Friday, July 29, 2016

Writing: Hook The Reader

One of the "unwritten rules" of writing is that the first page must interest the reader, and make them turn to page two, three, and so forth. Respected agent Noah Lukeman has written an excellent book, The First Five Pages, that emphasizes the importance of those initial pages. However, I'm going to go Mr. Lukeman one better. Although it doesn't happen in every book, I think the opening line that's a "zinger" is a great way to get the reader "hooked."

In my opinion, James Scott Bell hit a home run with this opening line from his novel, Try Darkness: "'Get out of my house,' the nun said, and hit me in the mouth."

And there are others, like the first line of the late Ross Thomas' novel, The Seersucker Whipsaw. "My four-city search for Clinton Shartelle ended in Denver where I found him playing shortstop for the Kwikway Truckers in a sandlot park at 29th and Champa." Who wouldn't want to keep reading to find out who this Shartelle man is, why someone would go to four cities to find him, and why he was playing sandlot ball?

What's your favorite first line of a novel? Here's one I'll be working on soon: “'The condition is called synesthesia,' Dr. Alders said, 'And it’s not as uncommon as you might think.'" Add yours in the comments section. It can be one of your own or one from a novel you like.

Notes: The winner of the copy of Deb Raney's latest novel has been notified by email. If you didn't win, keep trying. And don't forget my latest, Medical Judgment. The next one, Cardiac Event, will be released in January. Watch for it.

I'm going to take August off from blogging, but I'll see you again after Labor Day.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Country Boy In The Big City

The other day, I saw a commercial that had a city limit sign showing a population that was almost exactly the same as that of my hometown when I left there: 2578. And that started me thinking.

When I finished high school (BTW, we only had one of them, plus  one other for the lower grades) and left to enroll in college for my pre-med classes, I jumped to a city that was ten times as large. That wasn't too big an increase in size for a small-town boy, and I adapted. Then I went to Dallas for medical school, and the jump in the population of the city in which I lived represented a logarithmic increase from what I'd become accustomed to. But, again, I adapted.

Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to visit (either as a visiting professor or via a leisure trip) places like New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and lots of other US cities. I've travelled and delivered medical talks in Canada, Mexico, and Central America. I've even been in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, The Netherlands, and several others. Quite a step up for a small town boy.

I guess it's possible to adapt to one's environment, no matter how large or small the city in which you live may be. But sometimes I wish I were back in that small town in North Texas where I knew everyone, could find my way around blindfolded, and we never locked our door. Then again, those days may be gone forever, even if I tried to go back. As Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." And, if you do, you'll find it's changed...and so have you.

Do you sometimes find yourself wishing you could go back home? I'd like to know.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Writing: Writing Routine of Author Deborah Raney

DEBORAH RANEY's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched Deb’s writing career. Twenty years, thirty books, and numerous awards later, she's still creating stories that touch hearts and lives. She and husband, Ken, traded small-town life in Kansas for life in the city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four grown children and seven grandchildren who all live much too far away. 

I thought you'd enjoy seeing what her typical writing day looks like. So here's Deborah:

While it’s true there’s no such thing as a typical writing day, a normal day for me begins early—often before 6 a.m.—with the business side of things: answering e-mail and reader mail, updating my website, writing blog posts like this one, and reading or combing the Internet for research. After that, my husband and I spend 45 minutes on the treadmill, elliptical, and recumbent bike (made tolerable by watching TV series while we work out). After that we read a chapter in the Bible and spend some time praying together for our kids, family, church, our work projects for the day, and our nation. 

Ken and I both work from home and I usually eat breakfast at my desk handling any stray e-mails, then I quickly clean up the kitchen (I simply can’t write if there are dirty dishes in the sink or an unmade bed!) When my actual writing time begins around 10, I have a routine that helps set the stage. I love my colorful office and that’s where I usually write. I start by lighting scented candles, choosing music to fit the mood of the scene I’ll be writing, then brewing a perfect cup of coffee. I have a cute coffee station set up in my office with a Keurig coffeemaker, and a collection of almost 100 coffee mugs to choose from, many gifts from our kids, family members, and readers. My writing day starts with editing the scenes I wrote the day before. I usually shoot to add 1,000 new words a day early in the life of a novel. But as my deadline approaches, eventually I’ll be writing closer to 2,000 or even 3,000 words toward the last few chapters. It’s something like a snowball rolling down a mountain picking up steam as it grows bigger and bigger.

If the weather cooperates—usually only in the spring and fall in Kansas—I love to take my laptop out to the back deck to write. There, the birds, squirrels, ducks, geese, bunnies, and an occasional egret (or even a coywolf or deer on occasion!) provide entertainment.

Since we eat a rather late breakfast, Ken and I skip lunch and eat an early supper around 3:30. We usually both head out to the yard to weed and water in the evening, then back to our desks until around 8:30 when we unwind with a movie or a couple of TV series episodes. I consider this and reading for half an hour or so before bed, to be fuel for the writer’s tank. Another thing we do that fuels the tank: every Thursday morning at 7 a.m., Ken and I have a date! We grab a donut and coffee and head out garage sale-ing! It’s our favorite time of the week and we’ve found many treasures for our home and offices, and I’ve come up with many ideas for books in the process! Sometimes Ken helps me brainstorm while we drive from neighborhood to neighborhood. It’s a wonderful, fun time to connect with each other and just have fun. We’re usually back at our desks by 10 or shortly after, but that break in the week really helps us power through to the weekend.

My husband will tell you (so I may as well confess) that I can get a little cranky when I’m on deadline. He’s a prince, and during the last couple of weeks when I’m doing everything possible to stay in the “zone” with my story world, he will take care of supper, answer the phone and door, and generally serve as my “bodyguard” to keep me on task until the book has been turned in. Once I finish a novel, I try very hard to take at least a couple of weeks off before diving into the next book. I love the writing life and can’t think of anything I’d rather do, but the process of completing a novel is very intense and more than a little stressful, so the time off between books is important to my sanity.

Thanks, Deb. So there you have it. A writer's typical day. Now tell us how your day goes--whether you're writing or whatever you do. And one commenter will win a copy of Deborah's latest novel, Close To Home (US addresses only--sorry). Don't forget to include your email address so we can contact the lucky winner.

Oh, and if you want to get acquainted with Deb's writing, try her short read, Going Once, on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents right now.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Story Behind The Story

Ever wake up at 3 AM and realize there was something you were supposed to do but hadn't? That's what happened to me last night, which is why this is a bit late getting posted.

But during that "oh, good grief" moment, I realized that some of my blog readers might like to know what was behind my latest novel, Medical Judgment. So here it is. I hope it speaks to some of you.

Come back on Friday, when author Deborah Raney shares what her typical writing day looks like. Thanks for reading.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing: Author's Copies

When an author gets a contract for publication of his/her book, they're interested in lots of things--the reputation of the publisher, the marketing plan for the book, the advance against royalties they'll receive, the royalty structure should their book "earn out." There are lots of things the author and agent iron out with the publisher, but there's one question I never gave much thought to when I first learned I was going to get a contract.

Most publishers provide an author with a given number of "author's copies," to be distributed for purposes of marketing the book. Admittedly, some of these are sold by authors when they speak to various groups, and usually the publisher turns a blind eye to the activity. It's just another way for authors (who don't make a lot of money on their books unless their name is J. K. Rowling) to pick up a little cash. I don't do much speaking, so I don't worry much about that.

Other than that, the books go to "get the word out" about a novel. I've given copies of each of my books to several area church libraries, our local library, friends, my barber, my pharmacist, various tradesmen who come to the house, and lots of others. I carry a couple of signed copies in my car to give away. My wife has started doing the same since her hair stylist indicated an interest in my work.

I've been fortunate in that my publishers provided a reasonable number of author's copies for me. In addition, most contracts allow authors to purchase additional copies of their books at a discounted price. I've done this a few times for my book written after the death of my first wife (The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse), mainly because I look upon the distribution of that book as a ministry. As for my novels, I've usually gotten by with the number of author copies furnished to me by the publisher.

I'm nearing the end of distribution of my author's copies for my latest novel, Medical Judgment. However, there are still opportunities for readers to enter contests and win a copy for themselves. Of course, if all else fails, they can purchase a copy--I make a few cents on every sale, and every little bit is appreciated.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Musings On Dallas Shooting

(Police honor line saluting as the bodies of their slain comrades are loaded on vehicles for transport to Medical Examiner's office: via

It's been less than four days since a protest march was followed by gunshots from a single gunman shooting that killed five policeman and wounded several other officers and civilians. The TV and social media have been alive with reports, opinions, and recommendations since that time. As for me, I don't know what to say.

 I was in the U.S. Air Force serving overseas when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, so some of that shock was blunted by time and distance. But on Friday night I watched the TV as this slaughter took place just a few miles from me. It's still hard for me to fathom, to parse the implications, to move forward.

I respect those men who put their lives on the line every day when they don the blue or tan or whatever type of uniform and perform their sworn duty to protect us. Some of them take it too far, and they should be punished, just as anyone--no matter whether they wear a uniform and carry a weapon or have money or power--should be. But the vast, vast majority have my respect and support.

I was heartened to see a story in our local paper about two groups, the protesters and counter protesters, who met in the middle and ultimately agreed that all lives matter. (Photo taken from the online edition of the Dallas News).

Please join me in praying for our city, others like it, and our nation.

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Friday, July 08, 2016

Writing; Great Expectations

This post is in answer to a recent comment on my blog from a woman who wondered if she should consider a new career. My answer--it's never too late, but sets your sights high.

I retired from the active practice of medicine well over a decade ago. I thought my retirement would consist of a few rounds of golf, a bit of travel, enjoyment of my family--things that retirees do. Instead, I find myself busier than ever with my second profession.

When I set up practice I thought it would be neat to someday present a paper before the county medical society. Instead, before I retired, I'd written or edited eight textbooks, had over 100 papers published, and lectured literally all over the world. I set my sights low, but I can now look back and hear God saying, "Oh, I have much more than that in mind for you."

I'm in the same situation now with writing. I set out to write a book about my emotions and actions after the death of my wife of forty years, and with the publication of The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, I figured my writing days were over. But along the way I had been challenged to try my hand at fiction, so I did. I wrote, submitted, got rejected, wrote some more, submitted, got rejected, and so forth. Now I've had ten novels of medical suspense published and the next one will come out after the first of next year. I've even gained enough experience and knowledge to teach some about the craft. And as I look back on the time when I thought about doing some non-medical writing, I can hear God saying, "Oh, I have much more than that in mind for you."

I suppose the central thought of this post is this: Don't set your sights too low. It's better to fail at the great things than to be good at the trivial ones. What do you think?

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Guest Blogging Today

I"m over at Suspense Sisters today, asking, "Do Writers Take A Holiday?" Drop over and add your two cents worth--with a chance to win a copy of my latest novel, Medical Judgment. (Comments left here don't count--sorry).

See you back here on Friday.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Life Isn't Perfect

Ever get frustrated because the life you envisioned hasn't worked out the way you planned? After all, movies and TV shows depict a little conflict, yet everything always turns out all right. But your life is nothing like what you've seen on the screen or read about in books. You keep waiting for a happy ending, and it hasn't been forthcoming yet.

I think back to my middle years, when I figured I'd retire at 65, sit on the porch for a year or two, then pass on to my reward. But it didn't work out that way. My first wife had just retired and I was getting ready to follow, but she had a fatal stroke and died. Because I wanted to pass on some of the things I learned through and after the experience, I was forced into a crash course in writing and the publishing industry, eventually producing the manuscript that was published as The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse.

From that point, I decided to try writing fiction, but experienced forty rejections of my novels before getting my first fiction contract. After that, the rocking chair sat idle as I had ten novels of medical suspense released, and my eleventh will come out this fall. In the meantime, lots of things have happened, none of which I anticipated, and they don't come under the heading of a perfect life. But since none of my sons are named Beaver and my second wife looks nothing like Donna Reed, I suppose I'll just accept that I don't live in the middle of a TV show. I'll muddle through this thing called life and be grateful that I'm still around to participate.

How about you? Has your life worked out the way you planned? And how do you feel about that? I'd like to hear.

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Friday, July 01, 2016

July 4, 2016

This long weekend, culminating in July 4,  we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of this nation--a nation, as Lincoln put it, "conceived under God." And when I look around me, I'm saddened by the events of our world, and those taking place in our own nation.

We'll fly our flag this weekend, as we do almost every day. We'll join in the singing of our national anthem when it's played. We'll vote and work and pray for our nation. And hope that it's enough.

When I was commissioned an officer in the Air Force, I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend our nation from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. I still try to live up to those words.

I encourage everyone on this Independence Day to pause and reflect on what it has taken for us to be free citizens in this nation. America was founded on the principles of set forth in our pledge of allegiance, a country that is, "one nation, under God, indivisible...with liberty and justice for all." Some folks are trying (with some success) to remove the words "under God" from that pledge of allegiance. That makes me sad. 

How do you observe Independence Day? Let me know.

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