Friday, September 27, 2013

Writing: Is What We Do Important?

In looking through some images, seeking inspiration for this post, I came upon this sign. I'm sorry, but I don't know where it was posted, nor the person who did so. But it struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it with you.

Writers all have different aspirations, I suppose. Then again, that's true of all walks of life. When I first began my medical practice, I thought that it would be nice if one day I could present a paper before a local specialty group. Before it was over, I'd had over 100 papers published in respected journals, written or edited 8 textbooks, taught all over the world, and--oh, yes--seen and treated thousands of patients. And the thing that was most rewarding wasn't anything I wrote or taught. It was the smile on the face of a patient I'd helped. My indicator of success had changed.

After my retirement, when I began writing (and if you don't know that story, you can read a little of it here), I thought it would be great if I got a contract for publication of a novel. But on the way to that event, I was fortunate enough to have a number of short pieces and meditations published. And even after the publication of one non-fiction book and five--soon to be six--novels of medical suspense, I have discovered that each of those short meditations reached more people than the books combined. Just this past weekend I had a lady approach me and compliment me on my writing--not my book on the loss of a spouse, not one of my novels, but on a meditation I wrote for The Upper Room.

Yes, I think what we, as writers, do is important. Do you?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Those Who've Gone Before

I recently found the attached picture of my mother's family, taken at the home of my maternal grandparents many, many years ago. My grandfather is in the back row, with his wife to his left, my mother to his right. My dad is beside her. I'm in the front row, in the middle. The second picture is of my mother (center), flanked by her sisters and brothers.

What brought this to mind was the taking of class pictures at the high school reunion I recently attended. One woman said, "No one is going to pull these pictures out and look at them. Instead, when we're dead, our family is going to look at them, decide they don't know anyone there, and throw them away." Well, in the case of my family pictures, I look at them from time to time and recall how each of these people affected me. And maybe that's more important than the pictures themselves.

Do you ever look at family pictures? Do they have meaning for you? Are there pictures in your house that your children won't recognize? (After Cynthia died, I wrote names and dates on the backs of all the photos we have, to avoid this.) Or, in this digital age, are all your pictures on your iPhone now? Let's hear your thoughts on this subject.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Writing: Overcoming Shyness (Also, Important Announcement)

On my morning walk, I passed by three girls waiting for the school bus. One of them was singing along with the device to which she was tethered by ear buds, belting out lyrics to what I supposed was a popular song. As soon as I neared her location, the little girl's mouth closed as tightly as though she'd developed a sudden case of lockjaw. She didn't mind singing in front of the other girls, but she wasn't about to be heard by a stranger. She was shy.

Most writers, contrary to what you may think, are introverts. We're solitary people. Meg Chittenden put it well: "Some people hear voices when no one's around.  They are called mad, and sit in a room all day and stare at the walls. Others are called writers, and they do pretty much the same thing." Writers do often sit in a room all day long without interaction with others, typing words into a computer. But when those words are put out for public consumption, the whole scene changes. The writer must overcome his or her shyness in order to have others read and judge their writing. In addition, there's the whole thing of "marketing," where the writer must put themselves out in front of the whole world. And, to top off the trifecta, a writer must interact with agents, editors, and readers on a regular basis in order to continue to be successful. Any shyness that was there originally must be overcome.

I'm definitely an introvert, although some of you who've met me might not believe it. Left to my own devices, I'd avoid human contact much of the time. But I have had to get past that in order to function, first in medicine (including a long career spent not only in patient care but in speaking, teaching, and writing) and now in writing fiction. What about you? Are you shy? Have you overcome it, and if so, do you have any tips to share? I'd like to hear.

(image via


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Opening Doors

Last week, while visiting the Post Office, I held the door open for a young lady. This isn't anything unusual, for me or for some others I see there. But in addition to a rather surprised, "Thank you," she said, "That's so nice. People of my generation rarely do that."

Maybe I'm hopelessly old-fashioned. Maybe it's just the mother-tapes playing in my head. But I was brought up to open doors for women, to hold their chair when we sat at the table, to stand up when a woman enters the room, and to show courtesy, not just to women but to everyone.

But after the comment by the young lady, I began to wonder. Am I out of step with the rest of the world? Moreover, if I am out of step, who's right--the people who seem to me to be too self-centered and in too much of a hurry to think of others, or those who take the time and effort to show respect and courtesy?

It saddens me that the Golden Rule seems to have gone from "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" to "Those who have the gold make the rules."

Is it just me? What do you think. I'd like to know.

Important Note (if you like free things): I'll be sending out a special edition of my Newsletter soon, with a chance for one subscriber to win a signed copy of Heart Failure, my next book, releasing October 15. If you haven't already signed up to receive the Newsletter, please use the tab at the right-hand side of this page to do so. (Your email address won't be sold or given to anyone else. You'll get a message asking you to confirm that you signed up, as per government regulations. Thanks.)

(image via

Friday, September 13, 2013

Writing: Awards

There are all sorts of awards for writers: awards for best short story, best non-fiction book, best novel, best unpublished work. The list goes on and on.

I've been fortunate in the awards race, being a finalist in a number of them, winning another. Many of my colleagues have received multiple awards, some of them the writing equivalent of an Emmy or Academy Award. Do these honors guarantee further success? Unfortunately, that's not the case.

A baseball pitcher who won the Cy Young Award last season may have a terrible year the next. A football player who was awarded the Heisman Trophy as a college player may not find a place in professional football in a year or two. An award-winning writer may produce a masterpiece of a book, then turn out an absolute dog with the next one. Nothing's guaranteed in life, even if you've won an award for previous efforts.

I was moved to write this because I'm in the process of writing yet another book. My previous ones have garnered great reviews. I know what the award scene is. Yet, just as in sports, you're only as good as your current effort. That's the challenge, and it just gets tougher if more is expected of you.

What about you? Are you still striving for recognition for your efforts? If you've achieved recognition, do you think it increases the pressure to do even better next time? I'd love to know.

(illustration via

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 11, 2001: May We Never Forget

We all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As we pause to recall those terrible moments and all that has come since, may we renew our commitment to our country, our fellow citizens, and our God.

God bless America.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Writing: Attributions

The late Elmore Leonard was known for writing spare, succinct, interesting prose. It included dialogue that had a ring of authenticity. Whether he had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he uttered his famous "ten rules for writing," I consider one of them the best writing advice I've ever seen. Here it is: "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue." He went on to say, "The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied."

I'm reading Nelson DeMille's novel, The Panther, and I'm enjoying almost all of it. I say "almost" because DeMille insists on inserting attributions that constantly trip me up. For example, in one paragraph he used both, "He explained...," and "He informed me...." My preference would be to either use, "He said..." or insert a beat such as "He touched her hand..." or "He took a sip of coffee..." to break up the action.

What do you think? Do you like descriptive attributions, or would you prefer "He said?" Let me know.

(illustration via

Monday, September 02, 2013

Labor Day

 (I'm posting a day early, to convey this message about the holiday.)
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).

Today 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. I hope you have a wonderful holiday.