Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Random Jottings...No, Really

I've been doing this blog for years now. I started out in the exuberance of the not-yet-published, thinking I would build a huge following and be ready with my "platform" when a publisher asked for figures. Soon, my five days a week turned to three, and eventually to two. For a while now, I've been posting on Tuesdays about random stuff, while Friday has been devoted to the writing life. But today, I have absolutely no wisdom to share.

I look at the headlines, and cringe at the turn politics in our country has taken. But I've determined not to use my blog for political purposes. I don't know how much longer I can hold out, so you may want to stay tuned.

Baseball season is about to start. I've been watching spring training games for years (even participating in a few), and it didn't take me long to determine that at this point in pre- season, although most of the "regulars" will start the game, by the sixth inning or so they'll be headed for the golf course or a local watering hole. I'm ready for the games to count, and that's another week away.

I could go on, but the sum and substance of it all is that I have nothing profound to share. I just want to enjoy the sunshine and not even think about the work I need to do. How about you? Ever have a lazy day when you'd like to turn off the world (starting with the TV, computer, and cell phone) and pick up a good book? Want to share your guilty knowledge? I promise not to tell a soul.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter 2016

The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed...Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead'...."

(Matt 28:5-7a, The Message)

In the ancient world, the message was this: "Christos anesti; al├ęthos anesti."

In our modern language, the words are different, the message the same: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!"

Have a blessed Easter.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt

I realize some of you like to participate in what has become a regular event--the Christian fiction scavenger hunt. This is to let you know that, along with more than thirty other authors, I've signed up to be a part of it. There are lots of books to be won (over 150) plus other prizes like gift cards.  If you'd like to "save the date," the posts go live on Friday, April 22. The hunt will end at the end of Sunday, April 25. Mark the dates and watch for my post on the 22nd. It will direct you to stop #1.

Meanwhile, have a wonderful, meaningful Easter. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Changes, changes

Changes, changes, changes. It seems that the only constant nowadays is change. Facebook is changing the way our posts are seen (sometimes only a small percentage of my followers "see" my FB posts). In our area, plumbing companies and electricians are being absorbed into larger companies, so that my favorite plumber is now part of an air conditioning-heating/plumbing/electrician consortium. There's a new version of the software used on Kindle, and although mine is supposed to automatically update, if you haven't opened your device in a while, or the battery is dead, you may find that you have to completely download the software again the next time you open your Kindle. Changes, changes, changes.

One of the changes Amazon has made is to give authors the opportunity to get the URL or embed code so they can allow people to have a preview of their books via a website or blog, in addition to going to Amazon. And, incidentally, there's a button there to purchase the book as well. So I guess this change isn't all bad. I thought I'd try this change, and apparently it works. Here is the one for my novel, Miracle Drug. And this is my novella, Silent Night, Deadly NightSorry if you'd like a sneak peek at my forthcoming novel, Medical Judgment--apparently they don't make these available for pre-orders.

It seems that every day more changes take place, and unless we work to keep up with them, we're going to be left behind. What about you? Do you enjoy these changes, or--like me--do you simply tolerate most of them? I'd like to know.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Writing: The Scrivener Experiment

The following is one man's opinion. Please take it as such. I've been writing for well over a decade, and have always composed my work on Microsoft Word (for Mac). But for months I kept hearing about all the advantages of the Literature and Latte application, Scrivener. So I gave in and purchased it. While waiting for a decision on my next novel, I decided to write another novella, one I may self-publish. And, I thought, what better time to try out Scrivener?

That was several months ago, and this is a report on my experiences. Scrivener has a bunch of wonderful features (as anyone who frequents authors' loops knows). I was especially enamored of the cork board feature, which allows the writer to shuffle around scenes, add some, subtract some--in other words, play with the plot the way we used to do with 3x5 cards. And people tell me that Scrivener will allow exporting a manuscript in a form that is ready for use in a self-publishing format.  After hearing author after author extol the virtues of the application, I was motivated to keep at it.

There's no question that Scrivener has a lot of great features. Most reviews of it mention these, but also talk about the steep learning curve. Tell me about it! I read through the manual that comes with the application. I paid for a tutorial that was supposed to get me ready to use it quickly. Some of my fellow writers were kind enough to direct me to other sources that would get me using it in no time. But eventually I found myself asking, "Why am I trying to learn yet another application when what I've used for a decade works?"

All the having been said, I've gone back to MS Word for now. Why? Scrivener encourages writing in scenes without the need to delineate chapters. But writing in chapters is the way I've always written, and it has worked well so far. Scrivener has a great segment for character sketches, but I've always written these and just put them in a segment under the main story folder. The same with a timeline. Scrivener will tell you how many words you've written for any scene or project, but so will Word (without having to click anything--just look at the bottom of the page). And...here's the main problem, I suppose, and I admit it's with me, not the application...I've gotten set in my ways, have figured out how Word works for me, and finally decided that life's too short to try to learn something new to replace what's worked so well for me for years.

In other words, although Scrivener is a great application (and I can give you names of writers who use it and are quite happy with it), for me it solves a problem that doesn't demand a solution at this time.

That having been said, I invite the pro- and con-Scrivener users to chime in. What do you think?

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PS: Drop by the Suspense Sisters blog, read about procrastination in the life of writers (and everyone else), and leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of my novel, Miracle Drug.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Guest Posting About Writers' Procrastination

I'm over at the Suspense Sisters blog today, posting about procrastination and its effect on writers.

Someone (the attribution is unclear) said that writing is easy--you just sit down and open a vein. Raymond Chandler put it this way: "I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, inspiration strikes at 9 AM each day." James Scott Bell sets a daily word count, and starts his morning by writing three hundred fifty words (his "nifty three fifty"). Habits of writers differ, but most of us have one thing in common. Given the opportunity, we'll put off writing.

To see the rest of the post, click here. See you back on Friday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Where Do I Go From Here?

I've been blogging for almost ten years. Actually, I'll reach that milestone in about three more months. When I look back, I sometimes wonder about this road I've been traveling. Part of the process may be associated with the fact that, in filing away my tax return material for this past year, I discovered I hadn't shredded any of that stuff since after Cynthia died--1999. So, I've been tackling a year's worth of material a day, and it's brought back some memories along the way.

I had no plans to become a writer--that is, beyond having more than a hundred professional papers published and editing or writing eight medical textbooks along the way. Now I intended to retire to a life of golf and travel. But God had other plans, and I'm now awaiting the release of my tenth novel of medical suspense.

At this point, though, I'm wondering where to go from here. Publishing has changed, and many of my colleagues are moving--by choice or of necessity--to self-publishing. I've done more than I ever envisioned, but the question I have to answer next is, "Now what?"

Of course, this isn't confined to me or--for that matter--to people who classify themselves as writers. Thousands of people ask themselves that question every day. Should they change jobs? If they're currently unemployed, will they even get a job? Can they make this marriage work? What about their kids? We all ask this question or a variant of it.

What about you? What decisions are you facing? And what resources are you calling upon to help you make the right choice? I'll start (the translation is my own)--"For I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." When I read that promise, it gives me confidence. How about you?

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Writing: Handling Rejection

There are undoubtedly writers whose first work was accepted for publication, and for whom things proceeded smoothly thereafter. But they are rare indeed. There are numerous stories of rejections. This site, for example, has so many I finally gave up reading them. I used to think that my four years spent penning four novels that garnered forty rejections was something of a record. Then I learned from some of my colleagues that I wasn't even in the running for the prize. It happens to all of us.

How do you handle rejection? The course you choose is up to you. Maybe you are enamored of being a writer, but no one seems to want to publish your work. Nowadays, self-publication is a viable option (although I would warn against the so-called "vanity publishers" who will charge a significant fee to publish a stack of books that will languish in your garage for years). Utilize the services of a good, professional editor, and take their advice. The same goes for cover design. Employ a professional. Then, don't forget that marketing your work is necessary. There's a lot that goes into self-publication, and it's not as simple as you might think.

You may choose to deepen your understanding and execution of the craft. If you're set on writing, I encourage this. And, if you do, I certainly suggest you to start on another book (and yet another after that). One of the editors I know says it takes three to four books before a writer begins to "get it." Don't make the mistake so many authors do of whittling away at the same book, adding passages and removing them, rather than starting a new one. You'll be glad you did. And when you go back to review those early ones, you'll see why they weren't published.

I won't go into everything the rejected writer does, but I will say that even a multi-published author faces rejection. Contracts aren't a "once for all" thing. As in pro sports, performance--especially recent performance--is key. Look at the name of the publisher on the spine of your favorite author's books. Chances are you'll see that they've written for several publishers. It depends on who'll give them a contract. After all, it's a business.

Have you considered that your favorite author may have faced rejection many times? Do you encounter it in your own life? If so, how do you handle it?

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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Lessons From Golf On TV

Yesterday afternoon, as football season is over and baseball season is just getting started, I turned the TV to the golf tournament being held at Doral. Since my father and I used to join two friends for a week of golf at Doral years ago, I was familiar with the Blue Monster where the pro golfers were playing. If I have one claim to fame, it's that I once--and only once--got a par on the Blue Monster's #18. Of course, that was from the middle tees. If you've ever seen where the pro tees are on a golf course, it would make you cry because they're so far back.

Anyway, I watched as some of the best golfers in the world, time after time, hit the ball into one or more of the water hazards or sand traps with which the course is loaded. It was nice to see that even the pros make mistakes, but the lesson I learned was two-fold. First, these people, although at the top of their game, could make mistakes. And second, when they did, they simply dropped a ball where their errant shot entered the hazard or pulled out the right club, calculated what they had to do next, and tried to execute the shot. No whining. No, "I can't catch a break." Just put that mistake behind them and keep going.

Make of that what you will, but when I realized what was going on, I decided I was seeing a lesson played out--not about golf, but about life in general. How about you?

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Friday, March 04, 2016

Writing: Christy Distler on ACFW's First Impressions Contest

You may recall meeting Christy Distler here when she talked about the book she and a number of other editors published, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. Now she's back to talk about her experience with a writing contest I am proud to have had a hand in getting started: the First Impressions Contest.

Writing contests. In my two and a half years as an ACFW member, I’ve learned that some writers love them while others shudder at their mention. Last fall, a writer friend and I had a great discussion after I mentioned that ACFW’s First Impressions contest had just opened and she might want to consider entering. “Why?” she asked. “I’m sure there are plenty of others with more experience who’ll enter. Besides, I’m not competitive.” 
I completely understood her answer, mainly because I’d thought the same thing when an ACFW member encouraged me to join ACFW and submit to First Impressions in 2013. Here are some snippets of the conversation I had with my reluctant friend:

So what is First Impressions?
In ACFW’s words, “First Impressions gives unpublished writers the opportunity to have the first five pages of their Christian fiction manuscript evaluated by an industry professional.” Essentially, you submit the first five pages of your story and experienced writers, editors, and agents critique it using ACFW’s judging sheet. The three entrants with the highest combined scores in each category become finalists, and then final-round judges critique the finalists, with the highest-scoring finalist in each category being the category winner.

I’m sure there are plenty of others with more experience who’ll enter. Besides, I’m not competitive. Why should I enter?
For those who win (or final in) any writing contest, there’s certainly encouragement to keep writing and honing the craft. But that’s not why I encourage writers to enter. More importantly, contests allow writers to receive invaluable feedback from people who work in the industry. I’ve entered First Impressions three times, and each time the feedback I received helped me strengthen my story’s start. What I love even more is the dedication of the judges. Those in the Christian fiction industry—both writers and professionals—have a common goal of bringing readers closer to Christ through story, and we truly want each other to succeed. So don’t enter just to try to win; enter for the opportunity to improve. If you win, that’s a bonus.

What should I expect if I enter?
That varies, depending on the judge. All entrants receive a judging sheet from each judge, which includes individual scores for each writing craft question (for example, Did you want to keep reading more when you reached the end of the five pages?; Were the characters appealing and likable?; Did the writing engage you as a reader?) as well as an overall score. Some judges also add comments to the judging sheet and/or the manuscript, and some may provide an edit or proofread of the manuscript. As an entrant, I’ve found the feedback to be worth far more than the entry fee.

What if I get a really tough judge [i.e., whose criticism is not constructive]?
Yeah, it happens—even in an industry that’s so supportive. I once had a contest judge tell me my plot was unlikeable (that’s a bit subjective), my character sounded biographical (is that a good thing or a bad thing?), and my punctuation needed work (while his/her judging sheet contained sixteen punctuation and grammar errors—but who’s counting, right? J). The judge topped it off with a score that was half of the other scores I received. I’d love to tell you I just shrugged it off, but it wasn’t that easy. That kind of criticism, even when it’s questionable, stings. What I can tell you is that we need to be able to impartially weigh criticism for its value—in writing and in life. If it happens, take what’s plausible and leave what’s not. Finally, remember that writers need to develop thick skin, so even this kind of feedback can have some benefit.

How has First Impressions helped you?
It has encouraged me to keep writing and continue learning the craft. It has garnered me more writing friends (several other same-genre writers friended me on FB after I won the contemporary category in 2013 and the historical category in 2015, and some of those friends have become awesome writer buddies and critique partners). It has given me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned by judging ACFW contests. Most of all it has given me feedback that greatly improved my story’s beginning—and that’s priceless.

If you have a First Impressions experience you’d like to share, we’d love to hear about it.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Phone Calls and Politics

I'm writing this before so-called "Super Tuesday," so I can be a bit more dispassionate. Kay and I are dinosaurs of sorts--although each of us has a cell phone, we still have a land line at our home. Matter of fact, it's only been a few months since I got rid of our separate FAX line, as I reluctantly moved into the twenty-first century and realized that my super-duper, handy-dandy, multi-purpose printer can not only copy but also scan documents to be sent via email. I know, it hasn't been too many years since I stopped writing on yellow legal pads. As my hero, obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk says, "I'm not against change. I just don't like to be around when it's happening."

Anyway, usually the calls we get via our land line have been from friends and families, plus the occasional wrong numbers and sporadic telephone solicitors. But in the weeks leading up to the election, the vast majority of calls have been political--surveys,  robocalls on behalf of various candidates, even neighbors calling to urge us to vote for people they like.

I know that a number of you have gone "cellular only" with your phones. For those who have done that, how have things gone since you made the switch? And for those, like us, who have kept their land lines, what are your reasons--inertia, a desire to be able to make and receive calls if the towers are down, what?

Let me know. And, in case anyone is interested, we voted absentee a couple of weeks ago. No politics involved in this post...except the calls that finally triggered action on my part.