Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow

I almost let the occasion slip by. My publisher, Abingdon Press, is releasing the titles in its fall line over the next several weeks, and Saturday will mark the publication of Joyce Magnin's novel, The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow.

Here's my review I posted after reading an Advance Reader's Copy. "If the title weren't enough to pique my interest, the characters drew me in almost immediately. They're quirky, well-portrayed, and remind me all too well of the people from the small town where I grew up--that is, except for Agnes Sparrow. She's unique, to say the least. The plot is well-developed and guaranteed to keep the reader guessing. All in all, it's a fun read that conveys a message. If you get to know Agnes and the townspeople around her, you won't soon forget them."

Joyce, congratulations and best wishes. I look forward to more novels down the road.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are You Just Renting?

My daughter and son-in-law recently moved to Dallas and bought their first house. After they were married, they were renting, but the move spurred them to become homeowners. By now, those of you who own a home are probably already smiling, knowing what's coming. When you rent and something goes wrong, you call your landlord. When you own a home and something goes wrong, you're the person responsible for correcting it. You have ownership of the problem, as well as the house.

Owning a house is great, and I've been a homeowner for many decades now. But it does come with a price. And thinking about the difference in renting and owning set me to thinking about how that concept translates into other areas of our lives.

When you agree with a concept, you start off by renting it. It's only when you get involved with the execution that you begin to take ownership. If I support or disagree with a politician's stance on a particular issue, but keep the knowledge to myself, I'm renting that position. But when I take the time and trouble to sit down and compose a letter, send an email, make a phone call to people who might be able to make a difference, I'm taking ownership of the situation to the best of my ability. The amount of effort you're willing to put in will tell you whether you're just sitting back and renting the concept, or if you're truly serious.

Common usage in our language makes the distinction. If someone says something with which we disagree, we say, "I don't buy that." On the other hand, if we hear of a cause in which we can believe and become involved, we may say, "I can buy into that."

Take a long look at the things that are (or should be) important in your life. The obvious first choices are your relationship with God and your relationship with your family. Add to that your work. Maybe your government, both local and national. After that...well, you can fill in the blanks. Then ask yourself, am I just renting? If you want to be involved, I hope you'll put in the work necessary to take ownership.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What's Your Log Line?

Know what a "log line" is? I didn't either until I began writing seriously. A log line is a one or two line summation of a plot. You haven't encountered any? Think again. How about TV program guides? Like this one for It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown: Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.

Before starting a novel, most writers will develop a log line. It tells them the main character(s), the direction of the plot, and sometimes the ending. For my unpublished first novel, More Than A Game, the log line would be "A young doctor, having failed once in his dream of playing professional baseball, is given another chance, only to find that there's more to life than playing the game."

I have a log line for the novel on which I'm currently working, but since I'm partially a "seat-of-the-pants writer," it might change. Sometimes the characters do things that surprise me. But the log line, in its current form, will always keep me pointed toward the end.

Do you have a log line for your life? In my early years, mine might have been "Young doctor strives to be a good husband and father while maintaining his professional edge." Later, it would have shifted to "Middle-aged doctor finds the professional demands of writing, teaching, research, and lecturing to be challenging." Now it might read "Retired from medicine, a man embarks on a second career in writing while juggling the responsibilities of husband, father, and grandfather."

Fortunately, I don't have to write a log line for my life. God has written one long ago. He knows where I'm going, although I don't always understand it. And that's good enough for me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's In A Name?

When I wrote my first book, choosing names for the characters didn’t seem terribly important to me. Of course, a lot of other things didn’t seem important to me, either. Things like character development, story arc, point of view, voice, hook, denouement, and a slew of other factors. I now realize that the first two or three novels most authors write are like the first waffle, the one we make for practice and then throw away. But for that first one, I picked names out of the air. I gave the protagonist’s best friend the name of one of my high school classmates. To name the antagonist, a dissolute baseball player with a drinking problem, I chose the first and last names of two baseball players I’d disliked as a teen-ager. The female lead’s first name was the same as my mother’s. And so it went.

I’ve written a number of novels now—five, to be exact—and one of them is under contract for publication while negotiations are proceeding for the second. In the interim, I hope I’ve learned a few things. One of the things I now do is try to be a bit more discerning in naming my characters. Not only should the name be an easy one to pronounce (even though it will only be pronounced silently as the reader encounters it), but it should be distinctive enough that the reader won’t have to be turning back to see who the person really is. Was Joe the bad guy, or was Jesse the villain and Joe the innocent bystander? And the name should fit the character. Take Rhett Butler. Would Gone With The Wind have been the same if he’d been named Aloysius Peabody? And the name Scarlett O’Hara just brings to mind a beautiful woman with a will of steel. Would that have come through if she’d been called Penelope Mertz?

The next time you read a novel, pay attention to the names of the characters. Do they project the right image? Can you tell the characters apart easily? An author who chooses character names well is like a baseball umpire. If they are doing a good job, you should never notice what they’re doing.

Oh, and if you think it’s a difficult job to choose character names for a novel, think about poor Adam. He had to name all the animals. Now that was a job!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man In Space

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Like millions of others, my family and I watched a grainy TV image of that historic feat. We knew we were seeing history being made.

Now, space exploration has become routine. A space station circles the globe high above us. Rockets carrying crews into space are launched on a regular basis. Satellites dot the sky, carrying communication around the world and sending back images that let us zoom into our own backyard and even peer into that of our neighbor. The launch of a space probe has become commonplace. Now it takes a catastrophe to remind us this isn't routine. We still need to recognize the courage displayed by the men and women who continue to "break the surly bonds of earth" and go where few have gone before, encountering things only imagined half a century ago.

I'm honored that The Upper Room devotional guide has chosen my meditation, "God Of The Universe," to be published on this fortieth anniversary of man's first moon landing. I hope you'll read it and marvel with me at the wonders God has created, not just here on our own planet but in the vast expanse of the solar system and whatever lies beyond.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I'm Baaack

Kay and I are back home after a mini-vacation in Florida. We traded the 100 degree heat of Texas for the 95 degree temperature and 50% humidity of Sanibel Island, but it was a nice change. We had the opportunity to visit with long-time friends and see some interesting things. Sanibel is the #2 shelling location in the world. (Number one is in Brazil, in case anyone is interested). The beach there wasn't like most beaches I've seen. There was sand, but most of it was the consistency of a gravel driveway because of all the shells.

We toured a nature preserve, and I learned a few things. I had no idea that there were three types of mangrove trees, named according to the color that leaches out of their leaves contributing to the hues of the water in the mangrove swamps. Nor had I ever realized that flamingos aren't naturally pink! They're white, and the pink color comes from the shrimp they eat. Remind me to slow down on my shrimp intake, since pink isn't a good color for me.

Anyway, leaving home always makes me appreciate what I have here. It's good to be back. It's nice to sleep in our own bed, drink our own coffee, read our own paper, watch our favorite TV programs, and in general slip into our life like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes.

I promise to get back to more substantive blogging next week. Today, I need to transition a bit more. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Be A Man

Recently, there was an internet post that listed fourteen things a man should be able to do. These included drive a stick shift, fix a toilet, change the oil in a car, handle a roadside emergency, and build a fire. Okay, I'll agree that most adults, regardless of whether or not they possess a "Y" chromosome, should probably be able to handle these.

Other necessary abilities listed were hook up an entertainment center (not me, I'd strangle myself on all those cables), dress for the occasion (my ability to do this is a subtle source of disagreement between my wife and me), swim the breaststroke (yes, I can, but only under duress; that's why there are life preservers), and cook the perfect steak (nice to know but not a deal-breaker in my eyes).

After a bit of thought, I began to think about the ideals I'd set for someone entering manhood. I don't think I ever communicated these to my sons in so many words, but I hope I modeled them, just as my father did for me. The important things include loving your family and being there for them (even if it means changing your plans), letting your word be your bond (an old-fashioned idea, apparently, but still a good one), keeping your cool in a stressful situation (okay, we've all failed here, but we still need to try), and above all, letting your actions--not just your words--reflect and model your faith in God. There are others, but this seems like a pretty good start.

While you think about these, I guess I'll take a whack at "navigating a map and using a GPS," one area of the man-test where I need a little remedial work.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CODE BLUE Is Available For Pre-Order

Although my novel of medical suspense, Code Blue, won't be released until April, 2010, the publisher, Abingdon Press, has arranged for it to be available for pre-order through Cokesbury Books for a special pre-order price of $8.39, representing a 40% discount off the regular cover price. To take advantage of this offer, go to this site and click on the pre-order button. That way you can be among the first to read the story of Dr. Cathy Sewell, who comes back to her small hometown seeking peace and healing, only to encounter conflict and danger. Her colleagues resent her. A prescription she wrote may signal the end of her practice. She's faced with a decision her heart can't make. And eventually she finds that someone in town wants her in dead.

The second novel in the Prescription For Trouble series is complete, and negotiations are underway for its publication. The working title is Medical Error. In it, Dr. Anna McIntyre's world is collapsing around her. Her patient died because of an identity mix-up. She's about to lose her license because of a flurry of narcotics prescriptions. She thought things couldn't get any worse, but that was before she opened the envelope.

I'm already at work on the third novel in the series. Hope you'll stay tuned for further developments.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Of Birthdays and Social Networks

Yesterday I celebrated another birthday. I was % years old. Oops, fingers must have slipped. Try again. I was &# years old. Oh, well. Doesn't matter. What matters is that I received a massive number of "happy birthday" greetings via Twitter and Facebook. Since I turned my attention to writing, I've managed to become friends with--or at least become acquainted with--a large number of my fellow writers, as well as some editors and agents. It was nice to receive their well-wishes, along with those of family and other friends. So now, in addition to cards and phone calls, there are electronic birthday wishes. Ain't progress grand?

But this brings me to a recurring theme in my discourses: social networks. As you may know, I have a Twitter account. I'm also on Facebook (although you'll have to search for me and ask to become a "friend" before you can see my posts). I allowed myself to be dragged into these activities by those who said, "As a writer, you have to enhance your public presence." I guess that, short of being involved in a financial scandal or being a sports figure suspended for steroid use, engaging in social networking is as good a way to get publicity as any. But I've found it to be a mixed blessing.

As I said, it was nice to get those birthday greetings, most of them via Facebook. But, along with my usual messages, I get countless invitations to join this group or that, attend this get-together or the other, become a friend of somebody. It seems that the list is endless. Not only that, I often get "friend" requests from people whom I don't really know. I handle these on a case-by-case basis, and often find that these are writers and that we share a large number of mutual friends. And I must admit, it's been a nice way to enlarge my circle of writing acquaintances.

Sadlly, I've been getting notifications lately that I'm being followed on Twitter by some people and entities that I can do without. Some of these are frankly pornographic, and I block them immediately. Then there are the commercial accounts, obviously following people whom they hope will follow them in return and avail themselves of the services they offer. And finally there are the "retweet specialists" aiming to get their own information out. A classic example is the Texas Rangers baseball club. I love the Rangers. Kay and I watch most of the games on TV. I frequently tweet about a Ranger win or loss. But when I do, I see that the Rangers have retweeted my message. Interesting that they do this, even when my message is critical of the club's play. Guess bad publicity is better than none at all.

Which brings me full circle to my original thought. Is the name-recognition that comes from being on a social network helpful in a commercial sense? Or are these just the modern, electronic versions of the old party line or talking over the back fence? Well, I don't have an answer--maybe you do--but for now I guess I'll keep on tweeting and posting on Facebook. Maybe I'll see you there.

For those of you who've signed up by leaving your email address in the column on the right, one newsletter has recently gone out. If you didn't receive it, check your spam folder. If it's not there either, email me at Dr R L Mabry at yahoo dot com (put it in the right format--I list it this way to fool web crawlers) and I'll check on it. That newsletter had some great early information about Code Blue. There will be more newsletters--maybe once a quarter. If you haven't signed up, why not do so? It's painless, and I promise never to share your address.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The New Website Is Up

Thanks to the efforts of my talented and very patient wife, Kay, my website has been completely revised. You can check out the new version here. I'd encourage you to click on each of the tabs. We've tried to give you a bit of information about where I am on the road to writing and on my life's journey in general. I'd especially call your attention to the bio, where you may be surprised to learn a few unusual things about me.

As you'll see from the website, my novel, Code Blue, is scheduled for release in April 2010. I know that sounds like it's a long time off, but since I'm working furiously on some things that have to be completed before the release, it doesn't seem long at all to me. I've already been asked about the ability to pre-order copies. Fair enough. At this time, copies of Code Blue can be ordered, at a significant discount, at this website. If you'd like to learn more about Code Blue, click below to view a video trailer.

Even though I'm occupied with my "medical suspense with heart," I also still spend a good bit of time in the ministry that followed the publication of The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. I'll be signing copies of that book at the "Texas Authors Tea" being held at the Frisco Public Library on the afternoon of August 2. If you're in the area, drop by. More details as the time approaches.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Fourth of July

What will you celebrate this Fourth of July? A three-day weekend? A picnic, in the back yard or at the lake? Fireworks after dark?

I grew up in an era of patriotism. Two of my uncles fought in World War Two--one of them didn't make it back home. Even in the early 1960's, when I was called upon to serve in the military at a time when unpopular wars and "police actions" were becoming the norm, I wore the uniform proudly. I might not have agreed with all the actions of my Commander-in-Chief, but I'd taken an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," and I took that oath seriously. Today, when I stand for the National Anthem, I stand at attention, wishing at times that I were once more in uniform so I could salute Old Glory instead of simply doffing my hat and holding it over my heart.

Do I believe in the adage, "My country, right or wrong?" Not totally, but neither did the author of that oft-misquoted phrase. Naval hero Stephen Decatur actually said, "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!" In 1872, Senator Carl Schurz said it even better. "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." Yes, it's still my country. And this July Fourth I'll fly my flag to celebrate the millions who have sacrificed so much to give us the freedom we enjoy. And I'll pray that, where the United States is right, it's kept right. And where it's wrong, it will be set right.

God bless America. Have a wonderful weekend.