Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rules Which...I Mean That Make Sense

Writers often rail against rules. They don't want to avoid the passive voice, maintain a consistent point of view, avoid adjectives and shun adverbs. We would rather write the words that seem to flow from our fingertips onto the computer, letting the chips fall where they may. After all, that's where an editor comes in--right?

Unfortunately, the less editing a manuscript requires, the better the chances that it will make it out of the slush pile and into the long journey from editor to editorial board to publications board to publisher to a contract to publication. So we learn the rules and follow them--most of the time.

One of the problems I have is remembering whether to use "which" or "that." That's why I was so happy to find this particular post (thank you, Google) that puts it into perspective. Sure, we can try to remember the rule that "that" is used in conjunction with a restrictive clause, while "which" goes with a non-restrictive clause. But ten minutes after reading the rule, I ask myself, "Now how did that go again?" But the Grammar Girl gave me something to help me remember: You can throw out the "witches" and do no harm. That is, if the clause can be removed without changing the sense of the sentence, use "which."

Those little tips, clues, and helpful mnemonics, have assisted me through life. I learned the names of the twelve cranial nerves by memorizing "On old Olympus' towering tops, a Finn and German viewed some hops." In golf, I remember that an uphill lie encourages a hook, a downhill lie a slice, by reciting under my breath, "Hook up, slice down."

So there you have it. Three helpful "rules" for writers, medical students, and golfers. Are there rules you follow in your life, and do you use tools to aid your memory? I'd like to hear.

Friday, February 24, 2012

It's About Me

I've recently dealt with some issues concerning a writer's group that typify what my friend, Dr. James Dunn, used to say. "We're all willing to live in a theocracy...so long as we can be Theo." If something doesn't go our way, if the rules don't fit our needs, if we don't like what's going on, we sometimes exert every effort to change things...so that it benefits us.

Kay and I assist in the New Member class of our church, and the pastor in charge of the class uses this video as an example of what our church's philosophy is not. My thanks to Watermark Church, which posted this on YouTube. (And let me hasten to say that neither my church nor Watermark holds to this philosophy).


So how about it. Are you okay with the rules so long as they benefit you? I hope you're not a member of the Me Church...or club...or family...or country. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Free Samples...Are They A Good Thing?

It's become an accepted thing nowadays. Walk through a grocery and see a man or woman in front of a tray bearing toothpicked goodies such as pizza bites, cheese, and other assorted food items. You take a sample, and they point to the spot nearby where you can buy the product. I have to confess that I sample frequently, buy sparingly. But that's just me.

Take that example further. You've invested in an e-reader--Kindle, Nook, Sony, whatever. Then you see an announcement on Facebook or Twitter or some other site that such-and-such book is a free download. Hey, you have the equipment, so you might as well use it. Right? If you don't like the book, you delete it. No harm done, and it hasn't cost you a penny.

From the standpoint of a reader, free book downloads are great. I take advantage of them all the time. But have you ever wondered if these opportunities pay off in future sales of other books by that author? I decided to query a few industry professionals, and as you might expect, the responses were poles apart.

On one hand, a representative of a publisher that offers free downloads on a regular basis assures me that they see an uptick on sales of other books by those authors right afterward. It's the same philosophy as sampling the goodies in the grocery. If you like it, you'll go back for more. They believe this, and can show the numbers to back up their contention.

The opposite viewpoint is set forth in a recent interview in Publisher's Weekly, where Thomas Nelson publisher Allen Arnold is quoted as saying, "Free e-books really don't have the effect of dramatic readership growth, even when thousands of copies are downloaded. That's because 'free' requires no commitment from the reader, and these titles, while downloaded, may never be read or a priority. Charging at least a minimal amount helps increase the odds that the reader is more interested in the content." This is an equally valid viewpoint.

Incidentally, some of you have asked, "Do authors control when or if free downloads are offered?" I know that my contracts don't give me this option, and I'm glad. I'd rather leave the decision to the professionals.

So the question remains unanswered, and I have to turn to you, my readers, for your opinion. Do you take free food samples in the grocery store? And, if so, how often do you buy the product? Taking it a step further, do you take advantage of free e-book downloads? And, if so, how often do you go back and buy more books by that same author? Chime in. I'm listening (and several publishers have told me they will be, as well).

Friday, February 17, 2012

Interview With Author Daniel Palmer

Last week I posted an interview with fellow author/physician Michael Palmer. Today I'd like to introduce you to his son, Daniel. Daniel's second book has just launched, but as you'll see from the interview, there's more to him than just a guy who writes books.

Daniel Palmer describes himself this way on his website: “I'm an author (thrillers), musician (songs and such), father of two (boy and girl), husband of one, baseball fan (Red Sox), pro football fan (NE Patriots), and aspiring pet owner.” Some of you may also recognize his name from my interviews with his father, Michael Palmer.

Daniel’s first book, Delirious, was described by noted author Lee Childs as “Smart, sophisticated and unsettling . . . not just a great thriller debut, but a great thriller, period.” That’s high praise. I’ve read the book, and think it’s well deserved. I’ve persuaded Daniel to visit with us a bit, and I hope you enjoy getting to know him.

RM: Daniel, as I recall, you didn’t set out to be a writer. Matter of fact, you’ve held a number of jobs, some of them more memorable than others. Would you tell my readers a little about that?

DP:  Sure thing, Richard. I used to play guitar and hand out leaflets for lunchtime harbor cruises dressed as pirate. Business people would often try to kick my peg leg out from underneath me. I opened and closed a juice bar, and then auctioned off the remnants of Juicy Juice when my business partner failed to pay his storage warehouse bill. Oh, did I mention that I used to work in that storage warehouse? Worst of all, though, was the “Barmuda” Triangle, a college dive where I tended bar and which was so cash strapped, a repo man from our vending machine company once carted away the sanitary napkin dispenser. That was a real low point for me. 

RM: Despite the fact that you root for the Red Sox while I’m a diehard Texas Rangers fan, I do respect the work you do with the Red Sox Home Base program. Tell us a bit about that.

DP: The Home Base Program is a partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital.  The organization is dedicated to improving the lives of veterans who deployed in support of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and live with deployment- or combat-related stress and/or traumatic brain injury.  My father and I became involved with the organization while I was helping to promote his book, The Last Surgeon, which featured a former army trauma surgeon who suffered from debilitating PTSD.  We had the idea to coincide his book launch with a fundraiser to support the Home Base Program since his novel dealt with themes specific to the organization’s mission. The event was a tremendous success and helped to raise thousands of dollars and increase public awareness about the Home Base Program. We continue to support Home Base and hope to do another big fundraising event at some future date.

RM: In addition to being a writer, you’re a talented musician. One of the highlights of the International Thriller Writer’s meeting each year is when you and your dad join together to sing a parody song, adapted to the writing life. I believe you’re the genius behind those words. Would you give us a sample?

DP:  Thanks, Richard. I’m glad you like the music. I collaborate with my father on these songs, which makes the writing and performing all the more fun.  Here are some verses from our last parody song, THE WRITER, to be sung to the tune of the classic Kenny Rogers song, THE GAMBLER.


On a warm summer’s evening at the bar in the Hyatt
I was feeling like a failure when a man slid next to me
His face was worn and weathered and his eyes glowed like a two embers
I sensed he was a writer, the kind I’d like to be

So he ordered off my bar tab and sighed as if he knew me
Then he tapped my manuscript and made a knowing smile
I heard you on that panel and you really were quite boring,
If you want to be a winner, you gotta learn to write with style.

The rule you’ve got to follow was written by Sam Johnson
If you don’t want folks to think that you’re a total dunce
Just circle every passage that you’re especially fond of
Then take a big eraser and get rid of them at once

You've got to know when to send it, know when to mend it.
Altering your perfect prose ain’t a lot of fun
You shouldn’t check your rankings, fourteen times an hour

They’ll be time enough for checkin’ when the writin’s done.

RM: All the writers in the audience are still laughing, Daniel. On a more serious note, your debut novel has been out now for a couple of years. What have you learned about the publishing industry that surprised you?

DP: I’ve followed my father’s career for years, so I knew quite a bit about the publishing industry before I became involved with it myself. Even so, it was surprising to see the number of people involved with making a book launch happen. From cover design to distribution, it’s definitely a team effort.

RM: Your second book of your three-book contract with Kensington, Helpless, has just launched. The premise is disturbing, to say the least. Want to give us a preview of what it’s about?

DP: As a former computer guy turned novelist, I like to show my readers the hidden perils of commonly used technology. I don’t want to lose people in the jargon, so I keep the computer stuff factual, but understandable. To write Helpless, I worked closely with a former Navy SEAL and current FBI special agent and the result is an utterly realistic look at the dangers of sexting. This is a book that parents and teens should read together. It’s a cautionary tale about the vulnerabilities of our reputations to online attacks and the power of a single image to destroy a life.

 Jeff Ayers, of AP, called Helpless a deeply puzzling thriller. Here’s an excerpt from his review.

Tom Hawkins is a former Navy SEAL who is battling his ex-wife, Kelly, for visitation rights with his daughter, Jill, who wants nothing to do with him. He coaches soccer at the local high school, and Jill becomes one of the star players – though she would rather have someone else calling the shots. During a practice session, the police arrive and tell Tom that his ex-wife has been murdered. He immediately realizes that he’s the No. 1 suspect.

Tom’s nightmare has only begun: The police discover a blog detailing his secret love affair with one of the players on the soccer team. A search warrant uncovers tons of teen pictures, with several team members in provocative poses. Tom is arrested for distributing child pornography, and he has to find out how someone could frame him so completely – and why. Even the FBI’s forensic computer analysis team believes he’s guilty.

Trust plays a key role in the narrative of this compelling and deeply puzzling thriller.

… Palmer has a gift with realistic characters – and a writing style that guarantees a sleepless night.

 RM: And, as I always ask my guests, any last words? 

 DP:  I really appreciate the opportunity to tell your readers about my novel, Helpless.  I love to hear from readers, so I hope you’ll give the book a read and share your thoughts with me. You can reach via Twitter, Facebook, or on my web site .  Thanks again! 

My pleasure, Daniel. And I hope your days of bartending and playing a pirate are over. Thanks for dropping by, and good luck with your writing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Little Valentine's Day Trivia

Today is my usual day to post (Tuesday and Friday), and I wondered about something special for Valentine's Day. But the more I researched the subject, the more complex it became, so I've decided to give you a link to one of the most complete sites I've found about the day, its history, its symbolism, and even (at the end) a bit of advice on not letting one's emotions run away in the midst of the season. (Hint: turn up your speakers; the music on the site is pretty nice).

What will I do to celebrate Valentine's Day? I suspect that Kay and I will go out to eat. I plan to get her a nice card. I don't dare bring home a box of chocolates--we'd just eat them, and that wouldn't be good. Besides, our anniversary comes less than two weeks later, and I have to save something for that occasion.

How will you celebrate Valentine's Day?

Monday, February 13, 2012

And The Winner Is...

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on my review of Michael Palmer's latest book, Oath of Office, or my interview with him.

My handy-dandy random number selector has chosen Jackie S to receive a signed copy of Michael's book. Because I wish everyone could win, I've chosen a runner-up, and will send a signed copy of my latest novel, Lethal Remedy, to Jan Marie.

Emails have gone out to the winners. And to everyone who commented, thanks so much.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Interview With Author Dr. Michael Palmer

Dr. Michael Palmer is a man of many talents. He’s the author of sixteen novels of medical suspense, all of them international bestsellers. He is active in the International Thriller Writers organization and teaches courses for writers.

Michael is a specialty-trained physician who spent twenty years as a full-time practitioner of internal and emergency medicine. Currently, he’s Associate Director of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. He is also a seasoned SCUBA diver and a bronze life master in bridge.

In addition to wearing all these hats, Michael is a devoted father, one of whose sons—Daniel Palmer—is now a multi-published author.

I’ve persuaded Michael to give us a bit of his time to answer a few questions. I think you’ll enjoy getting to meet him.

RM: Michael, you’re Associate Director of the Physician Health Services of the Massachusetts Medical Society. People may be unaware that all states have such committees or groups to assist physicians with mental illness, physical illness, behavioral issues and chemical dependency.  It’s apparent through reading your novels that you have a heart for physicians troubled by these problems. How did you get into this work, and exactly what do you do to assist these physicians?

MP: Many years ago, my own dependence on alcohol surfaced. Caring doctors came to my rescue, and soon after I became sober, I began to devote myself to the same cause. Physician Health Services has a number of mandates in addition to educating doctors and the public. (1) Help physicians come to grips with the fact that they are sick and need to get well. (2) Design a treatment program to fit the doctor. If in-patient treatment is necessary, we arrange that. We do not do therapy, but we will match a doc with an appropriate therapist. (3) Where it is necessary, we will sign the doctor to a legally binding monitoring contract, and then supervise the monitoring.

RM: You and Dr. Tess Gerritsen teach a course for physicians who want to write. I first met you in cyberspace in connection with this course and a contest connected to it. What motivates busy professional people to steal the time necessary for writing? And what was your own impetus to tackle medical suspense fiction?

MP: The desire to express oneself in words is a strong one. I love to solve puzzles, and writing fiction, every sentence.....every word, even, is a problem to solve. I often take on challenges such as bridge and SCUBA and music. I decided to try writing after reading Robin Cook's Coma. The first book wasn't nearly as hard as all the ones that have come after it.

RM: You’re a proud father, and I know you always seem to make time for your sons. Daniel is now a multi-published author, and his novels are garnering great reviews. Was his getting into writing something you encouraged?

MP: I have always encouraged and supported anything my three sons want to do. Remaining non-judgmental and supportive is perhaps the most difficult aspect of parenting. I am proud of all the boys and the choices they are making. Daniel's success is absolutely thrilling, but in no means surprising. The kid has talent and drive and the willingness to be fearless..

RM: In a recent interview in Romantic Times Book Reviews, Daniel asked you a very important question for any writer. I liked your answer. Would you share it with my readers?

MP: That joint interview with Daniel was just great fun. Here is his question and my response:

Daniel:  You’re working on your 18th book and I’m only on my 3rd.  Is the passion to write still there, or is it now all about the money?

Michael: Nicely worded! You of all people know that I have never been able to motivate myself to do anything for money. Lack of money, on the other hand, is a different story. But back in 1978 when I started working on a book I titled The Corey Prescription, I had been in medical practice for five years and was doing okay. Believe it or not, the passion to write came well after I cashed my first royalty check. Before that I had a deep passion for doctoring, as well as for tennis, and SCUBA, and bridge. I went to Wesleyan in Connecticut with Robin Cook, and later trained at Mass General Hospital at the same time as he did. My writing was a hobby, born of reading Robin’s Coma and wondering if I could write a book half as good. Initially, I was driven by my obstinance and  supported by the bedrock of my discipline. I never had even the wisp of the dream of being published. The passion to write settled in over a number of years, although it was almost always a pleasure and a diversion.

RM: Your recent novels have managed to combine medicine and politics. In Oath of Office, you add a third element, one that most of us never think about, and frankly—now that I’ve read the book—one that scares me. Would you give my readers a preview of the book, and anything you’d like to share about genetically altered food?

MP: The idea for OoO (as my publishers and I refer to the book) came at my high school reunion in Springfield, MA, where some of my former classmates were discussing the Oscar-winning documentary, Food, Inc., dealing with corporate influences in the food industry and the use of genetically modified seeds and livestock treatments. I watched the film and became fascinated. Alas, it wasn't too difficult to construct a very frightening thriller based on the subject. In the case of OoO, productivity of corn is modified by combining its DNA with that if the highly fecund flesh-eating African termite, Macroterminus bellicosus.

RM: And, as we wind this up, what is the best advice you’ve ever received, and what do you think is the best advice you’ve passed on to your sons?

MP: What I was taught in my early years is the same I try to pass on to my sons, the oldest of whom has written an as-yet unpublished novel, and the youngest who has written several screenplays, Never forget that writing fiction is hard!!! If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And above all, be fearless when you write. Don't fear criticism or reviews or the feeling that you will never get the story or the words right.

Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Doctor Richard.

Michael, it's always a pleasure to have you. Let me remind my readers that I'll choose one name at random from the comments left about this interview or the book review of Oath of Office I posted three days ago, and the winner will receive a signed copy of the book.

Oh, and in case my mentions of Michael's son, Daniel, intrigued you, stay tuned. I'll be interviewing him a week from today. You won't want to miss it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Michael Palmer's New Novel: Oath of Office

Last week, I gave space to friend and fellow author Mark Young, who has jumped into the self-publishing model. This week, it's a New York Times best-selling author who has made it via the conventional route.

Physican-author Michael Palmer and I became cyber-friends through a chance set of circumstances. Not long thereafter I read my first Palmer novel and immediately became a fan of his writing. I've been fortunate enough to receive an Advance Reading Copy of his latest medical thriller, Oath of Office, set for release on February 14, and I think it's one of his best. I'd like to give my readers a preview of my thoughts on this book.

Michael's last three books have not only featured medicine but have a political bent, and this one goes them one better. It not only has a doctor as a protagonist (two, if you count the President's wife, a no-longer-practicing pediatrician) and is set in Washington DC with a President who has a rather unusual mindset, but it also discusses a social issue that most of us don't even think about: genetic modification of the food we eat. Frankly, I had never considered the implications of this, but after reading Oath of Office, I certainly will.

Michael juggles all these subjects superbly, and keeps the reader turning pages--at least, that's what I did. The action is rapid, the scenario chillingly believable, and the end was unexpected but satisfying. The book occasionally makes use of a few words you didn't hear in Sunday school, but the plotting is excellent and the message of the book makes worthwhile reading. I give it five stars.

I'll be posting an interview with Michael on Friday, and we'll discuss his work with the Massachusetts Medical Society Physician Health Services, working with physicians troubled by mental illness, physical illness, behavioral issues and chemical dependency. Michael's son, Daniel, is now a respected novelist himself, and I'll be asking Michael how he feels about that. And you'll want to see what Michael says about the role money plays (or doesn't play) in his writing.

Oh, yes--there's a bonus. Via my trusty random number generator, I'll  choose one of the comments responding to this post or the interview on Friday to receive an autographed copy of Oath of Office (courtesy of Michael and his publisher). So be sure to leave a comment, and make sure I can get your email address, either from your blogger profile or by leaving it in the comment body.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Mark Young On Changes In Publishing

I'm giving author Mark Young more space to expound on his experience and his views of self-publishing and e-publishing. If you missed his earlier interview, I'd encourage you to go back and read it. For those of you who are eagerly awaiting words of wisdom from me, I'm guest blogging today at the ACFW Blog on some research habits that get under my skin. Check it out.

Now, here's Mark.

Because I’ve self-published my books, Richard asks if I’ve encountered prejudice over “short-cutting the traditional process,” I think there will always be a certain amount of prejudice lurking out there in the writing community. I understand where some might think that writers like myself have taken the shortcut to publishing without being ‘vetted’ by the traditional publishing process. However, I believe a lot of writers are finally opening their eyes to publishing possibilities not available just a few years ago. Couple these changes with the reality that the traditional publishing road has drastically changed over the last few years. There are less and less opportunities—particularly for new authors—for writers to carve out their niche in the traditional writing game in a face of a significant economic downturn.

And this is not limited to new writers. Last march, New York Times bestseller Bob Mayer wrote an article titled “I was wrong, Konrath was Right,” referring to indie author Joe Konrath, a self-publishing advocate who has been in the forefront of a movement to confront these prejudices about self-publishing. In the article, Mayer admitted he dug his heels in against Konrath’s assertions that traditional publishing’s view of eBooks continues to be flawed and midlist authors are going to get hammered.

At the time, Mayer had twenty years invested in traditional publishing, with over 40 titles and a major deal with St. Martins for a co-written paperback coming out in a few months. He did not want to change, but he had been through “the midlist wringer several times over” where he got dropped and then picked up again and again. He saw the industry starting to downsize, limiting the number of contracts with midlist authors while choosing to invest their limited capital on proven, big named authors. Konrath’s assertions began to make sense to Mayer. He finally succumbed, creating his own publishing company to begin to take advantage of digital publishing opportunities such as increased royalty rate percentages, plus many marketing, design, and distribution opportunities. Soon, Mayer saw his books posted on Amazon’s coveted Top 100 list on a regular basis. And his books never went out of print.

Mayer is not alone. Another NYT bestseller, Barry Eisler, raised a lot of eyebrows when he turned down a half-million dollar deal with a major publisher to become an indie author. A few months later, Eisler again raised more controversy when he signed with Amazon’s publishing imprint, Thomas & Mercer, once again demonstrating the diversity of opportunities for authors arising in the publishing industry. In the same year, paranormal/romance author Amanda Hockings—a new indie author— drew attention when she began a stellar climb in sales in just a matter of months.  She finally signed with a major publisher for a substantial amount of money, stating to some disgruntled readers that she just wanted to concentrate on her writing and let someone else deal with other aspects of publishing.

And the list goes on. There is not just one single road to publishing. The choices range from traditional to self published, and a variety of choices between the two. New services are emerging where authors can team up with others to enter into modified publishing agreements, in a sort of a smorgasbord of options to fit an author’s particular needs.

Yes, I do believe attitudes are changing, among many readers and authors—if not from traditional publishers. However, with this freedom of indie publishing comes a responsibility to make the novel as professional as any of those released by major publishers. Authors need to be prepared to pay the cost for solid editing services, as well as formatting and design expenses, while continuing to push themselves to develop their writing craft. 

Thanks, Mark. I think your last sentence is very important for anyone considering self-publishing. Now I'll ask my readers to sound off. What do you think of self-publishing and e-publishing? I'd like to know.