Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Threshold of Another Year

It's New Year's Eve. Most of us, according to a recent survey, will celebrate the passing of 2013 in our homes, a few at various gatherings, some in a bar or restaurant. I've always considered tonight "amateur night," and avoided the roadways at all costs.

But however you spend it, please realize that, although you and I stand on the threshold of another year, what we're guaranteed is this minute, these sixty seconds--not another year, not another month, not even another day.

This is a lesson I learned when my wife of forty years died suddenly over fourteen years ago. After the initial shock subsided, I started each day thanking God for giving me one more day, determined to live it as though it would be my last...because one day, that will be the case.

Happy New Year. I'll see you on Friday, God willing.

(photo via freedigitalphotos.net)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"Do we go to your parents' house or mine?" "Where did you put the extra string of Christmas lights?" "Which stuffing recipe are you going to use?" "What can we give him/her?" "Where is my Christmas tie?" "Why doesn't this sweater fit anymore?"

Have these become the sounds of Christmas at your house? I hope not. As the blessed day sneaks up on us, I've wondered what to say to those of you who read my random jottings from time to time. What can I say that's new and inspirational? Finally, it dawned on me...I don't have to find something new. Better to stick with something written about 2700 years ago by the prophet, Isaiah. The words bring as much hope now as they did then. May it be ever so.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned....For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing: "It Must Be Nice"

When someone says, “It must be nice to be a writer,” I can almost hear what they’re really thinking: “You work from home. You set your own hours. You’re a celebrity. You have a publisher standing by to print everything you write. All you have to do is knock out a few words from time to time, and for that you make a ton of money.” We’ll now pause for all the actual authors out there to stop laughing.

True, I do enjoy a few advantages that I didn’t have when I practiced medicine. I can work at home, wearing my pajamas if I want to. To a certain degree, I set my own schedule. If I encounter any life-or-death situations, they’re of my own making, and I control how they’re resolved. And a few people actually are impressed when they learn that I’m a writer. But there’s a lot that goes with it—stuff I never thought about when I started writing.

I once thought that when I completed a book, I could dust my hands and go to the next one. Nope. Not so fast. Once I turn in a completed manuscript I can look forward to at least three edits before the finished product is ready for print. Then I have to complete the author questionnaires for cover design and marketing. There’s the matter of approaching other authors for endorsements and lining up a group to be influencers when the book is actually published. And although the publisher does a good deal of marketing (some more, some less), I have to take an active part in that activity.

As for job security, most people don’t realize that, with a few notable exceptions, writers don’t have lifetime contracts. Authors know that, as in professional sports, the most important question at contract time is, “What have you done for me lately?” The same way that batting average or yards per carry are meaningful for athletes, book reviews and sales carry a great deal of weight when it comes time to pitch your next book to your publisher. And if they haven’t been good, there are other authors out there anxious to take your spot, just as Lou Gehrig was ready to play when the Yankee manager benched Wally Pipp.

How about the “fortune” part of fame and fortune? I’ll stipulate that some authors make quite a comfortable living from their writing. Stephen King and John Grisham come to mind. And it’s true that some other authors write well enough and produce enough books to earn a decent living that way. But for most of us, the old adage, “Don’t quit your day job” applies. Further, the general public fails to recognize that the advance paid by a publishing house stands for advance against royalties, and the author won’t get a penny more until the book sells enough copies to earn out the advance—if it does that. This, among other factors, is the reason many authors have turned to self-publishing (which is a subject for another day).

So am I happy to be a published author? You bet. Why? Not because of the working conditions, not because of the fame, and certainly not because of the money. I write for the same reason I’ve heard many writers cite—I can’t not write. I’m fortunate enough to have someone willing to publish my words, but whether or not that happens, I’m still going to string words and thoughts together. It fulfills me.

If that’s your motivation too, I applaud you. I hope that when people say, “You’re a writer? Must be nice,” you’re able to smile and simply reply, “Yes. It is.”

(In photo are two other writers of medical fiction: Candace Calvert and Jordyn Redwood. We've dubbed ourselves the "Medical Musketeers.")

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Celebrating The Season

I hadn't thought of the book in years, but recently I was reminded of Charles Sheldon's novel, In His Steps. It must have been when I was in my late teens or early twenties when I read this novel, one that begins with a homeless man asking the congregation of a church why they aren't taking the teachings of Jesus to heart. Their responses form the basis for the rest of the book.

About sixty years after the publication of the novel, the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement was popular. Wristbands with those letters were popular. Books were written, sermons preached. Then, like so many other initiatives, the movement lost traction.

I thought of this when I sat down to write a few checks to organizations that minister to the less fortunate. I didn't do it so I could check off a few items from a list of Christian duties. Rather, it seemed natural to do this as an appropriate way to celebrate the birth of God's greatest gift to mankind. I guess I was thinking to myself, "What would Jesus do?"

As we celebrate the season, I hope each of you takes a moment to consider the magnitude of the event whose anniversary we celebrate. The greatest gift isn't Santa, or presents, or choirs, or parties. Remember that.

Merry Christmas, all.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Writing Life: How I Got My Agent

A recent post by an acquaintance on how she felt when she was signed by an agent led me to reflect on the circumstances of my own signing. Some of you may be unfamiliar with the story, others might need some encouragement if your own road to writing isn't moving the way you'd like.

The post has been brought up to date since Chuck Sambuchino posted it back in April, 2010, and I appreciate his permission to share it with you now.

I got my agent shortly after I quit writing. Sound unusual? Welcome to my world. I started writing fiction in 2003. At that time, writers could approach editors without going through an agent, so access wasn’t a problem. The problem was that no publisher was interested in my novels. Finally, one editor told me that, if I’d revise two of my books with the help of an independent editor he recommended, I’d probably get a multi-book contract. Shortly after that, I approached an agent with this news, and she agreed to take me on. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. I spent a ton of money with the independent editor. Then the editor told me the publisher had decided my work still wasn’t good enough for them. My agent concluded that there didn’t seem to be a market for what I was writing. It’s an understatement to say we were both frustrated.
I kept at it, but after about forty rejections, including a time when I tried to write in different genres (including a cozy mystery), I decided to give up. The agent and I parted amiably, and I put aside my pen (figuratively at least). I was through writing.
I’d met Rachelle Gardner at one of my first writers’ conferences, when she was an editor. Later, I reconnected with her through her blog, and continued to follow her even after I gave up writing. Rachelle was now an agent, and she ran a contest offering a critique of the first 20 pages of a novel to the person coming up with the best first line. On a whim, I dashed off an entry. Doggoned if I didn’t win with the line: “Everything was going along fine until the miracle fouled things up.” (By the way, the first chapter of that unfinished work is still on my hard drive).
Having nothing fresh to send for critique, I sent Rachelle the first chapter of my latest book–the one that had been turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread. Rachelle’s response was: “Send me something that needs editing.” I didn’t know what to think. Someone in the industry actually thought my writing was pretty good. Maybe I should give it another try. With a great deal of trepidation, I sent off an e-mail query asking Rachelle to consider representation. I anticipated the usual slow process, hoping to get back a request for a proposal, then a partial, maybe a full manuscript. Instead, I got a return e-mail: “Of course I’ll represent you.” I’m not sure my heart has stopped racing even now.

Rachelle made some excellent suggestions for improving my novel, and working together we produced something she thought she could sell. At the ICRS meeting, she pitched the proposal to Barbara Scott, who was starting the Christian fiction line at Abingdon Press. Barbara asked for Rachelle’s hard copy of the proposal to read on the plane. Shortly after she arrived home Barbara called to ask for the full manuscript. Eventually she bought the book.
Now the happy ending. Code Blue was published in 2010. Even better, Abingdon published three more novels after that, and now I’m under contract with Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing. My seventh novel of medical suspense, Critical Condition, will be released on April 15, 2014.
You know how there are times when you hunt and hunt for something, only to find it after you give up? Well, that’s what happened to me in my quest for an agent and publication. It’s nice to be good. It’s even better to be lucky. It's best to depend on God's timing. I think that's what happened here.

Announcement: Congratulations to Connie Brown, whose entry was picked by Rafflecopter as the winner of my Holiday Giveaway. An email is on its way to Connie right now, and I'll be sending her a signed copy of Heart Failure. If you aren't a subscriber to my newsletter, I'd encourage you to use the link in the right margin to sign up for it. My next surprise for subscribers will be a sneak peek at my next novel, Critical Condition.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Christmas:Sometimes It's Tough

Thanksgiving is over, and all of a sudden Christmas is just a few days away! I had intended to devote this blog post to some of our own Christmas preparations, but the recent death of a dear friend combined with the unexpected passing of an author friend, made me realize that perhaps there are others out there who would benefit from reading this short article that I originally wrote for our hometown newspaper after the death of my first wife.


    After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

    After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

    Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

    The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

    For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

    When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.

If you have a friend who has suffered the recent loss of a spouse or loved one, I'll suggest the book I wrote after Cynthia's death. The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse was published over seven years ago, and continues to minister to thousands who have suffered the same loss as I did. And if you'd like to personalize it for your friend, drop me an email using the tab in the right margin, include your address, and I'll send a signed bookplate to put inside it.

Meanwhile, as we approach this season, let's not forget the greatest gift of all, one that God provided for us, not wrapped with a bow but rather clad in human flesh.