Friday, October 28, 2011

Books As An Escape

Kay and I love to watch reruns of the sitcom, "Frasier." I was recently reminded of the episode in which Frasier and Niles are discussing the question of what they'd choose if stranded on a desert island: one meal, one bottle of wine, one aria. Incidentally, I'd probably ask for the Mexican plate lunch from El Fenix, iced tea, and something from Josh Grobin. Nevertheless, the question was recently brought into focus in my own life.

If you attended the recent conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers, you probably noticed me walking haltingly with a grimace on my face. As it turns out, I had a ruptured disc in my back. There was no response to aggressive medical treatment, so on October 21, I underwent surgery. It appears that the surgery was successful, and I'm healing nicely, but during the recuperation period I'm spending a lot of time lying down. So what have I been doing? Reading, of course.

During my first wife's time in the ICU after her fatal stroke, I read through all of Robert B. Parker's books. I love his writing style, and for a few minutes I was able to leave behind the problems surrounding me. This time I've found that many of the novels from authors whose work I enjoyed the first time around still hold my attention on second and third readings.

This brings me to the point of this blog. If you were to be given unlimited time to read while recuperating from surgery, recovering from an illness, whatever--what books would you choose? And let's assume that The Bible would be one. Go beyond that and tell me the books you'd choose for comfort, relaxation, and to pass the time.

I look forward to reading your responses.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interview with Author and "Blog Mama" Therese Walsh

I've become cyber-friends with Therese Walsh, and today I'd like you to meet her and hear about two blogs that are "must-reads" for writers and for readers.

RM: You and Kathleen Bolton are the “blog-mamas” for the very successful site, Writer Unboxed. Originally, as I understand it, WU was launched when neither of you was published, to provide a place for discussing what made books and movies work. Now you’re both published authors. Has this resulted in a change for WU?

TW: The biggest change came after realizing we no longer had a voice of the unpublished writer on WU. That voice is important, because it provides inspiration and a window into "aha" moments as they’re happening to folks still climbing the publishing mountain. So we ran a search for the new voice of the unpublished writer, someone who’d come aboard as a once-monthly contributor. After asking for and reading nearly two hundred applications and sample posts, we narrowed the field to nine candidates we really loved, then chose one: the incomparable Jan O’Hara. We asked the others if they’d come aboard as Honorary Contributors and blog three times annually with us, and happily they all agreed.

RM: Now you’re launching a new site, Reader Unboxed. What’s that about?

TW: Reader Unboxed has been on our collective backburner for a couple of years. It seemed like there was something there—a way to extend the WU brand, as it were, to possibly connect with readers. It felt like a missing link.

On the backburner it sat until we met with some of our fellow WU’ers this summer for breakfast in New York City. Donald Maass was there with Kath and me, along with Barbara O’Neal, Jael McHenry, Jan O’Hara, and Juliet Marillier. There was a sort of collective sigh when we mentioned Reader Unboxed, and then a surge of excited ideas. I think that fueled us to take the next, real steps forward.

The idea became less nebulous over the following months: Reader Unboxed would be a unique review site structured to encourage interactivity between readers and reviewers, and eventually readers and authors. We invited Larramie, a champion for authors on her site, The Divining Wand, to join us, and she agreed. Larramie became instrumental in building the site with reviewers, and in helping us to brainstorm ideas for Reader Unboxed. What might readers love? How about Reader Roulette—a game of sorts whereby a reader would receive a free book in exchange for their review posted on Reader Unboxed? Or a feature called Undiscovered Treasures, where readers would submit reviews for books that have been on the shelves for a long time but never received the attention they deserved? How about Waiting in the Wings, a column featuring books that have yet to be released but sound fantastic? These are a few of the features we’ve evolved, but our intention is to expand upon them as we settle in and receive reader feedback.

Kath took on the role as head administrator at RU. She established our domain, settled on a designer for our site (Sumy Designs) and directed that work. She helped Larramie coordinate things with our eight reviewers. She also established the soon-to-be-hopping RU Twitter account.

I helped with design and organizational aspects, too, and suggested we lean on our hook: the idea of being “unboxed.” We’ve defined “unboxed” fiction as fiction that feels fresh (re: topic or structure or characterizations or voice…). RU’ers will review each book traditionally but also hone in on a work’s freshness and celebrate that with an “unboxed” rating. It’s our hope that readers who crave books that haven’t been done-to-death check with us first.

RM:  Your debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, has been out for over a year. What have you learned about being a published author that surprised you?

TW: Oh, boy, I’ve had plenty of surprises—happy and maddening! One positive surprise was learning authors often experience the same sorts of setbacks, neuroses (!), and challenges, even if they don’t want to broadcast these things over a blog or social media. Very often they’re willing to talk privately, though, to share experiences—both happy and maddening—and offer support if they can. You want to know if it’s common to switch editors, for your house to close, to be promised XYZ promotions and end up with :-o? Just ask a fellow author. Writing is a lonely occupation. It’s important to be with your people. It’s important to realize that if you’re going through something stressful you’re probably not the first to have to cope with that issue. Reach out, gain a support group. It can save your sanity.

RM: What’s next from the pen of Therese Walsh?

TW: A book about two sisters taking what seems a foolish journey to “find the end of their dead mother’s story,” when it fact it’s the most important of all journeys, as they try to come to grips with their mother’s probable suicide and ultimately the meaning of life. (I like to keep it light, ha!)
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this story, in part because of that dreaded “second-book syndrome” everyone hears about. But things are clicking now, and my confidence is restored daily. That’s the gift of revision, I think.

RM: And, as the warden might say, any last words?

TW: Come on over to check out Reader Unboxed when you can. Help us spread the word if you like what you see. And of course, write on!

Thanks, Therese. I can say from my own experience that both these sites are entertaining and informative, and I hope my readers will check them out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's Next?

There's a lot of buzz on the Internet recently about blog fatigue. Some fairly prolific bloggers have decided to pack it in, or at least take a hiatus. Others have cut back their schedule.

Long ago, I decided that about two blogs a week was my limit, and I've managed to keep that up for quite a while, but it does get wearing after a while. Which leads me to my question. Since you're a reader of this blog (or you at least are reading this particular post), what would you like to see? Inside information about the writing life? Gossip from the publishing world. Guest posts from other authors? Book giveaways? More about the Texas Rangers (the baseball team, not the law enforcement group). I would include the Dallas Cowboys, but I'm not into tragedy right now.

Let me know what you think? I'm waiting, my fingers poised over the keyboard.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Visiting Today--Come On Over

I'm visiting today at the Seriously Write blog. Come on over and see what I have to say about "The Call" vs. "The Call."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just Over The Next Hill

When our children were smaller, we had a lake house about an hour’s drive from Dallas. In the time-honored tradition of children everywhere, they began asking “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?” shortly after we left home. I knew the landmarks along the road well enough that I was able predict our arrival before we crested the last hill. Matter of fact, we made a game of it. I’d borrow a line from their favorite Muppet, The Amazing Mumford, and say, “Okay, it’s time. Say it.” And they’d repeat the magic words: “A la peanut butter sandwiches. Make Runaway Bay appear.” And sure enough, it did.
Don’t we writers wish we knew what was over the next hill? We’d like to be able to say, “A la peanut butter sandwiches. Make an agent offer representation.” Or “A la peanut butter sandwiches. Make an editor offer a contract.” But it doesn’t work that way. We don’t know the landmarks of this journey, so we have to wait, crest the next hill, and if nothing positive happens, press on to the next one.
Of course, even if there is a contract over the next hill, that isn’t the end of the journey. There are the edits—macro edits, line edits, galley proofs. There’s cover art, a possible title change, all sorts of things. And along the way, we’re expected to help market our work, starting well before the date of publication.
I've had four novels of medical suspense published, and I've recently signed with Thomas Nelson Company for the publication of three more, so I sort of have an idea what's over the next hill. But even if I were to keep cresting hills and nothing appears, I don’t believe I'd stop writing. Because writers don’t stay on this road just hoping to see a goal fulfilled. We stay on the road because writing is what we do—for many of us it’s what we feel we’ve been called to do. So we keep doing it, no matter what appears over the next hill.
What are you hoping to see over your next hill?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Next?

(This post originally appeared on Writer Unboxed, the excellent website for writers hosted by Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton).

            The other day I was in a bookstore and saw my novels on display. You might be surprised to know that, rather than just exhilaration, the experience generated mixed emotions. Sure, I’m thrilled that I’ve reached this point in my writing journey. I’ve made it to a place lots of my colleagues would love to occupy. But I’m also wondering, “Now, what?”
The publication of my first novel led to contracts for three more books with the same publisher. Now the last contract has been fulfilled. If I were an actor, I’d be “between engagements.” As an author, I’m “between contracts.” Where do I go from here? How do I (and my agent) go about moving on? Will the publisher that gave me my start want more of my books? Would there be interest from another publishing house in my next series? And sometimes I ask myself the toughest question of all: will anyone want my work? I’ve made it to this point, but will that be as far as I go?
You’re probably shaking your head, saying, “You’ve got it made. A published author has a leg up on all the rest of us.” At one time I thought that was true. Like most of you, I’d heard that published authors had some advantages. You don’t need a completed manuscript—the publishers know you can do it. You’re a known quantity. You have name recognition. You understand the industry. But, as Gershwin so eloquently put it, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Let’s start with the manuscript. Your published works demonstrate your ability to put the words together. They show that you can finish a book. But you still must produce a sample of your next book. Along with that, an editor wants to know the story arc you have planned. In other words, they want a synopsis, and everyone—even a published author—has to write one. My best description of a synopsis is a single-spaced, three- to five-page outline of plot that writers hate to write and editors may not read. But try putting together a proposal that doesn’t contain a synopsis, and see how far you get.
How about being a known quantity as a published author? That’s true, but whether that quantity is good or bad depends on our sales figures. A few authors are an instant success, but most of us build a readership over time, and if the sales numbers for the first book are low, there may not be an opportunity for the second or third book to serve as stepping-stones to increasing readership. Good sales numbers are a definite plus, but bad sales numbers are harder to overcome than a garlic sandwich before a first date.
As for name recognition, that hardly ever comes from one published book. There are other factors involved, and they all require work on the author’s part. We must have a presence on the Internet and social media. Nowadays, editors want to know about the traffic our website and blog generate. They are interested in how many Facebook followers we have. We must have a “platform,” and publication doesn’t guarantee one.
What about knowing the industry? True, the experience of being published shows us a lot about the publishing industry. But sometimes what we learn makes us even more doubtful that anyone will give us another contract. The industry is constantly changing, no one really knows what effect ebooks will have, self-publication continues to sing its siren song. Yes, a published author knows the industry, but sometimes it’s a matter of “the more you know, the more unsure you are.”
Despite my misgivings and doubts, I’m continuing to write my next novel, my agent is pitching it to various editors, and we’ll hope for the best. If we’re successful, in a few years maybe I’ll again stand in a bookstore, look at my books, and wonder, “Now what?” 
Update: As many of you may already know, I just signed with Thomas Nelson Company for three more novels of medical suspense, so the wondering and worrying is over for a bit--except for wondering if I can meet my deadlines and worrying that the quality of the work won't be adequate. But that's a post for another day.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Posting At The ACFW Blog Today

I'm doing a guest post at the blog of the American Christian Fiction Writers today. I hope you'll drop by and read what I mean when I talk about "Down In The Valley, Valley So Low..."

Hurry back next week for my regular post. Thanks.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Playing "The Flash" Today

This is a busy time for me. Over the weekend I was featured at The Suspense Zone and had a guest post at Writer Unboxed.

Today I'm being interviewed on the blog of Margaret Daley, fellow author and President of the American Christian Fiction Writers. This week I have several guest posts (and an opportunity for you to win some books) at Medical Edge, the blog of writer Jordyn Redwood. I hope you'll drop by all these places and leave a comment.