Tuesday, August 30, 2011

End of Summer

The painting shown at the left is by Claude Monet, and carries the title, "Wheatstacks, End of Summer 1890." I decided to use it today because we're either reaching or have reached the end of this summer, depending on whether summer ends for you when school starts or the Labor Day holiday rolls around.

Summer is a busy time for everyone. It's a time when things seem to move at double-time for lots of us. We look back and think about all the things we were planning to accomplish during the summer, and wonder "Where did the time go?"

For writers in the genre of Christian fiction, the end of summer signals the approach of the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers. This conference provides great opportunities for meeting with editors and agents, so it's time to get that manuscript finished, that proposal sharpened, that one-sheet prepared. And that's where I find myself right now.

What does the end of summer signal for you?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Writer's Eye

At the first writing conference I attended, author Alton Gansky told our class, "Once you begin writing, you'll never read the same way again." I have to admit that I couldn't see the truth shining through in this statement at the time...but I do, now. Heaven help me, the longer I write, the more finely developed my "writer's eye" becomes. And sometimes spotting these errors interferes with my enjoyment of the book.  This isn't to say I don't make mistakes myself--I do. But some of the errors I see in the writing of other authors, especially those with huge name recognition, are hard to swallow.

What are some of the things my writer's eye catches? Let me start with POV (point of view). Imagine that you can put a camera and microphone in the head of the POV character. The reader sees what they see, hears what they hear. If suddenly the writer jumps from the POV of one character to another, it's called "head-hopping." And it can slow things down while the reader processes the change.

I also look for the research the author has done. Most errors here are of two types. The first is simply a failure to adequately check out facts before writing about them. I encountered this not too long ago when an author--a well-respected one whose work I admire--had his lead character in the hospital after an injury, receiving IV Vicodin for pain. Vicodin is a good pain-reliever, but it's not available for IV or IM use, only oral. Most people wouldn't notice that, but some will. And it would only take a few keystrokes on a search engine to get the right information.

The other end of the spectrum on research is what author Randy Ingermanson calls the "Look how much research I did" syndrome. Hitchcock believed movies should be life with the dull parts removed, and so far as I'm concerned, books should hold to that same philosophy. I read a book recently, one co-written by a well-known author and an expert in a certain field. There were parts of the book I was sure were written by the expert. Why? Because they sounded like a lecture to a college class. The writer was obviously proud of his knowledge, but it was one of the dull parts, one that was easy for me to skip.

There are more things that bother me--things like a publisher allowing someone else to write books that carry the name of a deceased author. I saw one just the other day, with the well-known name in large letters and the actual writer's name less prominently displayed. To me, that's just wrong. Then again, maybe that's just a writer's perspective--the same thing that turns me off when a public figure has a book published under his or her name when those of us in the writing community know that a writer-for-hire did the actual work with not even a credit in the acknowledgements. Again, my writer's eye at work.

Alton Gansky was right. Writers notice things they would probably let slide before they took up the calling. As my favorite TV detective, Adrian Monk, used to say: "It's a blessing...and a curse."

Writers, do you have a writer's eye? What does it stumble over?

NOTE: Just discovered that my Carol-finalist novel of medical suspense, Medical Error, is a free Kindle download today. Medical Error is also a free Nook download and ebook download right now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Interview With A Special Guest

In response to a desire for a change, I've altered the template of this blog a bit. Let me know your reaction to it. It was cheaper and easier than buying a new car or dying my hair.

As I considered the subject of my next interview, I thought it might be fun to do something different. So, here is an interview with an author whom I know as well as I know myself. Matter of fact…
RM: Richard, welcome to Random Jottings.
RM: What do you mean, “welcome?” I’m here every Tuesday and Friday. Enough of that. How about some questions?
RM: Okay. First, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
RM: I’m a physician, retired after 26 years in solo private practice, 10 years as a Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. That’s the school where I got my medical degree, and my office was in one of the two buildings that were on the campus when I went to med school there. Funny how things come full circle.
My first wife passed away in 1999, and my reflections and journaling after that event got me started on my road to writing. My book, The Tender Scar: LifeAfter The Death Of A Spouse, has been out for five years and still ministers to thousands each year. God has blessed me again with the love of a wonderful woman, and Kay is a great encourager in my writing journey. Together we have five children, one of whom is with the Lord, and five grandchildren.
Kay and I are members of Stonebriar Community Church, where our pastor is Chuck Swindoll. My hobbies are golf and reading mysteries. She paints (when she has time), reads a broad range of fiction and non-fiction, and spends a fair amount of time defending her title as world's greatest grandmother.
RM: You describe your writing as “Medical Suspense With Heart.” How did you decide to write in that vein?
RM: When I started, I had no idea how to write, much less what to write. One thing I knew, however, was that medicine would be a part of my stories. After a blessedly short stint writing other things, including cozy mysteries (which I quickly found are not for me), I settled on what has become my voice, and I've tried to reflect that in my tag line.
I want to emphasize that it took the work of four years spent learning the craft, the experience gained by writing four novels, and the patience to endure forty rejections before I got my first writing contract. But in the meantime, I had a number of short pieces published in The Upper Room devotional guide, in addition to In Touch and The Christian Communicator. Writers should write, and not just books. It all goes to deepen our experience.
 RM: Your fourth novel of medical suspense, Lethal Remedy, will be published this fall. What’s it about?
RM: It’s about a “miracle drug” that can apparently kill more than bacteria. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover copy:
Dr. Sara Miles’ patient is on the threshold of death from an overwhelming, highly resistant infection with a bacterium that doctors call “the killer.” Only an experimental antibiotic can save the girl’s life. When potentially lethal late effects from the drug start showing up, they send Sara on a hunt for critical data that’s been hidden.
What is the missing puzzle piece? Who is hiding it? And can Sara find the answer in time?
 RM: You serve as Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers. What have you learned in your nine months in office?
RM: I've learned a great deal about all the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep this 2400+ member organization going. As elections for half the Operating Board come up this fall, I'm encouraging our membership to look carefully at the qualifications and duties of those officers, and prayerfully consider running. There's no better way to see how the organization functions.
And if there are writers reading this post who are not members, I hope they'll consider the benefits of membership.
RM: Where can readers find out more about you?
RM: Assuming they don’t already know more than they want to, they can check out my web page. They can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
RM: Thanks, Richard, for dropping by.
            RM: No problem. I was going to be here anyway.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Meet Debut Author Anne Mateer

 I met Anne Mateer when we were both in Gayle Roper's mentoring class at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference in 2005. We've been friends since then, although  connecting mainly via the Internet and at meetings. Now I'd like you to have the opportunity to meet Anne, whose debut novel, Wings Of A Dream, is slated for release on September 1.

I’m not sure, exactly, what event to peg as the beginning of my writing journey. Was it my first creative writing class during my senior year of high school? Or the encouragement from my sophomore English teacher after a short story writing assignment? Perhaps it goes back to middle school, when I sat on my bed bawling over a work of historical fiction and wishing one day I could write one. Or the two-week summer enrichment class on poetry before my 5th grade year. Maybe it began in kindergarten, when I learned to read and began to devour books.

The starting place really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have been on this journey for a very long time. But the funny thing about long journeys: sometimes you forget the milestone memories along the way. The children of Israel did that on their forty year trudge through the wilderness. I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps. So several years ago I sat down, opened a new document on my computer, and titled it My Writing Journey. Beneath that I wrote: How God Managed to Orchestrate My Writing Career.

Talk about faith! At the moment of that document’s creation, I had no guarantees this writing thing would ever be more than a frustrating hobby! But that day I sat down and began to comb through my history, working from memory and from a submissions spreadsheet I’d started in 2003. It was as fascinating as placing pins on a map of a cross-country journey, full of interesting twists and turns and out of the way places. Places I knew I had no way of finding on my own. I had to be led there, by invisible fingers of Sovereignty.

I’ve learned so much along that serpentine highway. First from local writers groups, then a critique group. Through two stints at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ conference (during one of which I met my illustrious host!) and four ACFW conferences. Through publications and rejections of articles and short stories, to contest successes and editor and agent rejections of entire novels.

With the release of my debut novel on September 1, I now stand at what was originally my destination: publication. Yet now I see that this pinnacle doesn’t mark the end of the journey. Instead the road climbs a bit steeper, runs a little narrower. It’s more important than ever that I fill in My Writing Journey document and review it on occasion. Seven pages in chronological order so I can see the journey I’ve walked. A map of remembrance instead of a map of direction. But it’s okay that I don’t get to see where I’m headed. Throughout my travels of this long and winding road, I’ve come to more fully trust the One leading the way.

Anne Mateer loves delving into the history of ordinary people and imagining out their stories. Her debut novel, Wings of a Dream, releases Sept. 1. She and her husband live in the Dallas area and are the proud parents of three young adult children.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five Things I Wish I'd Known...

Some of you reading this blog are planning to attend the annual conference of the American Christian FictionWriters or one of the other writer’s conferences held each year. As you prepare, let me mention five things I wish I’d known before my first conference. I hope they help you.
1) Talk less and listen more. At meals, editors and agents are generally assigned a table designated by a placard with their name. Decide ahead of time which ones you want to contact, and try to sit at their table. But please don’t bump someone out of a seat to get a place at the table. That might be the agent’s or editor’s assistant or first reader. It’s happened.
The table host will typically ask each attendee to “tell us what you’re writing.” You should have this on the tip of your tongue and be able to provide what would constitute the back-cover copy of your book. Answer any questions asked by the table host, and then listen respectfully to others. Don’t spoil a good impression you’ve made by trying to hog the conversation.
2) Decide you’re going to take home three pearls and five friends. Take classes chosen with your needs in mind, and keep your ears open for an “aha” moment when you discover a pearl of wisdom. I’m betting there will be several of them. But realize that the moment may come in a casual conversation over coffee, not during a formal class. Instruction and enlightenment can come at any time.
Meet lots of people, treat everyone kindly, and take special note of the ones you hit it off with. One of the nicest benefits of this crazy writing business is getting to know other people who understand the frustrations and problems that go along with it. The friends you make at the conference will be a special part of your life for years to come.
            3) The appointments you’ve made aren’t the only ones that are important. God has made some for you, as well. A chance meeting with an editor or agent in a social situation may give the final nudge for them to remember you when you contact them in the future. The friend you make here may turn out to be the published author you ask to endorse your own book in the future. We have no idea of the importance of each day’s events. But God does.
4). Your life doesn’t hinge on the outcome of a single encounter. A bad interview isn’t the end of the world. As a matter of fact, most agents and editors tell me that they generally come away from a conference with no more than one good lead for a new author. Make your expectations realistic. Look at your time as a learning process, and use it to grow.
If an agent or editor asks for a proposal, though, be certain to follow up. First, polish it up until it shines. And when you send it, make sure your proposal follows the guidelines for their individual website. Put “requested proposal” and the name of the conference in the subject line. How long should you take? I’ve always figured that four to six weeks is the outside limit. Inside that time frame, they might remember you. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
5). Realize that after the conference, you’ll leave the mountaintop and venture into the valley. If you’re like me, a writing conference leaves you exhausted yet energized, if you can identify with that oxymoron. But the “natural high” will wear off soon, and it may not be long before writing is a chore once more. You may even feel a little depressed. Writers live in a world of rejections, bad reviews, writer’s block, and uncertainty. It’s necessary to develop coping mechanisms to survive, and this is your chance. Remember what gave you the lift at the conference. Read your Bible. Call one of the friends you made. Get on a writer’s loop. And realize that it’s all part of the process called the road to writing. I hope you enjoy it, and that your journey ends in publication.            

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Signing Today

I'll be meeting readers and signing my books today from noon to 2 PM at the Mardel's Bookstore in Hurst, Texas. Click on the link for a map.

If you're in our part of North Texas, I hope you'll drop by. Authors can die of loneliness at book signings, and you wouldn't want that to happen, would you? Besides, there'll be chocolate. There's always chocolate at my signings.

The store will have available copies of all my books, including my latest, Diagnosis Death, and my "sophomore" novel, Medical Error, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award.

Y'all come.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Books On Writing

Note: I'm signing my books at the Mardel's in Hurst, TX tomorrow from noon to 2 PM. If you're in the area, please drop by. I'd love to see you there.

I had a professor in medical school who was once asked which textbooks he considered the best in his field. His answer was a classic example of hubris: “I don’t read books, I write ‘em.” Actually, he may have been correct. In medicine, especially in that pre-Internet era, textbooks were out of date almost as soon as they were published. What he read were professional journals, along with attending symposia and conferences to learn the latest in the field.
Fortunately, good writing advice goes out of style much more slowly than medical information. Although attending conferences and symposia remains a great way to receive good instruction from successful writers, studying books on writing is also a necessity for those learning the craft. Most writers are familiar with the classics on writing like James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure and the style books such as Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  Everyone can give you a list of books like that. Today, I’d like to introduce you to some of the less known books. They’ve worked well for me, and maybe they will for the other writers among my readership.
Here they are, in no particular order. And if you have your own favorite, please leave a comment about it.
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman—There are lots of books on punctuation, but this one caught my fancy because it was entertaining in addition to being a great reference book. I still use some of the advice to punch up my manuscripts.
The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler—An editor turned me on to this one. It advances the theory that from Beowulf to Stephen King, the mythical “hero’s journey” remains the basis for most fiction. I find myself comparing my novels to the outline presented by Vogler, and if I stray, I try to correct it.
Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight Swain—This is an older book, but it still makes some excellent points. It’s worth the price of the book to learn about the motivation-reaction sequence, which makes scenes flow more naturally. Thanks, Randy Ingermanson, for the recommendation.
Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, Lawrence Block—An absolutely fun read about writing fiction. Block is an accomplished novelist who has lots to say to writers, including encouragement if you’re just a “Sunday writer.” And the writer’s prayer at the end is worth reading again and again.
The Flip Dictionary, Barbara Kipfer—When you know what you want to say, but can’t think of the word, this is your source. What’s the other word for dangerous current? The answer’s right there: riptide. As in using the Internet, the secret is learning the key words for searching. Still a handy reference.
 I look forward to comments from the writers among us about their own secret favorites.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Interview with Author James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell deserves the credit or blame—you can decide—for helping set my feet on the path of writing. He’s the successful author of multiple novels of Christian fiction and a number of excellent books for writers. But his latest novel is totally different, to say the least. The protagonist is a lawyer, but she’s also a zombie. One of the “living dead,” in search of the key to her soul.  
RM: We’re often advised to “write what we know.” That’s why I write medical fiction, and you’ve written a number of novels featuring lawyers, but your latest takes you in a whole new direction. Give my readers a taste—please excuse the pun—of your novel about a lawyer who eats brains.
JSB: Isn't that what people suspect lawyers of doing anyway? Is that so far out? Ahem. Here's the pitch: In an increasingly hellacious L.A., zombie lawyer Mallory Caine defends a vampire hooker accused of the crime Mallory herself committed, even as a zombie-killer closes in and the love of her former life comes back as the Deputy DA she must oppose. And as Lucifer himself begins setting up L.A. as his headquarters for a new attack on heaven and earth, Mallory slowly discovers she may be the one who has to stop him.
 RM: What made you take this plunge in your writing?
JSB: I woke up one day and thought, You know what the world needs? A zombie legal thriller.
Actually, that's almost the way it happened. Zombie fiction was hot and I was just shaking my head about that one day. I couldn't help thinking, What hasn't been done? And why are the poor zombies always the villains? What if we had a zombie as the hero? And made it a legal thriller?
I tossed the idea out to my agent and he loved it, and told me to do up a proposal.
Well, I thought about it and it seemed to me I could tell a story about light and darkness, good versus evil, and someone who is "cursed" into being what they don't want to be. Sort of along Romans 7 lines. The idea just kept growing in my mind.
And there are times when a writer has to try something new, not just repeat what's been done, even if it's working for him. It's risky, but without the occasional risk life gets to be a dull proposition.
I'd been going along as a pretty successful writer in the Christian fiction market when I started thinking I was supposed to take step toward the mainstream, in a salt and light sort of way. I gave it a lot of thought and prayer. So I went out and signed with Donald Maass, one of the great literary agents. Leaving the security of CBA was like taking a high dive into a glass of water. But I knew if I didn't do it, I'd look back with regret.
And then Don went out and sold Pay Me In Flesh.
RM: To Kensington.
JSB: Yes, an ABA house that specializes in just this kind of fiction. The deal was everything I hoped it would be. I wanted the series to come out in mass market, because that seems to me the best option for print these days. I also wanted it to have a reasonable e-book price as well, and that's happened.
RM: You wrote this under a pseudonym. What was your reason for doing that?
JSB: Because it is SO different from what I've done before. I'm not hiding behind the pen name, K. Bennett, but I wanted to make it very clear to everyone this was something really off the wall from my previous work.
I love my readership. They've been loyal and consistent. I know many of them will love this new book. But I didn't want to mislead anyone. Using a pseudonym is just my way of distinguishing the "brand" of these books the way, say, Nora Roberts uses J.D. Robb for her different lines.
There may be some hesitation about the paranormal genre. I hope, though, that readers on the fence will give the book a try and see what I'm doing. I believe it will surprise them in a good way.
RM: But it's about eating brains.
JSB: Um, it's not like I'm advocating that as a life plan. It's a curse on the Lead character! There's a reason for it, and that reason is going to unfold. You know, this genre is one of the best for telling a moral tale. I mean, there are lots of Christians who enjoy reading Stephen King (even with some of his, er, language choices). I think that's because King always writes about good versus evil with good winning out OR with people paying the consequences for messing around on the dark side. That's the very definition of moral fiction. So careful readers will see the very same things in my series. This book is Stephen King meets John Grisham at the intersection of Janet Evanovich and Raymond Chandler.
Plus, I saw a need for a more lighthearted and, dare I say, redemptive type of fiction in this genre as an alternative to the nihilistic trend we've seen over the past decades. I wanted to offer that to the vast marketplace out there for this type of fiction.
RM:  If a publisher hadn’t picked this up, would you have considered self-publishing it as an e-book, as you’ve done with some of your recent short collections?
JSB: Yes, because the idea is one of those rare "first of its kind" concepts it would've been negligent not to try it out. I don't think I could have held myself back from this story once I got into it. It's got a great protagonist, the noir world of L.A., hardboiled narrative a la Chandler, and the biggest backstory canvas of all: the war against God and man waged by the fallen angel, Lucifer. 
RM:  I’ve had the privilege of reading an advance copy of the book. Here’s a part of my review: … “Different doesn't begin to describe this story about a zombie lawyer defending a vampire client. But I read the first page, and then I turned that page and dozens more, and soon I found myself engrossed in the story. In this book, Bell's intimate knowledge of Los Angeles forms a great backdrop for a premise that's miles from the ordinary (and) …despite my initial misgivings about the subject, I found this to be an enjoyable read.” I understand that some of your early reviewers were utterly turned off by this book. How did that hit you?
JSB: I sort of expected it. Some readers of Christian fiction have definite ideas about what it should contain--and not contain. But I have not put in anything I would consider offensive in terms of language or graphic violence. Kind of a neat trick for a zombie legal thriller.
RM: Do you have plans for more novels like this?
JSB: This is a three book series. If it catches on, maybe more.
But one of the nice things about having a pseudonym is that you can write twice as much. I have some stories in mind as K. Bennett which I will be putting out for e-readers. Who knows? KB may overtake JSB. The same thing happened to Evan Hunter, whose nom de plume Ed McBain is the one that skyrocketed. I will try not to be jealous if that happens.
RM:  What else is on the radar screen for the prolific James Scott Bell?
JSB: A new collection of suspense fiction to follow Watch Your Back. A new writing book for Writer's Digest Books, Conflict and Suspense. I've got backlist titles to bring out as e-books which I'll get to when I can. I'm on edits for Book #2 in the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series. It's titled The Year of Eating Dangerously. Donald Maass and I are working on a new thriller idea, too.
RM: Any last words on Pay Me in Flesh?
JSB: Bon appetit.
 For more on K. Bennett visit the dedicated website, as well as http://www.jamesscottbell.com

Friday, August 05, 2011

"Just Because We Can..."--Author Austin Boyd on Bioethics

Austin Boyd is an award-winning author who writes extensively about faith issues related to technology and business. He and I met at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference, and have remained friends since. The author of six novels, Austin is a Christy Gold Medal finalist (The Proof, 2007) and the winner of the Mount Hermon “Pacesetter Award.” His latest novel, Nobody's Child, is the first of his bioethics series, The Pandora Files (Zondervan). I've invited Austin to tell my readers a bit about why he's chosen to write about this subject.

“Just because we can… should we?”

It’s a question that keeps me up at night. I sleep so little between a full time job and writing that you’d think I’d crash when I hit the pillow. But for some reason, implications of the future nag at me. Brave New World? Welcome to the world of Aldous Huxley, friend. We live in it.

In 2006, while writing my space suspense trilogy Mars Hill Classified, I researched cloning technologies to support a theme in my novels that tied to a belief many people share today. Namely, if we clone ourselves successfully, our “progenitors” from other planets will return and reveal themselves to us. Through that research, based on my background as a spacecraft engineer and physiologist, I discovered why we’ve landed in the middle of the Brave New World. It’s about how we treat the amazing ovum. A woman’s invisible germ of life.

Without a woman’s egg, you can’t clone. You can’t experiment with embryonic stem cells or create life in vitro. Eggs are the essential commodity in biotechnology and fertility treatments. That knowledge led me to the hypothesis that some women, desperate for cash, might sell their eggs to raise their standard of living. Sure enough, college girls, short on cash and short on wisdom, make “donations” of their eggs for $3000-$6000 per “harvest.” Most of them respond to an advertisement promising money to “women with high test scores who are tall, attractive, and physically fit.”

“But is it a donation if you get paid?” I wondered. Some famous beautiful women make tens of thousands of dollars for one hyper-stimulation of their ovaries and subsequent suction of their ovarian follicles. Other women are lowly paid “egg farms,” the source of genetic material to complete biomedical research. The common thread? Very few women understand the short-term health impacts of the ovary stimulation and donation procedure: possible infertility, cancer, stroke, or death. Even fewer, I discovered, consider the long-term consequence of their actions: the impact on their children… their eggs, become human. Our genetic material is precious… and we treat it casually at our peril.

So here’s the novel! What if a woman, desperate for cash, sold her eggs to pay for the medicine to save her father’s life? Would that justify her sacrifice? Is it possible to do the wrong thing, for the right reason?

Nobody’s Child poses tough questions in this, the first of The Pandora Files series of bioethics suspense novels set in the mountains of Appalachia. Just because we can do something, should we? Just because we can turn ova into profitable products, is that a good thing? Does the good that we do with money selling human eggs outweigh the pain we create in the life of a child whose mommy’s name is “donor?”

Ponder this. If eggs and sperm are materials that you can shop for on the Internet, what does that make the baby whom you create through their union? I propose that, if you purchase the gametes to create a baby, a child is reduced to a “commodity.”

Welcome to our Brave New World.

Wow, Austin. I said this would be thought-provoking, and it is. I look forward to reading Nobody's Child. Thanks for dropping by.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Today marks the debut of a new blog. It's the WordServeWater Cooler, a blog written by clients of WordServe Literary Agency. The initial post today will feature each of 40 writers detailing in a few sentences how they got their agent. I hope you'll visit it today and bookmark it for the future. And don't forget to look for my story, of course.

I have some good posts lined up for this blog as well. On Friday, author Austin Boyd talks about bioethics. And a week from today I'll post an interview with friend, mentor, and fantastic author James Scott Bell. Jim will tell us why he chose to jump the genre fence with his new novel about a zombie lawyer, which is published under a pseudonym. Sound interesting? It is. Come back then.

And, finally, my first novel, Code Blue, is a free download this week on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Christianbook. If you haven't read it, now's your chance. Spread the word.