Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day: 2012

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. And if you haven't already done so, promise yourself that you'll vote in a couple of months. It's important.

 I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hazardous Journeys

This post is in response to an interesting challenge I received last week. Author Ed Cyzewski, in conjunction with the release of the book by him and Derek Cooper, Hazardous, challenged other authors to post their own stories of stepping out in faith and overcoming hazards. When I thought about it, one story kept coming to the forefront: how I became a writer.

In September, 1999, my world ended--because my wife of 40 years sustained a fatal brain hemorrhage, and I was desolate. To help me get through the depression that overwhelmed me, I began to journal: emails to friends, posthumous messages to Cynthia, random jottings on my computer. After almost two years, I had a huge collection of these writings. A friend read them and suggested that I share my experience with others going through the same thing. But I had no idea how to do that. I was a physician, not a writer. But maybe I could do it.

Moving from an area in which I'd achieved not just competence but prominence into one where I was an absolutely ignorant newbie was frightening, to say the least. Finally, an editor took pity on me and directed me to a Christian writing conference, where I felt myself being dragged into this new endeavor. Two years and lots of frustration later, I was given a contract by Kregel Publishers, and The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse was on the verge of being born.

The book was published in 2006 and remains in the top 100 of Amazon's list of books on grief and loss. It continues to minister, and I am constantly amazed at how God has taken this terrible event--the most tragic loss in my life--and used it for good. He also used the experience to point me into a new career. Although I intended my retirement to be devoted to such things as golf, I'm now writing Christian medical suspense. God knew all along this was going to be my path, but not only was I ignorant of it, I fought it. Guess who won?

If you have a story of stepping out in faith, check out this link for other stories in this blog event. And feel free to share your comments with me. Thanks for stopping by.

(top photo courtesy

Friday, August 24, 2012

Writing: Consistency

Nothing stops a reader and quashes their interest like encountering an inconsistency in a book. Imagine what you'd think if in the first half of a novel the heroine has brunette hair, but she becomes a redhead (without benefit of help from Clairol) in the second half.

One of the ways an author keeps things consistent is through some form of a style sheet. In it are brief descriptions of each character, background notes, and anything else that the writer might need to keep things consistent throughout the book. For instance, here's a character description from my next book, Stress Test:

SANDRA MURRAY—diminutive, aggressive red-headed lawyer in solo practice. (Left large firm because they objected to her Christian principles). Specialist in criminal defense. Single (once “almost” engaged—to Matt’s neurosurgeon—they called it off).  5’4”, petite. Red hair, moderate length. Green eyes. 

Have you run into inconsistencies in books you were reading? Did it diminish your enjoyment? Let me know. 
 (photo courtesy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Learning By Experience

When we're at the beach and I see the red warning flags flying, I always look out to see how many people are ignoring them and taking to the water. And there are always some. That's human nature, I supposed.

We see signs saying, "Wet paint. Do not touch." So what do we do? Yep--almost every time. We tell children the stove is hot--don't touch it. But they're going to do it, at some point. That's the way we learn sometimes. There are times when only discomfort completes the lesson we're being taught.

I've seen signs and T-shirts this past week that all bear essentially the same message: Don't text and drive. And driving home from the event where I encountered the message, what do I see? Yep, people texting while driving. It's a campaign that's gaining traction, but thus far I'm afraid the only way people will get the message is to experience the problems that can come from ignoring it.

They say that experience is what allows you to recognize a mistake when you make it again. And maybe that's the only way we learn. What do you think?

(photo courtesy of

Friday, August 17, 2012

Writing: Ideas

The question is always the same, whether from meeting with a book club or an encounter in a social situation. "Where do you get your ideas?"

There are multiple answers, including the magic words taught me by author Alton Gansky: "What if?" But another answer is, "I read. I watch. I imagine."

For example, on a recent trip, Kay and I sat in the airport and watched people go by. Family groups scurried by, obviously in a rush to catch a plane. Men and women talked on cell phones, their faces betraying the earnestness of their conversation. Teen-agers immersed themselves in whatever was coming through their headphones.  And there was a story, either real or imagined, in every sighting.

Suppose the family group was trying to catch the last flight to Minneapolis, where the wife's mother lay dying. Suppose one of those cell phone conversations was between a contract killer and his boss, relaying final details of a mission. Suppose the teen-ager wasn't concentrating on music, but rather perfecting his plans to run away from an abusive father?

This is just one of the ways I get ideas. I get them from the newspaper and TV news. I get them from my interactions with other people. I get them... You get the picture.

So where do I get my ideas? They're all around. Writers in the audience, where do you get your ideas?

(photo courtesy

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taking Off Your Watch

I've noticed lately that a number of people look at their cell phones to check the time. Although Kay and I finally upgraded to "smart phones" (and don't you hate it when your equipment is smarter than you?), I still wear and use a wrist watch. But that thought reminded me of something I used to do when I was still practicing medicine.

For three and a half decades, I rolled out of bed each morning, five or six days a week, to work. There was no hitting the snooze button, no ignoring the alarm. I needed to be "up and doing," as the poem says. But there were times when I could relax, sleep a little later, get out from under the weight that had been pressing on me. To signal this to my subconscious, when I went to bed I'd take off my watch. When I awoke and felt the pressure of that band on my wrist, I knew it was time to get out of bed and get to work. And if the watch was off...well, so was I.

That little practice seems so ridiculous now that I hate to mention it. But it brings up a point. Sometimes we just need to be able to relax, to put our responsibilities, our worries, our stresses behind us. We need to figuratively take off our watches.

What stresses do you need to get out from under? And what's your equivalent of taking off your watch? I'd like to know.

Photo via

Friday, August 10, 2012

Writing: "Between Engagements"

My daughter has a long history in the theater: a degree from the University of Texas, experience in places like the Williamstown Theater Festival, performing with Improv Comedy troupes in Austin, Chicago, and a number of other places. That's behind her now, although her training has stood her in good stead for a number of things since (including keeping an inquisitive three-year-old entertained).

Parents learn a lot from their children, including something about their career paths. In this case, I've learned a good bit about show business. And one thing I've come to appreciate is the phrase, "between engagements."

An actor is never unemployed. He or she is "between engagements." They may have been working for six months as a server at The Cheesecake Factory, but they're not a waiter or waitress--they're an actor who's "between engagements."

I think that's true of writers, as well. If we write but have not had anything published yet, we're "pre-published." If we've had one book published, but no one has bought anything else we wrote, we're "working on our next book." And, you know, I think that attitude is good. Beverly Sills said something to the effect that you may be disappointed if you try, but you're doomed if you don't.

So long as we have the dream, we keep on trying. And it's not that our book is no good. It just hasn't hit the right desk yet. Until then, we're between engagements.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Waiting To Be Rescued

There's a story I love to tell, about a man clinging to a tree while the raging river swirled around him. A man on dry land yells across, "Let me throw you a rope. I'll pull you to safety." The first man shakes his head and calls, "God will rescue me."

Then a boater braves the torrent and calls, "Hop in. I'll take you to safety." The man shakes his head. "God will rescue me."

The "whop-whop" of helicopter blades makes the man look up. The side door of the 'copter opens and someone yells, "I'll drop a rope ladder. Climb up. I'll fly you to safety." The man repeats, "God will rescue me."

Then he loses his grip and drowns. At the gates of Heaven, he asks, "Why didn't you rescue me?" And a voice booms out, "What more did you want? I sent a rope, a boat, and a helicopter."

I sometimes think we're like that man. We want to be rescued from our current predicament, but we'd prefer not to have to do anything ourselves. There's a lot of truth in the old saying, "God helps the sailor, but he still has to row."

I've been in situations where I didn't want to row to get out of them, but that's the way our world is set up. I depend on God--depend on Him daily--but I also know that he expects me to use my best judgment and exert my best efforts. And if I do that, He's always come through.

Any situations in your life where you've been pulled from the flood? Did you have to row a bit yourself? I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Writing: Running The First Mile

I think I first read it in one of the novels of Robert B. Parker. His protagonist, Spenser, says that someone running only two miles is running the hardest two--the first and the last. Now, I'm not a runner. I leave that to my friend and golf partner, Jerry, who has run his share of marathons. I go with the philosophy that the only reason to run is if you're being chased.

That having been said, on my walks I've discovered that it's tough to get started, but once I'm going it gets easier. Now that I think about it, writing is that way. It's tough to get going--to sit down at the computer and craft the beginning of a piece, whether it's a 250 word meditation for The Upper Room or an 80,000 word novel for Thomas Nelson Company. (Please excuse the shameless plug).

But once I get started, once I introduce the characters and define the story arc, things flow more easily. I've run the first mile. That doesn't mean that the words just jump onto the page. Hardly. But running the first mile, or writing the first page, or crafting the first paragraph are the hardest parts of the journey.

Of course, this isn't just true of writing. How many times have I been faced with a difficult task, only to find that once I got started it was manageable? How about you? Is this true of your life? Or am I the only one who has trouble getting out of the starting blocks?

(Photo of Olympian Bob Hayes via Flickr).