Friday, August 23, 2019

Writing: Too Much Information?

The eighth rule for writers from Kurt Vonnegut is "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. " As I recall, Vonnegut felt that, if for some reason it were necessary, the reader should be able to finish writing the book. I'm going to take some exception to this.

The late Donald Westlake did a pretty good job of writing mysteries. His "Dortmunder" books are quite good, featuring a guy who, if he didn't have bad luck, would have no luck at all. But they are extremely entertaining (or, at least, I found them so). He followed the plan he called "push fiction"--we'd call it writing by the seat of our pants. His philosophy was that if the writer didn't know what was coming next, the reader couldn't, either.

My wife, who's been my first reader through all my books,  got after me about keeping information to myself. Since I knew what the backstory was, I sometimes neglected to share it with my readers. I had to work to get over this, but I think I've finally done it. I've learned to sprinkle clues (plus a few "red herrings") throughout my mysteries so that I don't end up introducing a new character as the end as the "bad guy," or having the books end with "Deus et machina" (God out of the machine--used in some Greek tragedies to end them by sudden intervention beyond that of the actors).

There's a fine line in mystery between giving the reader all the information and not enough information. It's tough to achieve, but then again, that's what keeps us writing...and reading.

What's your opinion about Vonnegut's eighth rule? Let me know. I'd like to hear it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Summer's Almost Gone

Judging from the number of pictures on Facebook of children heading back to school, the summer's just about over. I sort of assumed that when my last child graduated I'd be through with all that. Wrong! Then came the grandchildren. And, for at least some of my readers, the great-grandchildren. We never really get through caring about them, do we? And it's kind of a bittersweet moment as we watch each of them grow into their own individual.

On a somewhat connected subject, are you old enough to remember when the last day of school was Memorial Day or thereabouts, with resumption right after Labor Day? The story I've always heard, at least here in Texas, is that during the summer time out of school children were expected to work in the fields, so school would be out during the season of growing and harvesting. Since the season for cotton begins in July and extends until fall, that makes sense. Of course, nowadays it's almost unheard of to see children (or adults) in the field doing what we have machinery to do.

Now school starts up in mid-August, and although we theoretically say "good-bye" to summer with the Labor Day weekend, in actuality our children, grandchildren, and the "little kid next door" will have been back in school for a couple of weeks already. Summer seems to be getting shorter each year, doesn't it?

How about you. Does the resumption of school bring back memories? Are you ready for school to resume, or would you like to keep the kids at home for a while longer? Let me hear.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Writing: Are There Rules?

Recently, there seems to be an emphasis on "rules" in writing. I've posted about this in the past, but thought perhaps I should revisit this once again. Although some people break rules with impunity, I suggest that you learn and follow them when you're getting started.

As I've said before, if you're Picasso, you can put the eyes and ears wherever you want, but I'll bet anything that you know where they belong if you wish to put them there. Translating that to writing, I think that if you have an agent and a publisher, and especially if you have a following, you can break some of those "rules," but remember that you got there by observing them.

Here are the ones I continue to observe. Don't use the passive voice unless what you're writing demands it. Why? Because passive voice slows down the reader.

Give your characters easily pronounced names that are compatible with the person. And try to avoid having two characters with names that are easily mixed up. Like the preceding suggestion, it makes things easier for the reader.

Try not to use the same word more than once in each paragraph (unless it's absolutely necessary). This is to make the paragraph read more easily. Use your talent as a wordsmith here. Your reader (and/or agent and/or editor) will appreciate it.

Keep one point of view per scene. Put the TV camera on the shoulder of one person, and remember that if they don't know it, your audience won't either. I change POVs with each scene, but some authors keep one POV for their whole book. Whatever works, but be consistent.

Whether you're a plotter or pantser, have something to shore up the middle of your manuscript, as well as a "knock-out ending" (which you should be ready to change if the story demands it). Personally, I agree with the philosophy of Donald Westlake: if the author isn't sure what's coming next, the reader sure can't anticipate it.

What rules do you follow when writing?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Life Is Like An E-Book

Maybe I'm the only person who does this (although I doubt it), but I sometimes flip forward toward the back of a print book to see how it comes out, or at least where it's going. This usually occurs when I'm trying to decide whether I'm going to invest more time reading it. Recently, I was reading a novella written by one of my friends, one which I ordered on Kindle, so I couldn't skip ahead. Oh, there are ways to go from one chapter start to the next, but there's not a mode we can choose ilike we can in n a print copy, one in which we can turn ahead to see where the story is going before we proceed in reading it.

I see a similarity in the way we live our life. We don't know what's around the corner, and we can't skip ahead to see if we're correct. With an e- book, the only thing we can do is trust the author and figure that it's all going to end all right. Life's like that. And really, if you believe as I do, then that's all we need to do. There's no reason to wish we could skip ahead. It's all going to come out right in the end. And if hasn't come out right so far, it's not the end.

Ever had that feeling? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Writing: Novel vs. Novella

One of the questions I'm sometimes asked is, "How do you decide whether you're going to write a novel or a novella?" Everyone has their own definition of the two writing forms, but for me I picture a novella as having 20-40 K words, while a novel goes from 60-90K. True, some novels have well over 100K words, but I run out of steam long before I reach that. (I use K to indicate 1000 words--hope that's not confusing for anyone).

When I was writing under contract, I wrote novels. Period. No question. I started with a premise, populated it, determined how to keep the reader engaged through the "sagging middle," and tried to make everyone guess the outcome with what Jim Bell calls a "knockout ending." My first and second novels came in at about 70K words, and I found it comfortable writing that length. Every novel I wrote subsequently was about that long. So, that's what my contracts called for and that's what I wrote.

After so long a time, I decided to dip my toe (or perhaps my pen) into the self-publishing waters. I wasn't ready to go it alone, though, so I chose "agent-assisted" publishing. To get into this, I chose to write a shorter form--a novella. I've now had six off these published, the last being my latest, Bitter Pill. I've found, by the way, that it's harder to write these shorter works than a full-length one. I've also heard (yes, I read the reviews) that my readers really would like these to be longer. (My response is, "Hey, I was lucky to get that many words together").

When, through no fault of either the publisher or me, my contract for my book, Cardiac Event, fell through, I had enough experience with indie (or actually, agent-assisted) publishing to allow me to see if I could survive without a publishing house behind me. My intention was to do a novel, then a novella, then a novel, etc. I've already deviated from this once in order to get my current novella out there, but I'm back on track now. I'm half-way through my full-length novel (working title, Critical Decision), and hope to have it ready by late this year.

So, that's how come I have written some novels and some novellas. I had a plan, but all plans--including this one--are changed as time goes on. Do you have questions about publishing? I'd be happy to try to answer them.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

It Touches Everyone

Some of you have read my novella, Surgeon's Choice, and commented that I write as though I know a lot about drug addiction. The answer is, "Yes, unfortunately." And I suspect that many of you all know about it, as well. Not that I've ever had that problem myself. As a physician, I've encountered it in others, so I have a passing acquaintance with the disorder. But the kicker is that, like some of you, I've had a family member who found himself in the thrall of narcotics. In his case, what was originally given as  necessary medication led to addiction, and eventually he ended up taking his own life.

This was brought to mind again a few days ago with the death of a young man, the son of a man with whom we had come in contact because of this problem. Another death related to addiction. It's real, folks, and don't think it will never affect you. It can.

I've said it before, and will repeat it now. We've all been touched by addiction, in some way or another. If there's a need for information or referral, try this help-line or check local resources.  I was surprised to see that assistance is available via the Salvation Army, for instance. We're not used to looking for help, but when we do, we usually find that it's readily available.

We can either ignore this menace, or do our best to fight it. I choose to do the latter. I hope you will join me.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Writing: Why A Blog?

Writers are told we "need to have a social media presence"--perhaps even more before we're published than afterwards. But rarely does anyone ask why. As a multi-published author, both via conventional publishers and self-published, let me give my frank opinions. (And you realize, if you've followed my Random Jottings for very long, that rather than a love/hate, I have a tolerate/hate relationship with social media).

While we're still looking for that agent who says "I'll represent you" or that editor who offers a contract, we're blogging because we want to be able to say, "Yes," when asked if we have a social media presence.It's even better if we pick up some potential readers along the way, people who will say, "Yeah, I've seen his/her blogs. Maybe I should read this book." But honestly, before we're represented, before we're published, we want to see our name in print and know that we've taken that big step forward.

After the big day, whether we've gained representation by an agent, signed a book contract with a publisher, or even are celebrating the launching of our first book, we want to be able to share the news. And what better venue for that than our blog, where the readers will be able to see the culmination of our struggle. (And, in case you're just now thinking of writing a book, it is a struggle--but hang in there).

As each book comes out, we can mention it on our blog. If there's a pre-order or other special, who better to tell about it than our blog readers. Doing an interview, especially if there's a giveaway of your book? Let it be known by posting it on your blog. And occasionally you may even be able to work in the title of your book or something about it on one of your posts. But please don't make every offering sound like, "Please buy my book." That gets tiresome after a while, and will cause people to turn away from your blog.

Finally, and I think this is very important, your blog, your Facebook and Twitter posts, your participation in Goodreads or other social media sites, will allow readers to get to know you. And ultimately, that's the best things about a blog from an author. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Mea Culpa

I'll never forget the time I forgot about a patient. It was in the days when the person was admitted the evening before, had surgery the next day, and was discharged the day after that. Some of you can't remember that far back, but I can. I saw the man the evening before, did the surgery the next day, and promised to see and discharge him the morning after that. But I forgot. Of course, I discharged him the next afternoon, and he never complained.

I never forgot another obligation after that--until today. Sorry. I'm still dealing with some "stuff" and--as we say in Texas--"plumb forgot" to prepare a post. Here it is, later than I usually get them up, but better late than never.

I promise to have my regular post for you Friday--unless I forget.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Writing: When Life Intervenes

We've had a visit from all my children this past week, and it was good to see them. Just about the time they left, other family duties called to me. Meanwhile, I didn't write a single line all week. How do you handle this?

To begin with, you have to realize that I'm what Lawrence Block called a "Sunday writer." I don't depend on my writing as my sole means of support. I've decided that "retired" means, among other things, that there's no "have-to" in my writing. If you read my post last week, you'll know what I mean.

After you decide what your own writing represents--an annuity, a hobby, or an occupation--then you can decide how to handle a break from it. For me? Family always comes first.

I should be back next week, but in the meantime, feel free to discuss where you are on the spectrum I've referred to. I'll be interested to know.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Spinning Beachball of Death

I was first introduced to computers many years ago, when I discovered a small company in the mid-cities that manufactured the machines. I had no idea how to use one--still don't fully understand everything they do--but I bought one. That was when I was in solo private practice of medicine, so purchases were up to me, rather than having to "go through the system." I carried the box into my office and my assistant at the time says I dumped it on her desk and said, "Learn how to use this." I don't know if it went exactly that way, but the computer did become indispensable to me as time went on.

In retirement, when I've exchanged one profession for another, I've come to depend on my laptop as I write. I also use it for email. Other than those functions, plus sometimes checking out news stories or doing research, that little box on my desk remains terra incognito for me. But I do recognize what some people have called "the spinning beachball of death," the little emoticon that pops up when an app is somehow delayed. And I've begun to notice it occasionally.

As time has gone on, and I've gotten used to faster and faster responses from my computer, I dread the day when I need to replace my faithful laptop, which I purchased some years back. When I bought it, I got one with a memory amount that was high enough that I figured I'd never run out. Now I see that I'm using a large proportion of that memory I thought was enough. Times change (but I'm not thrilled about it).

I'm not asking for tips on what to do. I'm well aware of all of them. Rather, I'd like to know if you've become dependent on your computer, as have I. What is your reaction to seeing that "spinning beachball of death?" Dread? A sense of impending doom? Or another day at the office? Let me know.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Writing: Annuity, Hobby, or Occupation?

My agent (yes, I still have one, despite now self-publishing) tells me that I'm doing very well publishing my own books. For those keeping score, I've self-published (actually, agent-assisted published) six novellas and two full-length novels. I've also had my work published by traditional publishers (ten novels). So I guess I'm able to comment on both types of publication. Which is better? And the answer, of course, is "it depends."

One of the better posts about income from writing is this one, although it's almost ten years old. That one cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but qualifies their figure by saying that novelists' income varies widely. The post has a fairly thorough discussion of  indie-writing, and I highly recommend it. They pretty much get it right.

In a nutshell, here are the positives and negatives of each type of writing, as I've observed them.

Traditional published: First, it's hard (and getting harder) to land a publishing contract. Publishing is a for-profit industry, and a publisher has lots of costs that aren't obvious to the writer. For instance, they have to project how many copies of the book they'll sell, look at their expenses, consult their editorial board about whether this writer will be a success, offer an advance, and cross their fingers. Sometimes they win, but at times they lose. I signed a three-book contract with a major publisher, who paid a nice advance but decided to pass on further books. Those novels earned out the advance, and I still get royalties from them. But the figures weren't good enough to keep me. It's a business decision.

Indie published: I learned early on the importance of using a professional editor, as well as having my cover design done by a good designer--all at my expense. Whereas I was used to getting a box of free books, and thought nothing of asking my publisher to send a book to various sites and sources, I could do that myself but had to buy the books to do it. Admittedly, they were at a discounted price, but they weren't free. As for doing blog posts and interviews, it was up to me to line them up, as well as providing the books for a give-away. The person who made the decisions was me--which was both good and bad.

Do you get rich from writing? Not unless you're one of those authors who do it full-time. Honestly, I am retired from the practice of medicine, and (Jim Bell, cover your ears) some day I don't write at all. Is it satisfying as "second profession?" For me, it is. Would it be for you? I'd be glad to hear.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cell Phones

I enjoy--perhaps more than most--the social media video that shows people watching their cell phones while they walk into lamp posts, make their way into fountains, even narrowly avoid being hit by autos. If you are familiar with my blog, you know that I maintain a love/hate relationship with social media. And cell phones are high on my list of devices I keep around but don't particularly like--at least the way they seem to have taken over our lives.

Maybe it comes from decades of being "on call" and available, being dependent on pagers, cell phones, and other devices. My wife, bless her, uses her cell phone for email, as a small, portable computer, takes pictures with it, as well as making and receiving calls. I, on the other hand, carry mine almost unwillingly, receiving and occasionally initiating calls.

It also seems to me that text messages (with or without emojis) have almost replaced phone calls. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but what happened to simply calling? The person on the other end will either answer or they won't. And if they don't, we can leave a voicemail. You remember voicemail, don't you?

James Scott Bell recently posted about the time he left his cell phone behind, and what he discovered. I have to agree with him that perhaps our dependence on those devices, and our constantly checking them, has robbed us (especially the authors among us) of our usual powers of observation.

I  know I've come off as sort of a curmudgeon. Maybe I'm just anti-progress. As my hero, OC Detective Adrian Monk used to say, "I'm not against progress. I just don't like to be around when it happens."

What do you think?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Writing: Am I Too Old To Start?

I celebrated a birthday a few days ago. How many, you ask? Let's just say that I've been getting mail offers from AARP for more then a couple of decades. (I'm now getting them from Retirement Communities, which sort of upsets me). How long have I been writing? My first book, which was written after the death of my first wife, Cynthia, was published in 2006, and I'm proud to say that The Tender Scar is in its second edition and continues to help thousands who have suffered a similar loss. But I started writing it shortly after her death, in 1999. Was I too old to write? I never considered it.

Almost against my will,  I began writing fiction. I acquired first an agent and then a publishing contract. My first novel, Code Blue, was published in 2010. Since then I've published a total of 12 novels and 6 novellas, the latest of which is Bitter Pill. That's eighteen books in the past nine years. No wonder I'm tired. And I still don't consider myself an accomplished writer.

All this is to say, "You're never too old to write." Will you be published? Maybe, maybe not. Will your writing affect others? It will always affect at least one person--you. Is the effort worth it? I think so. Not only does it, as my uncle used to say, "keep me off the streets and out of pool halls," but it paints a picture of how God impacts the lives of everyone--the faithful, the fallen, the seekers. And if it does that, it's served a great purpose.

How about you? Is there something you'd like to do but you haven't started because you're too old? Or have you started something despite your age? Let me know.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

What Did You Do?

We stayed home for the 4th of July. Watched some great programs, including the parade, the President's speech, and the fireworks that capped off A Capital Fourth. I know of some who went to the lake, others who worked around the house, etc. What did you do for the fourth?

At almost 40K on the first draft of my next book. Slow but (I hope) sure. After I finish it, there'll be several more revisions

Maybe by the end of this week, I'll be ready to blog. Meanwhile, talk among yourselves.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Independence Day, 2019

Thursday of this week is July 4, the day we celebrate the independence of this great nation. Some people will take off for a varying length of time. Others will work. Some will head for sales. Others will go to the lake. But whatever we do, let's understand the meaning of the holiday.

On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies marked the signing of the Declaration of Independence, declaring themselves free from the British Empire.The framers of our documents of freedom--the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution--didn't all agree. And sometimes, their discourse wasn't very civil. But as Benjamin Franklin put it, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." Remember that these people put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors on the line to help give us the independence we celebrate.  This Independence Day, may we reflect on all that has gone before. What we now have is too precious to lose.

God Bless America.

I'll see you next week. Enjoy the holiday--but recall why we celebrate it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Writing: Publication In Other Lands

Before I came (kicking and screaming and dragging my heels) into this business of writing and publishing non-medical books, I'd edited or co-authored a number of medical texts. Along the way, some of those books found their way into the hands of people who wanted to translate them and market the resultant volumes in their homelands. So publication in other languages and lands was nothing new to me when it dawned on me that I had gone from 'doctor' to 'author.'

What about translation of our novels? This is something that I've left up to my publisher for my earlier novels, and have yet to face since I've been on my own. As I recall, it was pretty much up to the publisher, and I didn't have a lot to do with it.

But what about marketing the book in lands other than the US? I came to think about this when I saw a recent detailing of the sales of my latest novella, Bitter Pill. It should not have been a total surprise to me that a number of my sales came from other English-speaking countries, such as Canada and Great Britain. But seeing it in black and white brought it home to me. Thank goodness that the woman assisting me in 'agent-assisted publication' listed the novella for sale in a number of English-speaking countries. Not just one. Would you think of this?

This is just another thing that the author has to bear the responsibility for in the world of independent publication. I'm finding out more and more that there are things we lean on the publisher for that are now our responsibility. And one of these is where the books is sold. Live and learn.

Questions about publishing? I may not be able to give the answers myself, but I'll bet I know someone who does. Try me.

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


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.


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


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? 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.


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.