonus, at the end of Code Blue you'll find a preview of Medical Error. I hope it piques your interest.

Thanks for letting me share this exciting news with you. My sincere wishes to all my readers for a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year. Blessings.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rules Of Writing

When I first stumbled into this thing called writing, I had a very simplistic view of the whole enterprise. After all, I'd had my full measure of English classes in high school and had done well. I'd edited or written eight textbooks that are still in use. Over a hundred of my papers had been published in medical journals. I knew how to put the words together. This fiction stuff should be a snap. Right?

We'll now pause for all the writers out there to stop laughing. No, despite being reasonably conversant with the language, I still had a lot to learn. And I'm still learning.

Of course, one of the things that frustrates every writer is seeing a novel on the shelves at our local bookstore, opening it, and seeing that the author has violated one or more of the rules we've had hammered into us.

Bill Pronzini is a well-respected writer of thrillers. He's been nominated numerous times for the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Publishers Weekly called him "a master of the modern mystery." Here are the opening lines of his novel, Quarry:

Cool, windy Monday in late April. Pale sun, scattered cumulus clouds. Nice day for a long, solitary drive into the country, especially when you had a partner and best friend who was getting married in a few days and who was turning everyone concerned into basket cases with his prenuptial mania...

There wasn't much traffic on Highway 101 south of King City, and when I turned off at San Lucas there was no traffic at all...

Now, this turns out to be a good book. I've read it a couple of times, and like Pronzini's work. But all you writers out there, what rules did he break? Here are the ones that jumped out at me. Never start a book with information about the weather. Don't write in first person--it's extremely limiting. Avoid "passive" phrases that depend on "was ---ing" verbs. Don't put too much backstory into the first few pages. Introduce tension early. Hook the reader with the first sentence if you can, certainly with the first paragraph.

How did Pronzini get away with it? The simple answer is that he'd developed a following (including me) and they knew that if they just waded through the first few pages it would get better. And, in this case, it did.

Do writing rules serve a purpose? I think they do. I've just completed the final edits of Code Blue, and I have to admit that when I followed my editor's suggestions to got rid of some of my pet words (I seem to favor "just"), when I changed "was starting" to "started," and when I applied some of the other standard "rules" for writing, the resulting prose flowed better and held my attention. But I dream of the day when I've written a couple of dozen successful books and, like Bill Pronzini, I can ignore the rules and just write.

Writers, do rules bother you or do they help? Readers, what's your take on openings like this one?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview With Author Jennifer AlLee

Fellow Abingdon author Jennifer AlLee has so many fascinating stories to tell, it’s hard to know where to start. She’s agreed to take time away from chewing her nails—she’s awaiting the February release of her novel, The Pastor’s Wife—to do an interview. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know Jen. I know I have.

RM: Let’s start with your name. It’s not Allee, it’s AlLee. Can you clarify that for us?

JA: Thanks so much for noticing the fine nuances of my moniker. AlLee is my married name, so it’s really all my husband’s fault. The origin is French, and it’s morphed quite a bit over the years. Part of the family spells it like I do. Another part uses two lowercase “el”s. And a third rebel faction spells it with the capital “el” and an accent mark. I know it can be quite confusing. But it sure looks nice on a book cover when they get it right!

RM: I understand that you have had connections with the entertainment world since very early in life. Would you share that story with my readers?

JA: My grandparents met on the vaudeville circuit. Grandma was a dancer and my grandfather was a concert violinist from Hungary: Duci deKerekjarto (how’s that for a last name?) Duci immigrated to make his mark in Hollywood, which is how our family ended up there. He remained friends with another Hungarian performer, an actor named Bela Lugosi. (Yes, the original Dracula. Take that, Edward Cullin!) Bela died before I was born, but my mom remembers being bounced on his knee and calling him Uncle Bela.

My own minor brush with fame came on the day I was born. Michael Landon Jr. and I were in the same hospital nursery in neighboring basinets. My Aunt Karen nearly passed out when she realized proud father Michael Sr. was standing at the window next to her!

RM: The Pastor’s Wife isn’t the first thing you’ve had published, not even your first novel. What else have you written?

JA: Early in my writing journey, I sold a few short stories. Later on, I had the honor of being recommended for a project at Concordia Publishing House. My pastor at the time writes for them and he thought I’d be good for a book of skits they were putting together. I did that, which led to other projects including writing for their My Devotions series. To date, I’ve written over 100 devotions. My other book is The Love of His Brother, a contemporary inspirational romance for Five Star. You can read more about it on my website.

RM: Would you give my readers a preview of The Pastor’s Wife?

JA: I would love to. Maura Sullivan never thought she’d see Granger, Ohio, again. But when circumstances force her to return, she must face all the disappointments she tried so hard to leave behind; a husband that ignored her, a congregation she couldn’t please, and a God who took away everything she ever loved.

Nick Shepherd had put the past behind him. At least he thought he had, until the day his estranged wife walked back into town. Intending only to help Maura through her crisis of faith, Nick discovers his feeling for her never died. Now, he must face the mistakes he made and find a way to give and receive forgiveness.

As God works in both their lives, Nick and Maura start to believe they can repair their broken relationship and reunite as man and wife. But Maura has one more thing to tell Nick before they can move forward. It’s the thing that finally drove her to leave years earlier, and the one thing that can destroy the fragile trust they’ve managed to rebuild.

RM: Before you began writing the book, did you have any special insight into the life of a pastor and his family?

JA: I served as a church secretary for many years, which definitely gave me a unique perspective on the lives of a pastoral family. I worked at two different churches. One was a large denominational church, the other much smaller and non-denominational. But the lives of the pastors were quite similar. There’s always another meeting to go to, or one more person that needs counseling. People feel very possessive about their pastors. This usually manifests itself in positive ways, but sometimes it crosses a line. You have to watch out for that. And the pastoral family faces challenges no one really thinks about. They basically live in a glass house and are expected to be active members of every church activity, whether they’re interested in it or not.
When I was working on the original concept for this novel, I thought about the pastors’ wives I’ve known over the years. They’ve handled themselves with amazing grace under pressure. But what if another woman couldn’t? What if a young woman thinks she knows what she’s getting into, but the reality of losing who she is and becoming a “pastor’s wife” is more than she can handle? What if some other tragedy pushes her over the edge? Would she run? And what would happen if she had to return to the scene of her heartbreak years later? All those questions eventually became The Pastor’s Wife.

RM: You also speak to various groups. I notice that one of your subjects is journaling, an activity in which I engaged after the death of my first wife, resulting in my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. What got you interested in journaling?

JA: I’ve kept journals since I was in high school. I have a big plastic storage box full of notebooks I can’t bear to part with. But when I realized the healing aspect of journaling was about 16 years ago after my son was born. I went through a bout of post-partum depression, although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I would lie in bed at night wanting desperately to sleep but not being able to. My head was such a jumble of emotions and confusion I wanted to scream. One night, I picked up a notebook I kept next to the bed and started writing. All these feelings just poured onto the page. It didn’t matter if it made sense or if the writing was pretty, I just needed to get all this stuff out. I did that every night for at least a month until the depression finally took off. Journaling helped me hold on to my sanity. That, and I Love Lucy reruns.

RM: What’s your next project? Is there another book on your hard drive right now?

JA: Oh, Richard, there are so many books on my hard drive! All are in various stages of completion, but I hope to find a home for each of my babies one day. I have a completed manuscript that’s in a publishing competition right now. By the time your readers see this interview, I’ll know whether or not it won. If you want to know more about the fate of Vinnie’s Diner, come on over to my website or blog.

RM: And finally, any last words for my readers?

JA: Thanks so much for having me here, Richard. And thank you, readers, for going on this journey with me. One of the best things about being a writer is meeting new people. I’d love to keep in touch. Here are some places you can find me:

My Website
My Blog
On Twitter
On Facebook
And last but not least, check out The Pastor’s Wife book trailer on YouTube:
Be blessed!

Jen, thanks for stopping by Random Jottings. I’m looking forward to reading The Pastor's Wife. For my readers, here's a link where you can find out more about the book and pre-order it at a substantial discount.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Farewell To An Icon

Kay and I recently watched the last episode of the TV show, "Monk." It would be an understatement to say that we hated to see it end. We didn't start out as fans of this show, but after we decided to try it, we were hooked.

Eight years ago, gifted actor Tony Shalhoub introduced us to the obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk. I'd seen Shalhoub in "Wings" and thought he was funny. But he brought more than comedy to the role of Monk. We felt his angst as he sought to find the person responsible for killing his wife, Trudy. We identified with his frustrations--at least, I did--and smiled when those around him made allowances and loved him for what he was.

This was something rare: a cable TV show without nudity, sex, profanity, or other things shown by cable networks just because they could. There was some violence, but even that was toned down compared with some of the images and situations I've seen on network shows.

Maybe I liked Monk because he gave me one of my favorite catch phrases: "I don't mind change. I just don't like to be around when it happens." Well, now my Friday nights have changed. But for all the good ones they've given me, my thanks go out to Shalhoub, the other actors on the series, and the people at USA network. Thanks for the memories.

For the writers among you: I'll be teaching two courses at the Mount Hermon Writers' Conference next spring, one on medical details in fiction, the other on "what I wish I'd known when I started." I'd like to know what you wish you'd learned earlier in your writing journey. Leave your contribution in the comments section. I'm looking forward to reading your responses. Thanks.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Interview With Author CJ Lyons

It’s always a pleasure to welcome a fellow physician and writer to my blog. Today we’re visiting with pediatric emergency room doctor CJ Lyons, who writes “cutting edge medical suspense.” Her first three novels follow four nurses working in the emergency room of Angels of Mercy Medical Center in Pittsburgh. They’re best sellers because CJ combines excellent writing with an insider’s knowledge of emergency medicine. It’s good to welcome CJ back to Random Jottings.

RM: I’ll start with the question I’m always asked. Are the situations in your novel taken from your own experiences, or are they purely a product of your imagination?

CJ: The medicine is all as real as I can make it (I just take out the boring bits) but all of the patients are purely fictional. One of the situations in Urgent Care that is especially timely is the deportation of patients who are uninsured—the New York Times recently did a series of articles on a case similar to the one I created for Urgent Care.

RM: Tell us about getting your first contract with Berkley and the leap of faith you took in response to it.

CJ: Berkley gave me the opportunity to create a new kind of thriller, something fresh and different that hadn’t been done before—a cross-genre medical thriller with romantic elements, told from the point of view of women. It was quite exhilarating! Since there are no books like these out there right now, it makes marketing and helping readers to find them (in General Fiction/Literature to the left of Moby Dick) a challenge.

RM: Three novels in the series have been published. Can you give my readers a bit of insight into each of them? And are they interdependent enough that it would be best to start with the first novel, Lifelines?

CJ: To get the full effect of the character development, I would start with Lifelines. I try to make them readable in any order, revealing any important info to new readers, so no worries about reading them out of order.

Lifelines is basically a stranger comes to town story. On "the most dangerous day of the year," July 1st, Dr. Lydia Fiore loses the wrong patient. Her quest for the truth behind his death eventually places her, her new friends, and the entire city of Pittsburgh in danger.

In Book #2, Warning Signs, medical student Amanda Mason is investigating the suspicious deaths of patients. When she begins to experience the same deadly symptoms, she realizes that time is running out.

Book #3, Urgent Care, follows ER charge nurse Nora Halloran as she confronts her greatest fear. The man who brutally attacked her two years ago has returned—only now he’s killing his victims and both Nora and the man she loves are his next targets.

RM: How has your life changed since you became a full-time author?

CJ: Wow, life as a writer is sooooo very different from practicing medicine! No more rigid schedules, no beeper interrupting every family meal, no more driving in the snow at 3am for an emergency. As much as I miss my patients, I am enjoying my newfound freedom.

RM: What’s on the horizon for CJ Lyons?

CJ: Book #4 of the Angels of Mercy series, Isolation, will be out December, 2010—which means I need to finish writing it! Isolation is going to be very intense, think Die Hard in a hospital, with a compressed time period, so it should provide folks with quite a thrilling holiday read next year!

RM: Your web site has some really great links to help writers. You also teach writers’ workshops. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you do that?

CJ: As a pediatrician, teaching was always a part of my everyday life—a part that I loved. I didn’t want to give that up, so I began teaching writing classes. I must be doing something right because I’m booked through 2011 and to date more than thirty of my students have gone from unpublished to published—not that I can take any of the credit, but I’m very proud of them!

Thanks, CJ, for dropping by Random Jottings. We'll let you get back to your writing and teaching now. I look forward to reading Isolation next year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Imagine That!

Many years ago, when I was a child and the earth's crust was cooling, I listened to a program every Saturday morning. It was called "Let's Pretend," and it featured the dramatization of a fairy tale or children's story. There was no TV in those days (hard to imagine, huh?) so the listeners could let their imagination run wild in picturing what was happening.

Imagining things isn't dead, even today in this age of movies, TV, YouTube, and other visual presentations. That's why I most often enjoy a book more than a movie or a TV adaptation. I can apply my own imagination, paint my own pictures to go along with the words. And that's a good thing, in my estimation.

This is what writers do, whether they craft short stories, novels, screen plays, or TV scripts. They let their own imagination guide them to set up scenes and scenarios where the reader/viewer can paint the picture in their own mind. When that happens, when the audience finds themselves in the middle of the action, identifying with the lead character, the writer has succeeded. Has a book, play, or TV show done this for you? I hope so.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some imagining to do. What will Allison do in response to this latest challenge? Matter of fact, what will be the next challenge? I can only imagine.

Monday, November 30, 2009

James Scott Bell and The Art Of War For Writers

James Scott Bell is more than a prolific and talented author. He is a great teacher, mentor, and encourager of many writers, and I am proud to be included among those he has touched in a positive way. His latest book is The Art Of War For Writers. This work goes beyond the basics of his two prior books on writing: Plot And Structure and Revision & Self-Editing. These are indispensible to the writer who wishes to perfect his or her craft, but in The Art Of War For Writers Jim has gone past the nuts and bolts to the intangibles that separate the merely good writer from the one whose work is “a cut above.”

Jim has graciously consented to take time away from coffee-drinking, people-watching and pounding out his daily quota of words at his local Starbucks to answer a few questions about this book.

RM: First, aside from a possible desire to be known as a modern-day Sun Tzu, why The Art Of War?

JSB: I was just thinking one day about how getting published is a real battle these days. Well, it always has been, but the climate seems to be getting cloudier. I found myself typing up a blog post using this metaphor. As I did some research on military principles, I came back to The Art of War, which I'd read years ago. What was ground breaking about Sun Tzu was that he used very short, but very potent principles to bring order to the chaos of war in his day.
So I thought, what about doing the same thing for writers? Not just another "how-to," but a sort of "field manual" for those in the battle to get published. I pitched the idea to Writers Digest Books and they loved it. So here we are.

RM: You’ve already written two excellent books about the craft of writing. What do you see as the audience for this book?

JSB: I've said it's for those who desire to get, and stay, published. It is a collection relating to topics that include motivation and inspiration, the fiction craft (things not usually taught that take fiction to a higher level), and the business side of things. It's not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. One can look at the contents and check out what's most needed at the time.

RM: The face of publishing appears to be changing on a daily basis. How does this book prepare the modern writer to face those challenges?

JSB: I tried to stick to core principles, things that don't changes, as Sun Tzu did. While war has changed in its scope and technology, Sun Tzu's principles still remain solid. I wanted to do the same thing with writing.

For example, in the craft section I talk about various ways fiction can be elevated to that storied "next level." These techniques hold no matter what form the fiction ultimately comes out in -- book, Kindle, pdf, whatever. On the business side, how you plan for a career should be based on core competencies, critical success factors and strategic planning. These things are unalterable.

RM: Two unrelated questions that have intrigued me. This book, like your other books on writing, is loaded with quotations that bring it alive. How do you come up with all these? And what do those symbols alongside the page numbers of the book mean?

JSB: I love quotes on writing and have been collecting them for years. I pick them up all over the place and put them in a file. A lot of them come out of interviews with writers.

As for the symbols, great question. Loosely translated, they mean "strategies" and "tactics."

RM: Jim, you can go back to your mocha now, but thanks for sharing with us today. The Art Of War For Writers ranks alongside Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies For Fun And Profit in my pantheon of books about writing that are just purely enjoyable to read.

JSB: Thank you for comparing the book to Block's, which I also greatly enjoy. Block has the ability to get in the head of the writer, to anticipate what he or she might be thinking, and to respond in a way that gets to the heart of things. That's my hope for this book as well.

RM: Thanks again. I hope you readers will order your copy today. If you purchase through Amazon, here is the link for The Art of War for Writers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks

It's been a tough year for our nation. How can we pause to give thanks when unemployment is high, our men and women continue to offer up their lives on foreign soil, there's unrest throughout the world and unease here at home? Yet, despite all this, we are among all nations most blessed. Please pause today and thank God for His protection and provision in your life, and pray for those less fortunate than you.

My thanks to each of you for spending a few minutes each week at Random Jottings. Have a great weekend.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Interview With Author Christa Allan

Today my guest is fellow author Christa Allan. Christa and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs, Lousiana. They are the parents of five adult children and grandparents of three. She’s published essays in Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul, The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort, and Chicken Soup for the Divorced and Recovering Soul. Her debut novel, Walking On Broken Glass, will be released in February, 2010, by Abingdon Press. She is a truly talented writer, and I hope you enjoy getting to know her.

RM: Christa, what prompted you to move from writing short pieces and essays to women’s fiction?

CA: Lunacy? Actually I wedged the short pieces between the fiction. I needed a sense of completion. And then having them accepted for publication not only provided a bit of “mad” money, it motivated me to plow through the novel.

RM: How long did it take you to write Walking On Broken Glass?

CA: I’d been writing it in my head for quite a while, and when I discovered the words weren’t going to magically dive out of my brain and onto paper, I started writing, never really believing I’d ever finish. Over half was finished before Hurricane Katrina. In fact, as we were packing to leave after the hurricane (read the story here) I put the manuscript into large Zip-Loc bags to take it with us. It stayed in those bags for two years. My husband had lost his job because of the hurricane, so even though our home had little damage, we moved to another city three hours away. I taught in a new school, we lived in a small rent house and kept our furniture in storage. We were both so disoriented, I didn’t even attempt to write again until a few months before we ended up moving back. And instead of working on WOBG, I started a YA novel. After we resettled, (ironically right back into our home which hadn’t sold!), I reacquainted myself with WOBG and finished it in a matter of weeks.

RM: Do you think your background as a high school English teacher helped you, or did it stifle your creativity? Did you find yourself thinking about “rules” as you wrote?

CA: When I started Walking On Broken Glass, I entered the first three chapters in a number of writing contests. Several times I’d receive score sheets slamming me on grammar, and I’d discover some “corrections” were incorrections! Clearly, I’m not above making errors, and I don’t wear a Grammar Queen tiara (at least not in public). I do hesitate to own my English teacherness for fear I’ll totally humiliate myself by falling into a comma. I’m not sure my background stifled my creativity as much as frustrated me because I thought I’d never measure up to novelists I’d read.

I don’t think about rules when I write…ask my editor!

RM: Tell us the story of how you got “the call.”

CA: The same day Rachelle Gardner received my sample chapters and proposal, she emailed me asking for the full. After I picked myself up off the floor, I sent it and then tied myself in an emotional knot. 
A few weeks later, she sent another email asking when she could call (that instant would’ve been great!). I opened that email and my third hour class walked in wondering how I could be in tears when they’d not yet sat in their desks! Kidding, of course, they were so excited with and for me. The week between that email and Rachelle’s call didn’t seem to pass as quickly as I’d hoped! When you and 145 other people (a day later, all my students knew about the call) are waiting. Finally, at 3:00 on January 30,, 2008, Rachelle and I spoke, and the celebration began a few minutes later!

RM: And did you achieve instant success?

CA: The celebration didn't last long. In April, Rachelle started shopping the novel. Visions of auctions danced in my head, and I was sure that at least one publisher out of that long list she’d sent my novel to would leap at the opportunity.

RM: Did they?

CA: Not so much. In May, Rachelle called to tell me that the response from editors was the novel was “too issue-driven.” And my being a first-time novelist didn’t help either. She said she’d continue to look for a home for it, but I may want to start considering some ideas for another book.

So, I spent my summer working on proposals for my editor appointments at the September ACFW Conference. As much as I loved WOBG, I understood that the subject matter being outside of the usual boundaries of Christian fiction and my being a new writer were risks for publishers. And Rachelle believed in the novel, and I believed in her, so I prayed that God would teach me to “let go.”

Then, at ICRS in July, Rachelle met Barbara Scott, the editor of Abingdon Press, a Methodist publishing house launching fiction for the first time. She pitched my novel, Barbara asked to see it, but it took two weeks to get it to her because Barbara’s email kept spamming it! A few weeks later, Barbara said she was interested in it, and after a few more weeks of my being on nins and peedles (as my children used to say), Rachelle called at 11:43 am on October 30 to tell me that Abingdon bought my novel. This time, my fifth period class got to watch me cry.

RM: Some people don’t realize that once you get a contract for your novel, the work has just begun. Can you give us an idea of all the things you’ve had to do before the launch of Walking On Broken Glass?

CA: With every hurdle I jump between contract and launch, I repeat, “This is a great problem to have. This is a great problem to have.” Even this close to release, I’m still stunned that a book I wrote is really going to be published. When Barabra sent me the edits, I cringed because it’d been a while since I’d spent time with WOBG, and I was appalled by my “was” and “-ing” abuse! So, after the editing, in no particular order, these are some of the things I’ve done/I’m doing?I’ve yet to do!

- revamped my blog into a website

- had professional headshots taken (trust me on this …a great photographer with amazing photoshopping skills is worth it! With as many headshots as I’ve had to send out, it’s nice to not have to send an apology note with each one!)

-wrote back cover copy

-contacting bookstores to set up signings

- working out blog tours

-schmoozing online and in person as much as possible

- praying and praying and praying

RM: Your subject matter is one that has to be handled delicately. How did you decide to write about alcoholism?

CA: My tagline is “stories of unscripted grace” and that grew from my realization that our lives don’t always follow the scripts we’ve expected and, as a result, we sometimes find ourselves frustrated, lonely, confused, angry. We think God’s abandoned us, when-ironically-we may be following God’s script for our lives, and His grace will sustain us. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and by God’s grace, have not had a drink for over twenty years. I invited God back into my life because of AA, not in spite of it.

As I grew in my faith and in my recovery, I realized that so many Christian families suffer in silence. Alcoholism, drug, sex, or food addiction, lifestyles are all the big elephants in the room we don’t talk about. But we all know they exist. So, what’s someone to do who’s immersed in these challenges? I wanted to reassure women struggling with addiction that they’re not alone, that there’s a loving and compassion God who cares about them and His grace will be sufficient for them. I wanted to remove the fa├žade that often hinders real recovery. “Good” Christian families aren’t immune to the world, but once we admit we have a problem, we can be healed by God.

RM: Other than “Geaux Tigers” (and I forgive you for being such a vocal LSU fan), any final words for my readers?

CA: Besides buying a dozen copies of my novel? (Oh, and of course, yours!). I deeply appreciate your being here, and thanks to Richard for inviting me. You can follow my writing journey and sign up for my upcoming newsletter at my website, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Christa, thanks for stopping by. With your permission, I’m going to share a bit of the prologue to Walking On Broken Glass with my readers. If they haven’t already pre-ordered their copy, this should encourage them to do so now.

If I had known children break on the inside and the cracks don’t surface until years later, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known some parents don’t live to watch grandchildren grow, I would have taken more pictures and been more careful with my words.

If I had known couples can be fragile and want what they are unprepared to give or unwilling to take, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known teaching lasts a lifetime, and students don’t speak of their tragic lives, I would have been more careful with my words.

If I had known my muscles and organs and bones and skin are not lifetime guarantees that when broken, snagged, unstitched or unseemly, can not be returned for replacement, I would have been kinder to the shell that prevents my soul from leaking out.

If I had known I would live over half my life and have to look at photographs to remember my mother adjusting my birthday party hat so that my father could take the picture that sliced the moment out of time- if I had known, if I had known- I would have been more careful with my life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writer Magazine And Christian Fiction

The Writer is one of the writing magazines I make an effort to read each month, along with Writers Digest. Each month, The Writer devotes one article to marketing. In December, the focus is--are you ready for this?--Christian fiction.

I'd have to say that I have mixed emotions about the article. Someone once said that there's no such thing as bad publicity, so I guess it's good to see this subject in a mainstream writers' magazine. But I wish they'd gone a bit more in-depth about the subject. For instance, Jerry Jenkins' Christian Writers Guild, is listed prominently as a resource, but no mention is made of the largest organization and meeting for writers of Christian fiction: the American Christian Fiction Writers. The article lists a dozen "agents for Christian fiction," and although my own agent is featured, others that I consider prominent in the field are missing.

The writer of the article credits the "Left Behind" series from Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye for opening the mind of the general public to this genre. They also discuss how The Shack has affected this market. What authors introduced you to Christian fiction? And to help those of my readers who don't read it, whose work would you recommend for a start?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Amazon Has My LIfe

I navigated to my author page and the realization hit me: Amazon is showing a capsule of my professional life. The three books shown next to my photograph are 1) Allergy In ENT Practice, one of the last of the many textbooks I've co-written or edited, 2) The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, the book I wrote after the death of my first wife and following my retirement from medicine, and 3) Code Blue, my debut novel of medical suspense, due out April 1, 2010.

I guess that pretty well summarizes my professional life. I spent thirty-six years as a physician, educator, researcher, medical writer. After retiring in 2002, I spent three years drawing on my journal entries made after Cynthia's death to write The Tender Scar, learning a great deal (but never enough) about writing and publishing along the way. After I turned my attention to writing fiction, I wrote three complete novels that never saw the light of day, producing several revised versions of the work as well, before I got a contract for Code Blue. And, to be truthful, I didn't get that contract. My agent, Rachelle Gardner, and editor Barbara Scott of Abingdon Press cooperated to make that happen.

I recently participated in a teaching conference at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and discovered that I'm still pretty knowledgeable about allergy in otolaryngology (that's ENT). On the other hand, I'm continuing to write. I'm well into the third book in my Prescription For Trouble series while responding to the final edits for Code Blue. I feel like one of those stunt riders who gallops around the ring with one foot on the back of each of two horses. But so long as I can keep them going on a manageable course, I'm enjoying the ride.

Hope you're enjoying your ride as well, wherever those horses are taking you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...Christmas?

It sounds like some kind of shaggy dog story, but it's true. I was in a store in mid-October and saw two sets of shelves across the aisle from each other. One was filled with Halloween merchandise, the other bore Christmas merchandise. I can recall a time when the march of seasons and holidays seemed more leisurely. Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. Now, we're not even past one holiday before we're bombarded with messages (and buying opportunities) about the next. I guess it won't be long before we tune in to PBS' "A Capitol Fourth" and see Erich Kunzel directing the National Symphony Orchestra in a medley of "You're A Grand Old Flag" and "Jingle Bells."

Maybe it's my age (naah, can't be that) or maybe it's our modern society, but to me we seem to be so anxious to get somewhere that we miss everything that goes by. Just before Halloween, our church had a great Fall Festival, providing an opportunity to connect with a lot of people who might otherwise have been hesitant to have anything to do with the people who go in and out of that imposing building that stands on the fringes of their neighborhood. Thanksgiving means family time--that and a Dallas Cowboys game. Christmas deserves a post of its own, but I'll just say that it's too wonderful an event to mark with cards sent out as an obligation and gifts given while knowing they'll be exchanged afterward. New Year's is a symbolic time of new beginning (and, of course, more football).

I'm probably going to be just as guilty as anyone else, but this year I'm planning to try to enjoy not just the destination but the ride. And that means, despite what they're putting out in the stores, one holiday at a time. How about you?

PS--In case you can't zoom into the picture at the top of this post, the house on the left is lit up with Christmas decorations. The lights on the house on the right spell out "Ditto." (Thanks to my daughter-in-law, Catherine, for sending it. I think it illustrates my point.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Remembrance

The tragic events at Fort Hood make this an especially moving Veterans Day. For hundreds of years, brave men and women have put themselves in harm's way--at home and abroad-- to defend our country and protect our liberty.

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

Monday, November 09, 2009

Interview With Author Linda Clare

Today, I’m privileged to have as my guest author Linda Clare. Linda’s debut novel, The Fence My Father Built, was recently released by Abingdon Press. In addition to writing fiction, Linda is an award-winning author of short stories and essays, as well as a teacher of college level classes and mentor to writers. She and her husband Brad are the parents of four adult children, and live in Eugene, Oregon.

RM: Linda, when did you begin writing?

LC: When I was twelve, I had to stay out of school for days at a time due to illness. From my bed, I began pounding out stories and poems on an Underwood manual typewriter that a great-aunt had given me. When I was seventeen, some of these were published in a national market. After a twenty-five year hiatus because life intervened, I began what I consider a fifteen year apprenticeship in writing, mainly poems and short personal essays. Then I wrote my first novel, snagged a New York agent—who couldn’t sell the book, so I was back to square one.

RM: So you were successful in some areas, but didn’t sell your first novel. Did that stop you from writing?

LC: Not at all. I coauthored a nonfiction book, Lost Boys and the Moms Who Love Them, with my pals, Melody Carson and Heather Kopp. Then two more nonfiction projects, coauthoring with Kristen Ingram. And during all this, I kept writing fiction. The Fence My Father Built was my second novel, but it took more than ten years and dozens of rejections before Melody Carlson mentioned my novel to Abingdon’s Barbara Scott, who said “yes.”

RM: What's the most difficult part of writing for you?

LC: Time. When I first started writing, I ran a full-time day care from my home, in addition to caring for my own four children. During naptime every afternoon, I hauled our electric typewriter onto the stove top and typed standing up so I could keep one eye on the kids sleeping around the corner in the living room.

RM: How much of yourself do you put into your characters?

LC: In my first 3 books, which were nonfiction, putting myself in was required. Even though for fiction the characters should have their own personalities, early in my writing I noted some aspects of myself sneaking into my books. Now I look with a more critical eye.

RM: Have you had trouble learning to sift through critiques and suggestions and trust your own instincts?

LC: (Muffled laughter.) One of my co-authors once said I reminded her of the man who got up onto his donkey and rode off in all directions. I used to try to implement everyone’s suggestions and ended up pleasing no one, especially me. It’s still hard to know when something I write is pitch-perfect and when it’s a bomb, but God is a wonderful critique partner. God often shows me what to keep and what to cut, but only after I’ve let the draft “cool off” for several days. Or months. Or years.

RM: What can you tell us about The Fence My Father Built?

LC: It’s about Muri Pond, a laid-off librarian who always dreamed of finding her biological father. When she finally does, it’s too late. Joe Pond has died and left her his legacy: a remote parcel of rundown central Oregon property, surrounded by a fence made from old oven doors. Muri battles a troublesome neighbor, fights for her father’s Native American heritage and rediscovers the faith her alcoholic dad somehow never abandoned

RM: Did you experience a specific 'what if' moment in writing the story?

LC: Yes, I took a fiction workshop from Melody Carlson and I imagined this librarian who was desperate to belong somewhere. The setting was originally Arizona where I’m from. Then I visited central Oregon and found it so similar to Northern Arizona region around Sedona, I was hooked on the red dirt of central Oregon.

RM: What message would you like The Fence My Father Built to convey to readers?

LC: I hope readers get the message that we are all redeemable. Muri’s father, a half Nez Perce Indian, is an alcoholic who wants to preserve his native heritage. But he’s also a devout Christian and Muri discovers that being in God’s family is the strongest bond that love can make.

RM: Even though it sounds sinister, I always ask my guests if they have any last words. Do you?

LC: If you’re a reader, despite the instant-message world we live in, you have my admiration. Because of you, I’m able to imagine worlds for you to get lost in, just as I did as a kid with Oz books. If you write or even just wish you could be a writer, write it down now. Not tomorrow, or when the kids are older, when you’re retired or when there isn’t anything else to do. Write as if your life depended on it. Be prepared to learn a lot, cry some, and become the kind of ambassador for God that spreads the Good News wherever your writing goes. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks, Linda. I hope my readers will check out The Fence My Father Built. I don't think your long "apprenticeship" was wasted, so we'll be looking for more fiction from you in the future.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

We Mourn As A Nation

The tragic shooting at our nation's largest military base reminds us that we live in troubled times. Our hearts go out to the families of the casualties, and we enfold them in our prayers.
I'll wear my flag pin on my suit lapel tomorrow, and I'll continue to pray that God will protect and preserve our country, and that we in turn will recognize our dependence on Him.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

How Do You Keep Score?

Jerry and I have been playing golf together for about ten years. Most Wednesday mornings you can find us out there like most other golfers, doing damage to the fairways and rough, complaining about greens that are too hard or too soft, and debating the merits of chipping with a seven iron vs. a four iron. But there's one thing that's unusual about our game: we don't keep score. Oh, we recognize it when we get a par or a birdie, but we never put a number on the scorecard unless we happen to be playing in a tournament. Otherwise, we're there to enjoy the open air, the exercise, and the opportunity to talk with each other. Good shots are just a bonus, while bad shots are quickly forgotten.

The fellowship has been good for both of us. We've supported each other through the death of our respective first wives, rejoiced with each other when God blessed each of us a second time with the love of a wonderful woman, talked about the myriad of problems we've encountered that week. We play as a two-some, so we can speak openly. Sometimes one of us will say, "I really needed this today." It's good therapy.

Some people would say that it's too bad that we don't keep score. Personally, I think we keep score--just not the way these people think of it. I've played golf with some folks who take the game very seriously. They turn the air blue after a bad shot. They concentrate so hard I can just picture the acid burning their ulcer a bit deeper. I have seen a player in my foursome throw not one but two clubs into a water hazard. That's not why I play golf. Sure, I want to make good shots, but I want to have fun as well. That's how I keep score.

How do you live life? Are you so goal-oriented that you'll cheat a little, lie a bit, fudge just a fraction to get ahead? Is your success tied to the balance in your bank account or the credit limit on that piece of plastic you're carrying? If so, maybe you're keeping score the wrong way.

If a day rarely passes without your doing some random act of kindness, that's better than a string of pars. If you're able to go out of your way to help someone else, that's more desirable than a birdie. And if, at the end of the day, you can say, "I did the best I could," I'd say you'd scored pretty well. Wouldn't you?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Interview With Author Kay Marshall Strom

I’m pleased to have as my guest today fellow Abingdon author Kay Marshall Strom. Her latest work is the novel, The Call Of Zulina.

RM: How did you get started writing Christian fiction?

KMS: Although all of my previous thirty-five books are non-fiction, I have enjoyed writing fiction in screenplays and even short stories. So, really, fiction is just an extension of what I have been doing. It is a powerful medium.

RM: What inspired you to write The Call of Zulina?

KMS: While I was in West Africa working on another project, I toured an old slave fortress and was struck dumb by a set of baby-sized manacles bolted to the wall. Not long after, while I was researching Once Blind: The Life of John Newton (the author of the hymn Amazing Grace was a slaver turned preacher and abolitionist), I “met” a couple who had run a slave business in Africa in the 1700s. I wondered, If that couple had had a daughter, who would she be, English or African? And as I remembered the slave fortress, I asked, Where would her loyalties lie?

RM: Is any part of The Call of Zulina factual?

KMS: Absolutely! That imagined daughter of the long ago slave traders became Grace. And the characters of Lingongo and Joseph Winslow, her parents, are modeled after that real-life English seaman and his African wife. The slave scenes, as awful as they may be, are toned down from real life. In many cases, readers would not be able to bear the graphic truth.

RM: What message would you like your readers to take from The Call of Zulina?

KMS: Having one foot in each of two worlds and not quite belonging in either is a common feeling, especially for Christians who are “in this world but not of this world.” I would like readers to see that there is great power in taking a stand, even though there is a cost. The consequences of fence-straddling are far greater. I also want readers to grasp the blight that slavery is on humanity. More slavery exists in the world today by four-fold than in the 18th century.

RM: How long did it take you to complete this novel?

KMS: That’s hard to say. The first draft was completed in a couple of months. But it went through two major revisions after that, and because it was a back-burner project, time passed between revisions. From the time I first started until it was in final form was about two years.

RM: How much research went into writing The Call of Zulina?

KMS: A huge amount, because it is set in a time and place outside my experience. But I truly loved the research. And I had the benefit of Senegalese friends who speak indigenous languages and live in the area.

RM: What was the most interesting thing you learned while writing The Call of Zulina?

KMS: We all know something of the awfulness of the slave trade, but the evidence of total callous disregard of human life was staggering. It’s terrifying to see the horror of which good, God-fearing people are capable, and how they can rationalize their actions away with selected quotes from the Bible.

RM: What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

KMS: Time… time… time! Also, because I often write about social injustice, there’s the inherent frustration of wanting to grab hold and change things.

RM: What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

KMS: Certain issues are really important to me, such as fighting slavery in our world today. Writing provides me with a unique platform for making people aware of these issues and helping them see how they can be involved in solutions.

RM: What other projects are ahead for you?

KMS: I’m talking with Abingdon about a trilogy set in India, a saga covering thee generations of a family of “untouchables” and the high caste family that controls their lives, where Christianity collides with Hinduism.

RM: What do you see as your mission as a writer?

KMS: To write books that make a positive difference in lives and, in Christ’s name, for society.

RM: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

KMS: I am the mother of two wonderful children, a daughter Lisa and a son Eric. They are my greatest achievements.

Kay, thanks for joining us today. I hope my readers will pick up a copy of The Call Of Zulina, and I look forward to hearing about your work in the future.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm Back

It was a quick trip--five days instead of our usual week--and we flew instead of driving. Nevertheless, we enjoyed getting away. The picture here was taken a year ago, and doesn't begin to compare to the wonderful color of the foliage this year. Sometimes you get lucky and just hit the exact right time to see the full glory of God's handiwork. That's what happened this year.

My first surprise was finding that my new laptop didn't have a connector for a phone cord! Ethernet, Firewire, USB ports, but no phone connector. Since that was all we usually could use to access the Internet at our timeshare, I thought I was doomed to be cut off from the outside world. Then we discovered that there were a couple of WiFi hotspots on the property. But you know what? Even though I went down to the little cafe/deli each morning and checked my email, I found myself taking less time each day to do it. I didn't bother reading any blogs, checking my Twitter or Facebook accounts, or any of the other Internet things to which I'd become so accustomed. I'd cut the electronic umbilical cord, and I found that I survived very well, thank you.

Now we're back. I've spent the day dealing with all the mail that piled up in our absence. I'm handling the things we put off "until after the trip." (I don't suppose any of you ever do that). Now I'm ready to sit back and relax a bit more, take the last few hours of true "vacation" before starting the daily grind once more. But I can't help wondering if I'm not going to be absent from Twitter and Facebook a lot more than previously. You know, maybe Wordsworth was right: "The world is too much with us, late and soon."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sharpen The Saw

Years ago, when Stephen Covey first published his book, 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, my oldest son pointed out to me that one of the chapters encouraged the reader to "sharpen the saw," meaning take time to refresh and renew yourself. I think he was trying to tell me something. Well, I may be a slow learner, but I eventually caught on.

As you read this, we're on vacation at beautiful and peaceful Lake Lure, North Carolina. Since we've been here, we've been enjoying the lovely fall colors, visiting with dear friends who have the timeshare next to ours, and I've been "sharpening my saw."

I hope you'll come back Monday, when I'll be interviewing author Kay Marshall Strom about her new novel, The Call Of Zulina.

Monday, October 26, 2009

3 Ft Of Books $20

Normally, I enjoy being in a book store. Even though I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number of books out there, wondering whether the ones I write will ever make a difference, it's still neat to enjoy the feel of being surrounded by so many volumes, so much knowledge, the result of so much effort. And, unless you've actually written one or more books and gone through the pain of seeking publication, you may not fully comprehend that effort. But, I digress.

What struck me in this particular store was a shelf of used books, marked down about as low as possible. People were being encouraged to buy these books by the yard. "3 Ft Of Books $20" read the sign. Of course, my author's imagination took over then. How many hands had those books passed through? How many lives had the authors touched before their work ended up here? And how many books by these authors were sitting on other shelves, not on the bargain aisle of a used book store but in a home or office?

There's a saying in baseball: Managers are hired to be fired. At the end of this last season, you could count on half a dozen or more team owners, those whose teams didn't make the play-offs, saying, "We just need to go in a different direction." What they were really saying was that these managers, although they may have performed their jobs well, had outlived their shelf life. It was time for new blood, a fresh approach. And you can bet that many of these fired managers were already getting feelers from other teams in different cities.

My hope is that the books on that bargain shelf, like a fired baseball manager, will end up in different homes, in the hands of new owners, where they can continue to be useful. After all, isn't that the purpose of a book--or a life?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Code Blue Available On Amazon

When you're waiting for the publication of your first novel, time seems to drag at a glacier-like rate. Then you're suddenly reminded that the book is nearing release, and you'd better get ready. I got that wake-up call this morning when my Google Alerts told me that Code Blue is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Of course, the novel has been available for a while on and for pre-order at a significant discount at But having your name, your book's cover, and a brief blurb about it appear on the site of the six-hundred pound gorilla of online book stores seems to be some sort of a milestone. Now I have three types of books shown on my Amazon author page: one fiction, one non-fiction, and one of the many textbooks I've written or edited. It gives a bit of validation to the title "author" I've been using about myself.

I can't close this post without giving a plug to independent booksellers. I encourage you to find a bookstore near you, one where you can get to know the staff and they can get to know you. These are the folks who'll order any books you want. They'll keep an eye out for the latest work by your favorite author. They'll give you personal service. They're part of the backbone of the publishing industry, and I can't stress enough how important their continued survival is to it. And, by the way, if you'd like to pre-order your copy of Code Blue, they can do it using the ISBN-13 number 9781426702365. I'll be making free signed bookplates available after the book release, so don't worry about not getting a signed copy.

Well, that's enough bragging. We now return to your regular weekend activities.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Front Table" Placement Of A Book

When you walk into a chain bookstore, do you automatically let your eyes sweep over the front table? How about the books in the area labeled "staff picks?" Did you ever wonder why some books are placed on end caps rather than in the shelves. And of the books on the shelf, why are some turned so that the entire front cover is visible, while most display only the spine?

If you thought that a front table display signified a book that was worth reading, one that had sold millions of copies, you might be partially right, but that's not the reason the book was displayed in that position. I have been told several times by reliable sources in the publishing industry that publishers pay handsomely to have books displayed on the front table.

The same goes for preferential display position elsewhere in the store. Ever see someone rummage through the books on a shelf, pull out one and place it cover-side-out? If you do, that's probably an author, making sure that his/her book is visible, even though the publisher hasn't arranged that. Have I ever done that? I refuse to answer on the grounds that... Well, no. But, after Code Blue comes out in a few months, I might be tempted.

The bigger question is "Does preferential display position sell books?" The jury is apparently still out on that one, but the current answer seems to be "Not as much as you might think." What we're told, time and again, by editors and agents alike is that most books sell on the basis of word of mouth. That's why publishers send out complimentary advance reading copies (generally cheaply bound paperback books, sometimes just galley proofs stapled together, sent before the final editing is done). They're looking for reviews and word of mouth recommendations.

What about online booksellers? What influence do publishers have on product placement on their websites? The word on the street is that there's some, but maybe not as much as with the brick-and-mortar stores. Aside from the advantage of shopping from your desk (sometimes counteracted by the disadvantage of paying postage), these online booksellers do offer something that the stores can't: the opportunity to pre-order books at a discount. (For those of you who are curious about the process, check out the tab to the right where you can pre-order Code Blue).

Bottom line--you, the reader, are probably the most important factor in how well a book sells. Your posted reviews, your conversations with your friends, even your emails to the author (and, believe me, these are forwarded to the publisher to show, "See, they like it") are more important than front table placement. Don't you feel good about that? I know I do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Second Look At Our Work

I was recently asked by a writer to look over the first portion of his manuscript. I sensed that he felt it wasn't quite ready for submission, and he was right. It had great potential, but it could use some more polishing. I made some suggestions, and I believe he was relieved to be given a sense of direction.

Whether you're writing a novel, a business letter, or an email to a friend, it's a rare person who can produce something on the first pass that can't be improved. A good friend of mine, a multi-published author, recently confided that she found numerous errors in a supposedly edited copy of her latest novel. When we look at our work a second time, we see typos, unclear sentences, even incorrect wording that we missed the first time around. And if that's true for the written word, why not hold our conversations to the same standard?

In one of my novels, the protagonist is being prepared by her attorney for testimony. "Pause before you answer. Not only does this give me a chance to object if necessary, it lets you consider what you're saying. Take your time." I'm as guilty as anyone of failing to follow this common-sense advice in everyday conversation, and it's resulted in instances when I've paid a penalty in misunderstandings. Maybe we should replace the dictum of "Look before you leap" with "Think before you speak."

What about you? Have you ever written something and sent it off, only to find an error in it later? Or said something that you'd have phrased differently if you'd taken a few seconds to think about it? If you haven't, let me know and I'll send you the application form for sainthood. And if you have, maybe this post will help you avoid that error in the future.

(By the way--I've revised this post twice after I started it. And there still may be mistakes in it. But I tried!)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Am I The Only One Who's Overwhelmed?

I'm going to have to stop reading Facebook and Twitter for a while. Some of my writer colleagues are always posting about how they're balancing their writing activities (which, as any writer knows, include writing, revisions, submissions, re-writing, marketing, and so forth ad infinitum) with family responsibilities, often tossing in vacations, side trips, and fun activities. I, on the other hand, sometimes have the feeling that I'm trying to juggle chainsaws one-handed, and wonder how I'll ever get through it all, much less get any productive writing done.

How about you? Do you sail through the day with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart, never overwhelmed, always staying caught up? I didn't think so. The fact is that when I see how great others are doing, I'm cherry-picking the best of every post, ignoring the lows that are often not even posted. All those people are struggling with life, just the way you and I do. And when I start looking across the fence at how green that grass is over there, I'm setting myself up to make my struggle worse.

At our Men's Fellowship last week, Steve Farrar asked us if we, just like Daniel and his companions who were in danger for their lives, had found ourselves in a situation where there seemed absolutely no way out. Most of the hands in the room went up. "And then, how many times did God make a way?" Again, most of the hands in the room.

Our journey isn't--to use Tony Romo's words--all "chocolate and lollipops." There'll be good times and bad. But we're not alone. I need to remember that. And when asked how I'm doing, I'll use the words of John Newton (author of the hymn, Amazing Grace): "I am just as God would have me." How about you?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview With Debut Author Therese Walsh

Not only is Therese Walsh a co-founder of the award-winning website, Writer Unboxed; she’s also a very talented writer. Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, will be released on October 13. I’ve had the opportunity to read this book, and the writing is great. I love the way she uses words. Here’s an example: “He looked dusk-gilded and windblown, like a storybook hero with a kind heart.” And, “Pinpricks of radiance emanated from a hundred wee panes of glass, like a vast sea of earthbound stars.”

RM: Therese, can you tell my readers a bit about how Writer Unboxed started?

TW: Hi Richard, thanks for having me today. Yes, let me take you way back. Kathleen Bolton and I were in a critique group together. Several of us were interested in dissecting books that spoke to us—deconstructing them to see what made them work. When the movie The Lord of the Rings came out, we were fascinated with Peter Jackson’s process, and so we deconstructed that. And then we wrote a paper about it, and the paper was accepted for publication. I think that was our first taste of successfully putting our thoughts about successful story mechanics to writing. Kath and I were particularly anxious to try it again, so when she suggested we start a blog together, I jumped at the chance.

RM: Writers Digest has named Writer Unboxed as one of the 101 best writing websites for three years in a row. How do you hope to maintain that level of excellence?

TW: Though Kath and I, who both landed publishing contracts in 2008, are admittedly busier than ever, we’re not going to forget our mantra: empower other writers. That’s the ticket, really. That and drawing from the knowledge base of our fantastic panel of contributors, including authors Allison Winn Scotch, Ann Aguirre, Anna Elliot, Barbara Samuel O’Neal, J.C. Hutchins, Juliet Marillier, and Sophie Masson; and publishing experts, agent Donald Maass and editor/author Ray Rhamey. We also invite guests with knowledge and a desire to empower others to blog with us, because we know it’s important to keep the vibe fresh and provide a mix of posts on craft, inspirational and industry topics. We’ll continue with dedicated-craft-topic months this year, like “how to bring your setting to life,” as they’re always popular and it’s interesting to hear how each on our panel approaches a topic.

In another vein, we’ve recently upgraded WU to include features that will enrich our readers’ experiences with us, like “Comment Luv,” which posts a teaser of a commenter’s most recent personal blog post, encouraging others to visit their site. It’s a great way to build community, and I feel like that’s what we have at WU: a community that continues to grow.

RM: Can’t let the occasion pass without saying that I appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me to contribute to WU from time to time. I look forward to watching it move forward. For the writers among my readership, if you're not already checking out Writer Unboxed on a regular basis, I'd urge you to do so.

Teri, here’s another question for you. I know that you’ve been in publishing for a long time. Even when working with children’s books and health magazines, did you have a yearning to write a novel? Or was it just the fortune cookie that did it?

TW: Haha! Well, the fortune cookie—“You are a lover of words. One day you will write a book”—was just one of those things that nudged me along.

It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when I felt compelled to write a novel, but it was definitely after I’d been writing children’s stories for a while. My stories had been getting progressively longer, falling into the text-rich “picture story book” territory, which is coincidentally less marketable. I also recognized in my own writing a leaning toward meaty words. My critique partners would point them out to me: “Umm, this is for 3rd graders, don’t forget!” But I hated cutting those words from my manuscripts. The light bulb went off eventually: Write for an older audience and you can write longer fiction with bigger words, no problem.

RM: I know that The Last Will of Moira Leahy isn’t being published in the exact form it first jumped off your computer. Can you tell us how the novel took its final shape?

TW: After I decided to try my hand at adult fiction, I wasn’t quite sure where to go, but I had a friend who adored romance novels. Last Will is not a romance, but I began with the notion that I would write one and that at least one person—my friend—would be willing to read it.

I had a very long learning curve ahead of me. If I’d known that what I started in 2002 wouldn’t be finished until 2008, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it.

What happened was this: I wrote the book in a year, edited it through another year, and then tried to market it. It was not a romance. It had the structure of a romance, but the story had taffy-tugged its way into not-at-all-romantic territory; there was a twin sister and a mystery involving music and this Javanese dagger called a keris, and they were all demanding primetime. The story was rejected, but one agent—Deidre Knight—took the trouble to tell me that I should probably be writing women’s fiction. I honestly didn’t know much about women’s fiction, but after a good pout, I read quite a lot of it and felt that I could make the leap. After brewing a while longer and experiencing the keen tug of my characters, I knew I had to try. So I threw the entire story away and started over from scratch in 2005. In 2006, I threw that away and began for the last time. I finished the draft in 2007 and the edits in 2008, then found an agent, who sold the book in a two-book deal to Random House.

RM: The Last Will of Moira Leahy is being called a “cross-over novel.” How would you describe it? And can you give my readers a taste of the story?

TW: Because of the emotional journey of the main character, Maeve Leahy, and that of her twin, Moira, I consider this women’s fiction above all else, but it also contains elements of psychological suspense, mystery/adventure, romance and mythical realism. (I left out the kitchen sink.)

As for a taste of the story, I’m a big believer in the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and so my web designer and I created a picture journal to go along with this novel. You can access it HERE. Your readers are also welcome to read the first three chapters of The Last Will of Moira Leahy on my website, or by clicking HERE.

RM: Any last words for my readers, many of whom are writers themselves?

TW: I think it’s important to study your craft while writing your story. Study, write, have your work critiqued. Study more, write more, analyze your work again—with the same group or with a different one. Remain open-minded about your manuscript and don’t be afraid to try new things. And if you have an idea that won’t let go of you, do what you must to live up to it. I grew tremendously as a writer from 2002-08, and I hope to keep learning and evolving into the future. Never, never quit.

Thanks, Teri. I’ve read The Last Will of Moira Leahy and found it to be gripping and well-written. A few of my readers may need to know that sex is portrayed in a few places (although handled quite well), that the novel has the occasional dark moment (although well worth it in the context of the story), and there’s a paranormal element to it. That having been said, this is a well-written novel from the pen (well, the computer) of an author who really knows how to put the words together. Bottom line, if you enjoy a novel that’s well-crafted, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this one.