Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

None of us knows what the year ahead holds, but we can know the One who holds the year. And that's enough.

May you have a wonderful New Year. Enjoy the holiday. See you next week.

Monday, December 27, 2010

After Christmas...What?

Okay, I know I said I was going to take a break from blogging, but on this day after Christmas I kept thinking about some things, and it occurred to me that perhaps they're worth sharing.

My own Christmas was good, although tinged with sadness. We had my family together on Christmas Eve for a wonderful meal, an exchange of presents, and enjoyment of almost-two-year-old Cassidy Ann. It was one of the best times we've had together since Cynthia passed away eleven years ago.

The next day we spent some time with Shelly and her sons. This is their (and our) first Christmas since her husband, Kay's oldest son, Phil died tragically this spring. We cried. We laughed. We got through it. And this "year of firsts" moved one notch further toward a close.

Then we went to the home of Ann and Benny, where my son-in-law cooked enough for several small armies, my daughter directed the controlled chaos, and the noise level never got below a dull roar. And it was nice.

Sunday we attended church, followed by another meal (courtesy of Kay) at the home of her younger son, David, the first time he and his wife have celebrated Christmas together as a family. A total of six adults and five children filled the house with laughter, conversation, and remnants of wrapping paper.

Now it's the Monday after Christmas, and life goes on. To quote the late Don Meredith, "Ain't nothin' as over as Christmas." But is it really? We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but shouldn't we keep Him in our hearts all year long? We give gifts, but shouldn't we exercise a spirit of giving throughout the coming year? We are a bit more tender, a bit more loving at this time of year, but what's keeping us from trying to maintain that for another twelve months?

I hope your Christmas was great. Moreover, I hope it really isn't over.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Here's my Christmas post from prior years--I still don't know how to say it any better.

"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 20, 2010

Christmas Hiatus From Blogging

Christmas is almost here. I'm sure everyone has completed their shopping, mailed their Christmas cards, bought the groceries for the family meal, decked the halls, and in general prepared for the holiday. Then again, perhaps some of us haven't.

I've been blessed with the promise of yet another published novel, but I'm fast approaching the deadline for its completion.

I've been greatly honored by the American Christian Fiction Writers by being chosen as the Vice-President Elect, taking office in January. That means that in December I'm following the activities of the Board while working with the current VP, Becky Yauger, and learning the position.

For these and several other reasons, this blog will be on hiatus for the next couple of weeks, with the exception of signing back on to make important announcements. And don't be surprised if that happens.

Meanwhile, may your Christmas be Christ-centered and your new year filled with all the blessings He has already prepared for you. Thanks for following my Random Jottings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Texas Christmas

In searching for artwork for this post, I came across this striking picture from artist and fellow Texan Colby Jones. I hope you'll visit his website to enjoy the art he produces. And in this one, he's captured the spirit of the story I want to tell. Take off your spurs, put your feet up on the porch rail, and listen.

                A CHRISTMAS STORY

The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did.

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It wasn’t a bunkhouse, it was a stable. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God in blue jeans, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Negative Review

Every writer expects it. It's part of the human condition. Something I heard years ago has stuck with me through times like these: "I cannot expect to be universally loved and respected." And that's a phrase I've had to repeat like a mantra since reading a recent one-star review of my debut novel, Code Blue. The reviewer's complaint--it was a "Christian novel."

To fully understand my frustration, I have to remind you that Code Blue has been available as a free download as an ebook at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the past week (see note at the end of this post). Well, one person took advantage of the free download and then gave the book one star because the novel is "Christian fiction."

What is "Christian fiction" anyway? I went back and copied what I said in an interview on Writer Unboxed after the release of my first novel. I think it's as good a definition as I can give for my own version of "Christian fiction":  The primary difference I see is that (these novels) don’t have cursing or explicit sex, and portray a Christian worldview... The books portray characters that are flawed, as we all are, and who struggle with their relationships, both with God and their fellow man...What I’ve frequently said is that the only difference I really see is that these novels are written from a Christian worldview and don’t contain anything I’d hesitate for my mother, wife, or daughter to read.

In the discussion of the negative review, a couple of people suggested that they wouldn't have taken advantage of the free download if Code Blue had been labeled "Christian fiction." My question, in turn, is whether some novels should be labeled "Smutty fiction" or "Fiction containing lots of cursing." It just seems silly to me. If I don't like it, I stop reading. I do the same with a TV program I don't like. There's no mystery to discovering what a book's about. You can usually tell the nature of the book from the blurb (back of the book, or on the website of an online bookseller). Failing that, it's possible to thumb through the book (in a store) or read excerpts (online at Amazon). Why have labels?

Some people will want to read what I'm comfortable writing, some won't. But the question remains: Should Christian fiction carry a warning tag, so people who are uncomfortable reading it (and I wonder why that is...hmm) can avoid it? You tell me.

Note: This is your last day to get Code Blue, the first medical suspense novel in my Prescription For Trouble series, for your Nook at Barnes&Noble's website. The Amazon offer has apparently expired. If you or someone you know would like to take advantage of this offer, click this link and take advantage of the generosity of Abingdon Press in making it available. Thanks.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Without Them

Many of you know that I started writing after the death of my first wife. I used segments from the journaling I did to craft a book with chapters dealing with the situations I faced in the months afterward. I pulled no punches, detailing my failures as well as the victories I eventually won. That book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, is still in print and continues to help thousands of grieving people each year.

Because I know how difficult the holidays can be after the death of a loved one, and because our family is still reeling from such a tragic loss just a few months ago, I decided to post this article which I wrote for a small local paper several years ago. I hope it helps those of you who are facing this situation. If you know of others who need it, please forward it to them.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Important Note: My first novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, Code Blue, is supposed to be available from Amazon as a free Kindle download through this weekend. For a while there was a glitch at Amazon, but the link is now fixed. Go here to get the free download. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, December 06, 2010

CODE BLUE Available As A Free Kindle Download

My first novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, Code Blue, is available until December 13 from Amazon as a free Kindle download. If you'd like a copy, or know someone who would, please take advantage of Abingdon Press's generosity and check it out by clicking this link. It's also available as a free download to Barnes and Noble's Nook at their site. Think of it as an early Christmas present. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas Cards and Christmas Letters

As Thanksgiving disappears in the rear-view mirror, countless households consider the question, "What about Christmas cards? Do we send a Christmas letter this year?" Those questions, if answered in the positive, are generally followed by a spirited discussion of designs or a search for cards purchased in previous years and not sent, along with a scramble to produce an accurate list of names and addresses. And, of course, there's the annual question of holiday stamps. (When will the Post Office get real about those designs?)

Sometimes I wish I were a member of the younger, electronic generation. Some people of my acquaintance do a little magic on their computers, hit a button, and presto--electronic Christmas greetings spring forth into the air like Santa's reindeer departing a rooftop after a too-long stop. Somehow, that just doesn't have the same magic as paper upon which someone has taken the time and trouble to write words, then gone to the expense of affixing a stamp and mailing it. Then again, I don't have a Kindle or eReader, preferring my books (as well as my Christmas cards) in printed form.

I'm sure we'll send out cards again this year. The issue of the Christmas letter is yet to be solved. But I'd like to know what the verdict at your house is regarding this issue. Cards? Letter? Electronic greetings? Or just ignore the whole thing?

Meanwhile, to everyone who reads these Random Jottings, whether on a regular or irregular basis, to each of you who've bought one or more of my novels this past year, to all whom I consider my cyber-friends--my very best wishes for a wonderful, meaningful holiday season. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Tap On The Shoulder

I've just been elected incoming Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers. The two women who were also nominated would undoubtedly have served with distinction, and I'm a bit overwhelmed to be selected. It's a signal honor, and one I don't take lightly.

I'll probably keep you, my readers, informed in the days ahead as I "shadow" the current Vice-President, Rebecca Yauger. I just hope I can maintain the standard of service to the organization that Becky has set.

What does a Vice-President do? There are a number of things in the "official" description, but the one I like best is attributed to a prior Vice-President of the US. He was asked about his duties, and his reply went something like this: Well, when I wake up every morning, I ask how the President's feeling that day. If he's okay, I figure I can sleep a little longer. I'm not sure that fits this job, but as time goes on, I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Communicating In 140 Characters

 Important Announcement--If you haven't yet used the tab at right to join my mailing list and get my newsletter, please consider doing so. I send out only a few issues per year, and you can easily unsubscribe. I'll be sending the next issue by the end of the year, and I plan to share some exciting news plus  a giveaway that's only for subscribers. Thanks. "We now return to our regularly scheduled program."

I've been "tweeting" for quite a while now. At first it was fun--keeping up with friends, announcing such events as a win by my favorite football team. However, somewhere along the way, Twitter and I have grown apart. Oh, I still have my account. And my posts there also go to my Facebook site. But I'm beginning to feel like a character in a play I once saw, who said, "I've seen a lot of changes in my time, and I've been against every dang one of them."

One pet peeve of mine, for example, involves people who absolutely can't limit what they have to say to 140 characters (the limit for a "tweet," which is a Twitter message). They get around this by posting two or three consecutive messages, each one running right up to (and often over) the limit, in order to get their post across. Somehow, this seems like cheating. It reminds me of the saying attributed to mathematician Blaise Pascal: "I have made this letter rather long because I did not have the time to make it shorter." It takes effort to organize your thoughts and trim them down, and apparently that doesn't work for some people.

I confess that despite its faults, I continue to Tweet. Also, my phone allows me to send and receive text messages.  But few days go by without my wondering if all this "progress" is going too fast for me.

For example, with the growing popularity of messaging of various sorts, there seems to be an increasing number of abbreviations used now. Oh, I don't mean LOL (which some people use the way I use commas) and Q4U (which makes me wonder what the shorthand for "answer to your question" is). I finally figured those out, but others elude me. So I decided to look up some of the abbreviations I've seen recently, only to discover that there are several hundred of them listed in one article alone. Just about the time I learn one, two more crop up, sort of like pulling weeds.

So I leave you with a question--excuse me, a Q4U. Do you love or hate Twitter and texting? What online/texting abbreviations do you commonly use? Are there some that leave you laughing out loud--I mean, LOL?

Well, that's enough for this post. Bye for now--I mean B4N.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We have been blessed individually and as a nation. Give thanks today, then tomorrow do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cathy West's Advice For Writers

My friend, Cathy West, and I are represented by the same agent, and that's how I first met her. Since she lives in Bermuda, we don't exactly meet for coffee from time to time, but we do swap emails and social media posts. Recently Cathy got her first publishing contract, and her debut novel, Yesterday's Tomorrow, will be published by Oak Tara Publishers next spring. I'll be doing an interview with Cathy later, but this recent post from her blog so nailed it when it comes to the struggle of a writer seeking publication that I've asked for and received permission from her to post it here. Here's what she has to say:

Since announcing that I am, at long last, stepping over into Published Land, I've been asked two questions with alarming frequency.

The first is, of course, "When is the book coming out?" My answer: "You will know when I know."

The second is, "How long did it take?" Or "How did you do it?"

Okay, that's three questions.

But the last two are both how questions, and kind of interrelated, so let's discuss the how.
One thing I say often, mostly when I'm muttering to myself over having started the tenth revision on a manuscript, is that I wish I had known then what I know now.

* If you want to be a writer you must must MUST be willing to learn. *

But, you say, my mother, cousins and aunties all read my book and loved it! They cried.
Yeah, bully for you. You're going to be crying in a few months when you get your first rejection.

Harsh? Maybe, but don't take my word for it. Go ahead and send out that query letter with an unpolished manuscript and see what happens. Unless of course you're a literary genius (In which case, I hate you), I can pretty much guarantee that you're setting yourself up for a good old-fashioned pity party.

But how do you know this? I'm glad you asked.

I know this because I did it. Several times over. I knew my writing was good. The stories were amazing, honest. I cried while I wrote them.

Did I read one single book on craft apart from Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers? No. I did not.

Did I belong to a critique group, online or otherwise? No, I did not.

Did I know what passive writing, deep POV or head-hopping were? NO. I did not.

See a pattern here?

Listen, you don't just wake up one day and decide to be a brain surgeon, pluck some poor guy off the street and do a frontal lobe lobotomy on him. Well, you could try, but methinks it would end badly for both of you. No, you go to university. Then you go to medical school. Then you do your internship, then a fellowship. And a hundred years later, you're a brain surgeon.

So it is with writing.

It is one thing to want to be a writer. It is a wonderful thing. A beautiful dream. But one that takes time, energy, fortitude and a certain amount of humility. If you seriously intend to make that dream a reality you must be willing to make the investment.

If you know without a doubt that you are willing to follow that dream, whatever the cost, wherever it takes you, great.

Here's some free advice for you. Take it. You'll be glad you did.

1. No pain, no gain. Find a writers group near you and join. Immediately. Then enroll in a critique group. Immediately.

If you have never, ever let anyone read your work because you're embarrassed or it's not good enough, get over it. If you want to be a writer you must be willing to subject yourself to criticism. Yes, sometimes it will hurt. You will bleed. But you will learn.

I belong to two. American Christian Fiction Writers - they have zones all over the US. Likewise with Romance Writers of America. If you belong to one or the other or both, you're well on your way to rubbing shoulders with those who have paved the way and are more than willing to help, teach and advise. Take full advantage of this. In the nicest, politest way possible of course.

2. Read to Learn. Do you know what genre you write in? Do you know what genre is? Arm yourself with a library of how-to books on writing. There are literally dozens to choose from. Do a search on Amazon and see for yourself. I recommend Anne Lammot, Dwight Swain, James Scott Bell and Donald Maas, just for starters.

3. Read for pleasure. If you're a writer, this is a no brainer. You love to read. Do. I often find it very difficult to read while I'm writing, but I force myself. There is no better way to learn your craft than to read published books. Whatever those authors are doing, it's working. I tend to read in my genre, but I think if you can step outside the box and read a bit of everything, you'll be ahead of the game. Okay. a warning here. As you grow as a writer, you will quickly develop a pain in the rear thing called The Internal Editor. It's that little voice inside your head that starts pitching a fit when you're in the middle of that bestseller and heads are hopping all over town, with the wases and the just as and the thens and you just can't stand it anymore because this junk is published and your brilliant novel has just been rejected again. For the tenth time.

I get this.

However, said author with the head-hopping issues is #1 on the NYT Best Seller list and is making a bajillion dollars a year churning out the same stuff. You are not. Get over it.

The biggest trap for a writer is to start comparing yourself to somebody else. I have done this too many times. I'll say, "Oh, I just love her stuff. I want to write like her." Uh. Good for me, but I'm not her. I'm me. I have learned to be satisfied with that. I will write like myself, thank you very much.

4. Go to writers conferences. Seriously. I know it is a lot of money. I know it's scary, especially if you're new at this and you don't know anyone. But it is so worth it. If you are serious about becoming a published author - find the money. Decide which conference you want to attend (do the research), start saving, find your babysitters or dogsitters or whatever, and just do it. You won't regret it. There is nothing like sitting in a room with several hundred other people who don't think you're weird. They're weird too. Go be weird together. Be writers.

5. Support System. You might say this does not apply to you. Your spouse is amazing, fully supportive in whatever you do. Your friends love you, they think it's cool that you're doing this writing thing, and your family is always asking when that book is coming out.

Awesome. However--once you have been at this for oh, five or ten years, and you're still not published, they might not be so supportive. Now I'm not saying they're going to call you an idiot behind your back or anything, but you know... This is a long, hard road. You may be one of the fortunate few who lands that agent and publishing contract within a year or two, and if so, great. Chances are, it'll take a lot longer than that. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who can support you along the way, no matter what. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary occupation. Well, you know. As solitary as it can get with five or six people talking to you inside your head, sometimes all at once.

There will be times when you'll want to give up. You will want to rant and wail when you receive a no that you were a hundred percent sure was going to be a yes. It's a tough gig. Family and friends are great, but sometimes they just don't 'get it' like another writer will.

6. Believe in yourself. You must believe you can do this. If you don't, why should anyone else? Find your faith, spit polish it every day and smile at yourself. You can do this. It will not be easy, but if you want it, you must be willing to go after it.

Thanks, Cathy. I hope each of you reading this will check out Cathy's blog and website. And join me in congratulating her on the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Oh, by the way, Cathy. It doesn't get any easier from here on out. Just thought I'd cheer you up a bit.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reviewers, and Endorsers, and Influencers, oh my!

In my last post, I discussed the practice of sending Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to reviewers, endorsers, and influencers. Let me explain about these groups.

You didn't really think those book reviews in the New York Times or the major newspaper in your home town just appeared on their own, did you? Publishers provide advance copies of  books to the reviewers at these papers. Multiply that by hundreds of publications, from large ones such as Library Journal to smaller or specialized ones such as The Suspense Zone and you see the magnitude of the process. There's a good bit of decision-making in sending out ARCs to reviewers. But one good review at a major site can result in the sales of hundreds of books. Each publisher has a long list of potential reviewers. It's the job of the marketing and publicity department to match each book with appropriate sites to receive ARCs.

As for endorsers, these are the people who write one- and two-line squibs that appear on the cover or just inside book. For example, my publisher and I hope you're more likely to buy my novel if you look at the back cover and see that respected author Colleen Coble said, "I was riveted by Richard Mabry's Medical Error--compelling story and characters with fascinating medical detail. Move over Robin Cook." Who lines up endorsers? It varies. Authors, agent, publishers all participate in the process, and it varies with each of them. In my case, I personally contact all my possible endorsers. I make the following stipulations: if they agree, they'll be sent an ARC with a view to endorsement if they have the time, can read the book, and truly endorse it. So far, the only negative responders have been those with time crunches due to their own writing deadlines. And I'm excited over the line-up of potential endorsers who've just received (I hope) their ARC of Diagnosis Death.

Then what is an influencer? These are people whom you hope will read the book, like it, and tell others. They're people with large blog followings. They're church and public librarians. They're the heads of book clubs. The list can be huge, but again economics rears its ugly head, so distribution of ARCs to influencers must be limited. I sweat bullets over the list I turn in with each book, knowing that I've probably forgotten some important people.

Now I've got to get busy finishing my next novel. Then comes the editing process and more worry over ARCs and endorsers. The fun never stops, does it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't Miss The Ark...I Mean ARC

When we had torrential rains in this part of Texas recently, I was worried that we might need an ark. But lately, my thoughts have been more about ARCs. Advance reader's copies. Most publishers provide ARCs to reviewers, influencers, and endorsers. In order for endorsers and reviewers to read them and provide feedback, ARCs must go out several months before the publication date of the finished book. And if they're delayed, that's one more cause for author heartburn.

You might have noticed that I said "most publishers." I've discovered that some publishers no longer furnish ARCs as printed, bound copies. Instead, in this age of Kindles, Nooks, and computer-friendly ebooks, they make the material available electronically. And at least one of my author friends tells me that her publisher no longer provides ARCs at all, sending out copies of the finished book instead.

The first time I received an ARC of a fellow author's work, I was excited. I'd obviously been included in a select group, receiving this material before members of the general public. Imagine my surprise when I found that ARCs aren't perfect. They are printed from the uncorrected final manuscript provided by the author, a manuscript that will later have mistakes corrected and discrepancies cleaned up. I don't know about other authors, but in my case I appreciate the editorial team that discovered errors that were corrected between the ARC of my about-to-be-published third novel, Diagnosis Death, and the final copy.

In addition to the wave-of-the-future electronic copies, bound ARCs go out. They are sent to reviewers, endorsers, and influencers via a number of carriers: FedEx and UPS, first class mail, or media mail. Since the publisher may be sending a couple of hundred copies, you can understand that they may need to economize by using the least expensive of these methods--media mail--but that may cause the material to be a couple of weeks in transit. In the meantime, the author is pacing the floor, waiting to see what the reviews and endorsers will say.

Diagnosis Death will be my third novel, and I have engaged in the floor-pacing with each one of them. The ARCs are always a bit later in production than predicted at first, a bit slower in being sent out than we'd wish, and thus slower in arriving at their destinations than I or any other author would like. This was the case with this latest group of ARCs, but that's just part of the process and I've learned to accept it.

You may have been asking yourself, "Who are these reviewers, endorsers, and influencers he keeps talking about?" Glad you asked. Come back next time for a discussion of all that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

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, Lajes Field, Azores

Monday, November 08, 2010

Blame It On Daylight Savings Time

For those of you keeping score, you may have noticed that I'm a bit late with this post. I generally post on Monday and Thursday, having decided that the world--well, my world, anyway--is going too fast for me to post every day. I checked this morning to see what gem I'd chosen for today and found that I'd completely missed this date. Blame it on Daylight Savings Time, blame it on depression over the sorry state of the Dallas Cowboys, blame it on what you wish, but there it is.

Speaking of Daylight Savings Time, how many of you think this exercise in turning clocks backward and forward is totally ridiculous? I know, Congress tells us it saves energy. Then again, they've told me other things I can't prove, either. To me, it's sort of like cutting an inch off the hem of a garment and sewing it back on the top to make it longer.

Anyway, that's my wisdom for today. Hope this is a good week for you all.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Golf As A Paradigm For Life

Readers may puzzle over the title of this post, much as the two psychiatrists who met each other in the elevator of their office building one morning. After exchanging pleasantries, they emerged and turned away from each other, thinking, "I wonder what he meant by that."

In this case, I'm not talking about the honesty required in score-keeping. I'm not even concerned with the observation by Jerry Gilmore, my friend/golf partner/attorney, who says that you can tell a lot about a person by whether they fill in their divots when no one is looking. No, I think my life is most enjoyable when I live it the way I play golf. And I want to share that philosophy with you.

For some people, golf is a blood sport. They live and die with every shot, playing the game with an intensity that will surely result in a bleeding ulcer someday. I tried that for a while, but decided that the game was supposed to be fun, and this certainly didn't meet that definition.

That's when Jerry and I developed OFBB (old fogey's best ball). If we hit a shot we don't like, we declare it a practice ball and hit another. However, we limit ourselves to three tries on any shot, because otherwise we can't remember where all the balls went. And--horror of horrors to the purists--we don't keep score! We figure that we play the game for enjoyment, and we enjoy it more when we just remember the good shots and don't worry about the bad ones.

What's the relationship of this attitude toward life? Just as a shanked 7-iron shot almost always follows a good drive, life is full of ups and downs. Obviously, we have to do our best. Bills have to be paid. Obligations must be met. But to measure our achievements by the amount of money we make or the position we attain can be like the golfer who drains all the enjoyment from his life by agonizing over his game. As I said of one playing partner (a preacher, no less), "He didn't say anything, but no grass grew where he stepped." I don't need that intensity in my life.

Lest you think it's easy for me to recommend this because I'm living a life of luxury with no crises on the horizon, that's not the case. We've had tragedy upon tragedy in our family this year--personal, financial, you name it. But I've tried to remember that bad times don't last forever, and God is sovereign. Those two thoughts help me through each day. And when I find something to enjoy, I try to do just that. It's the equivalent of a "mulligan" in life, I suppose. And I'm thankful for it.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Many of you may have already taken advantage of the opportunity for early voting. For those who haven't, I'd like to urge you to vote on November 2. Regardless of your political views, please exercise this right that we sometimes take for granted, a freedom for which our forefathers spilled their blood. And regardless of the outcome of the races, please continue to pray for our nation and its leaders.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lessons From A Cup Of Shrimp Bisque

Kay and I have just returned from a vacation in the mountains of North Carolina. That always includes a visit to our favorite restaurant in the area, the Grovewood CafĂ©. I was delighted to see that their soup of the day was one of my favorites: shrimp bisque. When it came, the aroma was tantalizing, and the taste of the rich broth didn’t disappoint. Kay dipped in her spoon and agreed with me. It was excellent.

I had taken several spoonfuls before I put my spoon into the bottom and stirred. I encountered shrimp—lots of them. Plump, flavorful, making the soup even more of a treat. “Look at that,” I said to Kay. “When I dug down, there was even more to it.”

We shared a look, and I said, “I know. There’s a sermon there somewhere.” Well, I don’t preach  anymore (another story for another day), but I do write. This one may end up published as a meditation, but for now let me just share it with those of you who read my blog.

Sometimes, life is like that bowl of shrimp bisque. Take our church membership. Some of us (and I’ve done this myself) simply go, take, and leave. We skim the top, enjoy the experience, and go about our business. Others dig down deep. We get involved in a smaller fellowship of believers, call it what you will—Sunday school, home fellowship, small group, whatever. We serve through participation in the choir, in teaching, as ushers and greeters, in outreach and service projects. And when we do, we get closer to the bottom of the bowl, and are rewarded with the good stuff.

Forrest Gump had an oft-quoted line: “Life is like a box of chocolates.” May I suggest that often times, life is like a cup of shrimp bisque. Dig deep. You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The "Bargain Book" Shelf

Kay and I were shopping in our local Christian bookstore, looking for some books for our grandson, when she noticed several shelves of books marked "bargain." Most were $3, some were two for $3, and others had been marked down to $1. We bought some bargains, but the fact that there were books there by some of my favorite authors, very talented people, set me thinking. (Don't you hate it when that happens?)

I've had two novels and one non-fiction book published. Another novel comes out next spring, and it looks like there will be more after that. Like all authors, I got a rush seeing my work on the bookshelves of our local stores. I reveled in emails, phone calls, and conversations that told me how much the people enjoyed my work. But if I'd developed an inflated sense of self-worth, seeing those shelves of bargain books brought me down to earth. Because someday, my books will be right there.

It's unrealistic to think that all works of literature have an infinite shelf life. Maybe Pilgrim's Progress or A Tale Of Two Cities. Most books aren't of that caliber, and I'm not deluded enough to think mine are. I just hope they entertain some folks while mirroring the way God works in our lives through good times and bad. If my novels do that, I won't mind when they end up on the bargain book shelf. That will only make it more likely they'll fall into the hands of someone who needs that message. And isn't that the purpose of Christian fiction? I think so.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Interview With Author Billy Coffey

Debut author Billy Coffey has created quite a critical stir with his novel, Snow Day, which launched recently. Billy has kindly consented to take a little time away from the rush of book launch activities to let my readers know more about him. I think you’ll like what you find.

RM: First of all, congratulations on the launch of Snow Day. How did you handle all the emotions that go along with seeing your novel in print?

BC: It was a very satisfying end to a very long journey, and in some ways a bumpy end. The emotions I’d counted on being there were, things like excitement and a sense of peace. But there was also a lot of nervousness and anxiety, too.

RM: You and I are both fortunate enough to be clients of a great agent: Rachelle Gardner. How did you come to be represented by Rachelle?

BC: One of Rachelle’s clients began reading my blog about a year and a half ago, and she emailed and asked if I had a manuscript. I told her I did, and she offered to serve as a bridge between Rachelle and me. Rachelle liked the manuscript and signed me a few weeks later. I’d always heard of the value blogging can hold for aspiring writers. I found that to be very, very true.

RM: Tell my readers a bit about Snow Day.

BC: Snow Day is about a man named Peter Boyd, who wakes one December morning with two problems. One is that he may very well lose his job. The other is the snowstorm that hit his small town overnight. The stress he’s been under convinces Peter he can’t handle both, so he decides to take a snow day from work. Peter’s plans to spend the day wallowing in despair are upended when his wife sends him to the store for bread and milk, and that begins the bulk of the book. Peter spends his day interacting with the family, friends, and strangers in his small Virginia town, each of whom either have or are enduring their own personal storms, and each of whom will offer Peter a piece of the puzzle as to why we all must suffer loss. In the end, Peter finds that he has lost much, but he has gained more.

RM: And I understand that there’s a second book in the works. What’s that one about?

BC: My second novel is titled Paper Angels. It’s about a man named Andy Sommerville, who’s just like the rest of us in that he has a guardian angel. What makes Andy different is that he can see and talk to his. Andy’s angel is The Old Man, who will over the years tell Andy to collect small mementos from twelve different moments in his life and keep them safely inside a wooden keepsake box. But then a brutal attack turns Andy’s once predictable world upside down, and The Old Man seems to abandon him to the loneliness and pain that has filled his life. All that remains is the keepsake box Andy has always kept safe, and the hospital counselor who will use it to help him discover the defining truth of his life.

RM: As authors, we often hear the phrase, “Don’t quit your day job.” Exactly what is your day job, and do you plan to quit in favor of full-time writing?

BC: I spend my Monday through Friday as supervisor of a campus post office at a small private college in Virginia, and it is exactly as glamorous as it sounds. I think the majority of writers would like to turn their passion into a profession, and I’m no different. So yes, I plan to. Someday.

RM: Your testimony is really touching. My readers can see it here. Would you like to comment on your experience?

BC: One of the saddest things in life is that most of our defining moments are only seen as such in passing. When we’re in the middle of them, they simply look like problems or obstacles. But that was one experience I knew was defining as it was happening.

RM: And as I always ask the authors I interview, any last words for my readers?

BC: Just a nod and a thanks to you, Richard, for inviting me. And to your readers, I’ll say this: pay attention to your little moments, because they’re all just big moments in disguise.

Thanks, Billy. I've read Snow Day, and found it to be a touching, engaging story. I hope my readers will pick up a copy. I'll certainly be watching for Paper Angels and more from Billy Coffey.

Late-breaking news: The Nov-Dec issue of Writer's Digest features Billy on page 18, in their "Breaking In" segment about debut authors. Congratulations, Billy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When Pigs Fly

The Texas Rangers are going to the World Series! Yes, the same Texas Rangers team that always seems to tease us, doing well in the early part of the season, only to fail in the heat of mid-summer. We've heard about their typical "June swoon." There's the joke that the Texas Rangers would be sold to a consortium of businessmen in the Philippines and be renamed the "Manila Folders," But this year they did it.

Why? So many reasons. One is the performance of Josh Hamilton, who was named the Most Valuable Player for the just-concluded series. Hamilton's speech after the game, in which he thanked God and told how his teammates loved each other and pulled together, was very moving. He recognized that what he was experiencing was the result of the efforts of a myriad of people, from the ownership down to the fans, but that above all, God deserved praise for the way he'd brought Josh from the depths of substance abuse to the present moment. More important, it's evident that Josh recognizes that he's not through--with baseball or with life. And he's going to need to lean on God and on others as he goes down that road.

Watching the celebration last night, it was evident that the Rangers had a love of the game and of each other, and a passion for reaching their goal. As I look at some of the challenges that have recently come my way, I wonder if I can be equally passionate about meeting them. Can I do it? Well, the Rangers did, and I don't see any porcine aviators in the skies over North Texas, so I guess it's possible.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview With Author Rick Acker

Author Rick Acker has what sounds like an interesting “day job.” In addition to being a multi-published author, Rick is Deputy Attorney General in the California Department of Justice. His newest book, When The Devil Whistles, deals with what happens when someone turns the tables on a professional whistle-blower and her gifted litigator partner.  It’s a pleasure to welcome Rick to Random Jottings.

RM:   Rick, what got you into writing in the first place? And how many rejections did you garner before getting that first contract? (If you say “none,” I’m going to hate you).

RA: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—short stories, articles, poetry. My first novels grew out of stories I told during interstate car trips with my family. Back in the days before handheld DVD players and game systems, I was the designated entertainment on long drives. So I told long stories, and I had to make them interesting enough to keep the kids from permanently injuring each other in the backseat. Most of those stories were forgotten five minutes after we reached our destination, but every now and then my wife would say, “Oh, you need to write that one down.” One of those became my first published novel, The Case of the Autumn Rose.

As for rejections, you’ll notice that I didn’t say Autumn Rose was my first novel. That’s still sitting in a binder in my garage. Next to it is another binder with my second book. And there’s a third with an unpublished novella. And then there’s a pile of bad poetry and short stories. I don’t know how many rejections I’ve received, but I tried to learn from each one and I didn’t give up—which is why I ultimately got published.

RM: Obviously your occupation allows you to write authoritatively about the legal world. Do you work primarily as a litigator, or is your day mainly spent at your desk or the law library? And how much does your “day job” help you in your writing?

RA: I am a litigator, but most of my days are spent at my desk or in a conference room. That’s actually pretty typical—the vast majority of litigators spend only a small percentage of their time in court.
My day job is, of course, a big help in writing legal thrillers. I work on fascinating investigations and cases that give me lots of unique story ideas. Also, being a practicing lawyer is a huge advantage in making my stories and characters realistic—as I imagine being a doctor is in writing medical thrillers, right?

RM:  Right. Your latest book, When The Devil Whistles, released on October 1, and the premise sounds very interesting. How did you come up with that story line? Can you tell us a bit more about the book?

RA: I’d be happy to. It’s a legal thriller based on the type of corporate fraud cases I prosecute at the California Department of Justice. In it, I give readers a peak into the secret—but very real—world of freelance corporate spies who can make tens of millions of dollars blowing the whistle on fraud in government contracts…if they don’t get caught.

When The Devil Whistles is the story of Allie Whitman and Connor Norman. Allie is a professional whistleblower with a knack for sniffing out fraud in government contracts. Connor is a gifted litigator with courtroom polish to spare. Together they formed Devil to Pay, Inc., a shell corporation that files lawsuits based on Allie’s investigations—and collects a generous share of the proceeds when the defendants settle. Allie and Connor have made good money making the devil pay, as they like to think of it. But then one of Allie’s targets turns the tables and blows the whistle on her, threatening to expose secrets that would ruin her career and put her in jail—unless she does them one little favor . . .
Allie and Connor soon find themselves fighting desperate—and potentially fatal—battles in and out of the courtroom. Their foe is a company that will go to any lengths to protect secrets much darker than padded bills.

RM: The writers among my readership will want to know this. Are you represented by an agent? If so, how did that come about? If not, why did you choose to represent yourself?

RA: I’m represented by Lee Hough of Alive Communications. I met Lee through contacts I made at the Mount Hermon Writers Conference, and going with him was one of the best decisions of my writing career. Even though I’m a lawyer and can understand and negotiate a contract on my own, it’s been a tremendous help to have Lee on my side. Lee not only helps me land the best possible contract, he’s involved throughout the publication process: He makes sure the cover is good, the marketing plan is solid, and the release smooth. And while that’s going on, he’s giving me long-term career advice.

RM: When The Devil Whistles is your fifth published novel. What have you learned along the way about writing and the publishing industry?

RA: Lots. The biggest surprise was how much independent marketing authors need to do. I had a pretty simplistic view of the writing world when I signed my first contract. I thought that all I needed to do was write good books and the publisher would do the rest. That’s not how things work.

RM: Abingdon Press, the same house that’s published my novels, is publishing When The Devil Whistles. I’m glad to see another male on the list of Abingdon authors. What’s your take on the predominance of female authors in Christian fiction?

RA: I think there are several factors at work. First, the vast majority of Christian fiction readers are women, and you have to be a reader before you can be a writer. Second, romance is far and away the best selling category of Christian fiction, and not many guys write love stories. Third, writing is a very tough career for the primary breadwinner in the household (no benefits, no job security, uneven income from year to year, etc.), which is usually the man.

RM:  Any final thoughts for my readers?

RA: Thanks for having me, Richard!

Thanks for being my guest, Rick. I'm glad to get better acquainted with you, and I look forward to reading When The Devil Whistles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Off-Service Notes

As medical students and physicians go through their training, they rotate onto various specialty services: internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, etc. And one aspect of these rotations is that they're limited by the calendar. If I have a six week rotation on surgery, I'll start on July 1. Six weeks later I'll make rounds one final time, gather the charts of all the patients, and write an off service note. This is a summary of the patient's case, including future treatment that's planned and anything else the new doctor on the case needs to know to guarantee continuity of care.

Sometimes I was sorry to write off service notes. Perhaps that was because I'd enjoyed the particular aspect of medicine to which I'd been exposed. Maybe I'd liked the physicians and nurses with whom I'd worked. I might even be anxious to follow the progress of a patient I was leaving behind. But tht wasn't always the case.

There were times when I watched the calendar like a man awaiting his release from prison, mentally marking off the days until I could write my off service notes and escape. But hate to write them or look forward to them, the notes came around and it was time to move on.

Once I went into practice, I quickly learned a valuable lesson: there are no off service notes in life. It was up to me to handle the difficult case, no matter how long it took or how hard I had to work. Further, this extended to life in general, not just medicine. Confronted with a sticky situation, I had to work through it. Faced with hard choices, I had to make them. There was no escape by sitting down and writing a note summarizing what I'd done and the choices coming up, then passing it to someone else.

I've talked with lots of people who want to quit. They say, "I just want to chuck it all. I'll declare bankruptcy. I'll get a divorce. I'll move and not leave a forwarding address." Some have even spoken about ending their life. It looks hopeless from their side. Sometimes things in life get tough. But, even though we may not be able to walk away from them, we can do an off service note of sorts. Remember, the reason for an off service note is that someone else is coming on board to take over the case.

When faced with a seemingly untenable situation, why not share that load? It may be with a trusted friend or family member. It could involve seeing a counselor. It might be talking with a pastor or spiritual advisor. The trick is to communicate. Get a fresh set of eyes viewing the problem. Be open to the advice of others. Let someone come alongside.

And don't forget to lean on God. After all, He not only already knows about it, He knows how it's going to end. And God never writes off service notes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Barnes and Noble Book Rankings

I recently did a guest post on the blog of my agent, Rachelle Gardner, about Amazon rankings. Although most authors will tell you they don't follow these, I suspect that they do. I know that I will occasionally sneak over and look to see what the rankings of my books are. I get down if the number is high (ie, there are that many other books selling more copies than mine--at least, during that time period). When the number is low, I celebrate--momentarily.

There are multiple theories about how Amazon ranks books, and since Amazon isn't saying, all we can do is conjecture. I noticed that Barnes and Noble posts rankings on their website, so I decided to ask them if they'd explain how they do it. Do they rank every hour, every day, every month? I've even heard that Amazon recalculates their rankings at different time intervals, depending on the popularity of the books. I imagined that B&N would have something equally as complex, and frankly I despaired of getting a straight answer. But I did. Here's their reply, in its entirety:

The sales rank of a book on our website indicates the popularity of that book.  For example, a book with a sales rank of 1 is the number one selling book at  A book with a sales rank of 10 is the 10th highest-selling book on our website.   

Rankings are based on sales for the last 26 weeks. If a title has had no sales online or in our stores for the past 26 weeks, there will be no sales rank listed on that product page. 

There you have it. Total sales over the past half year. Simple and straightforward. Thanks Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Winner of DiAnn Mills' Book

Sorry to be a bit late in posting this. I've been tied up with that stuff called "life," including doing a bit of work on my latest novel. Besides that, I forgot! But the random number generator has awarded a copy of DiAnn Mills' latest book, Pursuit of Justice, to Becky Harling.

Becky, if you'll use the tab on the right side of this page to email me your mailing address, I'll ask DiAnn to send the book to you. Congratulations.

I hope you all have read the interview with the fantastic Bill Myers that immediately precedes this post. Come back tomorrow for more on book rankings by commercial booksellers. Specifically, I'll address the way it's done by Barnes and Noble. You'll find it's refreshing in its simplicity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Interview With Bill Myers

I first met Bill Myers when we were on the faculty of the writer’s conference at Mount Hermon, California. Bill is an award-winning writer, but that’s just one of his accomplishments. In addition to all that, he’s a nice guy and fun to be around. He’s graciously agreed to answer a few questions so my readers can get to know him. I think you’ll like what you find here.

RM: I understand that your spiritual life owes a lot to being dumped by a girl. What’s the story behind that?

BM:  I was an egotistical jerk and after three years she got tired of it. I was so distraught that I was either going to kill myself or give God 100% control. In a sense they were both death options, only the one I chose replaced my life with His . . . not a bad trade off.

RM: I believe you started out in movie making, but you’ve also written a truckload of books of various types. In addition to all that, you’ve been a pastor. Can you sketch your creative journey for us?

BM: My life goal is to always say yes to God. So . . . whenever a situation arises (regardless of whether I feel qualified or not) and I think He wants me to, I say yes. It’s one incredible ride that’s anything but boring!

RM: I’ve heard you say in one interview that you’ve learned to candy-coat the message so people think they’re being entertained instead of being preached to. Can you amplify a bit?

BM: It’s a tricky thing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually fun. First, I determine what I want to say, then I think up plot and characters that allow me to say it without appearing preachy. Often the message comes out of the character’s journey. The trick is not to make the characters puppets you manipulate, but design them so they organically follow the path you want them to follow. Then there’s humor, suspense, intrigue . . . and the fact that I have ADD. If it keeps my attention, it will keep anybody’s.  Three of my 5 rules in writing are, entertain, entertain, entertain.

RM: Bill, your description of your adult books is “supernatural suspense.” What do you mean by that?

BM: Contrary to Hollywood and even some of my peers, the supernatural does not have to be gory and creepy. Yes, you can use it as an antagonist, but there’s a much bigger supernatural force that’s far more interesting. Basically, I love to explore the mysteries of God. And with an infinite God, there’s plenty to explore!

RM: In addition to adult fiction you’ve written some great children’s books. We have given copies of the Bug Parables series to our grandkids, and they love them. Is it hard to go from one end of the spectrum to the other, from deep writing for adults to books that speak to kids?

BM: No, it actually allows me to write 50 weeks out of the year. I work on an adult book until I’m dead tired, then I turn around and write a children’s book to clean out the pipes and have fun. Going back and forth keeps me fresh and alive.
RM: Tell us about your latest novel, The God Hater.

BM: It would be best to go to my web site and read the synopsis . . . plus all the other cool reviews, samples, and resources available. You can find all that here.

RM: That's a great web site, by the way. And, as I always ask, any last words for my readers?

BM: Keep saying yes to God no matter how scary it feels. You’ve only got one life, why waste it living it your way. Being a Christian is not about getting your admission ticket so you can sit in the stands. It’s about getting to go onto the field and play for the Coach.

Bill, thanks for joining us. To my readers, I hope you’ll check out The God Hater, and if you have children or grandchildren look into his Elijah Project and Bug Parables books.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Book Signing On Friday

I'll be signing copies of my books, Code Blue and Medical Error, at the Mardel Book Store in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, October 9, between 1:00 and 3:00 PM. If you're in the area, I hope you'll drop by to say "Hi," and help yourself to a Hershey's chocolate kiss.

Authors all know that book signings can be fun events, but there can be times when the loneliness is comparable to being cast adrift on a raft. Whether I sign any books or not, I'd still like to have the opportunity to meet you.

Be sure to come back to this blog on Monday, October 11, for a great interview with Bill Myers. See how getting dumped by his girl friend was the turning point in his life.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Guest Blogging Today

I'm honored to be guest blogger today at the site of my agent, Rachelle Gardner. Hope you'll drop by and read what I have to say about the meaning of Amazon rankings.

Oh, and don't forget to read my blog post just before this one, a great interview with author DiAnn Mills. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of her latest book, Pursuit of Justice.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Interview With DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is a talented and prolific author, a great teacher and mentor, and a friend and fellow Texan. I’ve asked her back to Random Jottings today, and know you’ll enjoy getting to know her better.

RM: DiAnn, I still identify you with historical fiction. I especially enjoyed your latest book in that genre, A Woman Called Sage . But you’ve also branched out with your Call of Duty series. What caused you to move in this direction?

DM: I love suspense, either in contemporary or historical. My stories are about unlikely women who have chosen professions or a way of life that is out of the normal woman’s comfort zone.

RM:  I enjoyed the two previous books in the Call of Duty series, and I’m looking forward to reading Pursuit Of Justice. Can you tell my readers a bit about it?

DM: I love this story! Pursuit of Justice weaves a legend set in West Texas about lost gold stolen by the Spanish from the Incas. Clues were etched into rocks, but no one has ever been able to decipher them—at least no one who has acknowledged finding the gold. For centuries, men have died pursuing the treasure.
Special Agent Bella Jordan has been sent to West Texas to help unravel murder cases who are linked to the Spider Rock treasure. The prime suspect is Carr Sullivan, a man with a shady past. But what trails Bella is her own past laced with demons that began with the Spider Rock treasure.

RM:  You’re also heavily involved in teaching in the Jerry B Jenkins Christian Writing Guild. What does this entail?

DM: First of all, let me say that my writing ministry is two fold: writing the best novel possible and teaching/mentoring writers to do the same.

The Craftsman program at the Christian Writers Guild is the top level of distance learning. The students have to qualify for this course, either by having successfully completed one of the other other CWG courses or through an assessment of their writing. The course includes twelve monthly lessons and a five-day residency in Colorado Springs with Jerry Jenkins, me :), and two other prominent persons in the writing industry. The classes are limited to twelve participants, which permits one-on-one time at the residency.

My role is to edit each Craftsman lesson and follow up with a phone call. This allows me to help the writer work out any problems with their writing, brainstorm, and of course form a bond with the writer.

RM:  What is the best piece of advice you have for writers who are struggling to get a foothold in the publishing industry?

DM: Learn the craft. Agents and editors must love your work, not simply like it. Pray for guidance in every area of your writing life—understand who is the Boss of your career.

RM:  I know you have a passion for the Sudan and its people. What brought this about? And would you tell my readers what they can do to help this embattled nation?

DM: Back in 2002, I was asked to write a nonfiction book about the Lost Boys of Sudan, that book Lost Boy No More is still doing well, and the proceeds go back to aid the Southern Sudanese. Shortly afterward, I wrote a novel When the Lion Roars about the situation in Southern Sudan. Again, proceeds go back to aid the Southern Sudanese. In writing this book, I found a passion for a persecuted people unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I’ve been called Mom by many of these now-grown men.
In 2006, Moody Publishers purchased When the Nile Runs Red, a second novel set in Southern Sudan. This time I traveled to Juba, Sudan, the capital of Southern Sudan. I was tremendously moved by my experiences there. I learned how selfish we all can be with our materialistic mindset. I also learned that when a Sudanese says that Jesus is enough, he/she means exactly that. Proceeds go back to aid these courageous people.

Abraham Nhial assisted me in writing the nonfiction book, and he has now graduated from seminary and holds a prominent position for the Episcopal Church in Sudan. Although he and his wife have taken on a tremendous amount of responsibility, there are no funds in which to pay him. Those of you who would like to contribute to God’s work in Southern Sudan, you can log on to this site and click on the “donation” page. Be sure to indicate “for the work of Abraham Nhial” in the comment box at the bottom. This tax deductible donation will help Abraham continue the ministry in which God has called him.

RM:  And what last words do you have for my readers?

DM: Let me hear from you! My facebook author page is here. This is where I have a more of a personal relationship with others. Please visit my website and sign up for my E-Newsletter.
And most important of all, let me hear from you!
May God Bless

DiAnn, thanks for visiting, and for your gracious offer to give a copy of Pursuit Of Justice to one of my readers. That's you, folks. Leave a comment for a chance to win this book. Check back on Monday, October 11, for the name of the winner. And stay tuned for more author interviews soon.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Want My Pizza Now!

Recently, we decided to throw caution to the winds and order a pizza. Since virtually everything nowadays is electronic, I chose to place the order online. I was proud of the way I navigated through the ordering process, only having to clear the order and revise it twice, which for me is pretty good. I remembered one thing from the old-fashioned days of phoning in the order. The pizza would be here in thirty minutes or less, piping hot. Good husband that I am, I set up the TV trays (don't tell the kids that we eat in front of the TV sometimes), put out plates and napkins, and waited. And waited. And waited.

After forty minutes, I phoned the pizza place and was told "It's been dispatched," making me think my pizza was coming code three in a police cruiser or something. Dispatched or not, it was another ten minutes before the pizza was delivered by a teen-aged boy with a big smile. The pizza wasn't piping hot, but it was sort of warm. And I chose not to make a big thing of the delay. It didn't matter who was at fault. We got our pizza, he got his tip, and things proceeded from there.

Sometimes we look at God like a pizza delivery boy. We put in our order--that is, we pray earnestly for something--and expect it delivered to our door, piping hot, in thirty minutes or less. We get antsy if there's no action, because we hate to wait. But God works on a different time schedule than we do. When He answers our prayers, and I believe He always does although the answer may not be what we want, He does it in his own time. And He doesn't always give us what we asked for, although I truly believe that in the long run we usually get what we need.

I'll still order pizzas online, and I'll probably still get impatient when they're not delivered to my door in thirty minutes, piping hot. But I promise to be more patient with God than I am with the pizza delivery guy. How about you?

Note: come back on Monday for an interview with award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, and a chance to win a copy of her newest novel.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Bother?

I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Christian Fiction Writers, where over 600 women and men gathered to hone their writing skills, be inspired, and try to convince an agent or editor in a 15 minute session that their book could be the next Twilight or The Shack. It was, to use the words of Charles Dickens, both the best and the worst of times.

It was wonderful to see old friends and meet new ones. Time after time someone would sneak a peek at my name badge and say, "I recognize you from your comments on so-and-so's blog" or "I love your book." Hugs and handshakes were the order of the day. That was great.

On the other hand, when you consider that a publishing house might launch twelve to twenty new books per year, many of them by previously published authors, the odds of a new author ever breaking into print seem pretty slim. In my own particular case, I wrote four books and tried for four years to market them, garnering forty rejections before I hit the right set of circumstances that resulted in the publication of not one but three books. Without sounding too pious about the whole thing, it truly is a matter of God's timing.

So why do we continue to write? Because it's what we do. If I knew I'd never have another book published (and there's no guarantee that's not the case), I'd still sit down at the computer as often as I could snatch the time and pound out another scene or chapter. Why? Because, as I've heard it put, "we can't not write." And if no one ever reads my words, at least one person--me-- will be affected by my efforts.

Is there something you do that may never pay tangible dividends? Do you sometimes think your efforts are in vain, but you keep plugging along? Good for you. Whatever it is, I hope you keep doing it.

CHANCE TO WIN A BUNDLE OF BOOKS:  Friend and fellow author of Christian medical novels, Candace Calvert, is giving away copies of her works of medical romance and my books of medical suspense. Check out her blog and leave a comment for a chance to win. Deadline is October 4.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Indicators Of Success

My practice of medicine involved a number of situations in which my patients and I had to decide on treatment that involved a significant commitment of time (such as allergy injections) or a degree of disruption of one's life (like a surgical procedure). In addition to making sure the patient understood the options available and the pros and cons of each, I had one other question that allowed me to see if their expectations were realistic. What is your indicator of success?

I've tried to carry that philosophy through into my personal life, and it's served me well--except when I forgot to apply it. When I was in medical school and residency, my indicator of success was simple: to get through, to survive, to get my degree and my specialty certification. Later I felt I'd like to write some professional papers and do some teaching, and I was able to far exceed those goals. I had a pretty good handle on my indicators of success, and that helped.

When I began writing, my primary goal was to produce a book that would help others going through the terrible experience of the death of a spouse. I achieved that goal with the publication of The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, and the sales figures bear out the success of that project. By then I decided to try my hand at fiction, and after four years and forty rejections I achieved the next goal I'd set for myself: the publication of a novel. Now I have two in print, Code Blue and Medical Error, with a third due out next spring.

I'm not an "A level" author by any means. I don't have a long-term contract with any publisher. People don't stop me in the grocery store and ask for an autograph. And I'm not going to take a European vacation on the proceeds from my advances and royalties. But that's okay. Some authors may have those as their indicators of success. I don't. And because my indicators of success were set early on--learn the craft, do the best work I can, enjoy the experience--I'm not disappointed.

I'm enjoying my road to writing. I've used that description a lot, and it makes more sense to me now than when I began. I've found that the trip is more important than the destination, and I'm seeing a lot of neat stuff along the way.

What's your indicator of success for your life right now?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Handprints in Cement...Or Sand?

When my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, was published I had a friend comment on the cover: "How sweet. His and hers handprints in the sand." It wasn't long until another made a similar comment, except he said, " cement." Which is correct? I wasn't sure then. I believe I am now.

Cynthia and I used to enjoy trips to South Padre Island. Long walks on the sandy beach were just the time to talk, to plan, to relax and enjoy. And, since she matured but refused to actually grow up, she would sometimes stop and make a footprint or handprint in the sand. Of course, the incoming tide would erase it, but it was fun.

What child has not been tempted to use the surface of a newly poured sidewalk as a tablet and inscribe his or her initials on it? And many workmen do the same to mark their work, a lasting memorial to what they've done.

Last week Kay and I attended a golf tournament put together to raise funds for the children of her oldest son, Phil, whose life came to a tragic end this spring. We were sitting in the pavilion at dinner when I saw the pattern of a perfect leaf in the cement floor. We looked and found several others in various places. I don't know if this was a happenstance or a deliberate decoration, but I do know one thing: people will see those leaves for many years to come.

Doing some things are like footprints in the sand. They're evidence of good times, and those are admirable. But other actions are like footprints in cement: enduring evidence of something done along the way.

At the tournament we encountered dozens and dozens of people whose lives Phil had affected in a positive way. After Cynthia's death, I heard numerous stories of how she'd influenced the lives of others. These were footprints made in cement, and they'll be around for decades.

What kind of footprints are you making? I hope you're walking barefoot through the sand often enough to produce a smile. But I hope you leave some reminders in cement of the positive things you've done, as well.