Friday, September 30, 2011

Post-Conference Thoughts

A week ago, the American Christian Fiction Writers held its tenth annual conference, "under the arch" in St. Louis. For those of you who saw me there and wondered why I was less animated than usual, I have to apologize--I battled back and hip pain the entire time, and in retrospect probably should have cancelled, but I wanted to be there. And I'm glad I came.

On a personal level, it was an honor to meet with other members of the ACFW Operating and Advisory Boards to conduct the business of the organization (and there's a lot!) I got to meet my new publishing family, the folks from Thomas Nelson. At the Gala on Saturday evening, it was my privilege to present the Agent of the Year award to my own agent, Rachelle Gardner. And even though my novel, Medical Error, didn't win a Carol Award, the fact that it was a finalist was exciting.

Thanks to the folks at Abingdon and the conference bookstore for making sure that copies of my latest novel, Lethal Remedy, were available. What a thrill to introduce it at this year's ACFW, and to sign copies of all my books for attendees.

I asked a few attendees to give me their reflections on the conference. Next year we'll be in Dallas. I hope to see you there.

Jeff Gerke, Publisher:
"ACFW is always my favorite Christian writers conference every year. The size of it, the high quality of the writing I see there, and the chance to see old friends and meet new ones make it the high point of my conference year. Plus this year I got to sword fight under the Arch and wear a knight's costume to the Carol Awards--where we were blessed to receive an award in our category--so it made this year's conference even more special."

Anne Mateer, Author:
“I always love conference time, and this year proved no different. It was a bit overwhelming, though, with just the number of attendees. I came home having missed connections with some of my favorite people! But in spite of that, God met me there, as usual. I can truly say that the people I did meet up with--friends old and new--were truly God-ordained meetings. And three specific classes, The Moral Premise by Stan Williams, Sometimes It's Better to Tell than Show by Erin Healy and How to Write an Award-winning novel by Deb Raney and Tammy Alexander sent me home inspired to be a better writer. I love getting those few days a year where I can leave behind the other hats I wear and just be a writer.”

Becky Monds, Editor:
"What a fun conference! I so enjoyed meeting some of our new authors and seeing old friends. And, of course, the enthusiasm for using story to spread the Gospel cannot be equaled."

Les Stobbe, Literary Agent:
"Congratulations on a really well orchestrated ACFW event! The volunteers were first class, the food outstanding, and the Awards Banquet beautifully choreographed. I was impressed by the quality of proposals I saw during the appointment times. And it is always fun to meet my ACFW conference friends."

Katie Ganshert, Author:
"I left feeling completely invigorated and completely exhausted, if that's possible. God spoke to me in big ways through the speakers and workshop presenters. I was able to meet and reconnect with a plethora of amazingly talented writers. I got to whoop it up when my agent, Rachelle Gardner, won Agent of the Year at the award's banquet. And I got to see a sneak peek of my debut novel's cover during dinner with my editor and other Waterbrook Multnomah authors."

Steve Laube, Literary Agent:
"It is always invigorating to be with so many highly creative people and to be a part of the discovery and development of tomorrow’s bestselling authors. I had over 30 one-on-one appointments and editor meetings, taught three classes, and had dozens of “hallway” meetings of all kinds. …
In my opinion, if you are a novelist writing for the Christian market, you owe it to yourself to consider attending next year’s event, which will be held in Dallas. Check the ACFW website for more information."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

When I was practicing medicine, I got used to being asked the occasional question outside the office. "What do you recommend for allergy?" "Take a look at this and tell me what you think." After I retired, I was prepared for those questions to tail off, but then God intervened in my life--there's no other way to put it--and I started writing. That didn't create much of a stir in my circle of friends and acquaintances, but once I had a couple of novels published, the questions started.

Now I'm asked "How did you get your agent?" and "How much money do you make from this?" The answers, by the way, are "Dumb luck" and "Not nearly enough." But the question I'm asked most often is "Where do you get your ideas?"

In one of my first classes at the writer's conference where God re-directed my life, author and teacher Alton Gansky told us he would never run out of ideas. As I recall, he had a file box almost full of 3x5 cards with ideas on them. His constant question as he goes through life is "What if...?" For instance, what if there were a secret underground military installation, and it suddenly disappeared? That turned into the hook for a story.

As for me, I'm not as curious as Al Gansky, but I do keep my eyes out for possible scenarios that could be turned into books. My Carol-Award nominee book, Medical Error, came about as I read about two situations: identity theft and a patient almost dying from receiving the wrong medication. I wondered what would happen if the two scenarios were combined. I fiddled around with it, and Medical Error was born.

Each of my novels is rooted in something I've either experienced, read about, or heard about. But I can't begin to explain the exact way I turn those into a novel. It's an interesting question, and maybe some of the authors who read this blog will chime in. In the meantime, I just had an idea for a book and need to jot down a note before I forget it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do Writers Learn?

This week, a number of writers, both published and aspiring, will be attending the annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Those who are at the meeting will hear talks, participate in workshops, meet with editors and agents, and network among other authors. Will those unable to attend, for whatever reason, simply stagnate in their writing ability? Not at all.

Writers learn and grow in many ways. A man who has mentored and encouraged me, James Scott Bell, maintains that writers are made, not born, and his story (and, to a certain extent, mine) prove that. He's the author of a number of excellent books on writing, and anyone wishing to get started writing fiction would do well to read his book, Plot and Structure, and apply its principles. This is by no means the only book that will help the aspiring writer. My own bookshelf has almost three dozen of them, and every one of them has something to teach.

Writers must also read the work of other authors--the good and the bad. Read the good books and notice what the author did that gripped and held you. Read the bad books and notice what areas turned you off and made you anxious to hurry on. Read in your genre and in others. Learn to recognize, appreciate, and emulate good writing. Learn to avoid bad stuff.

And writers should...write! My cyber-friend, author and independent editor Ray Rhamey, says that his colleagues agree that it takes completing at least three books before writers begin to "get it." That assumes that they don't just write the same thing over and over again. A writer must find someone with knowledge of the field and be prepared to have them read and critique his/her work. Sometimes we disagree with those comments, and that's okay. But if you keep hearing the same thing, pretty soon you figure out that needs to be changed in your future writing.

There are many other ways a writer learns the craft. Notice I didn't say "the trade." That's a subject for another post. So if you're disappointed that you won't be attending a writer's conference in the near future, cheer up. That just gives you more time to work on your writing.

And for those who will be attending ACFW, find me and say "Hi." I love to meet my readers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Be A Typhoid Mary

I originally prepared this article for Christian Fiction Online magazine. My thanks to Bonnie Calhoun for permission to reprint it here.

Mary Mallon worked as a cook in the early 1900s. In 1906, although she had no symptoms of the disease, she was the unwitting carrier of the dread disease typhoid fever. Since that time, the appellation Typhoid Mary is given to persons who spread infections to those around them, often quite innocently.

The annual conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers in September will bring together a huge group of people from all over the United States and other parts of the world. And it’s a certainty that some of them will either be ill when they leave home or become ill while at the conference. None of us wants to be a Typhoid Mary. Can we do anything to keep from spreading our germs?

Most respiratory illnesses are spread by droplet contamination. Droplets of saliva from a cough or sneeze that are transferred to hands can live from two to eight hours—plenty long enough to be passed on to another person. Years ago most of us formed the habit of covering our mouths with our hands when we cough and sneeze. Now that’s changed. Ideally, we should sneeze into a tissue, which we should dispose of as soon as possible. If we can’t do that, we should cover our mouths and noses with our sleeves.

Having said that, it becomes pretty obvious that a major part of prevention is hand washing. Here’s the Centers for Disease Control suggestion:

• Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. 

• Rub your hands together to make a lather, and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. 

• Continue rubbing your hands for at least twenty seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. 

• Rinse your hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Can’t wash your hands? Use a commercial hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. These can kill most—but not all—commonly encountered germs.

Would taking the flu vaccine help? Definitely. Although flu season supposedly doesn’t start until winter, significant outbreaks occur every fall, and for years I’ve taken my flu vaccine in early September. Matter of fact, Kay and I had our shots this past week. What if you get sick anyway? Unfortunately, patients with flu are still infectious up to ten days after the onset of symptoms, although Tamiflu, one of the new anti-viral medications, can shorten this (and the course of the illness) slightly.

Just so you don't decide to cancel your attendance at the ACFW conference and hibernate in a plastic bubble, realize that these common sense precautions can go a long way in keeping you well. Can they get you an appointment with an agent or editor? Sorry, I can’t provide a prescription for that. You’re on your own there.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pleased To Announce...

Readers have been asking me if there would be more of my novels after the release in October of Lethal Remedy. I can now answer that question: YES.

I have reached agreement with Thomas Nelson Publishers for a three-book contract for books offering my unique brand of "medical suspense with heart." The exact date of publication of the next novel hasn't been determined, but I'll let you know when we have that information.

I appreciate the opportunity I've had to partner with Abingdon Press in the publication of my first four novels, and look forward to a great relationship with Thomas Nelson, one of the premier names in Christian publishing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Author Panels

On September 15, at 6:00 PM, I'll be joining authors Lena Nelson Dooley and Ronie Kendig at the Public Library in Wylie, Texas, just northeast of Dallas, on Lake Ray Hubbard.

I've done solo talks and signings at public libraries before, but this is my first participation in a panel like this. What's heartening is that this panel is composed of authors of inspirational fiction. We'll discuss how we write, how we got published, and read excerpts from our work. In addition to the two ladies and me, representing adult fiction, there will be authors who write teen and young adult inspirational fiction.

I'm interested that a public library is sponsoring an activity devoted to inspirational fiction. Of course, as with most events such as this, it's hard to predict how things will develop. Tune in for my report. And if you're in the area, please come by. I think you'll enjoy it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001: In Remembrance

In commemoration of that terrible day:

-Fly your flag.

-Thank a First Responder.

-Pray for our nation.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Interview With Author and ACFW President Margaret Daley

My neighbor to the north (Oklahoma), Margaret Daley, is a busy lady. Not only is she an award-winning multi-published author, she currently serves as the President of the 2400+ member American Christian Fiction Writers. Since I’m  a Board member, I’ve gotten to know Margaret a bit better this year, and I’d like to give my readers that same opportunity.

RM: Margaret, welcome to Random Jottings. Would you tell us a little about yourself?

MD: I’m foremost a wife to a wonderful husband of forty years, mother to a son and grandmother to four granddaughters. I write inspirational romance and romantic suspense. And I am President of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).

RM: Before retiring from teaching after twenty-seven years, you taught students with special needs. How has that shaped your thinking?

MD: I loved working with children with special needs. I have often written about people who have a disability. They say write what you know and I guess that’s true.

RM: What set you on the road to writing?

MD: I loved to read romances (still do) and decided to try and write one. That was all it took to put me on the road to writing.

RM: As I read through the list of the books you’ve had published, the dates prove that you’re a prolific writer, able to produce several books a year. How in the world do you manage that?

MD: Sometimes I’m not sure. I am organized and try to write most every day. I’ve been able to write more now that I’m retired from teaching.

RM: You’ve been President of ACFW for less than a year, but you’re already working to carry out a number of projects to improve the organization. Can you tell my readers a bit about ACFW and its importance to writers of Christian fiction?

MD: ACFW is an organization of Christian fiction writers (2400+). It is an online group who helps to promote Christian fiction and educate Christian fiction writers. We have an annual conference every September with wonderful classes and a chance to meet with publishers and agents in the industry. You can check it all out at our website.

    RM: Would you give us a sneak preview of your latest book, From This Day Forward?

    MD: Rachel Gordon is stranded in South Carolina, pregnant, a recent widow after her husband fell overboard on the voyage to America. Nathan Stuart, a physician who came home from serving in the American army during the War of 1812, disenchanted with his life and the Lord, rescues Rachel and saves her life. Feeling responsible for her, Nathan tries to discourage her from living at a rundown farm her husband bought to start a new future in America. He wants her to return to England.

Rachel refuses to go back to England where her father disowned her for marrying against his wishes. The farm is all she has, and she is determined to make it on her own. But Nathan has other ideas and becomes her farmhand to discourage her from staying in America. Instead he ends up protecting her and being challenged by her. Can two wounded people heal each other?
RM: Any last words of advice for my readers?

MD:  I hope if you get a chance to read my book that you enjoy it.

Thanks, Margaret. To learn more about her, visit her website, where you'll see that Margaret's tagline is "Heartwarming to electrifying read." 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Visiting Author Jennifer AlLee

I'm posting today at the blog of fellow Abingdon author, Jennifer AlLee. I hope you'll click on over and visit. And check back tomorrow for an interview with novelist and ACFW President Margaret Daley.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Time Management and Other Myths

I've read a lot recently about how important time management is for writers (as well as most other folks). Of course, since I've retired from medicine, everyone assumes that I have the whole day before me every day, full of opportunities to kick back and relax. I, too, had that dream once. But no more!

Let me give you an example. When we moved to our current home, I gave away lots of my tools. "I'm not going to do that stuff anymore. I'll just call someone and write a check for it." Yeah, right. There are two things wrong with that philosophy: It's hard to find someone who's reputable and does good work, and those checks I talked about writing ended up lowering my bank balance. (Imagine that!)

I won't detail all the other things that pop up and demand the attention of the "at leisure" retiree. Suffice it to say that sometimes Kay and I look at each other and ask, "How did we ever get anything done and still work?"

Right now I'm working on a few new blog posts. I've spent a significant amount of time already on Facebook and Twitter (an activity I justify by calling it "marketing" and "establishing my platform.") Later I'll do a bit of business for the American Christian Fiction Writers. And then it will be time to get down to serious writing. Today and tomorrow and the next day, I'll try to carve out an hour or two to work on my novel. And that, my friend, constitutes the best this retiree can do about time management.

How about you?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Labor Day

The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, in Boston, by the Central Labor Union of New York. It became a federal holiday in 1894. The September date was originally chosen by the CLU of New York and has continued to be observed since. All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories have made Labor Day a statutory holiday.

Labor Day means different things to different people. Kids who are tired of school already rejoice at a three-day weekend (and their parents groan). Football fans start thinking about that sport, and baseball fans look forward to the World Series with a variety of emotions, depending on how their particular team is doing. Community swimming pools prepare to close. Stores start putting out their Christmas goods (if they haven't done so already).

This weekend I hope you'll pause and give thanks for the people whose work makes our lives more tolerable. Remember to voice a prayer that those currently out of work will find employment soon. While you're at it, express your gratitude for your freedom, and pray for this country and its leaders. I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

Important Note: I've been interviewed by, and if you read it you'll learn--among other things--which character in my new book I most closely identify with and why. Here's the link. They also just posted my segment on "When Life Hands You Lemons...Write About It." You can read it here. And finally, there's a very nice review of Diagnosis Death (currently discounted at Cokesbury) in this month's Afictionado magazine from ACFW.