Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year

As has been our custom for quite some time, we will probably usher in the New Year at about 10:30 Central time from our living room (or, more likely, our bed).  We've often said that New Year's Eve is amateur night, and we don't care to participate. Whatever time zone you're in and however you plan to mark the exit of the old year and entrance of the new--happy new year. 

Thanks to each of you who've made this "second profession" of writing an interesting and (mostly) pleasant experience for me. After leaving medicine after so many decades, I probably would have been bored with inactivity.

I'll be back on Friday. Meanwhile, however you celebrate it, here's hoping 2019 is great for you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas, 2018

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."


May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

My blog will resume after the first of the year. Enjoy the holiday break.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Texas Christmas

Note that my post on writing will be up sometime today on the Southern Writers Magazine blog. I hope you'll read it.

Meanwhile, I've had several requests to republish this. Hope it makes the Christmas season more real for you.  It did for me while I was writing it. 

The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
            
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did. 

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It didn’t take place in a bunkhouse, it occurred in a stable. And it wasn’t just a baby—this was God’s own Son--the Christ child was God in blue jeans, as one of my friends puts it. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God Himself in a diaper, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine. 

Merry Christmas. 

See you next year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The First Christmas Without Them

It's been many years now since the death of my first wife, but I still get requests for this piece that I  wrote after my first Christmas without her. I've been gratified at the continuing ministry of my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death of a Spouse. Despite having had seventeen novels and novellas published, this work of non-fiction remains the most satisfying among them all. I hope this piece ministers to those who are finding this season especially tough.

        THE FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THEM
         After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year. 
         After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.
         Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season. 
         The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.
         For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local food bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Consider a local emphasis like Toys for Tots or the Angel Tree--shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.
         When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods and cell phones. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and Wal-Mart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even if you celebrate it alone, remember the true meaning of Christmas.  

                                                      

Friday, December 14, 2018

Writing: Christmas Season

One of the first things I heard about writing was that nothing gets done during the two, three, or four weeks around Christmas in the publishing industry. Agent inquiries languish on hard drives, editors don't answer queries, and writers slack off for the holidays. I tried to adjust, as did many others involved in publishing. But that's changed, and one of the changes involves Christmas novels and novellas.

I first became aware of Christmas books through observing what my colleagues were releasing at this time of year. It didn't take long before I put two and two together and decided that having a new book out with a Christmas theme was an opportunity to capitalize on the gift market. Now it's a big thing--both in indie-publishing and from the established publishers.

I wanted to become a part of this trend once I started publishing my work independently, jumping into the Christmas novella scene with Silent Night, Deadly Night. This worked out pretty well, so I decided to publish another novella this year around Christmas, but I couldn't come up with a plot that I liked. Finally, though, I wrote one that took place just before Christmas and featured snow--close enough. And thus, Emergency Case was born. I doubt that it will replace the latest toy as this year's most popular Christmas present, but we'll see.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to you all. Enjoy the season, but don't forget the reason we celebrate.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ready Or Not...

I look at the calendar and do a double take. Surely it can't be two weeks until Christmas. Maybe you're ready, just waiting for the big day. But some of us are not. Around our house, it appears that my wife is, as always, able to pull it all together, but like a duck, the surface may be calm but below the surface is furious paddling.

What's on your to-do list for Christmas? Is it getting out the cards? Our friends who usually send several pages about their past adventures simply sent us a simple photo card this year. Others are sending their Christmas greetings electronically (I just got one from a large publisher), while many simply find the practice too time consuming in the midst of everything else that demands their attention. We used to use these cards to keep up with our friends and relatives. Now we leave that to social media.

Is it the gifts? Have we spent as much on couple A as on couples B and C? Did we remember to get a gift for that person? Did they give us one last year? Is a gift card out because it's too impersonal? If we decide to give one, how much should it be for? Our society has become fixated on gifts, without thinking of the Gift we've all received.

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus' birth. Oh, I know that it probably happened in the summer (let's not get into that right now).  We're celebrating, so take advantage of it. I'm noticing that songs about Santa and snow are replacing traditional Christmas hymns, but they haven't drowned them out completely. In the midst of all this, let me suggest that you stop and consider the reason for the holiday. And thank Him for the best gift of all. I will.


Friday, December 07, 2018

Writing: The "Extras"

As I travel this "road to writing" (an appellation I've chosen to indicate that the writer must continue to learn...and, boy, have I learned), I'm discovering that there's much more to the craft than just putting the right words in the right order to make a book.

I've discovered that it's necessary to keep one's name in front of the general public. One way to do this is via guest blogs and interviews on various sites, always with a giveaway of the latest book the author is touting. Even if you're published by a traditional house, it's often up to the author to arrange these guest appearances. I've added the little "lagniappe" (something extra, if you don't speak Creole) of giving an Amazon gift card to anyone chosen to receive one of these books who has already purchased one. I've already listed the sites where people can go to read these interviews and guest posts and get their name in the drawing for my latest novella, by the way.

Another thing I'm learning is that it's worthwhile to put out an audio version of the novels that come from the author's pen. For me, this involved choosing a narrator, then listening to their work and correcting things like their pronunciation. It's time-consuming, but worthwhile--especially if you have medical terms in the book, as I do. (By the way, if your work comes out via a publisher, they make the decision about putting out an audio version--this entire process may be out of the author's hands).

Last week, I offered a "key" to download my most recent full-length novel, Guarded Prognosis, to five randomly chosen people. The keys have gone out to the winners, and I hope you enjoy listening to the book.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Christmas rush

It has sat in the atrium of our house for a few days now, after we found it on sale at a local big box store. It will look great when we finally assemble it, but there's always something that comes up. Meanwhile, people are posting pictures of their decorated living rooms, sharing their Christmas ideas. Unfortunately, sometimes  lost in all the rush is the reason that we celebrate--God's gift to us, the best Christmas present we could ever receive.

I realize that Jesus was probably born in the summer months. I've heard the stories that our current Christmas was moved to coincide with the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. But all that's less important to me than the "reason for the season." And it doesn't matter when we observe the occasion.

So, whether you're all set for the holidays or are still trying to get everything done, don't forget why we celebrate. Whether it's in December or July, it's a wonderful time to stop and reflect on the greatest gift anyone could receive.