Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

This is Memorial Day. To some it marks the beginning of summer, the approaching end to the school year. To those who have served their country in the military, it's a time to reflect on that experience. And for a grateful nation, it's a time to give thanks for the sacrifices made to keep us free.

May those of us who hold our freedom dear pause today to honor the men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion for their country. For my comrades from every conflict who didn't return to home and family, I salute you and give thanks for your sacrifice.

I pray for the time when the world beats its swords into plowshares and peace reigns. I wish to each of you, my faithful readers, a wonderful, restful, meaningful holiday weekend.

Richard L. Mabry
Capt, USAF, MC
1605th USAF Hospital
Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Ever Happened To Quiet?

Physicians live with the need to be available. The hospital where I trained after graduating from medical school had electronic displays all over where the number assigned to a doctor could be displayed. If you saw your number flashing--mine was 780--you called the operator for a message.

When we were away, we left a phone number where we could be reached. Then came pagers. If the thing beeped or vibrated (which it always did at the absolute worst times) we called the bureau. Later, alphanumeric pagers gave us a number to call and sometimes a hint of urgency when the number was followed by "*911." Then came cell phones, and everything changed.

I was used to being available 24/7/365, but when I retired I breathed a sigh of relief.  I would no longer be a slave to a pager or cell phone. But just about the time I decided to put my cell phone down, others were picking theirs up. Now when I drive down a street or walk into a store I routinely see people either talking or texting on a cellular device. We've raised a generation with the habit, as ingrained as fastening a seat belt, of dialing and talking on a cell phone as soon as they get in the car. Otherwise, the time driving might be--gasp--wasted.

What ever happened to quiet time? What's wrong with silent contemplation? Some of my favorite times until a few years ago were spent on a John Deere riding mower, attacking the vegetation on some acreage we owned. The cell phone was in the car. I was alone with my thoughts and my noise-canceling headphones. We've sold that land, and now I get the same contemplation time on walks in the neighborhood. And I cherish it.

Scripture tells us, "Be still and know that I am God." It doesn't say, "I'll send a message to your Blackberry." Nor does the passage now read, "I'll call your cell." There's still a need to be still. I cherish mine. I hope you have some as well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Time Of Grief

Because of the sudden and tragic death of Kay's oldest son, Phil Glasgow, on Sunday, May 16, I've been essentially absent from all Internet activities for the past week. Like many bloggers, I've discovered how to put together a blog post ahead of time and set it for posting on a given date. Therefore, there's been no real interruption to Random Jottings over this period, although I haven't been able to follow my usual custom of responding to comments as much as possible, by email when I can or via a comment of my own when that seems necessary. But now I'm able to be back at my desk, at least on a part-time basis.

 The whole family is still reeling from this shock. We covet your continued prayers for all of us as we deal with our loss. And for those of you who've already communicated your sympathy in various ways, thank you so much.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do Numbers Count?

Remember when McDonald's used to have a sign on their golden arches telling how many hamburgers they'd sold? You can tell how old the sign at the left is, because the price of a burger was 15 cents at the time. At that point, the company was proud to point out they'd sold over one million hamburgers. As years went on, I watched the numbers grow, until finally the exact figures were replaced by wording like "millions and millions sold." I haven't looked lately to see what the signs say, but according to the latest figures I have Mickey D's has served over 245 billion customers. Obviously they haven't stopped trying to get new ones, but it's no longer necessary to brag about their customer base. It's well established.

But suppose the McDonald's sign had said, "We've only sold a few burgers, but they're going to get a lot better, so we hope you'll come in and give us a try." I doubt that the customers would flock through the doors. Authors are sort of in the same boat. When I was a writer unpublished in fiction, I had to come up with a killer proposal and good writing to garner the approval of an agent and a publisher. But to get a contract for another novel, now that I have a track record, will require all that plus some good sales figures. I still haven't figured out how I'm going to do that--maybe a cover sheet for my proposal that says, "Author of Code Blue, that sold XXX thousand copies." Wonder if the people who did the sign for McDonald's are still around.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Milestone Of Sorts

Almost eleven years ago, my wife of forty years died...and it seemed that my world came to an end. As a tool to help me get past the hurt and depression I felt, I began to journal, with emails, posthumous letters to her, and soliloquies that reflected my emotions and my day-to-day trials. Through a tortuous process, in which God had a major role, I was able to take segments of these journalings and incorporate them into a book that dealt with my own process of grieving, including the lessons learned. I included chapters such as "Playing The Blame Game," Reviewing The Souvenirs Of A Lifetime," "Resigning Your Commission," and "Tackling The Puzzle Of Prayer." Each chapter ended with a Scripture passage and a brief prayer. By the time the book was finished, God had blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman, and I wrote one more chapter: "Being Open To A Second Chance."

I sent out proposals to a number of publishers, and Dennis Hillman, the publisher at Kregel Publications, responded positively. The resulting book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, was published in the spring of 2006. Since then it has ministered to numerous men and woman who have faced a similar loss. Now I've been advised by Kregel that there are more than ten thousand copies in circulation. Oh, that's nothing compared with books like Ninety Minutes In Heaven or The Purpose-Filled Life. But it means a lot to me for a couple of reasons.

First, this is a niche book. It's not the kind of non-fiction book one picks up and says, "Oh, that sounds interesting." No, it fills a definite need. It's a book that you give to a friend or relative who's trying to get through the toughest time of their life. So the pool of potential readers isn't huge...but it's constantly being renewed. I appreciate Kregel's continuing to make the book available for these people.

Second, and very important to me, is that through this book God has taken one of the darkest moments of my life and brought forth an opportunity for ministry to multiple thousands. Recently, Dr. Steve Farrar made a point in our men's Bible study that really resonated with me. He said that some of the greatest blessings of his life have followed some of the darkest moments. It certainly has been my experience as well.

Thanks for allowing me a personal moment with this post. I'd give anything not to have gone through the experience that led me to write this book. But since I did, I'm glad it's ministered to so many.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More About Book Signings

I've had some interesting comments about my last post, so I thought it would be appropriate to continue the discussion. Hope you can stand just a bit more, since book signings appear to be high on the "worry list" of newly published writers.

I've done three signings for Code Blue recently, and they were extremely different than the ones I did in association with my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. The latter category mostly came after I'd spoken to a group about grief and loss. The turn-out was a group of interested people, questions were primarily follow-up to what I'd said, and in general it was a nice comfortable situation. But things have been different when signing my novel.

To begin with, I'm not comfortable "hand selling" my book. By that, I mean wandering around the fiction section with a copy of the novel in my hand, approaching strangers and saying, "If you're looking for a good, clean piece of medical suspense, you might want to consider this one. It's about..." And lest you think I'm exaggerating, that's exactly what was advised in a recent issue of Writer's Digest. So that means I'm going to sit at a table with a stack of my books in front of me and a sign indicating I'm an author available to sign my books. And it makes me totally dependent on people coming into the store and passing by my station. That's where one of the problems comes in.

Established authors have a following, and these are the people who generally come to a book signing. The rest of us mention it to friends and family, but often they have other things to occupy them. In other words, the people who need the publicity the most get the smallest opportunity to interact with others, while those who need it least generally have folks show up. It's a Catch-22, and other than spreading the word and hoping, I don't have an answer.

Keli mentions fellowship with other writers showing up. At my most recent signing, two members of our local writing group (DFW Ready Writers) did come by, and I appreciate it. One of them had already bought my book at my launch but came by to be supportive. The other bought it at the store and had it signed there. We had a nice chat. But other than that, there were no writers or even would-be writers who showed up. Actually, most of my conversations were random and often non-productive.

I recall being asked, "I'm selling books on eBay. What kind of a deal do you think your publisher would make me?" (I referred him to the publisher). One woman wanted to talk about getting her daughter into medical school. (The girl was a sophomore in high school). Most of the people who stopped asked what the book was about, so I had a chance to use my elevator pitch, often handing them one of the bookmarks I've had printed, with a blurb and endorsements. "This will tell you a little about the book and what some others have said about it."

I think Dan's comment on my last post reflects my experience: "I feel your pain, Richard. My first novel, The Unfinished Gift, came out last Sept. Had 5 book signings. A partial dud, a major success, two total duds in a row, finishing with a partial success... My take on this is...unless you already have a solid readership, and bookstore managers willing to promote the signing's going to be a real challenge, if not painful."

I agree with that. Let me hasten to say that I'm grateful for the hospitality of the various booksellers who've made these signings possible. They do what they can to get traffic into the store, but we all know that "you can lead a horse to water, but..." At one venue, I was with three other well-respected authors, and I think we each sold two books in two hours, and half of those were to the other authors. Just no traffic in the store, despite excellent publicity. 

So, are book signings worth it? I'm not sure. I have another one scheduled for next month. Maybe I'll have more to say after that. Meanwhile, I'll still be interested in the comments from my readers about book signings in particular and marketing in general. It's an extremely important subject nowadays, and I don't think too many of my colleagues have a handle on it. I certainly don't.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Signings

Have you ever been to a book signing? If so, why did you go? To meet the author? To actually get his or her signature on the book? For the free candy or cookies given away at many of these events?

My book launch was held at a prestigious book store in a northern suburb of Dallas. I worried that no one would show up, but in the end there was a reasonable crowd and the book store sold a number of copies of Code Blue. Afterward, the store representative told me he'd seen award-winning authors draw a smaller crowd than I had. I know he meant to cheer me up, but instead it bothered me. What would my next book signing be like? Would anyone be there?

Well, book signings are like anything else in life. You can make predictions, you can exert your best efforts, and in the end you don't know how it's going to turn out. Besides that, even if your Aunt Myrtle and all your other relatives show up, there's no guarantee they'll buy your book. Chances are they'll expect free copies. (Authors only receive a limited number of book copies, but that's a subject for another post). Anyway, theoretically book signings are designed to let the public know about the book, give the author some name and face recognition with the reading public, the store sell copies.

The question I would pose to my readers is this. What do book signings accomplish? Have you ever bought a book solely on the basis of getting to meet the author and get the book signed? Would you go out of your way to attend a signing? If you happened into the store and saw that a signing was taking place, would you look at the book and consider buying it? Or would you, like a number of patrons I encountered at one book store, avert your gaze and hurry by or even make a detour to avoid coming into proximity with the signing table? You tell me.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Book Signings Today

I'll be doing two book signings in the Dallas area today. The first (see image at left) is from 11 AM to 1 PM at the Cokesbury Book Store on Preston Road just past the George Bush Turnpike. After that, I'll go to Stonebriar Mall in Frisco, where I'll be signing at the Barnes and Noble between 2 and 4 PM.

Fellow Abingdon fiction author Ronie Kendig will join me at both signings. If you're in the area, I hope you'll drop by. A signed copy of a book makes a great Mother's Day present.

And come back to this site on Monday, when I'll talk more about book signings.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Interview With...Me

Recently, I asked my blog readers to submit questions they'd like me to answer. The result is this interview, taken from questions sent by Maria and Becky. Let's see what they wanted to ask.

-Your first book to be published was non-fiction. Was this a cathartic exercise for you? What prompted you to write it?

RM: My first wife died suddenly in September, 1999. The experience was devastating, and I used journaling as a coping tool. After accumulating this material for almost two years, I let a few friends read it. They agreed that it should be incorporated into a book. Of course, first I had to learn how to write a book--any writer knows that's not knowledge with which we're born--and so I attended writer's conferences, studied the various books on the subject, and practiced my writing. The eventual product used segments of my journaling to introduce chapters on the major aspects of grief and loss, including what I'd learned and the mistakes I made. It was published in 2006 by Kregel Publications as The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. Since then, it has ministered to multiple thousands who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

-Did you always have a desire to write fiction, or was Code Blue an unexpected turn in your career?

RM: I've always loved to read fiction, but never thought of writing it. At the first writer's conference I attended, I came under the influence of two writers--Alton Gansky and James Scott Bell--who inspired and encouraged me to consider writing fiction. Learning the process wasn't easy, and I wrote three unpublished novels, plus numerous rewrites, before eventually crafting the book that was published as Code Blue. Abingdon Press has committed to three books total, with the next one, Medical Error, due out in September.

-I noticed that you've published books with two different publishing companies. Tell me about the process.

RM: My first book, with Kregel, was non-fiction, and the contract was executed without an agent but with a minimum of negotiation (and no experience on my part). My first novel and those that followed were pitched to Abingdon by my agent, Rachelle Gardner, who did all the negotiating of contract terms. So I guess you could say that there was a great deal of difference, but not due to the two publishing houses involved.

So far as the rest of the process, everything from editing to marketing was different because one book was non-fiction and one fiction. I suspect that all publishing houses do things pretty much the same, and sometimes the differences are with the people involved, not the policies in place.

Both publishers did their best to help market my work, although all authors wish more could be done to help get the word out about their work. As I've become more knowledgeable in the publishing process, I've gotten more involved with marketing, which means I've been able to help more in that area.

-How did your life experiences as a doctor play into the scenes and characters we see in Code Blue?

RM: My experience in the practice of medicine allowed me to bring authenticity to the scenes and characters, although I still had to do a fair amount of research, since much of what I wrote was outside my own area of specialization, which was diseases and surgery of the nose and sinuses. I'll hasten to say that neither the doctors nor the patients in any of my novels is a representation of a real person. Instead, they're a product of my imagination, based on decades of coming in contact with such people.

-You've obviously had some rich life experiences. What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

RM: I believe George Burns said, "At my age, I don't even buy green bananas." I've retired from medicine, although I still review articles for some journals and attend professional meetings from time to time. However, I now consider myself a writer. And, since writers write, that's probably what I'll do until I'm too old to push the computer keys.

-Who, in your life, has inspired and encouraged you the most?

RM: Where do I start? As we grow and mature, we look to different people as models: our parents, teachers, older adults. Later we look to emulate those who have achieved success in their chosen profession or some other activity. I've had all these to encourage me in my journey, but I suppose I'm most inspired by my family. My wife, Cynthia, was my best friend, co-worker, and heart's delight for over forty years. Certainly, she inspired and encouraged me during all that time, and when she died in 1999 I thought my world had ended. But God blessed me once again with the love of a wonderful woman, and Kay provides daily support for me now.

Beyond that, there are a series of pastors and Godly friends who've served to guide me over the years. I'm a member of Stonebriar Community Church, where Chuck Swindoll preaches every Sunday and Steve Farrar teaches a men's Bible study each Wednesday evening. I feel truly blessed to be fed by these giants.

Well, that's another glimpse into my life. Thanks, Maria and Becky, for your questions. And I hope my readers have enjoyed getting to know me a bit better.

Monday, May 03, 2010

What Do You Do While You're Buried Alive?

Recently I spent an hour in an MRI scanner. I'd had an MRI previously when I injured my shoulder, but for that I only had to be placed part-way into the devilish contraption for less than half an hour. This time I was pushed all the way in and had to endure the claustrophobia and banging for an hour. By the way, the MRI didn't show anything worrisome. Obviously, I made it through, but I wondered if you might like to know what I did during that hour.

I visualized every hole on the golf course I usually play and decided how to play them. For instance, I think I'd be better off hitting a hybrid off the tee on number one, setting up a better position for my second shot.

I ran through the characters and the plot of my current novel. I came up with several twists, including wondering if I could kill off a character while they were in an MRI machine. Oh, put that thought away. Change the subject. Quickly.

And I prayed. Not just for myself and the patience to endure, but for my family, my friends, our country, and just about everything else I could think of. If you had a good week, consider that you were probably included in that umbrella of prayer.

Sometimes there's something to be said for just meditating. I had some enforced time to do just that. I wonder how long it will be before I do it again, this time while able to look at my surroundings, move freely, and scratch my nose.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

And The Winner Is...

Well, the response to my contest was underwhelming, to say the least. Although several of you said you planned to buy your own copy of Code Blue but were interested in the questions submitted, only Becky and Maria took the time and trouble to actually enter. To reward them, I've decided to declare them both winners. I'll combine their submissions into one interview, answer the questions, and post it later next week. Actually, weaving all the questions together was interesting, and I think you'll like the result.

I've already contacted Maria to notify her. Becky, use the "email me" tab in the right column of this post and contact me so I can send your book to you and discuss all the other fabulous prizes you've won.