Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thinking

When I was practicing medicine, I was in solo private practice for most of my professional life. Then I accepted a position as a professor at a prestigious medical center, where I served for another decade. The advice I received from a good friend (now deceased)  resonated with me at the time, and comes back periodically: "Are you ready to work for 'the man'?" I thought I'd learned how to work for someone else in my almost three years in the Air Force, but I soon remembered why it isn't an unalloyed blessing.

When I was in solo practice, both the upside and downside to that situation was that I was responsible for making all the decisions. I was no fun to see the pay period coming up and know that I'd be the last one to get a check...if I got one at all. But it was a nice feeling to know that if I wanted to leave early to see my son's baseball game or swim meet, or my daughter's speech tournament, I could. On balance, it probably was the weight of being the one making the ultimate decisions that led me to accept the invitation to "work for the man."

I had a good decade at the medical center, with patient responsibility, surgical cases, and teaching duties. But I soon learned that having someone else in charge was a high price to pay. The straw that broke this particular camel's back was when I wanted to buy a new copy of a book most physicians use on a regular basis. The cost was about $25, as I recall. The administrator turned down my request, saying that I could use the copy one of my colleagues had bought. I had been recognized throughout the world for my expertise, had been president of one and vice-president of two of our professional organizations, had served on a number of commissions and committees, and was turned down for a $25 book. I decided to retire.

I have a similar situation in writing. When I was under contract to a publisher, they handled a lot of things I've discovered are the indie-author's responsibility. Royalty structure aside, I have to ask myself if it's worth it to be in charge of getting everything done. This is not a new argument, nor is it confined to my "new" profession. Each of us has to assess whether it's worth the security of having someone else in charge to relinquish our ability to fully control the situation. I'll reach a personal decision soon, but I suspect the question will come up again.

How about you? What's your opinion in this situation? Do you have a similar one in your own life? I'd like to hear.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Writing: Decisions

Since starting to publish my novels without the help of a traditional publisher, I've learned how many of the decisions regarding a book's publication are up to the author--decisions that he/she often took for granted that the publisher would make.

For instance, the publisher chose an editor for my work. This could be a good or bad thing. Going in, I thought the same editor who accepted my novel would be the one who did the editing. That was before I found out that there's a macro-edit, a line edit, proof-reading, and (depending on how you break it up), perhaps more. It's frankly a gamble when someone else chooses your editor (and I've both won and lost this gamble). And just about the time you get the right person involved, for one reason or another the author is no longer with that publisher...or editor. Now, all that is a decision that must be made by the author. The result can be good or bad, but the decision in this case is mine, and I've settled on a good one.

Likewise, the publisher chose the artist who would craft the cover for a book. I've been fortunate in that I was consulted much of the time, and the covers for my books that were released by traditional publishers have been good. I remember completing rather complex questionnaires prior to a cover that gave the physical descriptions of major characters, as well as suggested scenes that might be used. When the book is indie-published, it's up to the author to find the right artist, give all the appropriate information to them, and make certain the end result is a cover with which you're happy. Again, I've successfully navigated this challenge.

Then there's the question of size of the book, matte or glossy cover, font to be used on the cover and in the body of the text, and on and on it goes. Should it be released in e-book or print or both? When should it be released? Is a pre-order period a good or bad thing?

For good or ill, I'm ready to release my next novel, Guarded Prognosis. It's available for pre-order (at a discount for the Kindle version until the official release date of July 17). I hope you enjoy it.

Oh, and an indie author (actually, all authors), should make all those decisions I've described above as well as writing the next one. I plan to release my novella, Emergency Call, in late November. Keep that in mind when making your Christmas shopping list.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Envy

Ever find yourself comparing your life with someone else's--and wishing yours were different? Writers are especially prone to this. We see a post about another writer's success, and (at least for a moment) some of us turn green.

I used to envy other authors, but the more I got to know some of them, the more I found out they had their own problems--you'd be surprised how many. The same holds true of people in almost every walk of life. The old Indian saying has a lot of truth in it: "Don't judge another until you've walked a mile in their moccasins." (Of course, one of my friends adds, "By then you're a mile away from them and you have their shoes.")

One of the quotations I like best is this one from Steven Furtick, a pastor in North Carolina: "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel." Think about that the next time you get upset after reading someone's post on social media or receive a Christmas letter that sends you running for the headache remedy.

Don't get frustrated by seeing what someone else has. Maybe you're just seeing their highlight reel.

Let me know in the comments what you think about this. Although Blogger is having some problems, and I don't currently get notified of comments, I'll get around to them eventually.

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Friday, June 08, 2018

Writing: My Next Novel

People who have never written a book say, "I wish I could do that." People who have actually done it look at their manuscript and say, "I wish I could get it published." People who hold their first book in their hands say, "I did it." The next noise these people hear is the sound of agents, publishers, and readers saying, "When's the next one?" Add to that the challenges that await the author who decides to go the "indie-route" and you have my current situation.

When I became a hybrid author, one who has been published by a traditional pub house but decides for one reason or another to self-publish, I found a number of surprises waiting. But whether indie- or traditionally-published, one thing is universal among writers--an emotion experienced by first-time authors and someone (like me) who has seen multiple books with their name on the cover: the release date is always accompanied by some nervousness.

I've sent out almost a dozen copies of the e-book format of my next novel, Guarded Prognosis, for review. When I started seeing some nice postings about the book on Goodreads and getting emails directed to me saying they liked it, I breathed a sigh of relief. And now it's time for the general public to chime in.

We've made the Kindle version of the book available for pre-order (at about 40% off until release on July 17, at which time it goes up to the final price). I'm told that Amazon won't put the print version up for pre-order yet. However, on July 17, both the Kindle and print versions will be available via Amazon. And lest you say, "I don't have a Kindle," there are apps available--free of charge on Amazon--that let you download and read these books on Macs. (Currently the Kindle for PC is "unavailable"--don't know why).

One other thing a writer learns to expect is the question, "When's the next one?" I hope to release a novella this winter--Emergency Call--that features a physician who backs out of her snow-covered drive and runs over the corpse of a man her attorney-husband just defended. Watch for it. And meanwhile, I hope you read and enjoy Guarded Prognosis.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

June is Bustin' Out All Over...

Or, at least that's what the musical says. Somehow, June has sneaked up on us. Our weather here in Texas has apparently decided to go straight to summer, and the temperatures lately have been more typical of August than the end of May.

This is the month school is "finally" out. The sounds you hear are cheers from the children and subdued sobbing from the parents who are frantically planning what they can do to keep their kids occupied until school starts again.

Graduation for many high schools takes place in late May or early June. I had occasion to attend one this past weekend, and couldn't help thinking about the emotions going through the heads of those who are receiving their diplomas. Some are going directly to the workforce, some have committed to our armed forces, many are headed for college. I've been through that, both myself and as a parent, and I can only say to each of them--Godspeed.

This summer, my wife will be doing some grandmothering, I'm getting ready to release my next novel (it hardly seems like this will be my sixteenth), and our extended family is about to head out on various vacations. What does your summer look like?

Friday, June 01, 2018

Writing: Does It Matter Where?

A recent post about J. K. Rowling donating the chair in which she did her writing made me think about writing space and whether it matters where an author composes his/her work.

When I retired from medicine, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted an "office" in my home. Not only could I write there, but it would also be a place where I paid bills, did correspondence, and "retreated" to avoid bugging my wife. I'll have to admit that I'm not an author who would make James Scott Bell proud, since I don't set a quota for my daily writing. I've gotten a lot from Jim's books and lectures, but that's one of his rules I've never managed to put into practice. Then again, I've never missed a publication deadline or failed to finish a book on time, so my philosophy of "whatever works" seems to be holding up fine.

Some authors make a habit of writing at a neighborhood coffee shop--usually Starbucks. I know a number of them who say they're unable to write without their laptop at their favorite table, while they sip a grande latte made with a double shot of Kenyan blend, soy milk, and sugar in the raw.  Since I rarely drink coffee except what is brewed at our house, I'll probably never know.  I do know that some of my colleagues enjoy writing on laptops, because they prefer to write at their favorite coffee house or in various rooms (often more than one) in their home. Again, I'll simply say, "Whatever works."

Do you think it matters where a writer crafts his/her books? When you try to type the great American novel, do you look around you for inspiration, or do you prefer silence? Let me know. Meanwhile, I suppose I'll stick with my little office. It's so small the mice are hunch-backed, but it works for me.

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NOTE: For those of you who follow my "author page" on Facebook, I'm going to take a "sort of" vacation during the month of June. I'll be cutting down the number of posts there, including no posts on weekends. Enjoy the summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Day After...

I hadn't planned to blog today, but all the posts about the true meaning of Memorial Day led me to think about "the forgotten stanza" of our national anthem. Here are the words of the fourth stanza. I think they're appropriate for this week following Memorial Day...and every day.
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day, 2018

Monday is Memorial Day, an American holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It was originally known as Decoration Day, and originated in the years following the Civil War. It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Most people are ready for a long weekend. But there's a good deal of misinformation about Memorial Day. It is not a day for honoring those who previously served or are actively serving in our armed forces--there are other holidays for that, most typically Veterans' Day (formerly Armistice Day). And, although mattress and tire sales have seemed to come around on this three-day holiday, that's not what we celebrate. It's for honoring the gift given to all of us by those who didn't come home.

Take a moment and remember the men and women who've made the ultimate sacrifice. And remember--Freedom isn't free. 

I'll see you all again next Friday with another post about the writing life.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Writing: Character List

As many of you know, I often re-read novels by some of my favorite authors. Many of these feature the same characters, forming a series. I haven't done this yet,  although I'll do it in my novella I plan to publish toward the end of the year. Stay tuned for details. But in the meantime, have you ever paused to consider how a favorite author recalls the hair color a character has, the car he/she drives, the city in which they live?

The answer, of course, is that all authors--at least, all whom I know--maintain some sort of character sketch on each person featured in each of their books. These are helpful in maintaining continuity and accuracy, and are also beneficial to the person designing a book cover. I've heard stories about cover pictures of blonde heroines that don't match up with the brunettes about whom the author wrote.

Here's one such character sketch from my files. It's of the main character in my recently published novella, Doctor's Dilemma, which takes place in Sommers, Texas:

Tyler Gentry, MD: Surgeon, finished residency and accepts position with Hall group. Dark brown hair, brown eyes. Olive complexion. About 6’ tall, 200#. Drives old Ford (which blows up). Went with Hall group because he was in need of money after residency. New car is a black Chevrolet Malibu. Lives in an apartment (furnished with what he had as a resident).


Father was a surgeon in Houston. Parents killed in private plane crash. Alcohol involved—he now avoids it.

Simple, but it has all the details I need. Have you given any thought to how series authors kept things straight? Have you ever thought about the character list for your favorite book? What would you include? 

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NOTE: The Kindle version of my novella, Doctor's Dilemma, is available for a reduced price through the end of this month. (And, even if you don't have a Kindle, there are free apps available from Amazon that allow you to read Kindle books on your PC, Mac, or smart phone). 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Public Speaking

According to Google, fear of speaking in public is the most common fear among people, weighing in at number one, ahead of death at number 5 and loneliness at number 7. Supposedly, we're afraid of not having the right words to say, afraid we'll do something foolish. I guess I skipped that one, though.

I don't recall much about my childhood, but recently I was reminded that at an early age (probably six or seven) I attended some classes in "Expression." Looking back on it, these were probably aimed at getting a rather shy and introverted child comfortable with appearing before others. As I recall, I gave a few "canned" speeches (at the time called "Declamation") and subsequently sang, along with three other kids my own age. This group must have either been fairly good or the only ones who would do it, since I recall singing before the local Lions Club and a time or two at school activities.

As an adult, I didn't really fear public speaking. As a physician, as a solo practitioner and later a medical school professor, I lectured all over the world. Matter of fact, when I remarried after the death of my first wife, our honeymoon was spent in Singapore and Thailand, where I was scheduled to deliver lectures.  When God sort of pushed me into non-medical writing, I taught at a number of writing conferences. I don't think that during it all I had any anxious moments due to public speaking. I don't know whether to give the credit to knowledge of my subject matter, God's grace for the moment, or my early Expression experiences. But at least I've avoided the number one fear of most people.

How about you? Are you more afraid of public speaking than of other things--including death and loneliness? I'd like to hear your stories.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Writing: Character Description

NOTE: The price of the Kindle version of my novella, Surgeon's Choice, has been cut by $1, and it is available via Amazon for this reduced price of $2.99 for the remainder of May. If you've already read it, tell your friends. (Actually, tell everyone--your enemies may enjoy it, too).

One of the problems I have is that I get so wound up in the story I'm telling that I neglect to at least give a minimal description of the person about whom I'm talking. That usually comes in the second or third draft, often following a suggestion by my first reader.

As many of you know, I like fiction by the late Robert B. Parker, and I often read through those books again and again, learning each time I do. I going through Taming A Sea Horse I found these two examples of describing a woman (his permanent girl-friend) and a man (who isn't a very wholesome character).

Here's his description of the woman's clothes. "She was wearing a black skirt and a lemon-yellow blouse with black polka dots and a pearl-gray jacket. Her necklace was crystal and pearl, large beads. She wore clunky black earrings and a big bracelet of black and gray chunks of something." He goes on to describe her stockings, her shoes, her purse, and the overnight bag she carried. I think it's a bit much, but maybe not.

Then the man: "Sitting on a barstool drinking Budweiser beer from a long-necked bottle was a guy with a round red face and a big hard belly. He was entirely bald and his head seemed to swell out of his thick shoulders without benefit of neck. He had small piggy eyes under scant eyebrows that were blond or white and barely visible, and his thick flared short nose looked like a snout." He goes on to describe his dirty white T-shirt, his overalls and work boots. I could really picture this man from what Parker wrote.

So, what do you like when a character is introduced? Do you like a physical description, something about their clothes, a particular mannerism? Prefer to picture the character in your mind from the author's description, or formulate your own picture of them? Let me know.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Money and Religion

Bloggers are subject to lots of different rules, or at least, suggestions. They're told to involve their readers, tell a bit about their own lives, talk about current subjects that might interest their followers. But conventional wisdom is to shy away from two subjects: money and religion.

More subjects have been added to that list, and I wonder about them. For instance, it may be okay for a blogger--especially an author (we wouldn't want to drive away a potential reader, would we?)--to talk about their devotion to a particular football team...unless the people who read it are fans of another team that's an arch-rival. So we soft-pedal that.

Those who blog or otherwise post on the Internet have been warned that they should only use photos and images that are freely available. Otherwise, they might be sued for copyright infringement. (Note: I use Pexels, so the images I post are okay).

Recently authors have been told to be careful about using a particular word in a series title, because that word is copyrighted. That has kept the authorial world stirred up even further.

There was a time (although it seems so long ago) that we could express our opinion without someone jumping in and not only voicing one that dissents (which is fine with me) but trashing us for holding that belief (which isn't fine, in my opinion).

So, authors and others who blog, are you careful about what you post? Or, for that matter, what you say in public? Is this a new thing, or has it been going on for a long time, and I've not noticed it? Let me know.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Writing: Just Write?

There's an old joke about employing people with small hands to screw in a stubborn lightbulb, because "mini hands make light work." There are times when I'd like to have some of those hands working for me. I had no idea when I first began writing that this is a business, not a hobby--and there's a lot more to it than just choosing words and putting them on paper.

When I was under contract with a traditional publisher, they did a great deal of the marketing, although I found that quite often the things I lined up were more effective than an outside publicity entity. I had some input into cover design, but the final product was--at best--a joint effort in which I didn't make the final decision. And the editing of my manuscript was often "farmed out" to an independent editor--but I still had to respond to those edits and later check the galley proofs for errors. In other words, I still had to do things in addition to writing.

As an indie author, I can pay for a professional cover designer (well worth it) and an independent editor (also a valid expense, although some indie authors choose to skip that step). But I have to approve a cover, and as an editor once told me, it's my name that goes on the book, so how I respond to edits is up to me. In summary, the details of publication, including the how and when, fall to me. And that's when I long for those additional hands.

The trade-off? Better royalty payments for indie authors and more true independence. Is it worth it? Sometimes. Would I change? It varies from day to day. Is there more to writing than crafting a plot that holds the reader's attention? Definitely.

Unfortunately, along with the "Love your books" comments that come our way, authors sometimes get the question, "When's the next one coming out?" Do you now realize what goes on behind the scenes? I'd like to know.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Teddy Bears and Security Blankets

Among the programs we like to watch are re-runs of M*A*S*H. (And can you believe the "police action" which was the setting for the show took place half a century ago?) Anyway, one of the things that is part of the show is the stuffed bear that the company clerk, Radar, sleeps with. His teddy bear (ratty, and with one eye missing) is his "security blanket" of sorts. And he doesn't want to part with it.

I thought of this the other day as I completed the Continuing Medical Education I do on a regular basis as part of the requirement for continuing my license to practice medicine in our state. I've been retired from medical practice for about fifteen years, but I continue to fulfill the requirements and pay a rather hefty amount to keep my license current. Why? It's not just because I occasionally am called on to prescribe. The license isn't something I renew regularly because I worked awfully hard to get it. When it comes down to it, I believe that I keep it active because--deep in my heart--I don't know if this writing thing is going to work out during the time of my "retirement." So I like having another profession as a security blanket.

How about you? Is there a thing or an activity that you're unwilling to turn loose of because you don't want to lose your security blanket? Realistic or not, many of us have something we're still hanging on to. I'd be happy to hear about yours--or your comments on mine.

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Friday, May 04, 2018

Writing: New Novel

Made you look! But, no, we're not having another baby, or even another grandchild. But the emotions are similar. I've seen the cover design for my next novel, Guarded Prognosis. And I'm as delighted as I was when I saw the  cover of my first novel.

This will be my twelfth novel. I've also indie-published four novellas, so all-told this will be sixteen works of fiction that have appeared under my name. I had no such expectations twenty years ago, and was thrilled when my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, appeared. (BTW, it's been going for more than a decade, is now in its second edition, and I love the cover designs my publisher came up with for both of them).

My previous novels have been traditionally published, and my input into their cover design has varied. But I was ultimately responsible for this one. To design it, I turned to the woman who has done the covers for all four of my novellas, and as usual, Dineen Miller has done a nice job. See for yourself:




If all goes well, this book will be available for pre-order next month, and published in mid-July. (Hint--subscribers to my newsletter will get the first news).

Authors, I'm still feeling the thrill after so many novels. (Oh, not as many as many of my colleagues, but it's still a nice feeling to see that cover). Does it go away with time? Readers, what do you think of the cover Dineen has designed? Any other comments?

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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

What Makes Me Smile?

It hardly seems possible that it's been almost 19 years since the death of my first wife...and over 17 since my second wife and I were married. God has gifted me, not only with the love once more of a wonderful woman, but also with almost 20 more years of life, years I didn't think I had.

Not only that, He's provided me with a second profession, one that keeps me--as my uncle used to say-- off street corners and out of pool halls (and out of my wife's way) during these retirement years. One never knows what He has prepared for us. I certainly didn't think my second career would be writing.

I got to thinking about the things that now give me pleasure. Here are just a few:

--listening to our church choir and some of the wonderful soloists we're privileged to hear...and to our pastor as he makes the Word come alive.

--seeing one of our local sports teams do well (a definite rarity nowadays...but there's always next year, I guess).

--having the opportunity to visit in person with my children and grandchildren, despite the factors, including distance, that keep us from seeing each other more frequently.

--seeing a plot come together with an unexpected twist or two (even to me) as I near the end of a novel, while wondering for the hundredth time why I prefer to be a "pantser" rather than a "plotter."

--my first view of the cover for my next novel. (By the way, I'll be releasing this full-length novel this summer. Stay tuned for details, and a sneak peek).

What makes you smile? I'd like to know. Leave your comments below. And thanks.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Writing: "Don't Quit Your Day Job"

Everyone has the idea that being a writer is essentially an annuity that pays off regularly for something that seems so easy--writing a book. And that concept, although proven generally false, won't seem to die.

There are some pretty famous authors who continued at their full-time profession while writing well-known works. A few others bring down a significant amount of money by being full-time writers, but the number is pretty small.

What's the average income for a writer? And does it matter if you're published by a traditional, royalty-paying publisher or do it yourself as an "indie?" According to a survey (that's a couple of years old), writers published by traditional houses average from $5000 to $10,000 per year, while "hybrid" authors (those who publish both ways) can have a median annual income of $15,000 to $20,000 per year. Note, however,  that most hybrid authors already have a following when they strike out on the indie trail. For those who don't fall into this category but base their publishing career on their "indie" books for income, expect an annual median of about $5,000, with 20% of these authors making nothing.

Note: I just received notification that "Amazon's Jeff Bezos said recently that 1,000 Kindle Direct Publishing authors made $100,000 or more in Kindle royalties last year. It’s believed to be the first time Amazon has released that data in addition to disclosing the number of Amazon Prime members – 100 million worldwide." We'll see. For now, I'll stay with the figures I've been given.

A few make a living at writing--but few enough that the most common advice given a writer is, "Don't give up your day job." But lots of my colleagues do their writing in the morning, at night, on weekends, and whenever they can fit it in.

So, to those who think there's money in writing, be forewarned. As my uncle used to say, "It keeps me out of pool halls and off street corners." But for many of us, we don't do it for the money--or the fame (there's none out there for most writers)--or the perks (which, so far as I can tell, are non-existent). We write because we have to. That's why I do it.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

My Day (And Welcome To It)

I'm composing this ahead of time, because when it's supposed to post I'll be involved in a family visit. When I thought about that, I decided that perhaps readers of this blog would like to know how my day is spent. I mean, after all, I'm retired from my previous occupation. I must spend a lot of my time writing. It must be a breeze for me. Yeah, right!

First, I've found that one of the trade-offs with age has to do with sleeping in. As I'm fond of putting it, "When you reach the point where you can sleep late, you find that you can't sleep late." And that's true. Every day I wake up when the coffee starts to perk (I set it the night before...unless I forget). So, by 6 or at the latest 6:30 I'm up. My wife and I watch the news that we recorded the evening before, have our usual 10 minute discussion on what to have for breakfast (I'm the guilty party here--the idea of "whatever you want" just doesn't compute with me), then eat it while watching one of the shows we've recorded.

Much of my morning is spent at the computer, although there's very little writing done during that time. Instead, I look at the emails I've received, read through the blogs I follow, and usually compose one or more of my own blog posts. Mid-morning we pause for the energy drink we've come to like. Then I try to write a bit, while my wife does the 101 things necessary to keep the house going. (Bless her heart, I guess that for quite a while I just assumed elves came in during the night and cleaned the toilet and washed my dirty clothes).

My afternoons often consist of writing, editing, and marketing, while she does all the things she has on her plate. Dinner depends on what we have lined up that evening. The plunge of the Texas Rangers into the depths of mediocrity (actually, they'd need to improve to be mediocre) frees up some of our time. Family duties take up an occasional evening. For instance, last evening I accompanied my wife to the school administration building where one of our granddaughter's drawings was exhibited, along with others chosen from the classes in the myriad schools in Frisco--lots of them. The day before that, I mailed things my wife put together for the birthday of another granddaughter.

Exciting, isn't it? I guess I'm an aberration among published authors, since I often read on social media about my colleagues who seem to spend their entire day writing. But, in the end, I suppose I'm what Lawrence Block calls a "Sunday writer." Just as I always made time for my family while I was in full-time practice, I want to make time for them in my retirement. As the late Barbara Bush reminded us, at the end, no one will regret not spending more time at their work. Family is what counts.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Writing: "Selling" Your Work

Writers talk about the "good old days," when all an author needed to do was sit down and write a "great American novel," then turn it over to others to sell it. But has that ever happened, or is it just a longed-for circumstance that never really existed? I can't speak to older times, since I got into this writing life a bit more than a decade ago, but I'm told that an author has always had to be involved in the marketing of his/her work. I do know that writing is only a part of the job of an author nowadays. Someone has to get the word out, and as has been said before, no one is as interested in your book getting into the hands of others as you are.

When a book has been written (and there's a lot that goes into that), the fun has just begun. The author must "sell" it to an agent, who in turn "sells" it to a publisher. If the author decides to indie-publish it, they can skip these steps, but then assume the responsibility for all the activity that follows.

Assuming that the book is ready to print, someone (either the author or the marketing department of their publisher) sends advance copies out to various critics for review. The book is also sent to people who'll help publicize the book--call them a "street team" or "influencers" or whatever.  Copies should go to libraries (both church and public). Book store managers need to know about the book, including copies where appropriate, hoping they'll recommend it to their customers. There's the matter of appearances on various social media sites (often with a giveaway of the book). And the list goes on.

How about a formal launch? When my first novel came out, I arranged with an independent bookstore to hold a book launch there, complete with a cake and a reading from my work. I was disappointed at the turn-out, but heard later that a well-known public figure had done a book reading at that same site with an even smaller crowd in attendance. In retrospect, perhaps if I'd worked harder at inviting people, the number present would have been larger, but I'm still not certain it would have made a lot of difference.

Selling the book is important, and it can be influenced by lots of things, but I remain convinced that the best publicity is word-of-mouth. That comes from writing a great book, followed by one person telling another they like it. Like ripples in a stream, this type of publicity spreads. That's what I want to "sell" my book.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Faulkner's resignation: "Every scoundrel... (with) two cents for a stamp"

William Faulker is one of the most-recognized authors in American history. But, like many of that group, he wasn't always a writer. He was at one time a postmaster (although he allegedly was away at times to go hunting or golfing). But finally, he'd had enough. His resignation letter is a classic among those who are fed up with their jobs (or with the system).
"...As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be d***ed if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.
"This, sir, is my resignation."
I imagine that many of us have had that same feeling. Before writing this blog post, I had occasion to look someone up on Wikipedia, and found that the post had been edited to replace the name of the President who nominated a certain person with the word "Hitler," and his party with the word "fascist." There was a time when we would have gone to the library to look up the background on a person. That was a pain, but it also delivered us from someone who has access to a computer. Sometimes I think that's a trade-off I'd be willing to make.

Some of the posts I see on social media make me want to join Faulkner in chucking it all. Are we willing to trade the convenience of the Internet for the associated right to its use by people who insist on espousing their position (which is legitimate), but sometimes do it with troll-like actions (which I don't like)?

How about you? Do you hesitate to post things on the Internet that may be criticized by others? Are there other situations where you're afraid to voice an opinion. Have you ever, like Faulkner, wanted to resign? From what--the Internet, or from interactions with other humans? Let me know? I'd be interested in whether I'm the only one out here who sometimes wants to resign.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Writing: What's In A Name?

Ever wonder how a novelist chooses a name for characters? There are several theories (and I've probably tried them all). This is the way one author approaches it. And here are my own suggestions.

Some people try to choose a name that identifies the character. Maybe it refers to his personality (remember Scrooge?) or his physical appearance (such as "Stark" or "Linda"). That works, but I find it should be reserved for major characters. You can't spend days coming up with descriptive names for people who come and go throughout the narrative.

Speaking of that--and getting a bit off the subject--I find that having too many characters is confusing. Moreover--and back to what this blog post is about--try not to have people whose first or last name is too similar to that of others. Having a "Matty" and a "Mary" might work, but it's better if the names are "Alice" and "Mary."

I once tried using a name from my high school graduating class, but this backfired. I used the name "Frank Perrin" for a deputy sheriff in one of my novels, and when it was over you weren't sure if he wore a black or white hat. Then I got a note from a woman who wanted me to be the honored guest speaker at our class's 50th reunion. She was--you guessed it--the wife of my friend, Frank Perrin. Well, he thought it was funny, but I put that character in a follow-up novel, and you can be sure there was no doubt at the end that he was the good guy.

Some authors use a list of most popular names for any given birth year. Others choose names from the "spam" emails they get. Still others give little thought to naming their characters. It seems that plot trumps everything in writing and in the end, (as Shakespeare said), "What's in a name?"

Leave your comments for me. I'd love to hear whether you like posts like this. (If you don't, I suppose you can leave those comments as well, but I may sulk awhile after reading them).

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

" 'Tis A Puzzlement."

"The life of a writer must be so easy." I hear these words just often enough to make me re-think this second career into which God has led me. For those unfamiliar with my story, I was looking at retirement, not the life of an author. I practiced medicine for almost four decades, including ten years as a professor at a prestigious medical center. Retirement was going to include golf, travel, and leisure. But when my first wife passed away (just before my planned retirement), I journaled to express my feelings.Then I wanted to turn my journaling into a book, but had no idea how to do it.

Although I was so discouraged after one day at the writing retreat I attended that I wanted to go home, I persevered and eventually started on my road to writing. The Tender Scar, the book that was eventually published after that, has over the past decade ministered to thousands of people suffering the loss of a loved one. But I also was challenged at that same retreat to "try my hand at fiction."

After four years, four books, and four rejections, I quit. But I eventually tried once more, and shortly thereafter (long story) I got my first fiction contract. Now I've had fifteen novels and novellas published, and (God willing) will add to that number before the end of the year. But along the way I've discovered that being a published author doesn't automatically mean a full and peaceful life.

What there is to see beyond the name on a book cover might surprise you. I just communicated with a writer friend who spends hours each week driving her son for significant therapy, time that can't be spent writing...or marketing...or doing many other things. And this isn't an isolated instance. Yet she continues to write books that are excellent examples of inspirational fiction. I know offhand of numerous other writers whose personal lives aren't the perfect ones readers imagine. So why do we keep doing it? Because we're called to that activity, just as surely as ministers are called. We write because we can't not write. We don't do it for the glory (and we certainly don't do it for the money). But we do it.

I don't know why my first wife died suddenly, nor why God blessed me yet again with the love of another wonderful woman. I'm still not sure exactly how and why I got into writing. But it's a vocation I continue to pursue...although, as a retirement activity, it's not "so easy" at all.

Have I told you some things you didn't know about the life of a writer? Let me know.

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Writing: Rules and Suggestions

Writers, especially "newbies," are given some rules that are looked on as basic for producing good--i.e., readable--fiction. Keep point of view constant. Avoid the passive voice. Start where the action is. Try not to do an information "dump," but rather work the situation and back-story in as you go. All these are valid suggestions, and I--like many others--learned them as we cut our teeth writing fiction.

Let me talk a bit about one of these rules--the point of view. The best way I know to describe point of view is to imagine a TV camera and microphone perched on the shoulder of the POV character. What he (and the camera) sees, the reader sees. What he (and the microphone) hears, the reader hears. None of this "little did he/she know..." that was popular at one time. Such an interjections goes with the "omniscient" point of view, which imagines that the story is being told by a narrator, often one who not only sees all aspects of the story but is something of a gossip, not hesitating to share his secrets with the reader.

When can we switch POVs? In my writing, I identify the point of view character at the start of the scene, and try to keep the POV constant through that scene. Some authors have one POV character through the whole chapter, sometimes the whole book. Others (and there are a few like me) change  the POV character when they change the scene. However, I like to keep the number of points of view small--three or four at most--in order to simplify things for the reader.

That's enough about POV. I'll close by quoting one of the best rules for writers ever laid down. Elmore Leonard once gave an interview that contained a number of suggestions for writers, but the one I like best is this: "I try to leave out the parts the reader tends to skip." Do that, and you'll keep your reader turning pages, which is, after all, what we try to do.

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