Monday, June 29, 2009

Interview With Author Shawn Grady

I’m pleased to have as my guest today author Shawn Grady. Shawn and I first met in Randy Ingermanson’s mentoring class at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference in 2006. From that group, Katie Cushman has had two novels published—A Promise To Remember and Waiting For Daybreak—with a third on the way. Shawn’s novel, Through The Fire, will be released in July. I’m the latecomer, since my novel, Code Blue, is slated for publication early in 2010. Not a bad representation from the group. I hope it doesn’t give Professor Ingermanson delusions of grandeur.

RM: Shawn, welcome to Random Jottings. When I read the material you presented to the group at Mount Hermon, I figured you and Katie would be the first ones among us to be published. What were your expectations when you signed up for that conference and that class?

SG: I really looked forward to meeting other writers and honing my craft. The critique groups, by virtue of the fact that submissions from the other nine attendees are read by everyone ahead of time, are such a great way to get to know people through their work first.

RM: Tell us about getting “the call” when Bethany House offered a contract.

SG: For me the notification came by way of an email, so I didn’t get a call, per se, but seeing the contract offer was exhilarating all the same. It’s a culmination and a beginning all at the same time.

RM: I enjoyed reading Through The Fire. I didn't really see much that I recognized from Mount Hermon, though. How has your work changed since you presented the first part of it to Randy and the class?

SG: The portion I submitted for the Mount Hermon critique group back in 2006 centered on a rookie firefighter and was a bit more character-driven and less suspense focused. I did morph the opening fire sequence I used in that submission for a scene later in Through the Fire.

RM: Can you tell my readers a bit about Through The Fire?

SG: Essentially, it is about a Reno fireman who has a gift for sensing the fire and is driven to solve the mystery of his father’s death. Arson investigator Julianne Caldwell plays a key role, not only in pursuing the answers, but also in helping guide Aidan to a place of healing and peace.

RM: It’s obvious that your experience as a firefighter brings a great deal of realism to what you write about that life. Do you plan for firefighting to continue as a major theme in subsequent novels?

SG: My next novel will be in a similar emergency suspense vein, though it is about a Reno paramedic who feels like he’s chasing the Angel of Death. That one is scheduled for a summer 2010 release. Beyond that hasn’t been decided on yet.

RM: Who or what has been the greatest positive influence on you as you traveled this road to writing?

SG: The Lord, of course, has been the greatest of counselors and shepherds. My wife has been my steadfast confidante and faithful friend from the time I first started writing with a novel in mind about nine years ago. James Scott Bell and Randy Ingermanson have also been great mentors and friends.

RM: And any last words of wisdom for my readers?

SG: Thanks, Doc, for the chance to talk with you. Throughout my life, I’ve found confidence in knowing that God will direct our paths. Like Psalm 32:8 says, “I will teach you and instruct you in the way you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you.” Cheers-

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Writer's Carefree Life

When I tell someone I've retired from medicine and am now writing, they may not say it but their expression conveys it: You have it so easy! I probably foster the image, when I tell them that now I can take my coffee into the study, boot up my computer, and go to work in my PJ's. But there's a lot more to being a serious writer than just that. For the sake of brevity, let me just give you the bullet points in the birth of a book.

Search for idea
Craft story arc
Find a killer first sentence/paragraph/scene/chapter
Start writing
Shore up a "sagging middle"
Find a killer last sentence/paragraph/scene/chapter
Revise (several times)
Query agent
Proposal to agent
Full manuscript to agent
Rejection by agent
Repeat above steps several times
Acceptance (finally)
Agent shops book to editors
Rejected by editors
Rejected by more editors
Accepted by an editor
Contract negotiations
Revisions: macro edit, line edit, copy edit
Check galley proofs
Pre-publication marketing efforts
Book launch
Post-launch marketing efforts
Despair when copies remaindered (sent back by bookstore)
Absolute desolation when book hits backlist (taken out of print)
Take a deep breath
Start over again

Sound daunting? Well, it's worse. Because the writing of the second book should start as soon as the manuscript for the first one is ready to go out. And the third one follows the second (if you want to keep writing). So take the list above, copy the whole thing and reinsert it alongside the first about halfway down. See? The fun never stops.

But when you sign a contract with a publishing house, doesn't that guarantee that your other books will be published? Maybe. First of all, multi-book contracts don't grow on trees. Publishers nowadays aren't willing to gamble on an unproven product or author. And suppose your first book tanks. Think the publisher is going to say, "Well, we lost a ton of money on your first one, but the second one is bound to do better?" Yeah, right. The same way a baseball team says to its star outfielder, "So what that you led the league in errors last year and barely hit your hat size. We want to sign you for another year." It's a business, folks.

But, as I said in my last post, I love it. It's a challenge. And everyone loves a challenge. Don't you?

Be sure to come back next week for some news about my own "pre-pub marketing efforts" for Code Blue, and an interview with author Shawn Grady about his new book, Through The Fire.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Keeping The Plates Spinning

"Man, you've got it easy. You're retired."

"Nope, I just retired from medicine. I've switched careers. Now I'm a writer."

"How hard can that be? Throw some words on a page."

If it were only that easy. But this isn't about how difficult it is to write. That's another subject for another day--suffice it to say, it isn't easy.

This is about all the other things that go with writing, after you finish the book. Of course, the first is finding an agent...because editors generally won't consider a book proposal unless it comes through an agent. And agents are particular about the clients they take on. After all, this is their profession, and the way they earn their 15% is through the book sales of their clients. So, first get an agent to represent you. And, by the way, it should be the agent who's right for you. Not just the first one who says "yes." It is--or should be--a long-term relationship.

While the agent is busy sending out queries and proposals and full manuscripts (those being the stages of the submission process, generally), the author should be working on book number two. But they're also supposed to build a "platform." This public presence is a means of building name recognition. Sometimes platform comes from the author's position. I mean, if an ex-President writes a book, the platform is already there. If I write a book, I'd better have something that makes the people who see it in the book store say, "Hey, I know him."

Then you get "the call." Your agent phones and says, "Your book has sold." So you can just sit back and relax. Right? Wrong. Not only are there edits and galleys and proofs and corrections to consider, you're now entering the marketing phase. Creating book trailer videos, getting endorsements, lining up "influencers." And so it goes.

So why didn't I get any writing done today? I've been busy with the marketing phase of my novel, Code Blue--and it doesn't even come out until April 2010. But, if you want to beat the rush, it's already available for pre-order.

That's the writing life. Keeping all the plates spinning. Always half a step behind. And I love it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Let me stop and wish all the fathers who might be reading this a happy Father's Day. Mark Twain said something to the effect that, when he was fifteen, his father was the dumbest man in the world--but by the time he'd reached his mid twenties it was amazing how much the old man had learned in just ten years. Being a parent is one of the most important jobs in the world, and yet it doesn't come with any instructions. But we soldier on, do the best we can, and take our rewards where we find them.

The responsibility of fatherhood never stops. Not when they walk across the stage and take the diploma. Not when they walk down the aisle while you try to hide the tears forming in your eyes. Not when they hand you that little infant to hold for the first time. The responsibility never stops. But neither does the potential for joy.

To my late father, thanks for all you did for me. I never appreciated much of it until you were gone. To my children, thanks for the good times (so many), the bad times (so few), and the love (so constant). To my grandchildren, thanks for the opportunity to spoil you and then give you back to your parents.

Have a great day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Not Now, I'm Busy"

It's summer, and we're all busy. I'm not sure why things seem to speed up the moment school is out and the weather turns hot, but that's been what I've observed over these past &# years. (No, that's not a typo, it's vanity).

For what seems like forever, but actually turns out to be the past couple of months, we've been busy with family activities and responsibilities. A daughter and son-in-law moving to the area, the birth of a granddaughter, baby-sitting for four grandchildren, watching an occasional Texas Ranger game on the tube (and groaning when they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory), taking part in church activities, and--as the opportunity presents itself--even doing a little creative writing. So, if I get a bit behind on posting on this blog, I hope you'll forgive me. One lesson I've learned is that family comes first. And for me, it always will.

I hope each of you will continue to fill your days with the "stuff" that makes up life. And for the writers among you, write when you can, but don't neglect to live life to the fullest. Take advantage of the opportunities that crop up. They won't always be there.

Have a great weekend. Oh, and happy birthday, Ann.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Identifying With The Hero

We've just returned from a brief trip to the North Shore area of Massachusetts, a relaxing time spent with friends with plenty of opportunities to read (including the four hour flight each way). One of the books I brought with me was written by a favorite author, Lee Child. The protagonist in this one, as in many of Child's books, is Jack Reacher. Reacher is an ex-MP, big and strong and knotty like a hundred-year-old oak, drifting from town to town with a toothbrush, an ATM card, and an expired passport. His sense of right and wrong causes him to do some things that most of us wouldn't dare, and in many cases trouble ensues--for him and for those he goes up against. I salivate when I see a new Jack Reacher novel coming out, and feel as though I've lost a friend when the book ends.

I'm not Jack Reacher. I'm nothing like him. But I can identify with him. He has his faults and frailties, but he stands up for what's right and isn't afraid to put himself in harm's way to do it. Maybe he's what I wish I could be. And that makes him an ideal protagonist.

An author's first job is to get the reader to identify with the characters in his/her book. A hero who is absolutely too perfect, a villain who has not even the trace of a good quality, are easy to ignore and forget. They're cardboard cut-outs, one-dimensional, formulaic. Give me a Jack Reacher anytime.

How does an author go about doing this? If I had a sure-fire formula for it, you'd be reading a review of my next novel in the New York Times and looking for it on the best-seller list. Instead, ask yourself this the next time you find yourself immersed in a really good novel. What makes the protagonist tick? Why do I like him or her? Not only will it tell you a bit about the work put in by the author. It may tell you something about yourself.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Upper Room: Interview with Susan King (part 2)

Today we conclude our interview with Susan King, Assistant Editor of The Upper Room magazine. To read the first part of the interview, click on this link.

RM: I know that after acceptance it takes a year or more for a submission to be printed in The Upper Room. Why is that?

SK: Actually, it’s NOT because we sit around every day eating bon-bons! No, seriously, it’s because we have to send the completed manuscript to the editors and translators worldwide nearly a year in advance. Some of these translators are volunteers and have to translate the manuscripts after putting in a full day’s work. Also, some of the magazines are distributed in war-torn countries that may not receive regular mail delivery so we need to send the materials to them as early as possible.

Since all the readings of submissions, further reviews of submissions, multiple editing of final candidates, and preparation of the content of each issue has to be done before the issue is sent to all the editors and translators around the world, the customary elapsed time between submission and publication is nearly two years.

RM: At one time, I noted that each issue has an overlying theme. Do you encourage writers to prepare a piece that ties into the theme of a particular forthcoming issue, or do you get a wide enough variety of submissions that you can find what you need?

SK: Actually, we used themes for only a brief period and are now back to not using themes. However, we do note the Christian holy days (including ones like Pentecost, Transfiguration Sunday) if we have meditations on those subjects and always make sure that we have meditations for all the major Christian holiday themes. As a result, we come up short on devotionals about Christmas/ Advent) and Easter/Lent. Meditations on these themes should be sent in during their respective seasons (for publication during the same time period nearly two years later).

RM: When putting together an issue, do you make any attempt to present meditations from authors who live in different regions? Does gender influence you?

SK: Actually, every few years our Editorial Director, Mary Lou Redding and another staff member conduct writers’ conferences in various countries in Europe, Asia, and Australia in an attempt to generate good meditations from international writers. Also, our editors worldwide are constantly recruiting writers from within their own countries. We go to great lengths to feature no fewer than 16 meditations from international writers in every issue.

Also, as we accept invitations from writers’ conferences in the U.S., we try to choose those located in a variety of regions in our own country to train writers—and receive good meditations—from those regions.

Finally, we would like for each issue to represent a balance of male and female writers. However, since we receive submissions from women three-to-one over submissions from men, this is not always possible. Consequently, we are often desperate for great meditations from male writers (and sometimes even have to “borrow from the future,” which means that a meditation written by a male writer may be published in a shorter time span than two years).

RM: Acceptance isn’t always straightforward. Some meditations are “held.” Others get scheduled, then “deferred.” Can you explain that?

SK: How about an explanation of the entire process?

Our Associate Editor reads all incoming submissions received within a two month period (J-F, M-A, M-J, J-A, S-O, and N-D) and “holds” around 120 to be considered for publication in the issue for that same two-month period two years from that time. After a writer submits, he/she will hear back from us within 6-8 weeks, but only if: 1) we are holding one or more of that writer’s submissions for further consideration or 2) we are not holding any submission but the writer included a self-addressed, stamped envelope or postcard with each submission.

Then, as I say in writers conferences, “No news is good news” for about 9 months because if a writer hears back within that time, it means that he/she hasn’t made it through the next gate—our Editorial Director, who narrows down the selection to 75-80 devotionals/meditations.

Finally, right about a year after the meditations were first submitted, the remaining 75-80 are edited and then copied and distributed to our staff and the senior editors of all our other magazines as well as some staff members from our other ministries, such as the Walk to Emmaus. Over the next two weeks, these staff members read all the meditations so that we can discuss them when we meet together later that month. During the next week of near-daily copy sessions, we decide which meditations will be selected for an issue of The Upper Room. If all make it, then any left over from the paging process for that issue (of 59-62 days, depending on the issue), will go into the deferred file. If we end up with too few meditations, then we pull out meditations that have previously been placed in the deferred file.

RM: What final advice do you have for my readers who are considering submitting to The Upper Room magazine?

SK: First, make sure that you have received training in the skill of writing. This may include: 1) You were an English major in college and remember your instruction in writing well or 2) You have taken a refresher course in English from a community college or other institution or 3) You have taken such a class at a writers’ conference.

Once that’s accomplished, consult our guidelines and adhere to them slavishly. Ideal would be for you to attend one of the writers conferences at which we speak every year so that you can not only brush up on your writing skills but also learn EXACTLY what we are looking for in a devotional. At least every other year, one of our editors conducts a workshop or continuing class at: Florida Christian Writers Conference, Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, East Texas Christian Writers Conference, Montrose Christian Writers Conference, St. David’s Christian Writers Conference, Sandy Cove Christian Writers Conference, Glorieta Christian Writers Conference (Now “Writing at the Ranch”) and, occasionally, the following conferences: San Diego Christian Writers Guild, Write Canada!, Write-to-Publish, and an assortment of one-day events hosted by local churches*. We also appear at Writing for the Soul. For specific information about the remaining conferences for 2009, click this link.

*We are open to teaching/training at such events sponsored by a church or Christian writers guild or critique group. For more information, contact me at

Susan, thanks for taking the time to give us this detailed look at The Upper Room. I hope that my readers will accept the challenge and begin submitting meditations to you. It would thrill me to read one of them in the future and know that this interview was the stimulus for its birth.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Upper Room: Interview with Susan King

Susan King is Assistant Editor of The Upper Room magazine. Having been fortunate enough to have a dozen or so meditations accepted for print by The Upper Room magazine over the past five years, I can attest that writing something meaningful in about 250 words isn’t easy, although the effort is well worth it. The process helps you dig deeper into your spiritual life, and the thrill of knowing your meditation will be printed in 76 editions and 40 languages, then read by millions of people in over 100 countries can’t be matched.

RM: Susan, welcome to Random Jottings. Some of my readers may not be familiar with The Upper Room. Can you give us a little background on its history and mission?

SK: From its beginning, The Upper Room magazine has been interdenominational. We seek to build on what draws us together in Christian belief. The intent of the founders of the magazine was that it be non-sectarian and non-doctrinaire, and we work to include many perspectives in what we publish. The magazine was created in response to a call from a Sunday-school-class prayer group in Texas, who asked the church to provide for families a devotional resource to use for home worship each day. It was the time of the Great Depression, and these people felt that prayer and Bible study could help people face the difficult times with faith.

The magazine was begun by the Home Missions Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1935. This is a predecessor denomination of the United Methodist Church, which still owns the magazine. Though the magazine is owned by the United Methodist Church, it is financially separate from it. We receive no grants or subsidy from the United Methodist Church or from any other denomination. Our income comes completely from sale of our magazines and books.

Where the World Meets to Pray, a new book by Mary Lou Redding, gives details about the history of The Upper Room and its impact during the past 75 years.

The writers of the daily meditations come from around the world. We do not have requirements regarding denominational affiliation for our writers. I am aware of Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, Lutheran, Nazarene, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational believers among our writers, but we do not know the denominational affiliation of the vast majority of those who write for us. We evaluate over 5000 meditations each year in order to choose 365 for publication in the magazine. Our basic criterion in evaluating a meditation is this: Will it be helpful to a reader in a similar situation? We want meditations that show real people struggling to live faithfully in real-life situations, with the Bible as the touchstone for and measure of faithful living. We believe that God wills only good for each of us and that God calls us to lives of love, forgiveness, and service to others, according to the example of Christ.

The Upper Room's mission is to provide a model of practical Christianity, accessible in varied formats, to help people feel invited and welcomed into God’s presence to:

• listen to scripture as God’s personal message, linking their stories to God’s story
• commune with God in prayer
• see their daily choices and small acts of obedience as part of God’s work
• realize our connection through Christ as a universal family of seekers who want to know God
• encounter the living Christ and be transformed into Christ’s likeness.

RM: Your writers guide has a lot of information on how to approach preparing a meditation for The Upper Room. Can you give us an example of a submission or two that really caught your eye, and why?

SK: I’ll give you three that come to mind:

The Fourth Man
Read Daniel 3:13-30
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God— Daniel 3:25 (KJV)

One night at church we studied the story of the three Hebrews put into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship an idol. The next day we got a call from our daughter-in-law, who told us that our son had died in his sleep that morning, suddenly and unexpectedly. We experienced our own fiery furnace; but we were also aware of the fourth man, the Son of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ was right there, standing with us, to save us from destruction.
I have experienced other fiery furnaces: the dust storms and depression of the 1930s, the dark days of separation from my family for two years during World War II, the terrible battle of the Hurtgen Forest. Every time, God has been there to deliver me, just as Christ promised his disciples: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NIV).
Sooner or later, everyone has a fiery furnace experience: a death of someone dear, a life-threatening disease, a crippling accident. It helps to have someone nearby to share the pain. But no one helps us more than Jesus Christ. We hear his voice telling us to take courage and promising to be with us and to renew us in his love. This has been my experience in the fiery furnace.
Eugene F. Gerlitz (Oregon)

In this meditation, the experience is directly connected to scripture (first paragraph). In the second paragraph, the author gives us other examples that we can identify as “fiery furnaces.” In the third paragraph, the meditation broadens out to include the reader, inviting the reader to consider times when he/she has had a similar experience and to identify with Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego in their time of crisis and reprieve.

I Believe
Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.— 1 John 5:10 (NRSV)

When I was in college, I concluded that all religion is simply an expression of our need to believe in a supreme being and that the notion of God becoming human came from superstitious origins. When I later accepted Christ, it wasn’t a complete acceptance. It was simply a truce with God. I decided God was right and I was wrong, and I wouldn’t argue anymore. I wanted to believe, but faith was slow in coming.
I did not come to active faith through the power of reason alone but rather through experiencing God’s working out the truths of the Bible in my life. When I was in agony over my son’s drug use, God gave me Psalm 37 with its “Do not fret” advice. I clung to it and tried with all my heart, and eventually the “justice of [my] cause” did indeed shine “like the noonday sun” (verse 6, NIV) when my son began to realize that his lifestyle wasn’t working. When I learned I had multiple sclerosis, God gave me the promise in Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (NIV). I had to learn to rest, but I have had very little problem with the disease.
Because I have come to lean on the Bible as truth, I can have confidence in the things that I know by faith, beyond the limitations of my rational mind.
Prayer: Creator God, teach us to believe in you, to trust your promises, and to know that your power sustains us. Help us to lean on you more today than yesterday. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Thought for the Day
Faith is the key that opens the door to knowing God.
(Mrs.) Maggi Clark (North Carolina)


This one sticks in my mind because it deals with a very important situation—the non-believer coming to strong belief and faithfulness—and also because it is very specific about the early limitations of the writer’s belief and exactly how seeing God worked out the truths of the Bible in her life. It provides a model for all readers but especially for the non-believers in our reading audience and also for the many readers whose ministry is teaching non-believers about God.

The Hamster Hunt
Read Luke 15:1-7
Jesus said, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”--Luke 15:4

One Saturday afternoon, my 5-year-old daughter’s hamster made a surprise getaway. We turned the house upside down in a desperate attempt to find him. Finally, we detected a scratching sound in our laundry room. We moved the clothes dryer and removed a wall panel, and I crawled behind the water heater to rescue him. At this point I was tempted to pick him up by his tailless little rump, haul him outside, and call, “Here, Kitty, Kitty!”
It’s interesting to speculate on the amount of time we spent searching for a useless rodent. What makes that hamster special is the same thing that spared him from becoming a juicy snack for our cat that fateful Saturday afternoon: my daughter loves him very much.
I am only one person in a world of billions. What makes me special is the great love God has for me. Remember Jesus’ parable about the 100 sheep? Ninety-nine were where they ought to be, but the missing sheep was the one being sought. Our family dropped everything that busy afternoon to search for what would probably seem unimportant to anyone else. God will leave the ninety-nine to seek us out, no matter how insignificant we may seem to ourselves or others.
Thought for the Day: In a world of billions, God yearns for a relationship with each of us.
Gwyn Williams (Alabama)

The centerpiece of this meditation’s personal experience is a single, dominant and sensory—and thus memorable—image. Then, the writer tied the spiritual application directly to that image, insuring that when the readers think of the image in the story, they will also think of the spiritual message of the meditation.

And, of course, it’s also funny. We rarely receive funny meditations and would really like to publish humorous ones, as long as they also have all the other elements:

1. True personal experience—either 1) the writer¹s or 2) that of someone close to him/her, or possibly 3) that of a person or persons in the Bible. (If #2, then the writer needs to establish this person’s relationship to him/her, as in “my mother/brother/son/friend/neighbor/coworker,” etc.)

2) Direct connection to God (spiritual application within the temporal experience)

3) Possibly a third element would be a small section at the end in which you help the reader to make an application in his/her own life (since he/she may have never experienced what you experienced—or even may not yet have experienced a relationship with God)

Remember that the focus is not the personal experience per se, but to teach the reader something that will cause him/her to live that day differently than he/she would have before reading your devotional. In other words, give the reader concrete, practical tools for dealing with situations that would be in some way like the situation you encountered. (In fact, one of the methods for the third element is to list possible similar life situations that might apply to the readers.)

The first temptation in writing a devotional/meditation is to give too many details in the experience but not enough in the other two sections.

The second pitfall is to not include anything concrete or specific in the second and third sections, to instead use vague, general, and/or abstract terms that do not give anything even close to specific directions for the reader. While some details are important in the personal experience (to paint a picture for the reader—at least of the setting), it’s even more important to be detailed and specific in the second and third sections, since these are the heart of the devotional. They fulfill the whole purpose of the devotional, which is to bring the readers to closer connection with God and to help them apply in their own lives what the writer learned about the way God operates in our lives every day.

Part Two of this interview will be posted on Friday, June 12. Come back for more behind-the-scenes information and suggestions for writing for The Upper Room.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Awakening To Sunrise Over A Lake

I've just returned from three days spent with three good friends at a house on Lake Lydia in East Texas. We played golf, talked, joked, reflected, rested, and ate enough fried food to make taking Lipitor mandatory. There was no TV, no radio, no newspaper, and cell phone coverage was absent most of the time and spotty the rest. It was refreshing to find that I not only survived, I came back with a renewed determination to step aside more often and listen to the voice of God.

Psalm 46:10 tells us to "Be still and know that I am God." The term translated as "be still" can be rendered in a number of ways: stop, cease, be quiet, do nothing, pause and let it sink in. How many times in a day, in a week, even in a year do we do exactly that? For me, the answer is certainly "not nearly enough." We tell ourselves that there's no time, that we're too busy, our work is too important for us to slow down for even a minute. I respectfully disagree.

During my specialty training, I once had to take a couple of days away to tend to some type of family emergency--one that seemed terribly important then but which I've now forgotten--and I apologized to my senior resident, Dr. John O'Rear, for having to be gone. He shared this bit of wisdom with me. "Sometimes you have to step off the merry-go-round--but when you get back on, you'll find that it kept going around without you, and you're pretty much in the same place anyway."

Seeing sunrise across the lake, thinking about the phrase, "Be still and know that I am God," reminded me that sometimes we all need to step off the merry-go-round. I'm glad I did.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

More Pearls From Writer's Digest

There was a time when I questioned whether subscribing to Writer's Digest had any practical value for me. That's no longer the case. I've been a subscriber for some time now, and if I ever had any doubts about the practical material WD contains, this month's issue dispelled them.

The cover gave me the first clue: Pub 101, Your Publishing Survival Guide. The first article deals in great detail with the publishing process, from submission to printing to sales to marketing and beyond. I learned the "90/10" rule of publishing--about 90% of a publisher's revenue is generated by 10% of the titles it publishes. The next article deals with seven myths commonly held by writers, including "the publishing team is your new family" and "if your book has been accepted, it must be perfect the way it is." Then, an industry veteran tells us fourteen things an author must do to survive in the rapidly-changing publishing industry. Finally, a number of published authors give us the benefit of their hindsight, telling what they wish they'd known earlier in the game.

If you're a writer, I highly suggest you subscribe to Writer's Digest. If you're interested in the process and what it takes to get a book published (and this week I've had two friends approach me for advice on this very subject), see if your library has a copy of the July/August 2009 issue of Writer's Digest. If not, and you're really serious, spend the $20 for a trial subscription.

I've mentioned before that I have a long shelf of writing books. What I often fail to mention is that I also subscribe to several periodicals that have been invaluable to me along my road to writing. This is definitely one of the best.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Twitter Mentality: Is Shorter Better?

I'm still posting on Twitter, and you're welcome to follow me there. I've also arranged for my "tweets" to be posted on my Facebook page, so I get two for the price of one. Every time I think I'm ready to quit this social networking stuff, I hook up with someone I'd never have found otherwise. And a number of you folks who tweet are also visiting this blog, which I appreciate.

Colleague and cyber-friend, author Dr. Michael Palmer, poses an interesting question in a tweet today. I'm extrapolating from his brief tweet, but in essence he asks, "Should you tweet only when there's something important to say, or should you post regularly?" I must confess, I lean toward the former approach. How about you folks out there, fellow Twitterers? What do you prefer?

Twitter has taught me one thing, though. I've learned to choose my words carefully. Posts are limited to 140 characters. Not words, but characters. That means you have to think about what you're saying, edit your tweets down. Some people (I won't mention names, but you know who you are) get around this by posting four or five sequential tweets in order to get all their information out. I consider that cheating. Those longer messages belong on a Facebook page or a blog. To me, Twitter is what you'd say to a friend as you pass in the hall--a few choice words to catch them up on things you think they might want to know.

So being on Twitter might actually help me write fiction that is sparse, free of unnecessary words and phrases. And if it does, that benefit alone will keep me tweeting.