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.