Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Speaking Of Weather...

...we've had rain, high winds, lightning, and a few tornadoes every Sunday night for at least three straight weeks. We've also had enough rain on Wednesdays that my golf partner and I have been unable to play. We did get in some golf this past week, but played "cart path only" (which ranks right up there with a high colonic in my pantheon of pleasures).

Of course, in a few weeks we'll be longing for some of that rain as we look at our water bills and the grass on our lawns. We're never satisfied, are we?

It reminds me of what I've often been quoted as saying when I consider my age. "I'm not as young as I once was...and probably never was."'

The grass is always greener, isn't it? What's sending you looking over the fence at the grass on the other side today?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Writing: Starting With The Weather

Too many writers read various "rules," and try to make their writing conform to it. I'm thinking now of the "rules" of  Elmore Leonard, starting with this one: "Don't start a book with the weather." That may be good advice in most cases, but let me remind you that Madilyn L'Engle started her award-winning novel, A Wrinkle In Time, with the often-quoted line (frequently the subject of many jokes), "It was a dark and stormy night." I honestly don't know whether L'Engle just didn't care, or simply chose it because it worked. In either case, I have to say she came out ahead.

Would I start a novel with something about the weather? I might--if it worked into the plot and set the scene. But I'd try to make it something that would encourage the reader to keep going past the first paragraph or first page. Let me give you an example. Would you keep reading a novel that began in this way?

He switched the windshield wipers from intermittent to slow to fast as the rain grew steadily worse and sky darkened until his field of vision was confined to what was illuminated by his headlights. Parker strained to avoid missing his turn-off as he guided the car toward the Cutter mansion. He spared a glance at the dashboard clock. He was cutting it awfully thin, and he knew Cutter would be angry if he was late. Perhaps the weather was an omen of what was coming. But, good or bad, he needed to make the meeting. Whatever came after that... Well, he'd just see.

I not only started with the weather. I incorporated the rainstorm and darkening skies into the plot. We don't know what's around the bend, but it sounds bad.

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Happiness?

Ever wonder what goes on behind your favorite author's work? Honestly, neither did I. Like most of you, when I'm not reading to gather facts, I read  in order to lose myself for a short time in the world crafted by a talented novelist. But I came on something recently that set me thinking about the person behind the words.

Like many of you, I've enjoyed the work of Agatha Christie. I still recall the time when I was alone in the BOQ of Lajes Field, waiting for the eventual arrival of my wife and small son, who were separated from me by an ocean. I decided to read a book to help pass the time, and ended up staying up all night to finish Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. Many of us have enjoyed her mysteries, but did you realize that she was often in the midst of depression, that she once disappeared for almost two weeks, and that her marriage was anything but happy? Neither did I.

Poe was said to be an addict. Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway, among others, committed suicide.  We never know what tortured lives are behind the words we enjoy. By the way, lest you worry about me (if you were going to), although I have the usual problems that beset all of us, I haven't reached the stage yet where you have to be concerned about me.

Would it help or hurt your enjoyment of books to know the circumstances of their authors?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Writing: A Writer's Oath?

When I received my MD degree, we didn't take the Hippocratic Oath. Even as far back as that time, we didn't  use that particular oath. We didn't swear by a number of pagan gods "not to cut for the stone" and similar things. Rather, what we took was a doctor's oath--one that bound us, for example, to "respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps we walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is ours with those who are to follow." There were other things that we committed ourselves to--things like putting the patient's welfare first, and being honest in our dealings. I daresay that none of us recalls the exact words of that oath, but all--at least most--of us tried to practice by those principles.

Should writers commit themselves to a similar oath? I was curious, so I did what most of us have learned to do: a Google search. And I found that Gail Carson Levine penned a simple oath for writers, one that I think bears passing on. Simply put, she commits to 1. writing as often and as much as possible, 2. respecting herself as a writer, and 3. nurturing the writing of others. That's it. In thinking the situation through, I'm not certain what--if anything--I'd add. What about you?

NOTE: Read this interview with Lena Dooley, leave a comment, and be entered for a chance to win a copy of Bitter Pill. As I recall, this is your last chance for a "freebie."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Why Is A Celebrity An Expert?

I heard yesterday that one of the political candidates changed his stance on an issue, ostensibly because of an opinion voiced by a television celebrity. And that set me to thinking. No, this isn't going to be a political diatribe. Not that I don't have an opinion on this and similar subjects. Rather, it's because I happen to think that celebrities--sports figures, actors, musicians, even authors--don't have any more insight than I do about the things of the world. So why should the average American think that these opinions count more than Joe Six-Pack (or Jill Coke, if you prefer)?

If you think back to the last political campaign, you'll recall that movie and TV "stars" voiced their opinions--some rather loudly--about the issues and candidates. I don't recall why, but there was certainly no doubt which side of the fence they came down on. The next time you hear one of those famous voices calling for this or that, ask yourself one question. "What do they know that I don't?" If you find that for some reason they are  more knowledgeable than you, listen to what they have to say. Otherwise, think for yourself. I highly recommend it.

Feel free to leave your comments. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Writing: Punctuation For The Newbie

So you think you'll write a book. You're fluent in English. You know how to put the words together. And if you make a mistake, the editor will correct it for you. Right? Well, maybe, but it helps if you start off with an idea of what a manuscript should look like.

To begin with, double space the manuscript, using 12 point Times New Roman type. I've often wondered what would happen if you submitted something that's single-spaced, with justified margins (instead of the usual staggered ones) written in an unusual type face like Lucida. If your manuscript is the next Purpose Filled Life or The Shack, I suspect the agent or editor would overlook your failure to follow the rules. But, why take a chance?

How about that series of little dots that shows a trailing off of thought. These are called "ellipses," and there are three dots--not two or four. If you want to show the interruption of a thought or sentence, you'd use a series of dashes for that purpose. There are two of these--the "em dash" and "en dash." I can never remember which is which, and when they're used, but I know that if I hit the hyphen key twice, the result is a nice little dash (whichever one it is) and I can move on. So far, it's worked.

Wonder what a "pilcrow" is? It's the funny little symbol that is used to designate a paragraph. You'll probably never have to use the word, or even put in the symbol in your manuscript  (it's not typed, usually). But know what it is if someone like an editor adds it to your submission. Besides, think how cool it will be to slip the word "pilcrow" into your conversation. You'd really sound like a writer.

Of course, there are lots of other things a writer learns, but if you start out with your manuscript in the proper format and know some of the basics of things you'll use, you've got a leg up on the people who have no idea how to write a manuscript. Then, it becomes easier to say "I'm a writer," and mean it.

Questions?

NOTE: I've posted at Seekerville yesterday and Suspense Sisters today. Drop over to read the blog post and interview, leaving a comment both places for a chance to win a copy of Bitter Pill.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Summer's Here

As I look down where our street dead-ends into the second green of a local golf course,  I see golfers coming out, like the swallows returning to Capistrano. When I watched the Memorial Tournament,  hosted by Jack Nicklaus, I remarked on how verdant the fairways and greens looked, how lush (and punishing) was the thicker grass that marked the areas where the shots of even the pros sometimes landed.

I watched the end of the baseball game Sunday afternoon and saw the Rangers win one. Who cares if they're quite a ways behind the Houston Astros? They're in second place and the season is well underway. Some folks are wanting their team to go to the Series, I am just happy with a team that's above .500.

The Dallas Cowboys are going through "organized team activities," which is a far cry from actual football. But exhibition football takes place in just a few months, and after that, the games actually count.

School's out. What does the summer hold for you all? For me, it means a chance to try out the "new" irons I've acquired--if only they came with a guarantee that they'd hit the ball longer and straighter. Let me know what you have planned. Have fun.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Writing: Releasing A New Book

As always seems to happen since I've started doing this "indie" (independent, as opposed to part of a contract with a traditional publisher), the process of releasing a new book didn't run totally smoothly. Oh, it wasn't all that bad--just a technical glitch with the cover size that slowed down the appearance of the print version of the novella, Bitter Pill, and by the time this post appears that should be taken care of. Then I'll have to go in and join the Kindle and print versions to give the readers a chance to get their desired format. But it's one more thing that authors who are publishing via a traditional publisher don't even worry about. On the other hand, I control the process from start to finish, and don't have to answer to anyone or anything. It's a trade-off, and it's worth it...sometimes.

When I released my first book, I was extremely nervous about it. I had a big party at a local bookstore (which has, incidentally, gone out of business now), and was sort of distraught when I didn't draw a crowd of hundreds. However, I relaxed a bit when a bookstore employee whispered to me that a famous author had a book release party there that drew even fewer people. Later, when I was privileged to assist one of our better-known Christian authors in a signing, I noticed that her crowd was also on the small side. So, lately I've just let a novel or novella release, thinking that it either would or would not be successful. After all, ultimately the effectiveness of the book isn't up to me. Do you agree?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Release Day


Tomorrow (or maybe today--Amazon sometimes does that) is the official release day for my novella, Bitter Pill. It may take a day or two for Amazon to link the Kindle and print versions, but I trust you'll eventually get it in whatever format you desire. This one has lived on my computer, in various forms, for several years. Finally, with lots of help along the way, I think it's reached a form you'll like. Let me know. And thanks.

If you need any encouragement, here's part of a long review from Carrie Schmidt (Reading Is My Superpower):
"Thoughtfully merging faith, suspense, and medicine in a plot that’s difficult to put down involving characters you’ll become emotionally invested in, Bitter Pill is exactly what we expect from this author."  (BTW, a randomly chosen commenter at that site will win a signed copy of the novella--and, as always, if the winner has already ordered one, I'll give an Amazon gift card).

Friday, May 24, 2019

Memorial Day, 2019

I know today is supposed to be about writing, but I think we need to recognize the forthcoming holiday. 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 started out 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. All gave some. Some gave all. 

NOTE: This will be your last opportunity to take advantage of the pre-publication price on the Kindle version of my new novella, Bitter Pill. If everything lines up just right, it will be available on Tuesday, May 29--but at the regular price. (Print version can be ordered then, as well as the Kindle). 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Confused

Because of circumstances, we stayed home this weekend. That meant that--with the exception of a few times when golf or baseball took over the TV--we watched a number of the various weekend "news" shows. And, I'll confess, I sometimes found myself voicing my opinions rather strongly, usually either to my long-suffering wife or to myself.

Now, authors are urged to post periodically in order to let their readers know a bit about them. But we're also warned not to directly post things that might be controversial, lest we offend potential readers. I've always felt free to share my opinions, and am reasonably tolerant of those who have divergent (ie, "wrong") viewpoints. Seriously, I have wonderful friends in both camps. But I note those who maintain a public persona via social media try to keep their opinions under wraps. And, to this point, I've tried to do the same. But it's tough, sometimes.

What's a fellow to do? Readers, what would you like posted by an author to let you learn more about them? Authors, what do you post that is "safe," and won't turn away readers. Or do you care? I'd like to hear.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Writing: Errors

Errors! No matter how hard we look, no matter how many sets of eyes go over the manuscript, errors creep in. We use one set of abbreviations in one place, and another elsewhere. The author decides to change a name, either a person or a place, and thinks it's done throughout the manuscript, but one slips by. To err is not only human, it's typical of an author.

What do you do after one is pointed out? The manuscript has gone through edits, a copy reader has checked it out, and the author has blessed it. It's accurate and free from error. And then someone emails you with the word that you used the wrong name or abbreviation or term or something on page X of your latest work. What can you do?

If you're traditionally published and the printed book is already out, you can notify the publisher who will change the error in the next edition of the book--if it goes to a second printing. If you're an independently published author, you can get it changed, but even then you're not totally in control of the time it will take. But in either case, what you can't do--absolutely can't--is get angry. Thank the person who points out the error. After all, we all make mistakes. (Or is it misteaks? Or perhaps misstakes? Or...you know.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Story Behind The Story

In today's Southern Writer's blog, Suite T, I tell the story of why I published my latest novella (available in Kindle format at a pre-order price). You might be interested.

Two more weeks until the "official" launch date.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Man Behind The Curtain...

In the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, when the dog, Toto, rips the curtain aside, the Wizard, realizing he's been found out, shouts over his loudspeaker, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

I sometimes think the average reader gets the impression that every author has a man behind the curtain, sometimes several, to handle the non-writing chores. Surely he/she doesn't take time from writing to do such mundane things as preparing blog posts, Facebook messages, and tweets. Who is in charge of scheduling the interviews and/or guest posts on various blogs to keep the author's name and their new book in front of the public? And there must be a person behind the curtain who mails out ARCs and sends the copies of the newly published books to the winners on various blogs. Surely there's such a curtain.

All this has been on my mind as I prepare for the release of my sixth novella, making a total of eighteen novels and novellas I've been fortunate enough to publish. Allow me to give you a glimpse of the man behind the curtain: me.

And now, back to my non-writing duties. Oh, lest you think all this will detract from my time spent writing, be assured that I plan to publish my thirteenth full-length novel, working title Doctor's Decision, sometime after the first of next year.

Meanwhile, are you surprised that I don't have a "man behind the curtain" to do these things for me? Some authors employ a virtual assistant to help them with these duties. I don't, but there's nothing wrong with that. What do you think?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Writing: Series or Freestanding?

"I've been thinking about writing a book." What's your reaction when you hear someone say that? Mine is usually silent (no need to get into an argument), but I begin thinking of all the things I've learned along this road to writing. I literally didn't know all I didn't know, and I learned it slowly and painfully. The ready availability of self-publication (something that was anathema when I started out) means that there are now a bunch of books introduced each year, which means that yours must really stand out. I want to tell the speaker all that, but I've learned to hold my tongue.

But as my friend, the late Dr. John Thompson used to say, "But I digress." Assuming you really want to sit down and write a book, one of the things you'll have to decide is whether it will be the first in a series, or a freestanding novel. The decision was essentially made for me by my first publisher's editorial committee, which said that freestanding novels were the way to go. Maybe they were at the time. Personally, I'm not certain whether this was because they figured I might not be around for numbers two and three or the first novel might crater so badly that future ones wouldn't happen. But be that as it may, I started writing freestanding novels.

By the time I decided to publish independently (with the help of my agent), I was pretty well committed to freestanding novels that could be read in any order, and I haven't changed. But there are pitfalls along the way. For instance, in rereading the work of some of my favorite authors, I've noticed a problem that I encounter when going through their work. For example, although no one could write adventure novels better than the late Ross Thomas, I noticed that he used the same name for a law-enforcement officer in two different books, but set him in totally different circumstances and with a somewhat different character. He also used the name of a woman who was killed off, only to bring her (or her twin, with the same name) back in a different context in another book. Either he really liked those names, or he just didn't care. I'm trying to avoid that error.

In going through the novels recently of one of my favorite authors, the late Robert B. Parker, I note that in an early novel he made a character a "bad guy," but with very little transition he mentions him in subsequent novels as first a questionable character and later as a "helper" for his protagonist. Again, a series error. Maybe he didn't have an idea that this person would show up again and again, but a slower (and believable) transition in his character would be nice.

In freestanding novels, I have to invent new names for each new character. I'm careful to avoid using the same names in more than one novel (which means I'll run out of names at some point). The exception is when I use the same character in another novel, which I've done once or twice, but when that happens, I try to remain true to the original personality I've given the person in question. Consistency or a reason for any change is necessary, in my estimation.

This is just one of the pitfalls to writing. What have you noticed in series or freestanding novels? Do you like one as opposed to the other? Is there a tendency for errors to creep in? Let me know in the comments.

PS--In case you haven't yet received the word, the Kindle version of my latest novella, Bitter Pill, is available at a pre-publication discount. The novella, both the Kindle and print version, will be released on May 29. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Role of Social Media

We've all heard the admonition, "Don't put your eggs in one basket." By this, we're told not to rely on one source, one thing, one event. But when the choices are legion, where does the prudent person put his/her eggs?

Authors are told that we should have a social media presence. That's the reason I have a website, post on this blog twice a week, maintain another "author" page on which I post things of interest to both authors and readers daily, have a presence on Twitter, occasionally visit Goodreads, and so on. But which basket is the best one? Where do you go for social interaction? Do you like to learn more about your favorite authors? Do you visit their blogs, their Facebook pages, their Twitter sayings, their other sites regularly? Which ones, and how often?

Why do I ask this? Because I'd really like to know. Leave your comments--I promise to read them.


PS--In case you haven't heard, I was featured on the cover of the latest issue of Southern Writers Magazine, with an interview inside that spells out some interesting aspects of my life. You may wish to check it out.


Friday, May 03, 2019

Writing: My Latest Novella

Over a decade ago, after I'd grown so weary of rejections that I decided to chuck my writing, I decided to enter a contest of Rachelle Gardner's for the best first line of a potential story. I thought about it for a few minutes, then submitted this one: "Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled them up."

Much to my surprise, I won with that line. The prize Rachelle was offering was a free edit of the first chapter of an unpublished novel. Well, since I had never had any of my four novels published, instead garnering forty rejections over a four year period, I simply sent the first chapter of my latest (unpublished) novel. And Rachelle's reply was, "Send me something that needs editing."

To make a long story short (and as my kids would say, "Too late"), Rachelle and I corresponded, she offered to represent me, I eventually got a contract for that novel (which became Code Blue) and others from Abingdon Fiction, and the rest--as they say--is history. Seventeen novels and novellas later, I'l still writing. But that novel, the one that began with the line I'd pulled out of the air, continued to grow, at first in my mind and then on my computer. I wanted to publish it, but was hesitant. Maybe it was "too Christian."

I showed the final version to my wife, who is my first reader, and she had lots of suggested changes, which I made. Then I sent the first few pages to some people who'd been influencers for my recent novels, and they were unanimous in their approval. After editing by my wife, I had it professionally edited by someone familiar with my work, and got the report that this was perhaps some of my best writing. So I submitted the novella for publication.

It's now available for pre-order on Amazon, with a special pre-order price for the Kindle version. It should be released on May 29, at which time both the Kindle and print versions will be available. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why I've Been Gone

You've been very kind in your comments, some expressing actual concern, wondering why I took the week off. The reason? I needed a break. It's that simple. I'd just completed a busy week, and decided that retirement wasn't supposed to be this hectic. So, I took some time off.

Lest you think I've been just sitting around, below is a cartoon that will make authors shake their heads in dismay. Because we know it's true. We've all done it--spent anywhere from six months to a year or more writing a book which is read in a few days, followed by the question, "When's the next one coming out?"

While we're happy that you're that ready for another one, I think it's nice to consider every once in a while that there's more to writing a book than just sitting down and dashing one off.


My plan is to be back here on Friday, posting again on "the writing life," and my take on it. At that time, I'll be sharing information on my latest novella, Bitter Pill, including a special pre-order price for the Kindle version. In the meantime, stop and smell the roses. You'll be glad you did. I certainly am.

Monday, April 22, 2019

"I'll Be Back..."

I'll be absent for a few days. However, when I return I hope it will be with news about my next novella, Bitter Pill. I've had this one on my computer and in my head for a decade, and I've finally decided to let it see the light of day.

Until then, enjoy the spring. I plan to.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Easter 2019

The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed...Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead'...."
(Matt 28:5-7a, The Message)

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

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

Have a blessed Easter. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

My Day...

I was looking through the archives of this blog, and decided that perhaps you'd be interested in what I posted a year ago. As it turned out, I wrote about a typical day. It's changed a bit since 2018, but not a lot, I guess.

First, I've found that one of the changes 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 for me. Every day I wake up when the coffee starts to perk (I set it the night before...unless I forget). So, about 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 sometimes compose one or more of my own blog posts. Mid-morning we have some of 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. But sometimes (don't tell!!), I take a nap. Dinner usually is taken at home, although sometimes it involves eating out. If we're at home, we watch some of the recorded programs we've picked up on our TV. (Don't let my kids know that we eat in front of the TV set). We usually end up with one or more shows that give us their "take" on the news of the day. (I won't say which ones, but if you've followed my posts you probably have an idea about my political leanings).

That's a typical day for me. 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 may be what Lawrence Block calls a "Sunday writer." Nevertheless, I manage to keep things going, and have never missed a deadline--even those I set for myself.

What did you think a writer's day was like? Were you surprised? 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Writing: Kindle Countdown

Note: the process outlined below didn't go as smoothly as I'd like, because the special offer wasn't up at the hour it was supposed to start,  but it wasn't long before it was moving along. Maybe I shouldn't have sent out the info in my newsletter so quickly.

One of the advantages of indie-publication is the ability to use the Kindle countdown. For those who like to read their e-books on Kindle, this is an opportunity to get them at a reduced price. In my case, in order to introduce individuals who might not have downloaded my novellas in the past, I've arranged to schedule Kindle countdowns for two of them. If you have already read these, but know someone who hasn't and who might enjoy them, please pass on this information. (These are Kindle prices, and don't affect the print or audio versions of the novellas).

Surgeon's Choice: 99 cents from April 11-13 (starting at 8 AM PDT)
                             $1.99 from April 14-17
                             back to regular price on April 18

The count-down for Doctor's Dilemma will start on April 25. Same format and prices.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

"It is not the critic who counts..."

On social media the other day, another writer posted a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I thought was very appropriate--not only for authors who are rejected, but for everyone facing a difficult situation. I've heard it a couple of times on the TV show, Blue Bloods, because the man who said it was not only a President of the US, but also the first Police Commissioner of New York. And, lest you wonder why I chose the picture to the left, the Teddy Bear was named for him.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming... Who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

This, of course, is from Theodore Roosevelt. Whatever you think of his politics, the way he lived his life, this philosophy would serve all of us well. Failure is not trying to do something and failing. It's not trying at all.

What do you think?

Friday, April 05, 2019

Writing: Chekhov's Gun

Most writers are familiar with "Chekhov's gun." It's a principle that says that if a gun appears in act I, it should be fired in act II. If not, don't put it there.

Was Chekhov simply talking about a gun? Or does this principle apply to other things in the manuscript? What's the difference between a "red herring" that's inserted to lead the reader toward a false conclusion and a true "clue" that's dropped unobtrusively into the story that plays an important part in solving the mystery. Is one of these a Chekhov's gun?

Of course, all this primarily involves books that contain a mystery of some sort. Since what I write usually contains something that has to be determined--the identity of the antagonist, the reason for an action, etc.--I have to face this dilemma as I plot every book I write. 

In my very first published novel, Code Blue, I casually mention the presence of a mortar and pestle (instruments found in every early pharmacy) in a drug store. Later, this turns out to be an important clue in the solution of "whodunit." There's no gun involved, but I like to think this is an example of "Chekhov's gun." 

Look at the book you're reading (or writing). Does it have an example of Chekhov's gun in it? Should it? You tell me.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

What Happened To My Little Town?

My wife and I were commenting this weekend on how our suburban area has grown. We were going down one of the major thoroughfares and she commented that it used to be a two-lane, country road, but now it's a divided roadway. I was curious, so I decided to check and see exactly how this "little" north Texas community has grown over the last several years.

Its population was listed as about 35,000 as we began this century.  In less than 20 years, the population has grown to five times that. Part of this boom can be explained by the moving of headquarters of some large companies to this area, part probably followed the building of a work-out facility and headquarters for a major sports franchise, and a good bit of the change has to do with the general growth of the entire area.

I realize that nothing ever stays static, including the size of a suburb. We're not land-locked, and there's lots of room for expansion. I'd certainly rather see us get larger rather than smaller. But it's still something of a shock to visualize the changes going on around us.

As my hero, obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk, used to say, "I don't mind change. I just don't like to be around when it's happening."

What about you? Do you agree that change is inevitable? What changes have you seen? And are they good or bad?

Friday, March 29, 2019

Writing: Sick Of Your Book

Ah, yes. An author only has to work a few hours a day, and not every day if something appeals more. Just let those words flow from your brain to the keyboard, then sit back and collect royalties. And if you think that's what an author's life if like, let's talk about some ocean-front property in Arizona I'd like to sell you.

Authors, when asked, will tell you that they rarely re-read a book once it's written and published. Why? Read on and see.

With rare exceptions, authors don't write books in one draft. A writer goes through several revisions of a book, anywhere from a few to a bunch, and at some time they look at what they've written and think, "I'm sick of this."

For my next novella, Bitter Pill, coming out in another two or three months, I've used two editors. The first did a macro-edit, and I had to revise and rewrite several sections a number of times until she was satisfied. Then another editor did a line edit, which means going through the manuscript another time to accept or reject the changes (plus adding or subtracting a word here or there on looking once more at it). When I get the clean copy back, I'll look at it once more before sending it off for publication.

Since there is a small but significant minority who prefer to listen to these books rather than read them, I'll choose a narrator for the audio version. This means reading--and hearing--the book one more time. As I've said before, I choose to listen to every word the narrator speaks, making sure it's pronounced correctly. This may not be necessary for every writer, but in my case I think it's important that words like "adenocarcinoma" come out right.

The upshot of this? At some time or other, in going over a manuscript for what seems like the dozenth time, most of us say--either to ourselves or out loud--"I'm sick of this book." Then again, we hope you like the finished product. If you do, we forget our initial reaction to those words. It will be worth it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Spring Is Here

The "official" first day of spring has finally come. In Texas, weekends will find people putting their children among the roadside bluebonnets for pictures, many of which will go out on Easter.

The Dallas Arboretum will feature Dallas Blooms, a spectacle well worth taking in.

Spring training in baseball will give way to the opening day festivities. Until then, the Texas Rangers (and every other team) will be undefeated.

My golf partner and I will (hopefully) finally be able to get our golf clubs out and start  playing, no longer shut out by rain, cold, respiratory infections, and other factors.

It's spring. It's time to celebrate the world we've been given. What are you going to do about it?

Friday, March 22, 2019

Writing: What Genre Is Your Book?

The question keeps coming up: How would you classify your books? What's their genre? And, as the song goes, "Here I am, stuck in the middle."

What I write is medical mysteries with a heart--that is, a bit of romance...usually. I've looked at my novels and novellas and discovered one or two that don't fit that description, but by and large what I write does. Sometimes the medical aspect is prominent. Sometimes the romance is more evident. And once of twice I've had co-protagonists who are already married and the romance is pretty understated. So what's the genre?

I've wrestled with this before, and as I get more confident (with twelve novels and five--soon to be six--novellas under my belt) I've finally decided that people will either like or dislike my writing, no matter the genre it falls under. So I publish them and let the chips fall where they may. But, then again, I'm indie-publishing. It gets more difficult if you're trying to get a contract with a traditional publisher, because it's more important that your book can be placed in a specific category.

What should an author do if he/she produces a book that doesn't fit into one of the usual categories? If they're a newbie, trying to break in, I'd suggest that they see if their work comes closest to fitting into one of the usual genres, and put it there. If they have several books to their credit and want to branch out, then so be it. But that's just my opinion.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

To Whom Shall We Turn?

No, this isn't a political piece--although I have my ideas about the process and the people involved. It's about modern-day reporting, and it was triggered by these lines from a book I'm reading.

"Just what I read in the papers, and if you've ever been involved in anything the papers wrote up, you know better than to trust them."

I have been a lifelong subscriber to our local newspaper (although I now get it in e-newspaper form). I watch news on the major channels, both broadcast and cable. I stay abreast of events in the world, our nation's capital, and those in our state. And I make up my own mind, rather than letting the talking heads give me their interpretation of events. But it's getting more difficult each day to do that.

When I was young (read, "When the earth's crust was cooling..."), journalists were taught to independently verify their facts from two sources before reporting them. Somehow, this has fallen by the wayside. Reporting of facts has given way to opinion. Some of what we read--perhaps most of it --is either frank opinion or slanted in a particular way. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to draw one's own conclusions.

What do we do amidst all this confusing material? I lean on words written long ago, words recorded in John 6:68. I recommend these to all of us, especially now.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Writing: Changing Stories In Mid-Stream

When I published my last novella, Emergency Case, I "teased" my next novel at the end of it. It involved a doctor who came home at noon and heard a deliveryman leave a box on her front doorstep. Curious, she found a package there, brought it in, and eventually opened it. She encountered a cell phone that rang. An electronically altered voice addressed her by name and told her to follow instructions exactly or her husband would be killed. She called her husband, who was out of town, but no one answered his phone.

Good stuff, huh? But while I was working on it, I kept coming back to the opening line that's been stuck in my head for years--"Things were going along just fine until the miracle fouled them up." I'd won a contest with that line, but had never done anything further. I had fiddled with the words, and little by little a story developed. So, finally, I put aside the novel I was working on and started writing on this novella. At first, my wife--my first reader--didn't think what I'd put together sounded like one of my books, but with her suggestions and my four or five revisions, I think the finished product will be a worthwhile read.

Dineen Miller designed a great cover, Barbara Scott is working her editorial magic as we speak, and eventually I hope you'll be able to read Bitter Pill for yourself. Hope you agree that it was worth changing stories in midstream. I guess that freedom is one of the benefits of indie-publishing. Think so?

NOTE: I'm happy to advise that Emergency Case is now available in audio format. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Emergency Case in Audible Format

I've just received word that my novella, Emergency Case, is available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon in audio format. If you like listening to books and haven't read Emergency Case, this is your chance.

I have three keys good for a download of the book on Audible, and I'll give them to three people who meet the requirements above, and leave a comment in this blog post, including their name and email address (such as Dr R L Mabry at gmail dot com, to fool web crawlers).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Importance of Speaking




I recently had what was probably my first episode of bronchitis in several years, and along with that I had a spell for several days when I was essentially unable to talk. Now if you've never considered how dependent we are on our voice, you probably won't think much about this. But believe me, I was glad when I finally "got my voice back." We never think about how important speaking is until we can't do it.

Have you ever considered how important our various senses are? How would you like to be unable to hear, or see, or speak? I'll confess that I've tended to take these for granted in the past. But I won't do that anymore.

How about you?

Friday, March 08, 2019

Writing: Audio Books

Before I decided to dip my toe (or my pen, if you really like metaphors) into the field of self-publication, I hadn't really thought of the audio format of my books. Most authors, even those of us who've been published several times, are more concerned with the print versions of our books than any other iteration. But it soon became apparent, both from queries I received from readers and my own observations, that not having a book available in an audio format was an error--one I hastened to correct for the books I self-published.

My first indie-published book was Cardiac Event, and I blush to say that I have not as yet gone back to make it available in an audio book. However, my next full-length novel, Guarded Prognosis, is available in both print and audio editions. The same holds true of all of my novellas (the latest one, Emergency Case, will be available shortly).

Some, but by no means all, of my ten novels published by a conventional publisher are available in audio format. This was a decision of the publisher, who chose the narrator and issued the books. When it became my responsibility to do the same, I determined to listen to every minute reecorded by the narrator. Was this overkill? Perhaps, but I feel it is incumbent on the indie-published author to do this, since the accuracy of each word (including the pronunciation) is his/her responsibility. I take this extra step, which costs me time and effort, but I think it's worth it.

All this is to say that soon (depending on the response time of ACX, the company that issues these audio books), all six of my novellas will be available in audio format.

Do you listen to audio books? Is this wasted effort on my part, or a worthwhile investment of time? I'd like to hear your opinion.

Note: Tammy G. has won the signed proof copy of Surgeon's Choice, Thanks to all of you who entered.


Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Weather

Some of you (and you're in our thoughts and prayers) are suffering the consequences of the tornadoes that ravaged the southeast over the weekend. The temperature this morning is below freezing at our place. Parts of our nation are "in the ice-box" this morning, while others luxuriate in sunshine and moderate temperatures.

When the weather is cold (or for whatever reason),  and you prefer to be inside, what is your favorite activity. I'll freely admit that, although my "retirement occupation" is writing, cold weather--especially when combined with a weekend--tends to drive me toward the fire and the TV set, rather than to my computer to write. What about you?

Now for a couple of announcements: First, I found a proof copy of my novella, Surgeon's Choice, in my books, and would be happy to give it away (autographed). Leave a comment with your favorite "I'd rather be indoors" activity, as well as your email address, and I'll choose someone to receive it.

Second, although I don't know how long it will stay on sale (I'm not in charge of this), the Kindle version of my novel, Heart Failure, is available at a reduced price. If you haven't read it, you might try this one. I enjoyed writing it.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Writing: Stealing Your Idea

We don't hear it so much anymore, but one of the questions new writers used to ask is, "What if someone steals my idea?" I'm not going to address actual plagiarism, which is a low blow to a writer whose book is plagiarized. It's unfortunately no longer rare, what with the ready availability of computers and self-publishing. Rather, let's talk about a writer's ideas.

At one of the early writing courses I attended, I heard a writer of thrillers say there was only one plot, and everything else could be derived from it. "Two dogs, one bone." I learned that there really were other plots, but I always recalled that one...and tried to steer clear of it. But suppose we come up with an idea for a novel that we feel is unique. Further, suppose we ask three well-known fiction writers to develop that idea into a full-fledged novel. What you'd end up with would be three novels, each having the different touch that we call "voice" from three different authors. In other words, the idea itself isn't unique. The way a writer handles it is.

It's great to have ideas. One author of my acquaintance keeps them on three-by-five cards, and says he has enough to last a lifetime. Others, myself included, have ideas that are triggered by something they read or see or hear or...you get the picture.

So, bottom line, don't worry about ideas. That's the easy part. The hard part is turning the ideas into a novel.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Gone Fishing

"Gone fishing." For some reason, that was the expression that came to me as I discussed with my wife our need for rest the other day. I'm getting over a particularly tough respiratory infection, she has her own things to get through, and we decided that we needed a day when we have nothing planned. (Of course, that's subject to change, but you know what we mean.)

I have no idea why we should refer to such a day, to such freedom from tasks, as "gone fishing," since I have no desire to engage in that activity. Matter of fact, I guess the last time I engaged in fishing was while on vacation with the family on the Texas Gulf coast, and that was primarily because I thought my children would enjoy it. But you get the idea, anyway.

I'll be back with you in a few days, as scheduled...unless I decide to "keep on fishing."

Do you ever have those days when you want to turn off the phone, not answer the door, and hang up a mental sign, "Gone fishing?"

Friday, February 22, 2019

Writing: Networking

Writing is a lonely business. Some authors are introverts. Others may say they're extroverts, but I have a hunch what they do--as do I--is put on a "game face" when they're around other people. Given our druthers, I suspect that more authors would prefer sitting in a room in front of a computer screen than interacting with others. But that's not possible. It's not even healthy. As my wife reminds me, we need to be around other people and interact with them.

What does this have to do with writing? It's not cheap to attend a writers' conference, and when we do, it's a good thing to look at the benefits we'll reap by our attendance. Of course, there's the opportunity for learning more about our profession--and the successful author never stops learning. There's the possible interaction with agents and editors. Even for the author who is represented by an agent and feels secure in their current contract with a publisher, it's always a good idea to let others in the field put a face with your name and learn a bit more about you--there's a chance you may need to contact them in the future. Publishing is constantly changing.

Another major advantage in attending a writers' conference is the opportunity to network with one's peers. For example, I look back at my initial attendance at a well-known writer's conference. Of the myriads of people whose faces and names come back to me when I think about that time, most have gone on to be successful in publishing--as authors, editors, agents. And I knew them "when. Not only that, I stay in communication with them, and in some cases they're been endorsers (and vice-versa).

Besides, it's nice to be around a group that won't call the police if they hear you in an elevator talking about how to kill someone with an undetectable poison. Your spouse might understand, but someone who's not in the profession wouldn't.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

It's Winter---No, It's Summer--No...

Throughout the US, especially the northern part, there's been lots of winter weather, with snow, ice, and even some school closings. In the southern part of our nation, people are talking about sunshine, and approaching it in shorts and flip-flops.

Here in Texas, we've had the usual roller-coaster of cold, warm, cold, warm--but no snow, ice, or other souvenirs of winter. Matter of fact, although it's cold now (I haven't been able to play golf on Wednesday in what seems like forever), there's the promise of another warm-up on the way.

But for all of us, there's one harbinger of spring that always pops up at this time of year. Baseball spring training is about to begin. And I'm ready.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Writing: RUE

One of the rules of writing is "RUE"--"resist the urge to explain." That's good advice, and there's a valid reason behind it..

One of the best bits of advice I was given came from well-known author Gayle Roper, who conducted one of the first writing seminars I attended. At that one, we each had to read a segment from the novel we'd written, but once we'd read it we had to sit silently as the group dissected it. Imagine holding your tongue while a group of other writers questioned your work. Each of us was anxious to say,"But what I was trying to do..." and "You don't understand..." but we had to sit by and listen without speaking. Why? Because, as Gayle put it, "You aren't going to be able to stand next to the potential reader and explain what you meant." In other words, make it clear to begin with. Let it stand on its own.

I've encountered the same thing as I put together my stories. When my first reader says, "I don't understand this," my first inclination as a writer is to explain. But instead, my eventual reaction (after pouting and sober reflection) is to rewrite the line, or scene, or even the working title, to avoid this misunderstanding. I don't explain--I simply make explanation unnecessary.

Have you ever seen something in a novel that requires explanation? How would you rewrite it to make explanation unnecessary?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Bored

What do you do on those long weekend afternoons, without a football game to occupy you? Personally, I've not had to work to find things to occupy my time--apparently people look on "being retired" as a synonym for "having nothing to do." I'm glad to help, but retirement isn't a long stretch of naps and watching TV. At least, not at our house.

What do we have to occupy us? For example, there's that stack of receipts and forms on the desk that have to be brought into some semblance of order as the tax deadline approaches. It seems as though there's always something to do. How about at your house?

Anyway, what do you do to avoid boredom on weekend afternoons? I think it would be interesting to hear.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Writing: How Did I Turn Into A Blogger?

I thought it might be interesting to turn back the pages over these past 13 years and see what my first blog post was about.

When I retired from medicine, I envisioned travel, golf, and lazy mornings drinking coffee while watching Good Morning America. An uncontrollable compulsion (some might say a commission) to write about my experiences after the death of my first wife, Cynthia, led me into the field of Christian writing. That book, by the way, is THE TENDER SCAR: LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF A SPOUSE, and is available through online booksellers as well as book stores. 

Along the way, seeking direction and instruction, I attended a Christian Writers' Conference. That led to my meeting and becoming friends with some neat writers and editors. This, in turn, gave me the itch to write fiction. And so the story goes.

And, as for the question I asked in the title of this piece, once my non-fiction book was published, I discovered that the fun had just begun. An author, whom I once thought was cynical but now consider practical, told me that nobody was as interested in telling others about my book as I would be. And that's right. So I set up a web page--well, actually, my wife did (and did a nice job). You can check that out at www.rmabry.com. And from there, it's just a hop/skip/jump (actually, a feet-first dive with nose firmly pinched shut) into this thing called a blog. Not really a marketing tool, though. More a case of "all my writing friends have one, so why don't I?"

My fiction works continue to be under consideration--which is sort of like an actor saying he's "between engagements." But over the past thirty months or so, I've had quite an education about the field of writing and the publishing industry. Since everyone likes a good horror story, I thought I'd share some of those experiences from time to time with those of you who have nothing better to do than surf the internet. I hope you'll find them entertaining, educational, and occasionally inspirational.  

Well, that's how it started. We never know what God has in store around the corner for us. So I guess we'd better be ready. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

To Save Time And Effort...

... at next year's Super Bowl, why doesn't the Patriot team's offense scrimmage against the defense, and just let everyone else stay home?

Maybe it's me, but other than the NFL commercial (with all the players at a dinner party), I can't recall a single one of the commercials--and those are usually the best part of the festivities.

Oh, well. Pitchers and catchers report to camp in just a few days.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Writing: Time Management

One reason I have an attitude of "I've got to participate but sometimes I don't like it" toward social media is that I'm frustrated when I read some of the posts of my fellow authors. And the phrase they use that makes me envy them sometimes is "under deadline."

As a writer who, after publication of ten novels by traditional publishers, has decided to publish via the "indie" route, I somehow miss one aspect of having a contract with a definite deadline. It's not so much approval of the cover design (I have a wonderful cover designer--it simply costs money) or the editing (again, I've found a good editor and am willing to pay for that function). It's not even arranging the publicity for the forthcoming book--I've always found that what I do works best for me.

No, I mainly miss the deadlines. Let me hasten to say that I've never missed a deadline imposed by an editor or publisher. Matter of fact, I almost always got my work in early. But in the indie-world of publication, it's up to me to set (and keep) deadlines. I have to decide when the book will be released and work backwards to get everything done. And there's always the temptation to put off the work that I know I need to do--from idea to rough draft to finished product plus all the things I've already mentioned.

That's where I am now. I started with the idea for a novel of medical suspense with a bit of romance--what I usually write--but in the middle of writing it my attention turned to a novella I've had on my computer for some time. It's a bit different, but I really like it and the message it has. I envy the authors who say they are always working on two or more novels. I'm used to being single-minded, going to work each day on one novel until it's done. So, like the donkey who starved to death between two hay bales, I feel stuck.

What am I going to do? Probably indie-publish the novella once I get the corners rounded off, then finish the full-length novel. What would you do? I'm anxious to read your suggestions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The March Of Time

I was thinking the other day about changes in our lives. I grew up in a small town in Texas--population 2578 (and don't ask me why that's stuck in my mind) when I left. I went for my pre-med to a college that became a university while I was in attendance. It was in a larger town, but not huge. Not like Dallas, where I went to  see about financial help for my medical school attendance. While I was looking for my destination, I inadvertently turned and went the wrong way on a one-way street. I was able to get by without a ticket because the policeman believed me when I told him I'd never encountered one before--because I hadn't. Welcome to the big city.

When we moved from a suburban town, population 35,000, to a different suburban area, population about three times as large, it took some adjustment. But after we settled in, we discovered that almost anything we wanted to visit--restaurants, church, groceries, other stores--could be reached in about 15 minutes. It was about twice as long as we were used to, and three times as long as what I grew up with, but it was okay.

Then the population boom hit, and our particular suburb jumped to about 175,000 people over a 10 year period. Although it still only takes 15 minutes to get to most of the places that are important to us, we've been known to almost double that if we decide to go to a new restaurant or store...or if the traffic is too heavy.

People are moving north from our suburb to the next one and the one past that. They're looking for the simple life, the unencumbered existence, in a small town. But my prediction is that, as time marches on, they'll find the population increasing in their area. And so it goes.

The answer? I don't have one. But what we've done is accept that population shifts and growth spurts are going to happen. How about you? Have you noticed this going on in your neck of the woods? And how have you handled it? I'd love to know.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Writing: Getting Noticed

Bowker reports that about three million books were published in 2010. I'm certain that almost a decade later, that number is much larger--I don't know exactly how large, and I'm afraid that if I saw the exact number I'd probably take to my bed, the covers pulled firmly over my head. Amidst all this competition, how can a writer get noticed.

When I got into this writing game, I was told that I needed a website and a social media presence. This was long before I had anything in print (unless you counted the textbooks I'd edited or written, or the scientific papers I'd published). As expected, I  said, "Why?" and dragged my feet on getting started. But it was soon apparent that I needed to be noticed--and, mind you, this was in the days that independent publication of a novel was a dirty phrase. Now, when people are much more interested in who the author of a book is than who published it, that is even more important.

A web site? Yes, I'm afraid that one's a necessity. A blog? People are starting to debate that, but I think it's important. Facebook? I have both a personal site and a professional one. Twitter? Yes, although I don't use it as much as I should. But don't stop there. There's Pinterest, SnapChat, Goodreads, and many more. An author can spend all his or her time maintaining a social media presence.

The best advice I've received: choose two or three Social Media venues in which to be active. Interact with those who comment there. But also spend your time writing the best novel possible. Because word-of-mouth is still the most effective means of advertising--getting noticed, if you will--that any author can have.