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.