Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Writing Award and Chance To Win A Book

The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference concluded recently, and I received the good news that my most recent book, Lethal Remedy, received the Selah Award as best suspense novel. I'm thrilled and humbled by the honor, and wanted to share the news with those of you who follow this blog.

Then I began wondering what I could do to make the celebration even more special. That's when I decided to give away a copy of Lethal Remedy to one of my readers. But rather than choose from those who leave a comment, I'm going to open the field more widely and choose from those of you who've clicked the tab on the right side of this page that says "newsletters and stuff" (just noticed it, did you?) to receive my email newsletter. Since I only send two or three of these per year, all only one page and containing news I want to share, it's not a burdensome thing to sign up. And, if you change your mind, you can easily unsubscribe.

So there it is. If you already get the newsletter, you're in the contest. If not, click the link, enter your email address, and you have a chance to win a copy of Lethal Remedy. I'll announce the winner in a week or so.

Thanks to those who've already offered congratulations. My question to you is this: do you think awards are important? Has the fact that an author is "award-winning" ever influenced you to try his or her books? Let me know.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Today we observe Memorial Day, a time to honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country. When I was growing up, we were proud of the fact that our country had never begun a war, nor had we ever lost one. I'm not sure we can say that anymore. But whatever your views about the various police actions, interventions, and battles of the past half century, there can be no debate about one thing: courageous men and women have put themselves in harm's way to make our world and our nation safe from the incursion of forces attempting to take away the freedom we hold so dear. And for this, we can never fully thank them

I'm proud to have served my country. I salute my fellow comrades and honor those who gave the "last full measure of devotion" in that service. God bless America.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writing: Edits

I've told my readers that I'm going to devote a few Fridays to posts about writing. Unfortunately for a writer, the process doesn't stop when we hit "send" to speed our manuscript to the editor. There are a number of edits and re-writes that follow.

Recently, I've been working on the first edit--the so-called substantive or macro edit--for my next book. Here is the gist a few of the comments from my editor:

(The hero's faith journey)...is a bit choppy, and feels tacked on. Can you review it and see if you can smooth it out, make it feel more natural/believable?

(A character) asks (the hero) for advice about Christianity: This needs to be a tad more subtle. (The reason) seems too convenient. 

(The hero's brother) doesn't appear except in one phone call. Perhaps some emails would keep him in the picture more.

(Two of the antagonists) don't sustain a credible threat. In the opening scene, they're a huge threat and we truly fear them. Could we reshape them a bit to carry some of that through the book?

So that's the idea behind a substantive or macro edit. In prior books, I've changed names, even changed sexes of characters in response to such an edit. I've made tweaks and twisted the plot a bit. I don't have any problem with suggestions from an editor. Any author knows he/she can choose to ignore editorial suggestions, but if they do so, they should be ready to back up their actions. Personally, I'll take all the help I can get.

In a few weeks, I'll talk about the next edit--the line edit. If you just can't wait, my agent, Rachelle Gardner, recently posted a look at the editing process, and you can check it out here.

Meanwhile, what writing or publishing questions do you have?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Life Is Like Golf

My friend, attorney, and long-time golf partner, Jerry Gilmore, told me something long ago that has stuck with me to this day. Like most wisdom that we share with each other, it occurred during a round of golf. You have to realize that we long ago decided we have more fun if we don't keep score, so we don't. And if we don't like the result of our shot, we hit another. However, no more than three at any time, because otherwise we forget where they went. But I digress...

Anyway, I was using the sand bottle on our cart to fill in a divot I'd made when Jerry remarked, "I wonder how many people fill in their divots?" Then he added, "And does that change if no one is watching?" Ever since then, I've decided that life is sort of like golf. We all know there are things we ought to do, things that are part of the rules of civility and humanity. But do we observe them, even if no one is watching?

Ever roll through a stop sign when the cross-streets are clear for a quarter mile in both directions? If you're undercharged at a store, do you call the clerk's attention to it? (We won't talk about being overcharged). I'd love to hear from you. How do you play the game of life? Do you think it's important to replace your divots...even if no one is watching?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Writing: Stretching The Limits

There's a good bit of traffic on author loops and blogs about writing for a specific genre or market. My mentor, friend, and prolific author James Scott Bell has written everything from a historical legal thriller/romance to a novel about boxing to an e-book about a vampire lawyer. Now he's decided to try yet another genre. I'll let Jim tell you about it:

About a year ago my son laughingly offered me an idea. He loves to make up titles and concepts, just for fun. "Hey Pop,” he said, “how about a thriller about a nun who is secretly a vigilante? She knows martial arts, and can kick butt when necessary?"

I looked at him quizzically, and then he gave me the (you'll pardon the expression) kicker: "You can call it
Force of Habit."

I cracked up. So did he. But he stopped when I said, "I think I'll do it."

"I was only kidding," he said.

"It’s a great concept," I said. "Original, great title, and I think I can do something with it."

My martial arts nun I named Sister Justicia Marie (or Sister J, as she's known by those close to her). I thought up her backstory. She is a former child star who grew up into a drug-using actress who then hit bottom. That's when she turned her life over to God and entered into the sacred life.

But during her time before the cameras, she studied martial arts (particularly for a Steven Seagal film she was in) and those skills have not left her.

And as I like to dig into themes in my books, I thought this raised a most intriguing question: could a devout nun actually justify violence if it was in the course of doing good, like stopping violent criminals?

When a cop asks her the same question, I heard her say this about the criminal element: “They are the knuckles. I am the ruler.”

Now, here's my take on Force of Habit: Sister Justicia isn't your average nun...unless your average nun is a martial arts-trained former celebrity who's gone through rehab and come out on the other side with a distinct call to take up the habit. Unfortunately, she also has some habits--habits that get her in hot water with her superiors but that help her solve a crime wave with nuns the victims. In this e-book, James Scott Bell has crafted a protagonist who ranks right up there with Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum.

A word of caution. I don't recommend that writers without an established track record and following jump from genre to genre. But I've noticed that John Grisham has branched out from legal thrillers with books about football and baseball. And the late Robert B Parker authored several excellent westerns, in addition to his Spencer, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall novels. So it can be done.

My question to you, dear reader, is this. If you like the work of a particular writer in one genre, how likely are you to try his/her books in a different one? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Scream

Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream, sold recently for almost $120 million. That raises a number of questions in my mind. First of all, what in the world caused Munch to create such a painting. Fortunately, through the miracle of the Internet, I found the inscription he wrote for the painting:

"I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city.

My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Okay, we've settled that. But on to a second question. What do you think about the painting? Does it reflect the way you feel sometime? If money were no object, would you buy it? If so, where in the world would you put it?

And last question--if money were no object, why in the world would you want it in the first place? Let me hear from you.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Writing: Mutual Admiration Society

Writers have it drilled into them nowadays--platform is a "must." Agents and publishers ask writers how many followers they have on Facebook and Twitter, which often leads to a mad scramble. Of course, if you want a dose of sanity, see what veteran publisher, Allen Arnold, says about "the numbing nature of numbers"in this post. Nevertheless, everyone seems to want to pad their numbers.

Recently, on one of the writing loops to which I subscribe, someone started a "like my author page on Facebook and I'll like yours back" activity. Initially I thought it might be a good idea, but as it morphed into a viral-like meme, I had second thoughts. And it brought to mind this question: do writers want numbers or do they want readers?

Here's what one published author said about that idea: "Is this thread leaving some of our members with the wrong idea about marketing and truth in advertising? In other words, if I have 101 likes on my page but no one has read my book, where does that get me? I’d rather have one like from someone who truly read my work and enjoyed what I write."

And another email I received included this thought: "I want my likes--both given and received--to mean something.  I 'like' pages because I actually LIKE the author's books, not because it's tit-for-tat.  And I want people to like my FB page for the same reason.  It has felt like a throwback to junior high."

And yet, on the other hand, I've seen numerous posts on that same loop saying how great an idea this has been. Some even say it's brought them closer to their fellow writers.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have a love-hate relationship with social media anyway. For some people it's a great way to communicate, to get to know, to stay in touch. For others, it's an intrusive necessity. Now it's time for you all to voice your opinion.

Do you "like" author fan pages on Facebook because you truly like that author's works? Do you figure that reading what they post makes them more real to you? What do you think about the offer of "like my page and I'll like yours." Is this like offering to trade 5-star reviews on bookseller sites (which, by the way, has been done)? I'd like to hear from you, pro or con.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Customer Friendly

We've recently had occasion to test the customer-friendliness of an appliance store. This store-within-a-store is located inside a place we'd come to trust, a place with a guarantee that basically said, "If you don't like it, you have 30 days to return it." With this in mind, we chose an appliance (I won't go into details) and made the purchase. I was a little surprised when the very nice sales associate said, "When they deliver it, be sure to check it over before they leave." But they delivered the item, there were no scratches or dings, and we signed off on the delivery.

Then the fun began. The appliance didn't perform as it should. Because of "improvements" and "government regulation," several features--although on the dial--couldn't be used. And when we talked with the people at the store, we learned that their policy wasn't "If you don't like it, you have 30 days to return it." Theirs was, "Once it's in your home, it's yours. Call the manufacturer if you have a problem."

After many service calls and phone conversations with the manufacturer and the appliance store, we finally got this straightened out. The offending appliance is no longer in view, and we'll start over with a different store. But I got to thinking about this, and decided that the store's policy--the one which upset me--is pretty much what happens with a book. When a publisher sends books to a retailer, the retailer has the right to return them within a reasonable length of time. (That's why they don't want me or any other author to autograph too many copies--they may need to return them). But when the consumer pays for a book, once it's out of the store, that's it. I'm sure there may be people who read a book and then try to take it back to the store from which it was purchased, but they're probably few and far between, and I don't think their chances of success are good.

What do you do when you buy a book and it turns out not to be worth they money you paid for it? Do you complain to the bookstore? Do you find the email contact for the author (the Internet makes it easy) and send them a message? Or do you just mark it down to experience and vow not to make that mistake again? Or are you one of those fortunate people who've never bought a book, only to get fifty pages in and wonder why you shelled out for it? Let me know.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Books For Writers

In my recent survey, it appears that my readers like occasional information about writing. A discussion on a writers' loop recently brought this one to mind. Although some athletes may be "naturals," a la Robert Redford in the movie of that name, most writers aren't born with the talent necessary to get them to the top of the best-seller list. They must learn, then practice, the craft. And along the way, they depend on information passed on to them by other writers via books on the subject.

In my study, I have a bunch of books on writing. Each is well-read, often yellow-highlighted and dog-eared, and I have gleaned information from each of them. I've often mentioned the craft books of James Scott Bell, for instance, but I thought it might be fun to tell you about a few of the lesser-known volumes on that shelf.

I was told by an editor that I should read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. I did, and was struck by the point Vogler makes: almost all fiction, from the time of Beowulf, involves standard elements. This is often referred to as The Hero's Journey. To simplify Vogler's material, the story begins in the hero's normal world, something happens to challenge him, he sometimes turns down that challenge but later accepts it. In the middle, there's a problem or trial which Vogler calls "the ordeal," Eventually the hero starts on "the road back," and returns with whatever prize was sought in the first place. Apply that to any movie you've seen or book you've read, and see how closely it fits.

Randy Ingermanson recommended Dwight V. Swain's book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, in which Swain espouses the concept of motivation-reaction units (MRU's). In every scene, something is said or done that motivates a character to react. This reaction in turn is motivation for another character, and so forth. Swain's background in film writing shows in this book, and it provides excellent instruction for the writer who wants to make his fiction move.

That's just two of a couple of dozen books on the shelf, two unfamiliar to most readers and many writers. Was this interesting to you? Would you like to know more about other books of this sort? Let me know.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

When God Closes A Door...

We’ve all heard it said: “When God closes a door, he’ll open a window.” I never paid a lot of attention to that until the door of the life I’d pictured—retirement, travel, relaxation—was slammed in my face with the death of my wife. I used journaling as a coping mechanism, hoping to eventually turn segments of that material into a book for others who’d lost a spouse. While struggling to learn the basics of writing for publication, I tried my hand at composing some short pieces, and after a while I began to get notices of acceptance. Not too long afterward, a publisher bought my completed book, which is still in print as The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of ASpouse.
By this time, I’d retired from my medical practice and was devoting more time to writing in the genre of Christian fiction—specifically, medical suspense. I repeatedly received replies from publishers saying, “This just isn’t right for our house,” or “You’re not quite ready for publication.” After garnering so many rejections, I decided that, although God had undoubtedly called me to write my non-fiction book and a number of articles for periodicals, I’d been mistaken about a call to write fiction. After all, if that were the case, I’d have had something accepted by now. So I quit. This time, I was the one slamming the door. And I didn’t see any open windows beckoning me.
At a Christian writer’s conference, I’d met a woman, Rachelle Gardner, an editor for a well-known Christian publisher. When she left editing to become an agent, I began to follow her blog. One day she announced a contest—the writer submitting the best first line of a novel would win a critique of the first chapter of their latest book. I pulled a line out of the air, submitted it, and won! The winning line? Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled them up. (That story’s incomplete, but still on my hard drive). I sent Rachelle the first chapter of my latest novel and her reply was quick and incisive: “Send me something that needs editing.” I couldn’t believe it. This industry professional actually liked my fiction.
Not too long after that, Rachelle was representing me as my agent, and within a few months I had a contract for publication of my first novel. I’ve now had four novels of medical suspense published, and am under contract for three more. I have to admit that, even though I quit, God didn’t. His timing, as it always is, was perfect all along.
Now I’ve revised my version of the old saying. After my experiences, I believe that when God closes a door, in his own time He’ll open a window—even if He has to stand behind us and push to get us through to the other side.