Monday, January 31, 2011

Slight Change In Schedule

For those who've been paying attention (and if you haven't, shame on you), it's been my habit to post each Monday and Thursday. However, I'll be changing that slightly. In the future I'll post on Tuesday and Friday.

If you don't want to miss a single word of my deathless prose, I'd encourage you to use the tab about halfway down the page on the right to subscribe to this blog via one of several modes.

See you tomorrow. And thanks for coming by.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How Much Is Enough?

Kay and I aren't much for reality shows, but recently we've been watching one in which the CEO or other high-ranking officer of a company goes undercover to learn the inner workings of their organization. It's predictable--always a scene where the boss makes a fool of himself (or herself), one where the worker tells a heart-breaking story that brings the audience to tears, and one where the boss learns a valuable lesson that he'll translate into action when he returns to the home office. But we watch it mainly because it's interesting to see the persona of these people.

One we watched recently featured a CEO who lived in a huge mansion, had a closet full of clothes bigger than the room I lived in in college, flew in a private jet, and was "considering buying a private country club," the inference being so he could play golf more easily. He went undercover and was reduced to tears to many times I wished I'd had the Kleenex concession. Every time I heard a story about how one of the people he was working with was struggling to make ends meet, all I could think of was "And you're buying a country club!"

This brings up the question: How much is enough? At what point do we use what we've accumulated to bless others? I've tried to write my answer to that half a dozen times, and each time I've quit because it sounded simplistic or saccharine or holier-than-thou. So I guess you'll have to answer it for yourself...just as I am doing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Complain or Adapt?

My car was in for repairs recently. Rattles aren't the end of the world, but a rattle in a new car is frustrating, especially when the dealer thinks they have it fixed, then it returns. So this time they gave me a loaner car and kept mine for a couple of weeks. During that time, I found myself reaching for the garage door opener and finding it somewhere else, looking for an emergency brake that was in a different place, and wishing for my electronically controlled seat so I could elevate my vertically-challenged body a bit higher while steering. But it wasn't long before I'd adapted. Now I have my car back, the rattle is gone, and I'm going through a minor bit of adaptation getting used to my usual routine again.

Life is full of situations that require us to adapt. Kay and I kid that when we find a TV program we like, the networks take it off the air. When we discover a restaurant of which we're fond, it closes. But we adapt. We find new options. Sometimes adaptation takes the form of a work-around. Sometimes it means doing something entirely different. But we either spend our time complaining or we adapt. That's the way life is.

Writers argue back and forth about whether e-readers will eventually replace conventional books, and if they do, what that might do to contracts, royalties, and the opportunity to get published. I've learned that my arguing the subject won't change it. The Kindle was one of the most-given Christmas gifts this year, and the Nook wasn't far behind. And almost all those devices were given with one or more books already loaded onto them. To me, that seems good.

But good or bad, it does me no good to complain, argue, prophesy, or harangue. I'm just going to keep writing, and try to adapt to the changing marketplace as I go along. Surely it can't be any harder than adapting to a different car for two weeks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Year's Resolutions?

The start of a new year seems to be the time when our consciences prick us the most, and we respond by making a number of resolutions--resolving to lose weight, break a bad habit, take a trip, spend more time with our family, do a better job at work. The list can go on and can the excuses when the resolutions seem to fall by the wayside.

 I need to lose weight (it's easy--I've done it dozens of times), so I've resolved to drop those holiday pounds and a bunch of others gathered over the past half year or so. I suppose that's my new year's resolution. I need to get more serious about my writing, devoting a specific amount of time each day to producing the novels that are hiding in the dark recesses of my frontal cortex. There may be others, but I suppose those are my two biggies.

Now the question for you, dear reader. What's your number one new year's resolution? And how are you doing with it? Weight Watchers operates on the principle of shared accountability, and it seems to work for most folks. Shall we do the same here, and form Resolution Watchers? I've started by sharing mine. Feel free to chime in.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More To Come

When I wrote the acknowledgment section of the third book in my Prescription For Trouble series, both my editor at Abingdon Press and I thought that was the end of it. Surprise, surprise, surprise. I just signed and mailed back a contract to Abingdon for the publication this fall of a fourth book in that series, Lethal Remedy. With Diagnosis Death due to be released April 1 followed by this one September 1, this is shaping up to be sort of busy this year. But it's a good busy.

I'm at work on my next novel of medical suspense, and just as I never really know how my books are going to end until I write that part, I have no idea if or when this one will see the light of day. But it's been a fun journey so far, so I think I'll keep plugging along and see where things lead. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Signing Books

Authors are urged to do book signings as often as possible. It provides name and face recognition for potential readers, and many people enjoy meeting the author of the book they're reading. Over the past four years, I've done a number of book signings. Some were memorable events. Some were disasters. And in one or two, I could have died of loneliness in a dark corner of the book store and no one would have noticed. But the one that's most memorable for me was when I joined about 120 other authors of Christian fiction for a signing at the Mall of Americas. More than 2000 people attended that event, and even this new author got to sign a few of his books and meet a number of readers. That was quite an experience.

That brings up the question of the day. Apparently, e-readers are here to stay. I'm even considering getting a Kindle. But for those who appreciate the personalization of their printed copies, how does that translate into an electronic format? Code Blue was a free Kindle download at Amazon recently, and as a Nook download at Barnes & Noble recently. Medical Error was offered at a significantly discounted price. As a result, even after they returned to full price those books remained at the top of the list for medical thrillers, and I appreciate it. But suppose the e-reader fairy visited me and left me a new one, loaded with books by my favorite authors. How would I get them signed?

Let me know if you have any answers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Archimedes and Us

Archimedes said, "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the earth." He was setting forth an important principle of physics that has held up for centuries. The lever, along with  the inclined plane, made possible the building of the Pyramids. Today you make use of the principle of the lever when you use pliers to get a grip on a stubborn bolt or employ a long screwdriver to loosen a rusted screw. But recently I've been thinking that there's another part of Archimedes' statement that bears consideration. He really was asking for three things: a tool for the job, a firm footing, and to be left alone to do the work set out for him. And isn't that what we all need to get through our days?

I served for almost three years in the US Air Force, and I did a lot of growing up in those years. I was drafted out of my specialty training, given a uniform and a set of captain's bars, and sent overseas where I very quickly rose through the heirarchy of the Air Force Hospital where I served (by other doctors rotating back home) to become Deputy Hospital Commander, along with my day-to-day medical duties. And I very quickly learned a lesson. Trust the people who work under you. Make sure they have clear marching orders. Be certain they have the tools to do their job. Then don't get in their way. Most of the time--not all, unfortunately--but most of the time they won't disappoint you.

To this day I hold to the principle that responsibility must carry with it the authority to perform the task at hand. Micro-management by someone looking over your shoulder doesn't help. Or, as my colleague, Dr. Ken Kuykendall, used to say when someone was back-seat-driving his surgical technique: "I can't go any faster, but I sure can get more nervous." That applies in almost any job you can imagine.

The next time you use the principle of the lever to accomplish a task, think about what Archimedes said and how it applies to your life. Maybe you need to give someone a longer lever or more space to operate. Maybe you need to ask for a better place to stand yourself. Whatever the application, I hope you find this little bit of advice helpful.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Search For The Universal Specific

Suppose you were a physician about to leave for a country where there were no pharmacies, no source of medications. Everything you needed would have to be in your bag. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a single drug that would handle the whole spectrum of illnesses you might encounter? Just toss it into your bag along with your stethoscope, and you're ready for anything. No worries, because you have what I've sometimes called the "universal specific"--something that works in every situation.

Sorry, but the universal specific doesn't exist, either in medicine or in any other area of life that I can envision at this point. The tools we have will work in some situations, not in others. That's why there are so many options available to us (and aren't we fortunate to have them?) Yet some of us, at some point or other, still look for the elusive universal specific.

Not too many years ago, I traded in my head mirror and prescription pad for a computer and the label "writer." It's a frustrating profession, and the journey to publication is long and arduous. Some reach it, others don't. And even after you're published, success isn't guaranteed. People have to buy your books, read them, and then--here's the hard part--like them. If they don', when they don't, there's a great temptation to wonder what can be done so that everyone will like what we write. We're looking for the universal specific of writing. And it doesn't exist.

I've faced this recently, since the availability of my debut novel, Code Blue, as a free ebook download on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, put it in the hands of a number of people who were more interested in the "free" part than the subject matter. Many of them were apparently turned off by a book that fell into the category of "Christian fiction," and like getting olives out of a bottle, once the first negative review was posted, a number of others followed. I agonized over these reviews, wondering what I could do to make these people like my writing. I was searching for the universal specific. And it was a fruitless search.

I pay attention to reviews, and if there's something I can do to make my next book better, I try to do it. But I write Christian fiction. My novels may not contain conversion scenes and hard sells of the Gospel, but they do show how Christians face trials and crises. I'm not going to change that. So, I guess I'll continue to get bad reviews from readers who don't like that subject matter. I'll just have to trust other readers to post good reviews.

Are there areas of your life where you continue to search for that elusive something that will make everyone like you, make you a success in your endeavors, remove the clouds of disapproval that crop up on the horizon from time to time? What you're looking for is a universal specific. And it doesn't exist.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Author Harlan Coben In The Current Writer's Digest

If you follow this blog regularly, you may recall that I think Writer's Digest is an excellent source for writers (and an interesting read for anyone who'd like the inside scoop on some great authors). The January 2011 issue is no exception.

I was especially taken with their interview with Harlan Coben, whom I consider one of the half-dozen best writers of thrillers alive today. I love it that he admits that sometimes even after the book ends he may not be able to decide who is the good guy and who the bad one. My own characters take shape as I write (without benefit of outline or preconceived notion), and they often surprise me as the book ends, making me go back and tweak some sections to fit the true personality they reveal to me by then.

Coben closes the interview with a comment that every writer should have posted in large letters above his/her computer: Amateurs wait for the muse to arrive; the rest of us just get to work. There, in a nutshell, is what often separates the wannabe writer from the serious one.

Since I see no sign of a muse, I guess it's time for me to sign off and begin writing. Have a great day.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Are We Becoming Alchemists?

For those of you curious about the title of this post, here's a definition of alchemy: An ancient practice focused on changing base metals into gold, investigating the preparation of the elixir of longevity, and achieving ultimate wisdom. In other words, alchemists spent their time in pursuit of what did not currently exist...and was probably impossible to attain.

At this time when the shattered remnants of new year's resolutions surround us like the debris from a Mardi Gras parade, maybe it's time for each of us--myself included--to stop chasing impossible dreams and set our sights on attainable goals.

The manufacturers of weight-loss supplements would have me believe that their particular pill or potions will allow me to drop weight painlessly. That's alchemy. On the other hand,  if I apply myself, using portion control and sensible food choice, maybe I can lose ten or even twenty pounds. That's reasonable.

How many people have lost a great deal of money by following "get rich quick" schemes? They ignore sound and practical financial advice, in search of an elusive dream. Like the alchemists who tried to turn lead into gold, they want success without effort.

Do you know people who seek to recover their lost youth through the way they dress, the company they keep, even the person with whom they share their life? They're looking for the elixir of youth that escaped the alchemists.

The alchemists sought ultimate wisdom. In the Bible, God has provided a guide-book that points us toward Him who is the source of all wisdom. Maybe this is a good time to pay more attention to reading it. That's one of my resolutions this year. How about you?