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.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Simon and Garfunkel had a hit song years ago: The Sounds Of Silence. But silence has become a scarce commodity in our culture. When people climb into their cars, they immediately reach for their cell phones and call someone. Maybe they're returning a business call or making contact with a family member. But whatever the reason for the call, the underlying theme is a need to fill that time on the road with something productive.

In the rare times between phone calls, there's always the radio or a CD to which we can listen. And some people have satellite radio, giving them a plethora of choices to fill the quiet.

I'm not a big one for talking on the cell phone while driving. It's hard enough for me to walk and chew gum at the same time, so, unless there's an urgent need to make a call, I concentrate on my driving. And recently I've begun to leave the radio or CD unplayed when I'm alone in the car. I'm enjoying the sounds of silence.

Often, I find my thoughts putting together fragmented ideas I've had earlier in the day. Sometimes a verse of Scripture pops into my head, and I can take the time to meditate on it. Often there are times when I hear a melody in my mind, with words that speak to me more clearly than anything that might come out of a loudspeaker.

What about you? Do you try to fill every waking hour with activity and sound? Or do you occasionally enjoy the silence?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Mile Along The Journey Is Wasted

How does taking a family trip compare with a writer's journey? I hope you'll pop over to the blog of my editor and friend, Barbara Scott, to read my thoughts on the process. And come back here tomorrow for my regular post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

You're Only As Good As Your Next Game

Not too long ago, a pitcher for my beloved Texas Rangers carried a no-hitter into the latter stages of the ball game, and everyone was saying, "He's found his stuff. He's going to pitch lights out for the rest of the season." In his next start, the pitcher did so poorly that the manager removed him by the time the fans had eaten their first hot dog. How will he do next time? Who knows? There's no guarantee of a next start. The Rangers are in a pennant race, and every game is important. And two things determine whether a pitcher takes the mound for the team: their last performance and how they do this time.

Despite authors holding to the cherished belief that publishing companies should serve a public-service function, the truth of the matter is that they're in business to make a profit. No profit, no business, and therefore no future contracts for authors.

With a rookie pitcher, the manager and pitching coach have to make a decision based on the minor league performance. Can this guy pitch in the big leagues? If they give him a chance, he might be great or be a flop.

In the case of an untested, untried author, the editor and publications board must make their decision based on an overview of the book, a sample of writing, and an educated guess at how the book will sell. That first book is like a baseball pitcher's preceding start. A good performance gives everyone hope that it will be repeated, and generally leads to a contract for a second book.

But that second book, like a pitcher's next start, is judged not by what happened with the last one but how it performs this time. In publishing, the editor or publisher can't decide after a book has been launched that it's under-performing and go to the bullpen for a "relief book." And that's why we sometimes see an author's name disappear from the list of those published.

The next time you pick up a book by your favorite author, recognize not only the hard work that went into it but the stress that goes with knowing that if this one isn't good it might be your last. Sort of makes you appreciate it more, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We Will Never Forget...

September 11, 2001: a date on which our lives were forever changed.

Remember the victims.

Fly your flag.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Signing on Saturday

I'll be a the Lifeway Christian Store in Plano, TX, on Saturday, September 11, from noon to 2 PM, signing copies of my two novels, Code Blue and Medical Error, as well as my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse.

If you're in the area, I hope you'll drop by to see me. Even if you don't buy a book or bring a book you've already bought for me to sign, at least come by to say hello and pick up a Hershey's candy kiss or two off the dish at my signing table.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

How Long Does It Take To Write A Novel?

How long does it take to write a novel? I get asked that all the time. The answer to that question is “It depends.” In my case, every novel has taken a different length of time, and for different reasons.

Before I wrote my first novel that was published, I produced three others—four if you count totally reworking one of them—and these books garnered a total of forty rejections. I wasn’t particularly thankful for what seemed at the time like wasted effort, but I came to realize later that I was learning the craft while under no pressures of time to do so. It proved to be a valuable experience.

I took my time writing my first novel, the book that was to become Code Blue. It started out as a cozy mystery before morphing into medical romantic suspense. All told I produced at least three versions of that book, each one revised numerous times, before I received a contract for its publication, a year and a half after I first had the idea. But there was no hurry. I had no obligations to fulfill. There were no deadlines to meet. I had all the time in the world. And with each revision I was learning a bit more about writing.

After I completed that novel I started planning the next one. That was something a number of authors told me: always have the next book in the works. I decided to pursue one of my “what if?” scenarios. What if a doctor’s life was turned upside down by identity theft? Could there be medical implications as well as personal ones? It wasn’t long before I’d completed the outline and begun to write the book. This time there were fewer revisions between first draft and final product. I wasn’t under time pressure, so the writing went smoothly, and I finished that novel in about eight months. Abingdon bought that book as well, and it’s just been published as Medical Error.

Medical Error was part of a two-book contract, and the manuscript for the other novel in that deal was due less than six months after the contract was signed. Now I had a deadline. Now there was time pressure. Now things were different. I had an idea in the back of my mind, and I hurried to flesh it out, populate the story with characters, and start writing. As I wrote I alternated between feelings of “this isn’t bad” and “there’s no way they’ll accept this.” I finished Diagnosis Death within the allotted time, and it’s due for publication next spring. Writing under the pressure of a deadline was tough, but one of the things that saved me was the experience of writing those two previous novels (and the four unpublished ones before them). This time the writing was cleaner, and there were even fewer revisions.

So how long does it take to write a novel? It depends on whether it’s the first or a subsequent one. I depends on whether you have a contractual deadline. It depends… Well, you get the idea. It’s sort of like the question asked of Abraham Lincoln: How long should a man’s legs be? His answer was a classic: Long enough to reach the ground.

How long does it take to write a novel? Long enough to finish it, revise it, polish it, and send it off. Any other questions?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day, the semi-official last day of summer. As you enjoy the last day of this long weekend, think of the people for whom Labor Day is just another day. People will be at work today in grocery stores, pharmacies, department stores, service stations, and dozens of other businesses we take for granted. Give thanks for their efforts.

My own thoughts turn to health care workers, who are there for us whenever we need them, regardless of the calendar. I've put in my share of hours working or being on call on holidays, and I'd like to express my appreciation to my colleagues in the profession who are working today. Thanks for your service.

Have a great day. See you on Thursday.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

You Can't Tell A Book By Its Cover...Or Can You?

I've heard it numerous times at writer's conferences, the typical sequence of someone browsing at a book store. See a book, pick it up, read the back cover copy, read a few pages, make a decision. That's why we're encouraged to "hook the reader" with our first few pages. But why does the potential reader pick up the book in the first place?

Recently I was one of fifteen local authors gathered in the foyer of the Frisco Public Library for the annual "Texas Authors' Tea." Patrons entering the library had to run the gauntlet of our tables before they made it into the library proper, so there was a guaranteed amount of traffic. The idea was to let the folks know about the homegrown talent in our area, but authors were given the opportunity to not only display their books but to sell and sign copies as well. I had a great deal of interest in my books, sold a few copies, and in addition was able to observe firsthand the process I've described above. Here are my observations.

First, it seems to me that there are three major reasons why a browser might pick up a book: the name of the author, the title, or the cover. Once they do that, they go through the rest of the routine and make a decision.

I'm the first to admit that my name isn't a household word in the area. My medical practice was carried on quite a few miles away. A few members of my church stopped by. But by and large my name wasn't a big draw.

The titles of my two books, Code Blue and Medical Error, told people the work was medical and generally gave rise to the same question: "What's it about?" I was glad to use the tag line and back cover copy for each book to explain them.

But the traffic stopper in almost every case was the cover art for the two books. Of the two, Medical Error drew the most second looks. Kudos to the people at Abingdon Press for a bang-up job on the covers of my books, including the forthcoming third novel in the series, Diagnosis Death.

In my unofficial and very unscientific survey, book covers are an important factor in getting browsers to pick up a book. What about you? What influences you in choosing a book?

And, by the way, here's the cover for Diagnosis Death, which is due out next spring. What do you think?