Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Oxymoron Or A Sign Of Our Times?

Let me begin by saying that Texas Christian University, just a few miles down the road in Fort Worth, is a fine institution. My high school science teacher graduated from there, as did a number of my friends and colleagues (including former All-American running back, Dr. Jim Swink, with whom I went to med school). But when I heard this news story on TV, I wondered if I was hearing correctly.

Texas Christian University--note the middle word in the title--has a group calling itself the Horned Frog Freethinkers that has applied for university recognition as an on-campus organization. They are atheists, who wish to meet and discuss their particular religious views. If recognized, they would join existing recognized groups that include those espousing the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

If my grandmother had seen this news story, she'd have been shocked. In her day (and, frankly, in mine) a private university might have sent non-Christian groups packing if they applied for official recognition. How do you feel about all this? I'm not taking sides--just asking the question. It will be interesting to see how you answer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Writing: High Concept

High concept is the term usually used for a one-sentence description from which a listener can imagine the story arc that follows. It actually originated, I'm told, in films, but is equally applicable for novels and even short stories. The ability to get a story down to one sentence helps not only in writing it, but in pitching it--it's the basis for the so-called "elevator pitch."

Here's a template for putting together a high-concept sentence. I got this from a number of sources, including Nathan Bransford and Karen Woodward. If there are others who also deserve credit, I apologize for omitting their names and attributions.

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

See, nothing to it...except doing the work, refining the pitch, and turning the concept into a book or movie. No problem.

Questions about writing? Leave them in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer them.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It Could Be Worse

Ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having just realized there was something you left undone? That was me at 4 AM, as I couldn't recall preparing today's blog. My apologies for the late post, but it could be worse...for me, for you, for lots of people.

We could live in Siberia, where a meteor recently plunged to earth injuring and killing people and doing extensive damage. We could live in the Northeastern US, where some of my friends and colleagues are in the midst of their second blizzard in a short time. We could live in one of the areas of the Far East that my family recently discussed, areas where the poverty and living conditions made us cry when we saw them. It could be worse.

While you go about your business today, I hope you'll do as I plan to--whatever life, throws at me, I intend to pause and think: It could be worse.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Writing: Line Edits

I've been knee-deep in the line edits for my fall novel, Heart Failure. For those of you who think a novel springs full-blown and perfect from the mind of an author--keep thinking that. But in actuality, it takes input from a lot of people to make the finished product.

One of the difficult tasks of an author is to accept the fact that their work isn't perfect. They struggle to produce a manuscript, then their editor gives them "notes." These may be simple or (more usually) detailed. The author makes revisions, and then the line editor takes over.

Responding to line edits seems to me very much like writing with someone looking over your shoulder, often saying things like, "I think this will trip up the reader," or "this is inconsistent," or "I don't buy your premise here." That's in addition to suggesting changes by shuffling sentences and changing words. Those are easy decisions for the author. Significant rewriting, however, is tough.

Let me hasten to say that my line editor on this project has done a great job (you'll find out her identity when you read the acknowledgements in the book). Nevertheless, it's difficult--even a bit painful--to work through the recommendations. I wish I had her here so I could say, "But I meant thus-and-such." However, as was pointed out to me in my very first writing class, the author can't stand beside every reader and explain his or her work. It has to be self-evident. That was why we had to keep silent while the rest of the class read our submissions. And that was good training for responding to line edits.

Do you have any questions about line edits or any other part of the writing life? Leave a comment, and I'll do my best to answer.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

NOTE: I was interviewed yesterday, along with eight other authors,  on Novel Crossing, talking about Valentine Memories. Hope you'll click here to read it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


During the recent elections, I often wondered about the concept of celebrity endorsements. Why should I, or any other voter, care which sports figure or movie star thought a particular politician was better able to hold office than his/her opponent? If I want expertise in politics, I certainly don't think I'll go to a celebrity. I'll ask someone knowledgeable in the area, someone whose judgment I respect.

The same can be said of products. Why should I care if some familiar TV or movie face who is a hired pitchman (or woman) for a product lends themselves to a 30 or 60 second commercial for it? I don't know of anyone who is unaware that these endorsements are the result of a paychck, not necessarily a knowledge of the headache powder or kitchen appliance or hemorrhoid cream. Why do we still see these commercials? Because they apparently work.

So what about book endorsments? These aren't paid endorsements. And if I can't give an honest one, I don't give one at all. That's the way with most authors. That having been said, just because I like a particular book may not mean that you'll like it, as well. Books, movies, TV programs, and lots of other things are matters of individual taste. So, even though my endorsement isn't commercially driven, it may not mean a lot to you.

So, what's your opinion of endorsements? Do you buy Hanes underwear because Michael Jorden endorses them? Does the appearance of Kaley Cuoco in a Toyota commercial sway you toward that brand of auto? What do you think? I'm anxious to hear.

(photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Friday, February 08, 2013

Writing: I Want To Write A Book

All authors have had it happen--someone says, "I'd like to write a book. What do you suggest?" Unfortunately, there's no advice that will guarantee publication, or even an easy road for the neophyte writer. And the approach is different for writers of fiction and non-fiction. But there are some general suggestions that are applicable in all cases.

First, find a good writing conference and attend it. Some names come to mind, too many to list. It depends on your genre, your needs, your location, and your budget. Industry expert Chuck Sambuchino has a good post on the various types of conferences here. (Note: he doesn't include all the great Christian writing conferences in his list. For a few suggestions on those, check the comments on this post). There are large and small conferences, those that limit their classes to only fiction and those that have a wider scope, national and regional meetings. The expense will vary with the conference. Find one that works for you. Attend it. Network. Talk with editors. Pay attention in class. And, if I may offer some advice, resist the temptation to jump into self-publishing--successfully self-pubbed authors have already learned the craft. At this point, you're not ready.

Second, delve into books on writing. Again, no links, because there are too many to list, and I'd probably leave an important one out. If you want a starting place, check this list I gave quite a while ago--it's still quite valid. There are books on craft, books on character, books on writing non-fiction, books on marketing. If you have specific questions, leave a comment and I'll try to answer them with specific recommendations. Find the books that speak to you and the area in which you want to write. Buy them, read them, highlight passages, commit the principles to memory.

Then write. Get your work critiqued by someone other than your mother or your aunt--someone who knows good writing and won't be afraid to say something bad. Then rewrite, get feedback, rewrite some more, and keep at it. Editors have told me that you sometimes have to write three or four books before you "get it." That was my experience, and other authors have told me it was their as well.

Those are my suggestions. There's no simple key to success, but I will say that a major factor is persistence. To put it in sports terms, you'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Go for it.

Got questions about writing? Leave them in the comments, and we'll see if I can help.

(photo: my office space)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Chemically Enhanced...Or Not?

Is it my imagination, or are more and more folks popping pills, getting shots, looking for performance improvement or attitude adjustment from a bottle or something you smoke or inject?

Locally, two of our Dallas Cowboy players have been in the news recently, one now out on bond with a charge of intoxication manslaughter and the other DUI. This, despite both NFL and team programs that provide rides for them if they feel they're too impaired to drive (assuming they don't have any money to call a cab).

It's all around us. The Lance Armstrong "doping scandal" was headline news for much too long. Almost weekly, sports figures are being implicated in the use of banned performance enhancing drugs. And if you don't believe alcohol is a drug, look at the booking photos of some celebrities arrested for public drunkenness or DUI.

Maybe it's my age talking, but it seems that I grew up in a simpler time. Now the cry is faster, better, further, richer...and if we can't make it on our own, there might be a pill or shot or liquid to help.

What's your opinion about what's going on in our society? I'd love to know.

NOTE: For those of you who can't get enough of my wit and wisdom, I'm also posting today on the ACFW blog about "The End Of The (Publishing) World." Hope you'll drop by and comment.

(picture via freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, February 01, 2013

Writing: Editing The Printed Word

I know that some readers believe that writers produce beautiful copy that goes directly to print without editing, but believe me, that's not the case. The writer goes through several drafts (I average at least three), and sometimes I even change the story line and have to start over. After I produce a final manuscript, the editor reads it and gives "notes." (That's a nice way of saying they provide suggestions that may range from minor tweaking to major surgery). That requires more work by the writer. Then the copy editor sends back more notes. And finally, the galley proof must be proof-read (by the author and at least one proof-reader). All this before the final printed book sees the light of day.
I'm about to plunge into copy edits for my next book, Heart Failure, while writing the one to follow (working title, Critical Condition). A writer's work is never done. But it's a nice problem.

Do you have any questions about the writing process? Anything you've always wanted to ask but never had the chance? Bring it on. I'd love to hear.