Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hurry Up, Spring

Texas weather has been as unpredictable as ever this winter, with snow at Christmas, a temperature of 80 degrees last week, and rain that always seems to come on the days of my scheduled golf game. But then again, that's pretty much the story of our weather in this part of the country.

My eyes may be looking out the window at gray skies, but my heart is in Florida and Arizona, where men are mowing the practice fields and putting down chalk foul lines, while others are sorting out hundreds of uniforms, many of them with names on the back that we'll never see in Big League box scores.  That's right. It's just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, to be followed soon after by the rest of the players.

Baseball is my favorite sport, not just because I played and coached it for years, but because the start of the season coincides with spring. It's a time of new beginnings. New Year's may be when people make resolutions (most of which have the life expectancy of a chocolate chip cookie), but spring--specifically, the opening of baseball Spring Training--is a time when every team gets a fresh start. There are no winners and losers yet. Hope springs eternal. And that's why I say, "Hurry up, spring."

How do you feel about spring? Ready for it? Don't want winter to end? Let's hear your thoughts.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing: A Different Route

As I write this, we're just finishing a multi-day experience with plumbers jack-hammering holes in the concrete slab of our house to repair a leak in a sewer pipe. Fortunately, our kitchen and one of our bathrooms remains usable during the experience, but because we're creatures of habit, we've had to learn a new path--around the construction--to the bathroom still in operation. Nevertheless, we've adjusted. And that is something novelists do all the time.

Among writers of fiction, there are "plotters" and "pantsers." The former, obviously, plot out their work before starting to write. Others of us (and I include myself here) write "by the seat of our pants."

That doesn't mean that I sit down and just start to write willy nilly. No. First I figure out what the tag line of the book will be. For Stress Test, it was "They may not have enough evidence to convict him of murder, but it's enough to ruin his life." I populate the story, figure out the start and (roughly) the finish, and come up with enough twists along the way to keep it interesting. But all that may (and generally does) change as the story progresses.

We may plan and plot, but as things change, we have to adapt. It's true of novelists. It's true of life. Have there been situations in your life that made you change your path? How did that work out? I'd love to hear.

(Photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

One Day Only Offer

The publisher of my first four novels of medical suspense, Abingdon Press, has arranged for those e-books to be offered, today only, at special discount by major online retailers. One of the books is free. (You'll have to click the links to see the other prices--they vary by retailer). And before you ask me why the variance, I have to say I don't know. The publisher arranged this, and I appreciate it.

There may be other outlets, but I know that Kindle owners can buy my books here, Nook users should click here, and other e-book patrons can check here.

Of course, you, my loyal readers, already have these. But you may want to pass this information on to your friends. And if you'd like your e-book autographed (sort of), you can click here to see how that works.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Change Is Inevitable

Drs. Will and Charles Mayo founded their eponymous clinic in 1919. "Dr. Will," as he was known, was a surgical pioneer, and surgeons were quoting his aphorisms long after he died. One I particularly remember was, "Only pinheads operate through a pinhole." In other words, make a large enough incision to see what you're doing. As my chief surgical resident used to say, "Incisions heal from side to side, not end to end."

Fast forward just a few decades, and surgeons were operating through endoscopes, tiny telescopes that allow surgeons to see inside body cavities and manipulate instruments inserted via other small openings. Surgeons were really operating through pinholes--and the result was less patient discomfort and a shorter recovery time. Times change.

About the time the Drs. Mayo were becoming famous, books were printed on paper and published in bound volumes. Now, over half of consumers in one survey chose e-books over their printed cousins. Times change.

The point isn't to argue the merits of endoscopic surgery vs. conventional open procedures, or to debate the e-book revolution vs. traditional print options. Rather, I'd suggest that what we think is the norm, perhaps even the pinnacle, of what we can achieve may be superseded tomorrow by something better. I bought my first cell phone so I could be available when my father had his first heart surgery. It was like a brick, heavy and bulky. Now I carry a small phone in my pocket that makes calls, provides addresses, and lets me surf the Internet. (Other people play music and games on theirs--I don't go that far).

What other things have you seen in your lifetime that have been improved beyond what you thought was possible just a few years ago? I'd love to hear.

(photo via Wikipedia)

SPECIAL HEADS-UP: For those of you with an e-reader, watch tomorrow for a one-day-only reduction in price on all four of my prior novels (including one of them free). Check my Twitter messages or Facebook fan page tomorrow for details. And if you haven't subscribed to my newsletter, use the tab at the right to do so--the first chapter of Stress Test goes out to those subscribers in a week.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Writing: "Suffering The Slings And Arrows..."

We've all heard it said that writers have to have thick skins. They have to be prepared for rejections by agents, by editors, by publishers, by reviewers, and by the reading public.

When I practiced medicine, I had over a hundred papers published in professional journals. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? But in addition to the ones accepted, there were many others that were rejected. I liked to joke that I'd been turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread. The truth of the matter is that those rejections hurt.

Now I've had four novels published, and the fifth, Stress Test, will be out in April. When we put our words out there for others to read, we make ourselves vulnerable. I'm sure that, despite some great advance reviews, there will be people who don't like my latest book. But that's okay. If the only audience I reach is the Christian community, I'll have missed the opportunity to make non-Christians at least consider some of the themes I try to weave (subtly) into my fiction.

Of course, sometimes something nice comes along, as well, like the email I just received that Code Blue, my debut novel, was voted one of the top 10 "finds" in e-books for Kindle. Here's the link to let you see it and the other nine. Thanks to Tattie Magard for sending that along. 

Being vulnerable to "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" isn't confined to writers, by the way. In your daily walk, whatever it is, your actions and words will be judged. Is it worth the risk to make them echo your Christian beliefs? What do you think?

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

PS--If you haven't read my post on the ACFW Blog about "Days of Silence," I hope you'll do so now. I think there's a message there for all of us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is Money The Most Important Thing?

We enjoy a TV program called Shark Tank, where hopeful entrepreneurs present their ideas to potential investors, asking for money in return for a portion of their enterprise. Recently, we saw an episode where a man turned down one million dollars for his entire company, choosing to take less money and retain a portion of the business. I felt he'd made the right decision. It's not always about the money.

On another TV show, Becker, Ted Danson played a doctor with a dead-end practice in the Bronx. It was evident that beneath the gruff exterior he was a decent man. When asked if he'd quit if he won the lottery, Becker/Danson answered, "In the middle of an operation." Yet he sacrificed time and again to help others. He wasn't in it for the money.

At some time, I suggest that each of us should ask the question, "Why do we do (whatever we do for a living)?" Do we do it for money? Do we do it for the satisfaction of a job well done? Do we do it for another reason?

What drives you? If you won the lottery, would you quit your job? I'd really like to know.

NOTE: I have a guest blog about Periods of Silence at the ACFW blog today--hope you'll click through, read it, and leave a comment. Many thanks.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing: Nothing New

One of the best gifts I received this Christmas was a little book, Ernest Hemingway on Writing. I began reading, thinking I might learn some magic secret of writing success. Instead, I discovered that Hemingway had some of the same feelings and encountered some of the same problems as the rest of us.

For example, he said, "Writing is at best a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing." Frankly, some of these organizations do offer courses and lectures that help, but for me their main attraction has always been the opportunity to interface with people who face the same problems I do.

And, lest we think that Hemingway was rich, he penned these words: "My own experience with the literary life has not as yet included receiving royalties--but I hope by keeping down advances to someday have this take place." Wow, I've heard that before from many of my colleagues. Nope, nothing new there.

By the way, Hemingway also had a problem with titles. Check Ecclesiastes 1:5 if you wonder where he came up with The Sun Also Rises. No, there's really nothing new under the sun, is there?

These are some things I've learned from Hemingway. What have you learned from a famous figure? Let us know.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"Another Year Is Dawning..."

The title of this post is from a familiar hymn, one that we sing at this time each year. This is the time when we make resolutions--lose weight, do better at (fill in the blank), whatever--and metaphorically turn over a new leaf.

I've given up on new year's resolutions. Most of mine have the life expectancy of a chocolate chip cookie at one of our family get-togethers. Rather, I periodically become aware of areas in which I need to make changes. When that happens, I resolve to try to improve. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. But, to me, it should be a year-round process.

What about you? Any new year's resolutions? I'd love to hear.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Writing: Author's Fear

I'm rereading Lawrence Block's excellent book, The Liar's Bible. This, and its companion book, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, are among the most enjoyable yet educational books for writers that I've ever encountered. They are actually a series of columns Block wrote for Writer's Digest, and sprinkled among the other segments are lessons you'll rarely hear from a writer.

For example, in his chapter on "Fear Of Writing," Block quotes Gloria Steinam as explaining the three tests of writing that make her absolutely certain she is a writer: 1) when she's doing it, she never feels she should be doing something else, 2) it's a source of satisfaction and occasionally of pride, and 3) it's terrifying!

Gotcha! I'll bet that all the writers in the audience were nodding with numbers 1 and 2, but had to step back and think about number 3. Perhaps Steinam, Block, and I are the only writers who feel this way, but I doubt it. When I started writing one of my books, I thought I had a perfectly great idea for a plot that would carry the reader through to the end. But the further along I was in writing it, the more I worried--make that feared--that I was barking up the wrong tree. Finally, after input from two editors and my first reader (my talented wife, Kay), I decided they were right, so I made a significant change  that, although it required work on my part, made it one of which I'm proud.

For weeks and months I was afraid that either I wouldn't be able to finish the book I was writing, or when I did, it wouldn't be a good one. Show me a writer who really cares about his or her craft, and I'll show you someone who, at one time or another, has had the same fear. But how many of them will publicly admit it? Block does, and offers advice on handling it.

To put it in broader perspective, James Scott Bell recently tweeted this quote: "Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death." - Betty Bender 

Is there something you do that is enjoyable, a source of pride, and sometimes fills you with fear? I'd love to hear.