Friday, December 13, 2019

Writing: Effect Of The Holidays

At one time, I never gave a thought to when my publisher was going to release my next book (except to wish it could be sooner). However, one of the things "hybrid" or "indie" authors learn is that pretty much everything is up to them--writing, revising, publication, marketing, the whole bag. And that includes choosing a time for release of the work. 

We're always told to "wait until it's ready." But that's a hard lesson to learn. Like most authors, I felt that my first book (and those that followed) was ready for release as soon as it was written. But I finally learned that editing will improve the book--even though it takes time.

Not a Christmas novel or novella? I can live with that. Enjoy the fruits of my colleagues labors and celebrate the season. How about right after the new year? No, it's best to wait until at least mid-January, and maybe later. After twelve novels, seven novellas, and one non-fiction book, I've finally learned to wait. Maybe I've become smarter in my old age. Then again...

So, you'll see Critical Decision after the first of the year. Meanwhile, enjoy the season--and remember the reason for it. Blessings, all.





Monday, December 09, 2019

Christmas Scavenger Hunt

       
Why did I write a Christmas novella, you ask? Why did I write Silent Night, Deadly Night? For a good while on this road to writing, I was content to simply write novels for a publisher, do the work of responding to edits, cooperate with the marketing department, and introduce the books when they were published. Around Christmas, I took note of the various Christmas-themed novels and novellas published, but didn't make the connection with those I'd written. But then one day it dawned on me that such novels were the works of authors like me. The difference was that I didn’t have one out there. So I decided to write one. And that's the origin of Silent Night, Deadly Night.

The work is short (that's when I first became acquainted with the term, "novella") but I think it's enjoyable. It begins with Christmas lights and snow, but those lights illuminate a body. Then the questions start. Who is dead? Why was she killed? There's more of this labyrinth to navigate before it all ends. Meanwhile, will someone else die?

      To learn more about the novella (and purchase it if it intrigues you), go to its site on Amazon. While you’re there, look for the answer to this question. Other than the family members, who else thinks they should be considered when allotting the estate of the dead woman? When you have the answer, add it to this form (where you'll find the URL for the next blog if you don't get it from this post), then head there. When you've done all 24, you're finished. 

      The next author on the tour is Zoe M. McCarthy, who is telling us all about her  book Gift of the Magpie. You can find it at this linkRemember that the round-robin will end on December 16th at 11:59 PM EST! And good luck.


(By the way, this will replace my usual Tuesday blog post. Come back on Friday for a holiday post).


Friday, December 06, 2019

Christmas Without Them

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

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


Tuesday, December 03, 2019

A Flurry Of Holidays

This year, there is only a short time between Thanksgiving (officially set as the fourth Thursday of November) and Christmas (which has, since we adopted the Julian calendar, been celebrated on December 25). For those who are still digesting their Thanksgiving meal and haven't yet started any Christmas shopping, a word of advice. Don't try to outdo Uncle Joe and Aunt Jean in your giving. That is, don't simply consider the price of the gift. Think about its meaning.

Want an example? One of the difficult decisions faced by shoppers is what to do about some in-laws and friends. Do they really need another set of barbecue tongs or a new case for their smart phone? Consider, instead, taking the money you'd spend on a gift that may or may not be appropriate (and it gets harder every year to find one), and donate it in their name to a worthy cause. Don't have one? I'll bet you do. It could be a sacred one, a secular one, a cause that you know is dear to the recipient's heart or to your own. But so long as you choose one that will resonate with the event we celebrate on December 25, it will be money well spent. Thank about it.

What do you think? I'd love to hear.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019

Thursday is Thanksgiving. The day means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We are blessed people. Give thanks, but also plan to do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

May I wish you and yours a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving. I'll be back next Tuesday.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Writing: It's A Team Game

We've all heard the saying,  "It takes a village." This is--rightly--applied to writing a book. But until recently, I never thought about this sports analogy. It fits, and perhaps it will be meaningful to some of you.

If you watch football, how many times have you seen the place kicker receive congratulations when kicking a particularly difficult field goal? Sure, he swung his leg--got the ball over the outstretched hands of the defensive line, kicked it far enough and true enough to reach the goal posts and go through. But did you ever think of the other members of the team?

Who was the long-snapper for your team? How important was his contribution? How about the holder? Sometimes that snap isn't exactly where it should be, and it's up to the holder to grab it and get it down (while turning the laces toward the goal--I still marvel at that). And I'll bet you don't know who the people are who face the onslaught of the defense. It might surprise you that many of your favorite players--good people in their own right--are on that field goal team, often at their own request.

So, just as it takes a village to raise a child, just as it takes a whole team to account for that important field goal or extra point, it takes a number of people, working together, to publish that book that sits on your beside table. Think of that the next time you pick it up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Early Christmas Gift

We're coming up on the holidays, and I want to give you an early gift. Here's a short story I wrote some time ago. I hope you enjoy it. (If you prefer another format, try this link).

                      “JUST LOOKING FOR A DRINK…”
            “Easy does it.”
            “One day at a time.”
            “I’ve got a hundred days now.”
            Those folks don’t make sense. I’m not sure I want what they’re servin’ in there. The man hesitated for a moment more, but thirst and need proved too strong. Walking like a sailor on a rolling deck, he crossed the sidewalk and descended the cement steps, holding tight with both hands to the rusty iron rail, setting an unsteady course for the door that stood half ajar at the bottom of the stairway.  From the street above him, he could still hear snatches of banter from the group that had just left the bar, or club, or whatever it was.  Just as long as I can get a drink, I’m not particular where I get it.  And this is the only place on the block that looks like it's open.
            At the bottom of the stairway, he grasped the vertical bar that served as a door handle, steadied himself, and surveyed his surroundings.  Glass in the window, covered on the inside by a cloth shade.  There was no neon sign, no sign of any kind, nothing to indicate what lay behind the door.  But in the past year or two, he’d learned to recognize two things: people who drink and places that serve them.  The group that had streamed out of this door had the happy, “nothin’s gonna bother me” attitude seen in many of the former group, and the dirty stairwell where he now stood certainly reminded him of some of the lower-class dives where he’d sometimes tried to slake his thirst.
            He pulled back the shabby cuff of his once-white shirt, only to remember that his watch now lay in the window of a nearby pawnshop.  Dredging up remnants of a dignity he’d thought long forgotten, he rubbed his scuffed shoes on the back of his pants, straightened the mismatched suit coat he wore, and swung open the door, prepared to try to con the bartender or whomever he could find out of a drink.  Just one to keep me going.  I’m gonna have some money in a day or so, and I can pay for it then.
            “Help you?”  The speaker was an older white man, clad in tan chinos and a black tee shirt.  Maybe he was a janitor, since he was holding a broom in one hand.  He stood in the far corner of the room, where a coffee urn sat on a workstation next to a once-white sink with a rust-colored stain running from the base of the single faucet into the strainerless drain.
            Where’s the bartender?  Matter of fact, where’s the bar?  
            “Can I help you?” the man at the urn asked again.  The blank look he received in return apparently caused him concern, because he leaned the broom against a wall before striding across the room, the vigor of his movements a sign that he was perhaps younger than his physical appearance indicated.  He placed his hands on the shoulder of the stranger and said gently, “Are you all right?  Here.” He pulled out a chair from the stack behind him, and pushed it forward.  “Sit down.  Let me get you some coffee.”
            The offer of coffee stirred the man to action.  “No, no coffee.  Whiskey.  I need a drink.  Can’t pay you until tomorrow, maybe the next day, but I need a drink now.”
            “Sit down,” said his host, and gently pushed him until he settled in the chair. “I think you’re a little drunk, and more whiskey’s certainly not what you need.”  He chuckled, adding, “Besides that, I’d think an AA meeting’s the last place in the world anyone would come expecting to find a drink.”
            “Isn’t this a bar?  Or a club? Or a speakeasy?  I’ve walked for six blocks, and this is the only place that looks open.  I’ve gotta have a drink.”
            “Easy, now.  Let me get you some coffee, and we can talk about it.”  He put out his hand, and said, “I’m Ron.”
            Social niceties learned at an early age rose to the surface through some atavistic instinct, and the stranger took the outstretched hand, rose unsteadily, and said, “Mike.”  Then he settled slowly back into the chair like a parade balloon leaking helium. 
            Ron nodded as though he’d just learned something of deepest import.  He moved to the coffee urn and filled two Styrofoam cups.  He paused as though considering what he might have forgotten, then nodded in silent affirmation of his decision.  He set the cups back down and scooped up a handful of sugar cookies from the mound that spilled through the split sides of a package on the sidebar.  He placed the cookies carefully on a napkin, then turned and called to Mike, “Cream and sugar?”
Mike continued to sit silently with his head in his hands. Ron shrugged and added two spoonsful of sugar and a dollop of milk to one of the cups.  The cookies in one hand, the two Styrofoam cups balanced tenuously in the other, he returned to Mike’s side.
            “Feeling a little rocky?”  There was genuine concern in Ron’s voice.  As Mike looked up, Ron held out one of the cups.  Mike took it, grasping it in both hands, hands that shook enough to spill a bit of the hot coffee onto them.
            “Ow,” he said.  But he continued to hold onto the cup and took a tentative sip.
            Ron handed him a napkin and offered the sugar cookies.  “You’ll find that a little sugar helps with that craving you’re feeling now,” he said.  “They’re stale, but if you dunk them in the coffee they’re not bad.”
            Mike accepted the proffered cookies and chewed tentatively on one, quickly washing it down with a sip of coffee, followed by another exclamation. “That’s hot.”
            “Blow on it for a minute,” said Ron.  “And dunk this next cookie to soften it.”
            Mike complied, and managed to get the cookie down.  He took a tiny sip of coffee, and when he didn’t end up with further burns in his mouth, he drank more.  “That coffee’s not half bad.”
            “AA meetings run on strong coffee, stale cookies, and cigarettes,” Ron observed. “I suppose that if AA stopped having these gatherings, Phillip Morris would go into bankruptcy, the Keebler elves would be looking for a new line of work, and Juan Valdez would be standing on a street corner somewhere begging for handouts in order to feed his donkey.”  He laughed at his joke, but stopped when he saw that Mike wasn’t paying attention. 
            “Mike, what can I do to help you?”
            Mike roused himself and took another long sip of coffee.  He was beginning to lose the buzz he’d worked so hard to maintain. Coffee wasn’t what he needed. “You wouldn’t have just a bit of whiskey to put in this?  Maybe some brandy? Some schnapps?”  
            Ron shook his head.  “Mike, why is liquor so important to you that it drove you out after midnight looking for a drink?”  He took another chair from the stack, set it down, and straddled it backwards so he was facing Mike.  He leaned forward with his arms on the back of the chair, and said earnestly, “How about telling me?  I’m a good listener.”
            “Not much to tell.”  Mike’s words were less slurred, and seemed to come more easily to him now.  “You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I used to be somebody.”  He nodded toward the outside door.  “Out there, lots of folks knew me. Big man in investment banking, taking care of the high rollers’ accounts.  Then....” His voice trailed off, and he sat mute, apparently lost in memories.
            “But…” Ron prompted.  “That’s the way testimonies at AA meetings generally go.  It’s always, ‘I had a life, but…’ There’s always a ‘but.’”
            “Hey, I didn’t come here for a meeting.  I just wanted a drink.”
            Ron raised his hands defensively.  “Sorry.  No, this isn’t a meeting—just two guys talking.  Go on.”
            Mike was silent for a moment, then took a deep breath and continued. “Yeah, you’re right.  My particular ‘but…’ was when I got a stock tip that couldn’t miss.  It was close to being insider trading, but nobody could ever prove it, so I took the risk. And here’s the ‘but.’ I was short on cash, so I dipped into some of the trust accounts I managed.  You can guess what happened.”
            Ron nodded.  “Yeah, I can guess.  The ‘can’t miss’ tip missed, and you couldn’t cover the shortage in the accounts.”
            Mike nodded, then shook his head as though to cast out the memories there.  
            “So, you had to ‘borrow’ from some other accounts to make up for what you’d done,” Ron said.  “And you were caught.  Is that it?”
            “No.”  Mike’s reply was delivered in a soft voice, totally devoid of emotion.  “No,” he repeated.  “I wish it were that simple.  Then I’d be just another white-collar criminal.”
            Neither man moved or spoke, the silence hanging like a veil between them.  Finally, Mike went on.  “My wife’s parents were killed in a boating accident.  He was a lawyer, very successful west coast practice, very wealthy. All their money came to my wife. She never touched it, called it our 'nest egg.'”  Mike stifled a sob.  “I forged her name, almost cleaned out her accounts to replace the money I’d…the money I’d stolen.”
            The rest of the story poured out then.  His theft was discovered, his wife refused to press charges.  Instead, she divorced him, moving halfway across the country with their two-year-old son.  “Nobody at work ever knew about what I did.  But my life fell apart anyway.”
            The story he related was a familiar one, simple but heartbreaking. He sold their house and sent the money to his wife.  Coming home to an empty apartment every night was too much for him. He turned to alcohol, mainly at night initially, drinking himself into oblivion, with a nip during the day, just to get through. 
            “You can guess the rest,” Mike concluded.  “I lost my job.  I managed to get by, at first by borrowing from friends.  They gave me money because they knew I couldn’t pay them back, so I’d avoid them.  That was just their way of getting rid of me.”
            Ron looked carefully at the man who sat beside him.  “And you’ve pawned some things, I’d imagine.”
            “I’ve scrabbled to get by.  Yeah, at first I pawned some things. That wasn’t enough, so I did some shoplifting and sold the stuff.  Now I even sell my blood.”  Mike brightened.  “It’s been long enough that I should be able to sell another pint tomorrow. Then I’ll have a little money.  Is there someplace I can get a drink, just to help me get through the night?”  He lowered his head, and said softly, “I rolled a wino a couple of blocks up the street and stole his bottle of Thunderbird, but it’s starting to wear off.  I need something to block it all out.  Just for a few hours.  Just for one more night.”
            “Mike, you think something’s missing from your life, and it is.  But it’s more than your family, more than your job.  Lots of folks face those losses, and are able to move on.  You need something more.  You need--“
            “Pastor, I’m finished setting up for tomorrow morning’s service.” Mike hadn’t noticed the open doorway on the far wall. Beyond the doorless aperture was a stairway, shrouded in shadow.  An elderly black man emerged from the darkness and addressed Ron. “I’m leaving now.”  
            “Thanks, John.  I’ll see you in the morning.”
            Mike pulled back as though he'd touched a live wire.  "You're not an alcoholic.  This is a church, and you're the preacher."  Mike pushed back his chair, knocking it to the floor and spilling his coffee.  "I'm out of here."
            Ron shook his head.  "No, Mike.  You're only partly right.  This is a church, and I'm the pastor, but that's not why I was down here tonight."  In a voice that was hardly audible, he continued, "I'm an alcoholic. Even though I haven't had a drink for five years, I'm still an alcoholic.  I'll be one until I die, but I hope to die sober."
            Ron remained sitting, with his head bowed. Mike stood over him like a priest about to absolve a penitent. Somehow, in that instant, their roles seemed to have been reversed.
            "If you're an alcoholic, why are you still a pastor?" Mike finally asked.
            Ron looked up with sadness in his eyes.  "You may have noticed that this church isn't exactly in the richest part of the city.  There are plenty of people in the congregation with problems like mine.  Some are alcoholics, some have been in jail, a lot of them have broken marriages.  Almost everyone has problems if you look deep enough. These people feel like everybody deserves a second chance, and that's what they gave me." He unfolded his lanky frame from the chair and stood looking into Mike's eyes.  "Let me help you.  You deserve a second chance, too.  God can forgive you for what you’ve become, what you’ve done. You can start over with a clean slate.  How about it?"
Mike didn’t answer.
Ron motioned to him. "Let's go upstairs to my office. We can talk about this some more."
            Mike's mind raced, or at least churned as fast as his rapidly diminishing blood alcohol level would allow. He glanced at the door leading to the street.  I was just looking for a drink. I can go back out that door, and I'll bet I can find a bar still open. That's what I need, just one more drink.
            Then he turned to look at Ron, who was now standing beside the open doorway leading upward, beckoning to him. "You can have a new life, starting now.  Just follow me."
            Mike hesitated for a moment more before making his choice. He set his cup on the floor, squared his shoulders, and moved toward the door he'd chosen.
                                    *                                  *                                  *
            Two stories appeared in the inside pages of the local newspaper the next day.
            BAR ROBBERY FOILED, ONE DEAD. An attempted robbery at the Idle Hour Bar, located at the corner of Twelfth and Center, ended in gunfire that left one man dead. According to witnesses...

            ROBBERY AT CHURCH, ONE KILLED. A thief entered the Metropolitan Congregational Church at 1205 Center around midnight last night. Authorities say he fled with money from the church office, but not before he shot the two men who were sitting in the pastor's study, killing one. The survivor, whose wounds were serious but not life-threatening, was identified as…


Friday, November 15, 2019

Writing: Audio Books

I'm happy to announce that an audio version of my novella, Bitter Pill, is available. Just in time for Christmas gift-giving--isn't that a coincidence? Actually, it isn't, of course.

Audio books are really taking off, and I figured I might as well join the fun. I discovered that many of my earlier novels are available as audio books, and I've tried to make sure that  all of my novellas (for which I hold the rights) are likewise offered in this mode (as well as print and e-book formats).

For authors out there who have not investigated this, let me say that the first thing to do is consider whether your work was offered under contract with a publisher. If that is the case, your agent can speak with your editor about their hiring a narrator/producer to do your book, but you won't have any say-so (except maybe some input when it comes to choosing a narrator). If your book was self-published (ie, "indie" published) then it's up to you to make it available in audio format.

How do I do it. And is this expensive? Go to this link to find out. If you don't mind making the initial outlay (and producer/narrators vary in what they charge), the rest is easily done. It's still up to you to make certain the finished product is acceptable, but you get the royalties.

If you don't mind sharing royalties, and can find someone to do your book (and be certain you're happy with them, of course) using a royalty-sharing set-up, they'll get half the royalties. There's no initial outlay using this method. Of course, you're still out the cost of a cover, but this can be made from the original book cover with very little trouble.

Anyway, I'd recommend that authors look into making their book available in all formats--and this includes audio. I think you'll be glad you did.

Do you like audio books? Are your friends/family into them? Or are they just a passing fad?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Interesting Rule

In our day to day lives, we all observe rules--sometimes we call them laws, sometimes suggestions, but whatever we call them, they're there to keep our lives orderly. Many of these "rules" we learn in early life as we learn to speak the language, so they are so ingrained that we don't even this about them. Recently I heard about a rule which I've been observing most of my life without realizing it. And I'll bet that you have incorporated it into your speech as well.

I'm told that this rule used to be taught in school, although I don't recall Ms. Billie Casey doing so, and I consider my education to be pretty complete. When describing something in detail, we often observe an order (although we may not realize it). That order is usually opinion, size, shape, color, origin, purpose. So if I ask if you've seen the ugly, oversized, rectangular, dark brown purse it sounds better than pointing out the dark brown, overly-large, rectangular ugly purse. We don't think of the rule. It just sounds right the first way.

Do you agree with this rule? Why, or why not? What other "rules" can you think of that we observe without thinking of them? I'd like to know.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans' Day, 2019

Today is Veterans' Day. It had its beginning as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, commemorating the armistice that was signed to end the first world war--at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year.

Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, and should not be confused with Memorial Day, which honors those who died while in military service. I'm proud to have served, and always feel a special thrill when someone recognizes that I'm a veteran and thanks me for my service--even though it was quite a while ago.

We'll fly our flag today, as we do every day. Because brave men and women fought for our right to do so. When you see a veteran today, thank him or her for their service. It will bring a smile to your face and theirs.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Writing: The Ear Knows

Ever see a word or phrase written and immediately think, "That doesn't seem right?" Then, when you say it out loud, you find you're correct. We learn a language by seeing it, by hearing it, and by repeating it. And our ears gradually learn what is correct--and incorrect--grammar. For this, as well as other reasons, the ultimate test of what we've written is, "How does it sound?"

This was brought home to me by listening to a book I have written, as preparation for putting out an audio version. I have to confess that I often write what sounds right in my head, but then when I hear the narrator say it, I think, "You know, I could have expressed that better."

There are many ways to self-edit your book, but the one that most of us skip is probably the most effective one--reading the book aloud. It will often pick up errors in writing that we tend to skim right over when simply looking at the written words.

Authors, have you found reading your manuscript aloud to be helpful? Or, as is the case with some of us, was it too much trouble? Let me know what you think about this technique.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Christmas is A-Comin' (Already?)

Wow, here it is November already--and (no surprise), I haven't done my Christmas shopping. My wife has started, and I'll probably depend on her to guide me through the maze.

Since we have family in Texas (near and not-quite so), Virginia, and Nevada, we'll probably expect them to visit us sometime between Thanksgiving and sometime in 2020, but the days of having everyone together for Christmas are probably gone. But we'll be glad to see them, whenever they come.

How about you? Are you looking forward to shopping? Do you still send Christmas cards? Will you celebrate on one day or a bunch of them? Let me know.

PS (commercial announcement): for those of you who like to give (or receive) books for Christmas, you might want to consult this catalog for ideas. (Hint: Bitter Pill is on p. 23, and the catalog URL is  https://joom.ag/M3Se). If you or a friend are into audio books, there'll soon be an audio version of Bitter Pill.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Writing: Questions For An Author

I thought that perhaps it was time to give you some of the questions and answers that go with the writing business.

How to you get your ideas?

I used to say from “ideas.com” until I found there really is such a site. The truth, as is true for most writers, is that I take the things going on around me and then wonder what happens next. Alternatively, I ask the question Al Gansky taught me: “What if…?” Then I take it from there.

Do you need an agent? How do you find one?

If you want the editor of a publishing house to offer a contract, you'll need a literary agent representing you. Often, we find someone who would be just right as our representative, usually when we meet at a writing conference. If we’re fortunate, we ask them, and they accept. In rare instances, the agent will ask us. All this has been made somewhat moot as more and more writers see the handwriting on the wall about the publishing world and decide to self-publish their work. Do you need an agent then? If you’re not established, yes. An agent will give you advice...and if you're just starting out, you'll need it.

How do you go about getting published?

If they’re offered a contract, I think a writer should carefully consider signing with a publisher. Later they might decide to branch out and become a hybrid author (one who’s work is put out both by a traditional publisher and independently) but having that publisher behind you for the first several books—especially the marketing expertise and “muscle”—is quite helpful. Of course, some people start out "indie-publishing," but that's tough, because much of the time we don't know what we don't know. Confusing? Yep.

Once you “go indie,” do you no longer have to worry about editing the manuscript?

No! No! No! One advantage of self-publication (which no longer carries the stigma it once did) may be that you don’t have to write a synopsis or please an editorial board, but it does not free you from multiple revisions, including hiring an outside editor. This may be for a macro (“big picture”) edit, line editing, and/or proof-reading. It’s important for the indie author to put forth the best possible book. And this means using a professional for editing, as well as cover design and execution.


Aren’t all authors rich?

I suppose if your name is Clancy, or Child, or Rowling, you’re probably able to put food on the table by your writing. For most of us, our royalties are welcome surprises that we receive every three to six months but aren’t nearly enough to support our families or allow us to quit our day jobs. Authors get an advance against royalties, and this has to be earned out before we get a penny of additional royalty money. Some small presses don’t even give advances, so the royalties are bigger—but not huge.  

Other questions? Let me know.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

I'm Back...and The Reason Why I Was Gone

Did you miss me? Actually, I missed (sometimes) the chance the share my thoughts with the two or three of you who read this blog regularly, but I resisted the temptation. I was at my computer some days, but did no writing. I simply read what others wrote on their blogs and Internet posts, agreeing with some and disagreeing with others. I even left comments. But it was freeing not to be responsible for my own posts, even on an infrequent basis.

My wife is the second blessing in my life...most men don't have one wonderful woman in their life, but I've had two. When she said that her heart rhythm had changed to atrial fibrillation (an irregular irregularity, if that makes sense to you--it did to me), we consulted her internist who sent her to an excellent cardiologist. Since then, she's undergone two cardioversions (you've seen them on TV--the doctor puts the paddles on a patient's chest and restarts the heart...sometimes). The conversion to a normal rhythm lasted only a couple of days in each case. Her medication was changed, without benefit. There was another option, and we chose it.

Her main problem was tiredness. It literally hurt me to see her having to sit down and rest after tasks that I took for granted. On the recommendation of her cardiologist, she underwent a cardiac ablation two weeks ago. This involves a general anesthetic, putting electrodes through the femoral veins and into the heart, then electrocauterizing areas that cause the abnormal rhythm. I'm a doctor, which means I know all the bad things that can happen...including death.

Fortunately, the procedure worked without complications. She even feels good enough to start work on the initial edit of my next book. We're not out of the woods, but getting there. And I'll be posting again twice a week. I invite you to come along. I'll try to make it fun.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Back in a Bit

I'll be absent from this space for a couple of weeks. Lest you be concerned, it has nothing to do with my health (except that I'm getting more "mature" every day, but aren't we all?), and there's no crisis at home (except the fact that everyone seems to think that, since I'm a writer, I have all the time I need for other things). No, I'm simply going to take a couple of weeks off.

Have I quit writing? Not at all. I've published my latest novella, Bitter Pill, and the response has been gratifying. Soon I'll be able to announce the audio version of this one. I've finished the draft (I edit as I go, unlike some authors) of my full -length novel, working title Critical Decision. After more editing and revisions, and with a wonderful cover designed by Dineen Miller, I plan to release it after the first of the year. I'm considering what's next, but right now I thought it was time to slow down for a bit, so that's what I'm going to do.

If everything goes as planned, I'll be back on October 29 (two weeks from now). See you then.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Writing: Get The Reader's Attention

I've finished the first draft (including lots of editing along the way) of my next novel, working title Critical Decision. While I wait for a macro edit, I've arranged for a cover and for later a line edit and proof-reading. And I'm kicking around a few openings for my next one.

I try to catch the reader's attention in the first scene, ideally in the first page or two, in order to keep them reading. Of course, I write medical mysteries or thrillers (I've written elsewhere about the difference, although it seems to me to be an artificial distinction), so that doubles the necessity to catch the attention of the person looking at the first page. Here's one I came up with while "doodling" on the computer. What do you think?

The hand holding the pistol was steady as a rock, aiming at her chest. The trigger finger was so tense that the knuckles of that digit were white. There was no chance of missing at this range. One squeeze and it was over.
She reviewed her options and found she had nowhere to go from here. This might be the end. She wondered idly if she’d hear the gunshot that killed her.
“Any final words?”
Then, the cell phone in her pocket began to vibrate. At first, she ignored it, but finally she heaved a sigh, turned from the computer, and pulled the instrument from her pocket. As she feared, the call was from her sister. 
“Patricia, I hope this is important.” Actually, she was glad for the interruption. Maybe a way out of the situation she’d gotten her heroine into would come to her. She was barren of ideas right now. 
“It’s Mom. She’s gone by ambulance to the hospital. They think it may be a heart attack. I’ll meet you there.” And she was gone.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Talk Among Yourselves

I've got a bunch of things to do today--and I let this time slip past me (again). Sorry about that. I'll be back on Friday with a post about "the writing life," but for today, I'll have to pass.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Writing: Is An Editor Important?

It's hard to get used to calling myself a "hybrid" author. Such a strange term--like I'm half-man, half-beast or something. What it really means, of course, is that I've had books published by royalty-paying publishers and self-published (or "indie," for independent) books.  As an author who has indie-published, a question I'm often asked is, "If you publish a manuscript independently, is it necessary to employ an editor?" That's a valid question. After all, you've written what you consider the greatest book in the world (well, maybe not the greatest--but you think it's ready to publish). Why spend the money on an editor?

I asked a number of multi-published authors this question: "Do you use an editor, even when you're going to indie publish the manuscript." The response was unanimous. "Yes." I got comments like "I wouldn’t dream of publishing without having the manuscript edited first!" and "I'd never think of publishing something that's not professionally edited". Someone whom I respect in the publishing field and who now publishes only independently uses a person whose judgment they trust as a beta-reader and for developmental editing, then uses an outside editor for copy-editing and proof-reading. Incidentally, I do the same.

So, there you have it. It's not a large series, but I think it's indicative of what authors feel and do. Don't fail to use a professional editor (and the same goes for cover design), even when you publish independently. You'll be glad you spent the money. 

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

State Fair...Already?

There are lots of things I like about North Texas, but when people come to visit in October I always ask, "Have you been to the State Fair?" There's something for everyone. The midway offers lots of rides (including several that I steer clear of--not because they're particularly unsafe, but because I made "chicken" the first time they issued the merit badge). There are other things to and do, of course. If the individual is a "city slicker," the livestock barns offer a viewpoint they've not seen. The various buildings shelter exhibits and demonstrations (plus, of course, sales of some of the things demonstrated there). And the retreat ceremony at dusk is worth seeing--it never changes, and I never get tired of it.

But I just noticed that the Fair (we don't dress up the term as "Texas State Fair"--there's only one Fair around here) started last Friday. It will run into October, and that's as it should be. Various schools will have their "day" that allows students to attend (and leaves parents who have to work wondering what they'll do with their offspring that day). The Cotton Bowl will feature a bunch of football games (but no longer the Texas-Texas A&M or Texas-OU game). And there'll always be the cries in the evening of "Do we have to go home already?" from some children (and a few adults). That's the Fair.

But does it seem to you that it starts earlier and earlier each year? Or am I just getting old?

Friday, September 27, 2019

Writing: Preparing to Write

As we used to say in medicine, "Although you may not be able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you can nevertheless make a better-looking, more acceptable sow's ear." In writing, probably there are people who are born with a talent for putting the words together, and they may turn out better products than those of us who don't have the natural ability they do, but those of us in the latter group have learned to write by reading, practice, and paying attention to advice. In other words, I learned to improve on the sow's ear--and sometimes got a silk purse out of the deal.

Mine is not advertised as "sure-fire" advice, but it's the way I learned. First, I attended a writing conference. Actually, I attended several of them. This may be too expensive for some of you, but if you really want to learn writing, go to one. It's not necessary to attend a large one. There are many good ones out there. If you go, you'll develop relationships with others of the same bent. Writing, like algebra, will eventually start to make sense for you. And you'll pick up small tips that you'll incorporate into your writing until they become automatic.

Notice that I don't mention editors or agents in the above paragraph. If you go to your first conference expecting a contract, prepare for disappointment. If for some reason you do get one, count yourself fortunate. But keep learning anyway.

While you're deciding about a conference, start reading. Learn how to plot, with books like James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. Learn how to catch the attention of the reader by reading Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. There are too many books to mention--I have a two-foot shelf of them in my office--but read to learn how to write. And also read books by other authors. Read the good stuff, and imitate it. Read the bad stuff, and avoid it.

This isn't sure-fire advice. It's just the way I got into it. There was a lot that followed, but this is how I started.  Eighteen novels and novellas later, am I an expert? Not at all. But I hope you'll be on your way with this advice. What would you add?


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

What To Post?

I've been on Facebook for quite a while. We're encouraged, as authors, to have a social media presence, and I've tried. I've even developed two Facebook pages--my "regular" one, for friends, family, acquaintances, and some of the people who ask; and my "author" page, where I post links that might be of interest to writers. But the former presents a problem for me.

As I looked through FB today, preparing this post, I decided that there were certain things I wasn't going to do. I don't like posts that have a political flavor. (Although I have my own viewpoint, and will gladly tell you about them, I've never seen anyone convinced by a FB post). I enjoy, for a while, seeing recipes, but eventually they make me hungry. I'm a retired physician, and I keep up with medicine via journals and the Internet, so it especially angers me when people post material--especially that copied from sites--that espouses certain things as sure-fire bad or good things, or for that matter, when they ask medical questions on the Internet. For that matter, when people seek or give professional advice on their FB page, my initial thought is that they might or might not get something useful.

I've gone on and on, considering and rejecting various things I could write about. And, finally, I've come up with a post that no one can find fault with. Enjoy.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Writing: Conferences, Editors, and Agents

It doesn't seem possible, but I began blogging over a decade ago. I looked back at one of my first posts (dating to my attendance at the ACFW conference that year), and found it needed very little "touching up" to be relevant today. See what you think.

"I'll be attending the ACFW meeting here in my home city of Dallas in a couple of weeks. I've kept an eye on the appointment logs for editors and agents, and it's interesting that many editors (including a number from well-respected houses) have open appointments. On the other hands, agents are booked from sunup to sundown. Everybody wants to have an agent...

"The group whose dance card fills up the quickest at these gatherings isn't those who wear the hat of "editor." It's the agents. Moreover, the high-profile agents are the most sought-after. Somehow, there seems a dissonance to me in that. These folks have well-established clients whose writing has proven itself over and over. Why should they even bother talking with prospective clients? The answer, of course, is that they're sifting through all the proposals they get, hoping to find the author of the next best-seller.

"Most publishing houses won't look at an unsolicited proposal now. The two primary avenues for getting your work considered are attending a writer's conference and receiving a go-ahead from an editor, or having an agent who will shop your work around. I've said before that getting an agent is like getting a loan at the bank. It's easiest if you can prove you don't need one."

Of course, nowadays there's not the stigma that used to go with "self-publishing." Many of us have either become "hybrid authors" (with experience in both publication via a traditional publisher and self-publication) or gone the "indie-route" entirely. The answer, of course, lies in the quality of your writing. If you have all the resources needed to self-publish, you may not need an agent. But it's still nice to have one in your corner if you're a "pre-published" author waiting  for that first contract or unsure about going "indie" for the first time. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"Deal" on Surgeon's Choice

One of my favorite novellas is Surgeon's Choice. In case you missed it the first time around, I've arranged for a special price for the Kindle version of the novella, starting later today and continuing for the next couple of days, with gradual increase after that to the normal price. Here's a bit more about Surgeon's Choice: 

"Dr. Ben Merrick and his fiancĂ©, Rachel Gardner, can’t get her divorced parents to stay in the same room, much less attend their wedding together.  He is also looking over his shoulder expecting more trouble from a very senior surgeon who has shown he is still smarting from a previous dust-up. Ben doesn’t know if a series of mishaps and accidents are caused by a disgruntled patient’s relatives or represent more from the older surgeon. 

"Then his prospective father-in-law approaches him, needing money for reasons Ben can’t fathom. Rachel has an idea about the cause of the request, but she doesn’t want to accept it. Then, when the deaths begin, Ben and Rachel begin to wonder if they can escape unscathed…and alive."

As we near Christmas, I'll be arranging a special price later for my Christmas novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night. I'll also have an announcement about a new audio format for my novella, Bitter Pill. I'm just full of surprises over the next few months, so I hope you'll check back regularly.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Writing: The Hard Parts

One of my favorite authors is the late Robert B. Parker. I re-read all his books regularly, and usually find something worthwhile in each of one. As I recall, his protagonist--Spenser--tells his "sweetie"--Susan--that if she's running only two miles, she's running the hardest two: the first and last one. Her reply is classic. "If I didn't run those, I'd never run any."

Whether walking, running, or even writing, the hardest part is always starting out and finishing. But if we didn't do that, we'd never do anything at all. If I didn't start, it would never get done.

Starting a book is usually not that difficult. All authors have a bunch of beginnings in their head. They usually start out with "what if...?" The hard part is following up that idea. My wife once suggested to me starting a book with a female doctor getting a strange package. When she opens it,  a cell phone inside begins ringing. Finally, her curiosity gets the best of her and she answers it. A voice calls her by name, tells her that her husband has been kidnapped, and says that to get him back she must give a patient medication that will kill him.

Now, all of us will admit that's a pretty decent opening. The hard part is keeping the suspense up for the duration of a novel, ending with what Jim Bell calls a "knockout ending." In other words, starting a novel is relatively easy. Keeping one going and ending it with a flourish is what marks a writer.

I've almost completed the first draft of a novel based on that opening, working title Critical Decision, and you should see it sometime after the first of the year. Because I ran the two hardest miles--the first and the last--this one is almost ready for the reader.

PS--I'll be announcing some price specials for the Kindle versions of my novellas soon, and hope to have the audio version of my most recent novella, Bitter Pill, ready to go by winter. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Let Us Never Forget

September 11, 2001. I remember where I was and what I did afterward. Do you?

Friday, September 06, 2019

Writing: Chekhov's Gun

Writers are always talking about the principle of "Chekhov's gun." But how many of us know that he was a practicing physician? At one point, he was quoted as saying, "Medicine is my lawful wife, while literature is my mistress." He was multi-talented, and I certainly don't deny that--even though I'm going to take some exception to the principle he espoused.

He was known as a master of the short story and four of his plays are classics. "Chekhov's gun" is a phrase that's quoted often, but do you really know what it means? It says, in essence, that if a loaded gun is evident in the first part of the story, it should be fired before the story ends. But to expand further, his philosophy was really to remove all extraneous things, whether physical or pertaining to dialogue, in the writing.

When most of us speak of Chekhov's gun, we think in terms of an actual gun. And on more than one occasion, I have introduced a pistol or long gun into the plot of a novel, whether it is fired later or not. But putting aside the reference to firearms and applying his principle to removal of extraneous things or ideas, I take exception. Most of us who write mysteries (whether cozy, romantic, legal, medical, or whatever) have learned that it's a good idea to introduce "red herrings" into the plot, so that the reader is always wondering who the "bad guy" is going to be. And this introduction of false clues goes against the principles that Chekhov espoused.

I certainly don't want to put myself up against one of the geniuses of the writing world, but I'd encourage all the writers who read this blog to think twice before they introduce Chekov's gun into their plot. And when they do, remember that he wasn't talking about just a gun.

What do you think? Good idea, bad idea, or one you never really considered?

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Thank You For Your Service

 On this day after Labor Day, let me ask you a question. Did you think about all those who were working to make it possible for us to enjoy the holiday? 

I did--perhaps because I was once one of those who were working while others were taking a long holiday. I considered the personnel who made possible our shopping for groceries, clothing, hardware, and so many other items. I thought about the medical personnel who were working during this holiday time. The more I thought about it, the longer my list became. Unfortunately, we've come to take this service for granted--even on Labor Day.

So, if you enjoyed some time off this past holiday weekend, please join me in saying "Thank you" to everyone who was working during our "time off." We appreciate your service.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Writing: It's A Lonely Business

Anyone who's been in an allergy course I've directed may find it difficult to believe, but I'm an introvert. When it came time to face 250 or so attendees, I often said, "Time to put on my game face." At that point, I was an extrovert. But at other times, not so much.

Writing is like that. We sit down in front of a computer and imagine words that we might not say out loud in real life. We imagine people in situations that are made up of whole cloth, saying words that we pluck out of the air, and keep on doing that until we've filled our allotment of pages for the day. And when it comes time to send our manuscript forth into the world, we "put on our game face." However, instead of facing people for a limited amount of time, we're going to  put our words out there for thousands (we hope) to read and comment on for as long as the book is in print. 

Some people like to use a critique group for the exchange of ideas. Others prefer to do it solo. As one author of my acquaintance says, "No one reads a single word I've written until the manuscript is sent to my editor." Whichever way a writer prefers to do it--whether with others contributing ideas and reacting to what's written or by never sharing the manuscript until it's completed--ultimately the responsibility for what's going down on that paper is the sole responsibility of the author. And that's a scary thought.

I love the quotation that I sometimes use as a signature line. "Some people hear voices when no one's around.  They are called mad, and sit in a room all day and stare at the walls. Others are called writers, and they do pretty much the same thing."  I may not have the words exactly the way writer Meg Chittenden said them, but writers will know what I mean--and nod. How about you?