Friday, August 30, 2013

Writing: Using All The Tools

As you've read here and elsewhere, writing is only a fraction of the battle. If the writing's good enough, and if you gain representation by an agent, and if an editor likes the work enough to offer a contract, and if the book is published--then the fun begins. And the fun, in this case, is marketing.

I won't go into the pros and cons of social media. I think most of us have heard that it's imperative for a writer to have a "presence" on these sites (whether we like it or not). But it's not enough to just have a blog, a Twitter presence, a Facebook fan page, etc., etc. No, we need to keep up with the technology associated with all those.

Last week, I was called on to record about a five minute segment of Heart Failure for a site I hope all of you visit regularly,  Southern Writers' "take five." There you can hear various authors reading a portion of their novel. Not having been blessed with a deep, booming voice, I was already nervous. Then I discovered that it had been long enough since I last did a voice recording on my computer that I had forgotten virtually everything I'd learned. So off to the Internet to Google how to use Garage Band, the app on my Mac to do this thing. The sound quality of the first recording wasn't up to par, so I did it again. If you'd like to hear the finished result, you can click here.

Yes, it's great for a writer to be able to avoid passive voice and head-hopping, but that's not enough. We also have to keep up with technology. And for me, that's a never-ending struggle.

How about you? Are you sometimes called upon to learn things in order to carry out your everyday tasks? I'd love to hear.

(image via

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Although there was a time when flying was fun, it's getting harder to recall it. Now, getting to the airport, parking, getting through security, waiting for the plane, squirming into a crowded seat... You get it. But there's still one thing I enjoy about being at the airport. You guessed it. Letting my imagination run wild.

That man and woman hurrying by, each dressed for business and pulling roll-aboard suitcases that look as though they've logged their share of miles, are engaged in earnest conversation. Are they colleagues, planning a presentation? Could they be husband and wife, each headed on a trip or coming back, catching up? Might it be that, although they're each married to someone else, they're...  You get the picture.

Almost everything I encounter leads my overactive imagination down paths on which the average person might never venture. I guess this goes back to one of the first people to try to teach me about writing fiction. Alton Gansky instilled in me the value of the phrase, "What if--"  As my favorite TV character, obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk used to say: "It's a blessing...and a curse."

Oh, that reminds me of the time where a neighbor was taking out a roll of carpet to the trash one night and I wondered if there could be a body inside it.

What about you? Do you find yourself imagining scenarios taken from the world around you? I'd like to hear some of them.

(picture via

Friday, August 23, 2013

Writing: The Edits

"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood." For some reason, that came to mind while I was mired in the editing process. For a writer, the bit of doggerel would probably go something like this: "How much editing would an editor do if an editor did some editing?" The answer? "It varies."

I'm going through the line edits for my seventh novel. As you may recall, every book undergoes at least two edits--a macro or substantive edit and a line edit. The macro edit is an overview of the big picture. In it, the editor points out flaws in the story and areas where it could be tightened, as well as making suggestions for the writer to improve the work. The line editor is supposedly concerned more with punctuation, capitalization, proper word usage, consistency in information and the names of characters.

Of course, each editor is different. I've had sub (substantive) edits that required very little fixing on my part and others that made it necessary for me to almost tear the story apart and put it together again. But every edit has improved my work.

I've had line editors who concerned themselves primarily with the material I've already noted, and others who either seemed to want to rewrite the story or at least put their own unique touch on it. Again, even when I disagreed with them, they made me think. And that's a good thing.

Writers aren't the only people who have to deal with others figuratively looking over their shoulders, making suggestions and evaluating their work. I'll bet that you have similar situations in your life. I hope you'll share some of them in the comments. Meanwhile, back to responding to edits.

(illustration via

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Following The Rules

There was a time when PEP meant having lots of energy. Now it stands for performance-enhancing-pills, the pills that give athletes lots of energy. (And I know that most of these are injected--this is called literary license). My point is this: What ever happened to following the rules?

I'm not even going to get into a discussion of all the baseball players currently serving 50 game suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs. Nor will I mention the particular multimillionaire playing baseball in one of our nation's largest cities while fighting a 200+ game suspension and talking about doing battle with the baseball team that signs his paychecks, because of their handling of his medical status. There's enough dirty linen to go around, and like most sports fans, I'm sick of it.

Now we have the question of what to do about Johnny Football, the sobriquet given to a young man at a university down south of here who happens to be one of the best football players around. Unfortunately, he is accused of taking some very significant money in return for autographing a bunch of merchandise, something that violates the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, putting his amateur status in jeopardy. Now the question on the street is, "If you were the czar of the NCAA, and (this guy) was found to be guilty, what kind of punishment would you impose?"

My question to you is broader than that. We put our athletes on a pedestal (and not just at an Olympic awards ceremony). When one of them breaks the rules, what kind of punishment would you levy? I'd really like to know.

(picture via

Friday, August 16, 2013

Writing: The Success Of Others

In this era of burgeoning social media (most of you know about my love-hate relationship with those things, and apparently I'm not alone), it's almost mandatory for a writer to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, just to name a couple of areas. Not only do I post in those venues, I read the work of other writers as well. I must confess that sometimes it's difficult to offer congratulations to a writer who's just received a multi-book contract while wondering if my next one will come through. It's even tough to read about writers going on vacation in exotic places or eating fantastic, creative dishes when we're fighting the good fight here at home and wondering whether to have dinner in or go out for a burger. In other words, comparison keeps creeping in, and it would kill me if I let it.
A fellow writer (a very successful one) called my attention to this NY Times essay recently, addressing the turmoil in the mind of writers who, despite their striving, fail to get the awards and attention that come to those who are equally (but not better) talented. 

One of the things friend, mentor, and author James Scott Bell taught me early on was that comparison was death to an author. Don't try to keep up with the Joneses--there are too many of them. Be happy for the success of others, but don't break your neck trying to do everything they do.

For those not-yet-published, let this serve as a caution. For readers of this blog who've had one or more books published, have you had to fight the battle of not comparing your success with others? Any tips you'd like to pass along?

(photo via

SPECIAL NOTE: In two months, my next novel, Heart Failure, will release. You can read the first couple of chapters now by clicking the link on the front page of my website. Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Going Home Again

A month from now, I'll attend a high school reunion. A lot of years have passed since I walked across that stage and received my diploma from Mr. Gantt. A great deal of water has passed over the dam or under the bridge (take your choice) since I stood before my fellow students, parents, and friends and delivered a valedictory address. We've all taken different paths, and some of us--I really don't know how many--have passed away. Others are still around, but, for one reason or another, won't be there.

I've agreed to speak to the group, a combined reunion for ten classes, and I'm facing a difficult challenge. Not what to say. No, at this point in my career, I've been told that you could wake me up at 4 AM, shine a light in my eyes, and I'd start talking. Rather, my concern is in recognizing my friends and classmates from so many decades ago.

The last reunion I attended was probably twenty years ago, and I discovered that the ravages of time were quite evident. If it hadn't been for the name tags, I wouldn't have recognized one of my best friends. The most popular guy in class had somehow lost his blond, wavy hair and now used a washcloth rather than a comb on his head. Both of the girls (now women) on whom I had a crush were present, one now divorced, the other's marital status kept a closely guarded secret (although her ring finger was bare). Things had changed.

Me? Yes, many of the people present recognized me. I think it was mainly because they remembered my father, and I've turned into a replica of him (which actually pleases me). Now my question is whether I'll have egg on my face if I misidentify someone. Then again, maybe they won't remember it for long if I do.

Have you been to a reunion? What was your experience? Any words of wisdom for me? I'd like to know.

(photo via

Friday, August 09, 2013

Writing: Getting Your Message Across

A writer must read. It's that simple. Read the good stuff so you can see how it's done. Read the bad stuff so you can avoid those mistakes. I have to confess that I have one bookcase in my home that contains only books I have read  and wish to re-read...often several times. These are "the good stuff."

I'm re-reading John Grisham's The Last Juror, and although it's not always the case, in some areas of this one Grisham's status as an active and unapologetic Christian comes through. As a writer of Christian fiction, with my books published by a Christian publisher, I've often wrestled with how much or how little of my faith I can or should put into the books.

When I first started writing, I thought it was important to include a conversion scene, or at least the Roman Road scriptures, in the book. But I soon found that 1) those things turned off some of my non-Christian readers (and, after all, weren't they the ones I was trying to reach?), and 2) it wasn't necessary to have that material in the book to get the attention of a Christian publishing house. So, instead, my books involve people whose relationship with the Lord varies from a daily walk to complete unbelief. The books are written from a Christian worldview and reflect my thoughts on how God deals with each of us...and vice-versa. And so far, that seems to have worked.

How does Grisham do this in The Last Juror? He introduces an older woman who has the central character to lunch once a week, introducing him to Southern cooking and teaching the Syracuse-educated owner of the local newspaper about local customs. After about three lunches, Miss Callie (as she wishes to be called) asks, "Are you a Christian child?" The dialogue after that isn't strained. She doesn't push. There's no conversation scene, although the consequences of not being a Christian are spelled out, and things proceed. But Grisham gets his message across.

Do you read Christian fiction? What do you think it should contain? Do you have an opinion on this? I'd like to hear.

(PS--In case you're unfamiliar with the Roman Road, it's probably the best tool I've ever encountered for explaining the plan of salvation: Romans 3.23, Romans 6.23, Romans 5.8, Romans 10.9-10).

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Heroes In Sports

When was younger, I must confess that some of the people I looked up to were athletes. My favorite team was the St. Louis Cardinals, and I idolized men like Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Marty Marion, Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain--the list goes on. True, we didn't have social media in those days, so all I knew about them came from newspapers and radio announcers. But the image they projected, at least to a pre-teen boy in a small Texas town, was one to which I could aspire.

I was fortunate enough to get to know Mickey Mantle and some of his peers a couple of decades ago, and the stories I heard made me glad I hadn't heard them while I was still impressionable. I'm composing and scheduling this post before Major League Baseball takes any action against the people under suspicion of using PED's--performance enhancing drugs. I don't know what the result will be, and to a great extent, I no longer care. In the future, every time a player does something extraordinary, there'll be a question in some people's minds: did they take something to boost their performance?

I still like sports (most of them, at least). But if my grandkids ask about people to whom I look up, I think I'm going to point them toward men and women who defend our liberty, often in faraway places, or first responders who put their safety and their very lives on the line for us on a regular basis. To my mind, these are the real heroes of our time. What do you think?

Addendum: Yesterday, Major League Baseball imposed a suspension for the balance of the season on 13 players for using PED's. Alex Rodriguez, hit with a suspension for this season and next, will contest his penalty. The others, one by one, have admitted their mistake and will accept their suspension. This doesn't make them heroes. It makes them people who got caught.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Writing: Social Media and the Writer

I've been away from blogging for the month of July. A couple of days ago I looked at the calendar and realized I'd made a promise to be back at this site after August first, and that day was fast approaching. Want to know what my first reaction was? Like a kid approaching the first day of school, I thought, "Do I have to?"

During my semi-vacation, we spent five days with dear friends who live on Cape Cod. It was a wonderful, relaxing time. Because of the WiFi in their home, I was able to keep up with email and read the thirty or so blogs I typically check out--until my RSS reader source went offline. Like most of you, I'd used Google Reader for years, and when it disappeared on July 1 (way to go, Google!), I checked out a number of alternatives. I discarded Feedly and a couple of others, and eventually settled on The Old Reader. It had worked fine...until they had a problem and were offline for about three days.

When the Old Reader got back in business, I was happy to find that all my blog preferences were still there. But, when I read what I'd missed over a period of several days, I came to an eye-opening conclusion: I hadn't missed much at all. Sure, I was happy to see what my writing (and non-writing) friends had been doing, but I could have just as easily have deleted every post and gone on with my life.

Which brings me back to the question that's been troubling me since I got into this thing called writing: does a writer really have to maintain a social media presence? Do readers look for my books because they follow my blog, read my tweets and Facebook comments, see me on GoodReads? Or is the driving force in marketing still word-of-mouth?

I'd love to hear from you on this subject. And, unless I carry out my continuing threat to pull my Internet connection and just write, I'll see you again next Tuesday for more blogging.

(illustration via