Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas, 2016

(This has been my Christmas post for several years--I still don't know how to say it any better)

"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. 

"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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Guest Posting

My short story, A Christmas Story, is on the Suspense Sisters blog today. I hope you'll enjoy it, and that it will help you look at Christmas a bit differently today.

Merry Christmas, all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Writing: Holiday Schedule

When I was practicing medicine, I could look at the call schedule for the holiday period and know when I'd be free (and when I'd be working). Now that I'm writing, you'd think I was pretty much in charge of my schedule...but you'd be wrong. Although many publishers do essentially close down during the latter part of December, this is a busy season for writers in a number of ways.

As I've said before, writers never stop marketing. We have to make people aware that books make excellent Christmas gifts. And if a writer wants to produce a "Christmas" book to fit into the pattern of those sold at this time of year, they have to start a number of months ahead of time. I became acutely aware of this when I decided to publish my novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. We had to struggle to get it available for the season, then I had to make people aware of it...which I just did, if you're a reader of this blog. (Sneaky, I know).

And even when I'm not writing, my brain never stops. Only yesterday I was telling Kay something that caused her to say, "That would be a great premise for a novel"--so I jotted it down. See how it works?

But, despite all the things I've detailed above, I'm going to try to take a holiday hiatus--if not from writing, at least from blogging. I hope to post a Christmas message, as well as one wishing each of my readers a happy new year, but otherwise I'm going to shut down for a couple of weeks, in order to... Hmm. Hang on.

Just had an idea for a holiday murder mystery. Better make a note. See you all soon. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Without Them

Warning--this post may be a downer for some of you...but I think it needs to be said. Although I've had nine novels and two novellas published, my first published book (and the one of which I'm most proud) was a non-fiction one, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse. In it, I talk about what I went through after Cynthia's death, in order to encourage others who have suffered a similar loss. Years ago the local paper in the city where we lived at the time asked me to write about that first Christmas after her death. I'm repeating that message here, in hopes that it will help someone who's having a tough time during this normally joyous season.

         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 a 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 Wal-Mart 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 if you celebrate it alone, remember the true meaning of Christmas.      

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Writing: What Do You Want To Know?

If you're a regular follower of this blog, you know that I've settled into a pattern of "stuff in general" on Tuesdays and various facets of writing on Fridays. As I wind down this year, I'd like to hear from you about what you want covered in the future. I'm far from an expert in the industry, but I've worked hard to learn more and more about the craft and publishing in general. I won't say that I wouldn't have gotten this deep into writing had I known them, but they were a revelation, to say the least. I believe it was Will Rogers who said that there were two things one shouldn't see being made: sausages and laws. To that list, one might add "books."

So leave me a comment about what you'd like to see here next year. Let me know if you're a writer or a reader (or both). Pose some questions you'd like answered. My aim is to make it worth your while to click this link and read what I've posted.

And, in case I forget to say it later, have a wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling Christmas season.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

'Tis The Season

The song encourages us to deck the halls with boughs of holly, but as I look at some of the decorations going up in our neighborhood, I wonder if something hasn't gotten lost in translation. The manger scenes I used to see years ago have given way to inflatable dolls of Santa Claus, elves, and even Snoopy. Now, it's not that I don't love all those characters--I think A Charlie Brown Christmas is a classic, and Kay and I have Elf recorded on our DVR to be watched later this week. But let's not forget about the true "reason for the season."

Our outside lights and Christmas tree will go up this week, and we're looking forward to having family with us soon. But the songs we sing will always include carols that are really hymns, and we'll try never to forget that the true meaning of Christmas can be found in the passage that begins with these words: "Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise..."

Feel free to leave your comments about what Christmas means to you. I look forward to reading them.

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Oh, and my news? I've been advised that my publisher has nominated my most recent novel, Miracle Drug, for a Christy award. Now, it's a long way between nomination and being a finalist, and I don't harbor any hopes of actually winning, but in this case it's true: "It's an honor to be nominated." Thanks to all of you who put Miracle Drug on one of the November best seller lists.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Writing: Marketing

Most writers, when they start out, feel that once they have a signed contract from a publisher, their work is done. Not true, of course. If you've been following this blog, you know that after the initial acceptance come at least three edits--the editorial letter (or macro edit), the line edit (or copy edit), and the proof-reading. The names may change, but there are more edits along the way--not to mention forms to fill out and input on the cover-- before the book appears in print.

What most writers fail to realize--at least, initially--is that a good portion of their time will be spent after the book's release in marketing it. Certainly, your publisher will do their part, but, as one writer told me early on, "No one is more interested in sales of your book than you are." And if the book is indie-published, the whole thing falls on you. So either way--traditional publisher or self-publication--the writer has to spend some time in marketing.

Let me give a personal example. Miracle Drug is my ninth novel published by a traditional publisher. The first, Code Blue, came out five years ago. I'll admit I took the publisher's marketing efforts for granted at that time, but it didn't take me long to start paying attention to what they were doing. And by the time my first self-published novella, Rx Murder, came out, I knew what to do--sort of. I refined that even more when my latest novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, came out. And, whether it was a self-published work or one from a traditional publisher, I've continued to spend a good bit of time on marketing.

My own personal feeling is that word of mouth is the best advertising, and a great way to add to this is via giveaways. The latest one, featuring my novella, is here. And, if you're interested, my last two novels are included in this huge giveaway at the site to which I contribute, Suspense Sisters.

What do you think? What factors influence you to buy a book? Do you think authors spend too much time marketing their work? How would you change that?

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NOTE: Check back next week when I'll have an interesting announcement for everyone.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Christmas Decorations

Thanksgiving is past, the flurry of shopping that goes with Black Friday has left everyone washed out, and preparations for Christmas have begun (except for those of you who began preparing this summer--you're excused from this discussion). So the question now is, "Did you start your Christmas decorating before Thanksgiving, or are you a traditionalist like me who lets the rush from one holiday die down before starting on the next one?"

The only way I'll know is if you leave a comment, so please do so. I promise not to spam you. I won't even make fun of you. But take a moment out of your schedule to let me know.

Oh, and while you're at the keyboard, you might have a quick look at my novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, which is set in the period between Christmas and New Year's. Or consider buying my latest novel, Miracle Drug, either for a Christmas present or for yourself.

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