Friday, May 30, 2014

Writing: The Permanence of Words

I'm please to announce that, in addition to being a finalist for Romantic Times Book Reviews Reader's Choice Award and a finalist for the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award, my novel, Stress Test, has been named one of three finalists for the Inspirational Readers Choice contest sponsored by the Faith, Hope and Love chapter of the Romance Writers of America. My thanks to everyone who made this possible.

After a great deal of debate (which still continues), most historians feel that in an 1858 debate speech, Abraham Lincoln probably said something like this: “You may fool people for a time; you can fool a part of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” That’s not exactly the way we learned it, but the gist of the sentiment is there. 

Why is there any uncertainty? To begin with, there were no tape recorders in those days. Reporters didn’t take down speeches word for word, and often there were no reporters for a local paper present when speeches were given. Candidates didn’t use Teleprompters, and frequently speeches were extemporaneous.

Nowadays, everything is a matter of record. No matter who is speaking or where it takes place, there’s a good possibility that someone is there to record the words, often with accompanying images. Frequently a speech leads to information printed in newspapers and magazines as well as distributed via the Internet. My, how things have changed.

A writer has to recognize that when he/she allows a book to be printed, those words will be out there for many years to come. Some people will love the book, some will be neutral about it, and some will criticize it. And no matter how much the author may regret his words, they’ve become a permanent record, tied to his name. So, do you still want to be an author?

Of course, the same holds true not just of the printed word. It’s true of blog posts, Facebook posts, text messages, emails. Because it’s easy for us to sit down at a computer or pull out our smart phones, type a few lines, and hit “send” or “enter,” there’s a tendency to forget the permanence of what we produce. I’m trying to keep that in mind, but it's tough. How about you?

Have you ever let words fly that couldn’t be recalled? Any suggestions to prevent that? I’d like to know.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

Today, May 26, 2014, is the day we celebrate Memorial Day--a day set aside to honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country.

Despite our differences--political, religious, racial, lifestyle, geographic, whatever-- I hope that for one day we can pause together to remember and thank those who've served to protect our freedom and that of others. That's what Memorial Day is all about. That's what it should be.

I'm proud to have served my country in the United States Air Force. I salute my fellow comrades, and honor those who gave the "last full measure of devotion" in that service. God bless America.

This post will substitute for my usual Tuesday blog post. Come back on Friday for a post on the writing life.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Writing: TV and Movies (Carrie Padgett)

I met Carrie Padgett at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference when Gayle Roper (bless her) was patiently teaching our group a bit about writing. Carrie has worked hard at perfecting her craft, and I was delighted to see honors coming her way. I've asked Carrie to give us a glimpse into the writing life from her viewpoint.

I’ve always loved stories.

From the time I followed Dick and Jane’s exploits with Spot and on to Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and Stephanie Plum, books have been my escape, my solace, and my support system. Then I got a story idea of my own, sat down to write it, and my life has never been the same.

One thing I never expected: that writing would influence my viewing.

I’ve learned how to structure a story and when a movie or television show doesn’t follow the formula, it’s just not satisfying.

For instance, in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, Melanie Smooter is torn between two men. A classic love triangle with Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey, and Josh Lucas. Sounds like a sure-fire hit. The problem? Both male characters are great, so there is no clear-cut hero to root for. Since deciding on Mr. Right is the movie’s premise, Mr. Also-Ran should have been Mr. Why-Can’t-She-See-He’s-All-Wrong-For-Her. Says my romance writer heart.

There’s a popular police/family drama on television now that I can hardly bear to sit through. I can’t name it because a family member loves it so I’m forced to watch it regularly. The family drama parts are well done, but the police procedural portions are laughable. Much of the dialogue is “on the nose,” meaning it points out the obvious. And everyone knows you don’t touch a gun found at a crime scene! Says my mystery loving brain.

Now, I also see why some shows work. Gilmore Girls was canceled in 2007 but I still watch it in syndication to admire the writing. They trust the viewer to get it and only very occasionally do they explain a particularly obscure pop culture reference. The setting, Stars Hollow, Connecticut, is as much a character as is Lorelai Gilmore. The first season especially is a primer on how to add backstory in bits and pieces without overwhelming the viewer/reader. Oh, and how to write a supporting character. Mrs. Kim is brilliant. In fact, I have a whole blog post of my own just on what I learned about story from Gilmore Girls 

What about you? Any shows or movies that have influenced your writing?

Carrie Padgett is a 2014 RWA® Golden Heart® finalist, an ACFW Genesis winner and semi-finalist. She reads, writes, and watches hummingbirds from the middle of California.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Helping Along The Way

Right now there are almost four hundred people in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at a major writing conference. Many of them have come with high hopes for that one big break that will get their work published and perhaps start them on their journey as an accepted writer. Others are there in sort of a last-ditch effort to see if they should continue their efforts or give them up and move on.

I'm teaching at that conference, and I understand the responsibility I have. No, I'm not an agent or an editor or a publisher. I can't make anyone a star. But what I can do is be helpful, sharing what I've learned along my own road to writing.

Last night we heard Brian Bird, a 25-year veteran of the TV and movie business, talk about how he has helped along at least seven others get established in that business. And, as he said, "they're all believers." We help others who in turn help others who in turn... You get the idea.

Will you encounter someone today that you can help with a word of encouragement, possibly even a suggestion or instruction? Is the responsibility to assist others limited to formal teaching situations? I think not. What about you?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Writing Life: Conferences

Well, that was my attempt to put a video on this blog. Would you prefer an occasional video, or do you like written words on the screen? Do you prefer longer videos or is a short one just right? I'd like to hear your comments. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The World Is Too Much With Us...

Special Announcement: In the giveaway held in honor of the launch of my latest novel of medical suspense, Critical Condition, the winner of the Kindle HDX is Glenda Mills.

You've heard me say it before--while some people have a love/hate relationship with social media, there are times when I have a tolerate/grind my teeth relationship. Oh, it's wonderful to be able to communicate with friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets. But at times I look at other people's posts and wonder about my own life.

Did another author just have a novel make the best-seller list? Great, and I'm happy for them, but a small part of me wonders why my novels don't do the same. A friend posts something wonderful about their lives, and I look at my own and begin to think how ordinary it is.

On one of the writing loops in which I participate, a recent poster talked about throwing in the towel. She'd been trying for years to get her work published, and while others talked of their successes, she continued to (figuratively) butt her head against a stone wall.

When I get discouraged like that, I fall back on a Scripture passage that Dr. Steve Farrar called to the attention of our Wednesday evening men's Bible study group sometime back: "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me (Ps. 138:8)." It doesn't matter what happens to others--their accomplishments, their good fortunate. If I just anchor my faith on that promise, I know that things that concern me are under control. That's all I need.

Do you ever have these feelings? Is the ready access to other people's lives afforded by social media good or bad? How do you handle it?

(picture via

Friday, May 09, 2014

Writing: It's Not Enough...

Special announcement: I'm pleased to announce that my novel, Stress Test, is a finalist for the Selah Award (Book Of The Year) from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. The winner will be announced at the conference later this month. I'm honored to be a faculty member at the BRMCWC this year.

Eight years ago, when I began trying to write fiction, I figured that if I completed a novel it would be a significant achievement--sort of like running a four-minute mile or scaling Mount Everest (neither of which I'd even think of attempting). Eventually, I did finish the manuscript of my first novel, More Than A Game. In case anyone's interested, it dealt with a man who failed in his attempt to make it in professional baseball, returned to graduate from medical school, and then--when he's totally burned out in medicine--has a second chance to live his dream playing the game he loves. I liked it, editors did not.

Anyway, I still recall the comment of my biggest fan and most severe critic, my wife, Kay: "It needs more conflict." Hey, I didn't know anything about character development or conflict or the three-act structure or any of those other things that go into a good novel. I wanted to say, "But I just finished writing an entire novel. Isn't that enough?" The answer, of course, was "No."

For everyone who has completed a novel, please know that you have my utmost admiration. You've done something that only a small minority of the population has achieved. But along the way, I suspect you've learned there's a lot more to the process. That's why, when I read the works of polished authors like John Grisham or James Scott Bell or Robert B. Parker, I marvel that they not only wrote complete novels, but that they dotted the i's and crossed the t's of plot and word-smithing and the dozens of other things that go into a good book. To everyone who's done that, I salute you a hundred-fold.

To those who've had the thought, "I should write a novel," my advice is "Go for it." Don't be afraid of failing. Accept that you'll fail the first few times--the first four or forty or four hundred. Keep at it. Just remember that piling up the requisite number of words isn't enough.

Have you ever thought about writing a novel? What's stopping you?

(photo via

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Ordination Charge: Not Just For Pastors

On Sunday we heard our pastor give a charge to five men about to be ordained to the ministry. In it, he used an illustration from the late Dr. Howard Hendricks, warning them to beware of four things--silver, sloth, sex, and self.

As Dr. Swindoll presented the charge, the same one I'd heard him deliver before, it was easy for me to think of examples about which I knew of men brought down by these four things. Then I realized that his warning could just as easily be directed to individuals in any profession or walk of life. It could even be directed toward me.

Let's take my former profession--medicine. I've seen physicians brought down by a love of money, by a tendency to take shortcuts and slack off, by sex outside of marriage, and by an unfailing belief that they could do no wrong. It happens.

The same warning could be delivered to accountants, lawyers, teachers, writers, politicians...members of almost any profession. It's one I'll meditate about for quite a while. How about you? What do you think of this warning about the four "esses"? I'd like to know.

(picture via

Friday, May 02, 2014

Writing: "Does It Ever Get Old?" (author Deborah Raney)

Someone asked me recently if, now that I've written over 25 books, the thrill of a new book releasing has dimmed. Looking through my photo album answered the question better than I could put into words. For every occasion that first copy of a new title arrives on my doorstep, I pose "her" on my desk and snap "newborn" pictures, then post them all over the Internet for the world to see.

It truly never does get old. It may never again be quite as unbelievable and amazing as that very first time I held my very first book in my hands, but nevertheless, each book is the culmination of almost a year's hard work. And not just mine! So many people have a hand in bringing each book to life. I've always said that my editors should surely share my byline on the cover of each novel. I can't even imagine putting a book out there without their invaluable suggestions and fine-tooth combing. Nor would I want to write a book without my eagle-eyed critique partner, Tamera Alexander  or my early readers (beta readers some call them) who spot things even my editors sometimes miss! And then there is the cover designer, the interior typography, catalog and backcover copy writers (sometimes I do that, but often my editors have better ideas about how to capture the book in a few short lines). And my agent, of course! I wouldn't want to navigate the waters of this changing publishing world without him. Indeed, it takes a village to publish a book, and I do love my village.

One other reason book release day is always special is that we usually celebrate by going out to eat, or at the very least, ordering a pizza to share. The release of a new book will always be celebration-worthy at our house! A good thing, since I'll have two new books releasing later this year! I can already smell the pepperoni!

So to answer the question, has the thrill worn off? No! In fact, the only thing I can think of that's more exciting and fulfilling than the arrival of a new book is the arrival of a new grandchild! 

DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after 20 happy years as a stay-at-home mom. Since then, her books have won numerous awards including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Deb's newest novel, Home to Chicory Lane, releases in August as the first book in The Chicory Inn Novels series for Abingdon Press Fiction. Deb enjoys teaching at writers' conferences across the country. She and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas ––the setting of many of Deb's novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at

Thanks, Deb. If you have a writing question for either Deborah Raney or me, please ask it in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you.