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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