Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Random Thoughts (While Keeping A 6 Foot Distance)

Sometimes I think that I'm the only doctor in this hemisphere who hasn't been interviewed as an "expert" on some channel or other during this viral crisis. Because I'm in the age group that's most vulnerable to infection, I'm glad that I'm retired. And, although I was proud to have served my country in the Air Force, I no longer have my reserve commission. Nevertheless, I have genuine gratitude for the younger "medics" who currently serve.

Self-quarantine for us isn't much different from our usual routine. The two of us are pretty much homebodies. When it's time to go to the grocery store, we go, and get by easily on what's available. We're eating at home pretty much all the time, although we try to support some of our favorite restaurants by ordering carry-out a few times a week. I'm ready for things to open up, but I don't have "cabin fever"--at least, not yet.

It's been like pulling teeth for me to write during this time, and based on what a few fellow authors tell me, I'm not alone. I've got about 3000 words written on my next novel. I have the characters in mind--I'm toying with two different endings--but I have rewritten those words several times without making any progress.  Guess I'll finish it...or not. Plan to see if others have that problem.

I promised I'd keep you posted on my guest appearances. I'm a guest today on Lena Dooley's blog, and those who register have a chance to win a copy of my latest novel, Critical Decision. Also, while we're cooped up, I've made the Kindle version of my novella, Surgeon's Choice, free for the next five days. Even if you've already read it, pass on the information to a friend who might not be familiar with my work.

Well, enough from me. How are you doing? Let me know.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Writing: Just The First Step

You've finished! You've actually written a book. Now all you have to do is wait for the royalties to roll in. Sorry, friend, but writing is just the first step on a long, long journey--if you intend to be successful with this publishing thing.

Did you sign a contract with an established publisher to market the book? Great, but that doesn't affect the truth I learned quite some time ago: No one is as interested in people buying your book as you are. The publisher's marketing and publicity people will do a good job, but you have to do an even better one. And if you've chosen--for whatever reason--to go "indie" with your book publication, it's all up to you. And you have to stay with it.

For my book, Critical Decision, I started several months ago to line up guest blog posts and giveaways. The latest is the blog at Seekerville (and if you're a writer or a reader, I recommend you begin following this one) which includes a post that talks about what comes after the idea and the subsequent writing. It also includes a chance to win a signed copy of the book. I arranged several of these, and I began long before I finished the novel. And you'll have to do the same thing, especially if your book is published independently.

Have I burst a bubble here, or did you already know about this? Let me know.

By the way--because we all are spending lots of time at home reading, I've arranged for the Kindle version of my novella, Emergency Case, to be available at no charge via Amazon--but hurry, since this offer will only last through tomorrow. Check my blog next Tuesday, when I plan to make another novella free.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Guest post

Today I'm visiting Seekerville, with a different slant on the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" And a chance to win my new novel, Critical Decision. Hope you'll drop by. (And, yes, I'll have my usual post tomorrow).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hunkering Down

About to get "cabin fever?" We don't have any kids in school, so it's just the two of us, and since we're retired, our days aren't so different now than they were before we were asked to stay at home unless going on an essential errand. Are we getting tired of the enforced self-quarantine? Not if it will help our country, and I believe it will. But it takes some adjustment.

I'm seeing examples daily of people who are offering to help others who are older or can't help themselves. Even though my wife and I don't look upon ourselves as "older," the calendar says otherwise, and we're getting offers every day from our son down the street, as well as from our neighbor. It's nice to get those, and they typify the spirit of our nation.

Authors, this should be a great time to work on our writing--but I'm finding it easy to put that activity off...especially since I just published my latest and I don't have any deadline facing me. Do you tend to put aside work and just enjoy the time away? I sort of like it.

I said I'd keep you posted on giveaways for my book. There are a couple, and I mentioned them in my last post--Carrie Schmidt ("Meez Carrie") on her blog, and Rel Mollett (Relz Reviewz) on hers. I'll have another coming up soon--consult my Friday post for that one.

An important announcement (and one I hope you'll pass along to your friends who'd like a taste of my writing) is that I've made the Kindle edition of my novella, Emergency Case, free for five days. Come back next week, as I plan to do this again with another novella.

I'm writing this on the weekend, and will soon be watching my pastor speak via electronic means. I hope you'll do the same.

Meanwhile, here's a reminder of what we need to do, as often as possible--wash your hands.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Writing: Advice

I was looking through blogs recently when I discovered a site that has lots of good writing advice. The person behind this is Suzannah Windsor Freeman, and as best I can tell, nothing has been posted there for a couple of years. Despite the age of the posts, the writing advice that's given is about the same as we've all received, and it's always good. How about these?

·     Show, don’t tell. Eliminate adverbs. Don’t use clich├ęs. Use "said" as a dialogue tag whenever possible. Avoid long passages of description. Describe things using all your senses.

     These are all good suggestions, but I'd hope that the experienced writer does not look on them as iron-clad "rules."  On too many occasions I've seen someone rewrite a perfectly good sentence to make it conform to one of these suggestions, rather than breaking the "rule." The above are not the keys to publication. They aren't any kind of magic formula.

     This brings me to critique groups. Those groups can be great, so long as one realizes the source of the critique. I'd tend to listen more to someone who has proven good ideas. The best suggestions are those that are couched in terms like, "What about doing it this way?" or "Have you thought about such-and-such?" These are more helpful than the persons who either try to rewrite your story (the editorial-wanna be) or those who say it's wonderful just the way it is (the mother-father-spouse viewpoint). Consider the source, as well as the critique.

     I'd encourage the authors among you (both published and unpublished) to add your comments about "rules" and "suggestions." I'd love to hear them.

Note: If you want to get in on the give-away for a copy of Critical Decision (and read a review while you're there), go to the blog of Carrie Schmidt--but hurry. That contest closes March 24. And check out RelzReviewz for another chance to win my novel.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Ten Years Ago

I've been looking over my blogs, and thought it might be fun to see what I was doing ten years ago. As it turned out, I was holding a copy of my first novel. I even had a cake for the "grand opening." Wow. Time has flown, so this must have been fun.
When I held a copy of my first novel, I figured I'd been given a blessing greater than I deserved--first a career as a doctor, and then a published novelist. Now I look at the shelf above my computer and see 22 books--20 novels and novellas and two editions of the book that started it all, my non-fiction book The Tender Scar, written after the death of my first wife.

Cynthia's death was the worst thing that ever happened to me, yet God used it to give me a second career that's lasted for more than a decade. I guess it's true. His plans are better than mine--always.

Have you ever come out of something you considered terrible, only to find that God has blessed you through it? I'd like to hear.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Writing: Describing Faces

Writers, how would you describe the face shown here? Would you talk about the hair color, its style? Would you comment on the eye color. How about its shape, the complexion? In the case of a man, would his beard figure in your description? How about the presence or absence of glasses?

Every writer has his or her style, and my suggestion is to follow the adage of "whatever works." I've talked before about the late Ross Thomas. He was a newspaper writer before he turned his hand to writing novels, and I've noticed that he describes his characters much more fully than I. Here's an example:

"The sea was in her eyes, the somber, chill grey-blue of the winter Adriatic. But if you looked more deeply, there was also the promise of next summer's golden warmth." The words of Chekov are often quoted: "Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." I think you'll have to agree that Thomas did this.

There are other ways to describe a character, of course. I prefer to give the hair and eye color, but leave some of the details for the reader to fill in from their imagination. Other authors picture an actor (I don't know enough about most of them) and model their character on them. Again, my philosophy is, "Whatever works." But be consistent, not only within the book but from novel to novel. Your reader will soon come to expect it.

What works for you? I'd like to hear.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

We Have Nothing To Fear...

...but fear itself. We're familiar with those words, spoken by President Franklin Roosevelt quite some time ago. But they seem extremely appropriate again. We're afraid of the CoVid19 virus because we don't know enough about it. When you look at it carefully, it's similar to influenza. Sure, it's dangerous. But we can be smart and minimize its effect.

Has this ever happened before? I looked through my previous writings in preparation for this posting, and found some interesting information. See if this sounds familiar.

"There are at least 100 identified types of rhinovirus that cause upper respiratory infections (and probably a few that we haven’t yet typed). Right now, though, attention is focusing on this one. This virus isn’t new—its cousins have been around for over five decades—but it’s rarely seen in epidemic proportions. This year is different, and the questions have started to fly. Is it a super-bug? Can doctors treat it? Is there a vaccine to prevent it?"

That post is from 2014. It's about enterovirus, and the "panic" was similar to the one we're now experiencing. It was called a "super-bug" and caused quite a furor. In that case, the symptoms started out like a common cold, but sometimes spread. The  treatment was supportive--both then and now. There was a vulnerable population--in that case, young children. We were afraid of it right then, just as we're afraid of CoVid19 now, but after an initial panic we have  classed it with similar viruses and moved on.

There's a vaccine on the horizon for CoVid19, as well as a possible treatment, but meanwhile we're encouraged to simply employ common sense measures and seek medical attention when "it's more than a cold." Those common sense measures include hand-washing (with soap and water for 20 seconds), avoidance of sick folks, disinfecting surfaces that might have the virus on them, etc.

We've had the flu shot (which doesn't protect against CoVid19. I don't want to hear your stories about why you do or don't take yours, but if you didn't, don't complain if you get the flu). My wife and I are both in the population that are most vulnerable from CoVid19, and we'll take the usual precautions. But we're not going to "borrow trouble," as my father used to say. 

Avoiding purely political comments (which I'll delete if you get into them), what do you think about what I've posted? How are you handing things? I'd like to hear.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Writing: Now What?

Well, you've done it. You've finished your novel, typed "the end" (or, as I do, entered ###), and you're ready for the next step. After making the changes "suggested" by the editor, after several revisions, after a few sleepless nights and episodes of tearing out your hair, it's ready for publication. Now what?

Of course, there's always the "next novel," but let's assume that you're willing to put that project off for a week or two. Do you simply sit back and wait for the royalties to pour in? Not unless you've learned nothing about the publishing industry. The best advice I was given, when I got into this writing business, was this: "No one is as interested in promotion of your book as you are."

You may have fulfilled a contract with a traditional publisher, at which point there's a temptation to sit back and let the marketing and publicity folks take over. Or you may be independently publishing this one yourself. If you're in for former category, you'll soon find out that the advice I was given holds true, even in this situation--your publisher may help out (and the illustration is in fun--really), but it behooves you to line up or be sure of the guest blog appearances and book give-aways that will get your book noticed. I've always done it, and I'm glad. If you're indie-publishing this one, you soon find out (if you haven't already) that marketing is another of the hats that you wear. In other words, since there are over a million books published every year (both by traditional publishers and independents), it's up to you to get this one noticed.

I recently published my twentieth work of fiction--some via a publisher, some independently produced--but my efforts involving Critical Decision aren't through yet. I have at least five guest appearances scheduled that include giveaways--I'll try to let you know about all of them as they come up. (Today I'm at the suspense sisters blog, with a chance to win a copy of my novel). And, as with other books, if you win a copy but have already purchased one, I'll send you an Amazon gift card instead. Anyway, the fun's just beginning.

Meanwhile, I'm going to draw a deep breath. Best wishes for a good weekend, and if you read Critical Decision, I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Release Day

I guess I should have scheduled this release for a Friday, since that's when I post all my "writing" stuff. Anyway, Critical Decision is supposed to be available today--definitely in Kindle, and possibly also ready in print form (I've just been advised it's also up--the two versions will be linked in a couple of days). I'm making arrangements for it to be available as an audio book, but that will come a couple of months down the road.

I don't sound very happy? Counting both the works published by a conventional publisher and my indie-publication, this is number twenty, if I calculate correctly. For my first novel, I went all-out--had a cake, gathered people at a bookstore for a reading, but in general I was disappointed. I later heard from one of the bookstore employees that a former first lady of the US had done a reading there, and gathered an even smaller crowd. That helped me set my expectations a bit lower, and for the last several books I've made very little fuss about it. So, here's Critical Decision. I hope you enjoy it. Meanwhile, I plan to draw a few deep breaths, then plunge into writing another one.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Writing: Weighing Pros and Cons

I had a phone conversation with my agent the other day. Yes, "indie" authors have agents, too. We talked about my career, and the twists and turns it has taken--from contracted author (two different publishers) to indie (actually, agent-assisted) author, making me what is now popularly called a "hybrid" author.  The big decision, of course, was what to do next. This was generated by a possibility of getting a contract with a publisher, but was I really ready to go back that way? So we talked. (For another viewpoint, although quite similar, check out this post).

Here's what I concluded from our half-hour exploration. The field of publishing has narrowed in a way (harder to get a contract from a traditional publisher) and changed (more small publishers). It's still important to have a good cover (for which I'm responsible in my current indie mode), and even the experienced authors can benefit from the work of a good editor (for which the author also pays as an indie).  These are things a publisher provides, but unless you've been fortunate (as I have...mostly) what they come up with may not be to your taste.

The indie author need not supply a synopsis (you have no idea what a pain writing these can be) or bend to the will of a publisher (and believe me, some of them will ask you to virtually rewrite your book). It behooves me to set up my own publicity, which I'm happy to do anyway--always have. I do a better job than a publicist or marketing manager sometimes. Of course, I have to buy the books I give away or even the proof copies I send out to my influencers. But when the check comes in, most of it is mine.

When a question arises, the decision-maker is me. It's up to me to get all those things done, which leaves me still deciding "Is it worth it?"

Bottom line (and I don't care for that term, but there you are), I'll probably continue as I have been. Do you have any suggestions you'd like to pass along? Have I mentioned anything you hadn't thought about regarding publishing and publishers? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Internet--Blessing Or Curse?

I enjoy looking at Facebook and Twitter periodically, keeping up with the postings of my friends, acquaintances, and people who fit into neither categories but who like my writing or are otherwise my "friends." But when I look at the comments that follow various posts, especially those with political overtones, I flinch and usually navigate away. It seems that "trolls" are becoming more and more a problem.

What is a computer troll? Here's one definition, from an excellent article: "An Internet troll is a member of an online social community who deliberately tries to disrupt, attack, offend or generally cause trouble within the community by posting certain comments, photos, videos, GIFs or some other form of online content." They may be represented by a single person voicing their opinion, by a group that sets out to disrupt or negate an honest difference of opinion, and probably other types as well. And they're ruining what the social networks were originally planned to be--an opportunity to communicate, to voice your feelings, the equivalent of back-fence conversation in the old days. Apparently, all that has gone by the boards.

I control what social media I see and who my FB friends are (and I've had to block some folks, I'm sorry to say), but occasionally I still see comments to other people's posts or blogs that generate feelings that vary from disagreement to downright anger. How about you? Am I alone in seeing things which border on trolling? Do you have similar feelings? Let me know.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Writing: Can You Tell A Book By Its Cover?

Just got word that my book, Critical Decision, will be available on March 3--two weeks earlier than planned. Enjoy.

On a writers' loop recently, a bookstore manager emphasized the need for a good cover, especially in a book published independently. At the left is the cover designed for Critical Decision by Dineen Miller, who's designed covers for all my indie-published books. I think she did a good job.

I wondered about covers, and discovered a post I published five years ago--it's still valid.

We have a Post Office box, and when life gets busy (as it often is) I may only collect mail from it two or three times a week. That was the case recently, and there was quite an accumulation. After I do something like that, I spend a good bit of time at my desk, discarding unwanted catalogs and shredding a lot of the correspondence. This time, after I'd discarded five or six catalogs and saved a couple,  I started wondering about the process that affected my decision. None of the ones we received, whether they went into the recycle bin or were saved for later perusal, were from companies that generally got our business. Why did I save some catalogs and toss others?

Obviously, some got my attention, while others were met with a figurative turning up of the nose. The ones that survived merited a second look and--at least temporarily--salvage (even though they might eventually end up in the recycle bin anyway).

Now that I'm writing, I've come to realize how important a book cover is. The things that "sell" a book buyer are the name and reputation of the writer, as well as the back cover blurb and the first few pages of the book, but what catches their eye in the first place is the book cover. And the same can be said of direct mail advertising, whether a catalog or correspondence.

What influences you to save or discard an unsolicited piece of mail, especially a catalog? Do you know what gets your attention? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Presidents' Day

I'm old enough to remember when we celebrated Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and Washington's on February 22. But the Uniform Federal Holidays Act of 1971 designated one day--the third Monday in February--as Presidents' Day, honoring all who have served as President of the US. Some might have had it as a holiday, some had to work.

Since I'm retired--ie, I don't have to leave the house for work--most days are about the same for me. How about you? What did you do yesterday? Let me know.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Writing: What's The Endgame

We all know that railroad tracks can keep running, parallel to each other, for as long as the rails are laid. In actuality, they never meet, despite what our eyes see. There's an end of the line, but our vision shows them continuing until they meet at infinity. Sometimes a writer's life is like that. Depending on our location, we can see the next several rails, perhaps even a mile down the track, but we can't see the true end. To our finite eyes, the path keeps going to infinity, but our brain tells us there's an end of the line.

In my own case, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of publishers behind me for the publication of the first ten of my novels. And I was even more fortunate to have built up a following, people who read and enjoyed my work. When it became apparent that my "run" with traditional publishers was coming to an end, I took advantage of agent-assisted self-publication to put out two more (soon to be three) full-length novels plus five novellas. Every time I go through the publication process, I'm reminded of how much a traditional publisher does for an author. Of course, every time I see a royalty check, I'm reminded of how much a self-published author does.

My next novel, Critical Decision, is now available for pre-order in Kindle form on Amazon. The print version will be available before the March 17 "publication" date. And I'm making arrangements for an audio version of the book. Twenty novels and novellas of "medical mystery with heart." Twenty opportunities--not just now but as long as those books are out there--to reach people with these stories. It's more than I even hoped for, and I'm grateful.

I have another book already started on my computer--Medical Mystery features an unmarried nurse, a widowed doctor, a woman with a blood pressure issue, and a cast of characters that promises plenty of opportunities for me to see where they're going. I don't know if the rails will keep running for a while, or if the train will stop. I guess we'll just have to hang on and see where the journey goes.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How Do You Keep Up?

My wife keeps a "to-do" list. I don't. Then again, according to her she has a thousand things to do, and I don't. Besides that, if I kept a list, I'd forget where I put it.

We also keep a calendar on the refrigerator (doesn't everyone?). Of course, occasionally things don't get written down, which makes for some surprises when they turn up. So it's only as good as my wife and I make it.

No matter how you keep up with your schedule--via a list, notes on a calendar, a spreadsheet on your computer, however--it's probably immaterial the method, as much as the execution. And there's always the niggling feeling in the back of your mind that you're forgetting something.

Right now, I'm tying up the loose ends for publication of my next book. I've sent out the proof copies, made arrangements for several blog interviews and giveaways, settled on a release date, and a few more things. And that brings me to my announcement.

My novel, Critical Decision, will be released on March 17. For those of you who prefer to read on a Kindle (or have the app available free from Amazon that allows you to read Kindle books on your computer or phone), you can pre-order the novel at a savings. Click here for details and to order.

Enough marketing. We're half-way through February, and I have a number of things to do this month. How about you? And how will you make sure you get them all done? I want to know.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Writing: Like A Sparkler

Remember when you were a kid and fireworks were going off all around you. You wanted to participate, but were told that shooting off bottle rockets and lighting firecrackers were too dangerous. Some adults, and even teen-agers, held Roman candles, and that sounded like fun, but you weren't allowed. Too dangerous. But, before the firework "show" wound down, you were allowed to hold a sparkler--maybe two. You were big stuff. You were shooting off fireworks--sort of. It was fun while it lasted, but after it had run its course, there wasn't anything left but a wire with a bit of burned material on it.

I won't say that writing a novel is totally like shooting off fireworks, but one similarity struck me. You labor for months--sometimes a year or more--getting the content just right. Launch day is sort of like a fireworks display (although the rockets and firecrackers get muted later on in some cases), but when it's all over you can find yourself holding a burned out sparkler and thinking "is that all?"

An author has to start hyping his/her book weeks before it is released--sometimes months. It's necessary to keep reviews coming in. And there's the time-tested giveaway (which sort of fizzles if participation is weak). But eventually, the fireworks are over if you let them. If you've been writing that next book, the quiet period doesn't last too long. If you put it off, though, you may find yourself holding a burned-out sparkler, looking around and wondering where those fireworks you see are coming from. They're coming from someone else who's launching the book they've been working on. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

What Is Our Legacy?

Author Mary Higgins Clark died last week. As I thought about that, I wondered what my own legacy would be. I enjoyed her novels, as did thousands of those who read them. But although she will be remembered mainly for her more than 50 books, she was a person, not just an author.

As a physician, I was privileged to treat thousands of patients.
As a professor at a medical school and an authority on certain subjects, I had the opportunity to do a great deal of teaching--both in person throughout the world and via articles and book chapters--that had a hand in the education of many professionals.

As an author (who came late to this "second profession") I've been privileged to write things that will live on after I have gone to my reward. And, as a teacher, I've passed on the principles to others of what I've learned in this short time in that profession.

I have been blessed with the love of two wonderful women--at least twice what many men have received. I have wonderful children and grandchildren, of whom I'm inordinately proud. I enjoy watching sporting events (events in some of which I used to be a participant), and still play golf (sort of).

I have been fortunate in my ability to leave behind a legacy that will outlive me--and I hope it is a positive one. No, I don't have a fatal disease. I've just been thinking about legacies. And that brings me to a question I always asked prospective residents for our program during their interviews at the med school where I spent my last decade in practice: What would you like to be remembered for? It's something all of us should think about. If you don't know the answer, now is the time to work on it.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Writing: Does It Involve Self-Promotion?

I get email almost daily that involves books that are on sale--sometimes discounted, sometimes at full price, but always with descriptions that lead me to wonder how I've live this long without reading them. In case you've wondered (and even if you haven't), most authors make money from the books they've written from the advances they're given and (sometimes) from royalties after these books have "earned out" these advances. And why are these books bought? People hear about them, are interested, and buy them.

One of the things I was told when I first got into this writing racket was that no one was as interested in a book I'd written as I was, so the only way to get the word out was...to get the word out. All of us who use social media have heard of the 40-60 rule or some variant of it. Plug your book in no more than 40% of your posts, reserving the other 60% for other things. Also, I've found it true that the best advertising is word-of-mouth, which starts with someone liking a book and telling others about it. But how do they learn about it? Ultimately, you get the word out.

The bottom line (if you'll excuse the hackneyed phrase) is that an author has to either get past his/her fear of self-promotion or employ someone who'll do it for them--publicist or whatever. Done well, and not beaten into the ground with admonitions to "buy my book," it can get past self-promotion and be a decent way to get the word to others. Not done well, it can be a real turn-off. It's a fine line we walk. Do I stray from that line? I hope that, if I do, you'll let me know.

BTW, my next novel, Critical Decision, should be available for purchase within a month or so. Those signed up for my newsletter (see right margin of this column) will hear about it first. End of self-promotion message. How'd I do, folks?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Reflections From A Road Trip

My wife and I don't travel much. In my "more mature" days I've come to agree with the words of Nolan Ryan: Anyone who thinks travel is glamorous hasn't done enough of it. But we needed to go about 150 miles to Oklahoma for the funeral, and we decided to drive. I'm glad we went, but I don't think we'll do all 300 miles in one day again.

Things I learned from the trip? Quite a few, actually. First, it was nice to go to a smaller town where people still stopped their cars until a funeral procession went by. That simple gesture has almost been lost in some of the larger towns, but it was good to see that it hasn't gone completely. It's nice that people can still take five or ten minutes out of their busy lives to show respect, both for the passing of a fellow human being and for the family and friends who accompany them on this last ride.

Second, it was good to have the enforced "togetherness" of the trip. We're always in a hurry, and it seems that Murphy's second law holds true for most of us: Things expand completely to fill all available time. Admittedly, we had our cell phones, so it wasn't as though we were totally cut off from communication with the rest of the world. But it was good, nevertheless.

How about you? What lessons have you learned lately? Whether going about our normal business or when life causes a bit of disruption of our schedule, have you been struck by something that you didn't otherwise notice? I'd like to hear.

BTW, for those interested in my recent column about whether blogs are dead, let's just say that although some are still being read, others--and maybe this one--are on life support. We'll see.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Writing: No One Ever Tells You Everything

There are lots of things we learn along the way to becoming an author. The volume of material, the things that we have drilled into us until they become automatic, the steps that are necessary all make me cringe when I hear someone say, "I think I'll write a book." Oh, I don't discourage their trying. Maybe one in a hundred will stick to it long enough to string together 75,000 or even 100,000 words. And maybe yet even a smaller proportion will write one that's publishable.

We have lots of rules drilled into us: keep point of view constant (in a scene, chapter, even a whole book). Avoid the passive voice (keep the reader interested). Try to hook the reader from the start of the book, and don't let things wane too much or too often. Avoid the "sagging middle" in your book. Pay attention to the antagonist, as well as the hero. And on, and on, and on.

But the rule I find most helpful is one credited to Elmore Leonard, who "leaves out the parts people tend to skip." If the segment doesn't advance the story, doesn't hold the reader's interest, out it goes. Even if I like it. Even if it's one of my "darlings." Yes, we have to kill our darlings sometime.

You may study. You may take courses. You may have multiple books published. But you'll find that there's always more to learn. No one ever tells you everything--because, if they're honest, there's always something more.

Should that deter you from writing? No. But don't dismiss criticism out of hand. If it comes from someone who knows what they're talking about it, consider it. If you get the same criticism from two or more knowledgeable people, really take it to heart. But keep on. The writer who thinks they're beyond taking criticism is the one who doesn't realize that we all have to keep learning.

What do you think is the best advice for a writer?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Every Author Needs A Blog...Don't They?

I was musing about this blog, and along the way I looked back at my first post, which hit on June 19, 2006. Since then, I've posted (according to blogger) just shy of 1500 of these bits of deathless prose. And now, I'm beginning to think that blogs--like bell-bottoms and convertibles--may have had their day.

Why did I start this blog anyway? If you read the link I've furnished to my first blog, you'll find that I thought establishing one would be neat, since most of my colleagues were also blogging. Since then, newsletters, tweets, Facebook posts, and even Instagram pictures have become popular. Why do I continue to do it? Why, indeed? You tell me.

Years ago, I was advised to establish a social media presence, to "get my name out there." With the explosion of social media, as detailed above, I've seen authors gradually drop blogs in favor of some of the other forms Some have even (gasp!) totally eschewed social media, depending on word of mouth (which I maintain is the best form of advertising) to carry them forward. Publishing, whether via a conventional publishing house or "going indie," has changed. Is this another change for authors?

So I'm asking. Do you think this blog has any relevance? What about other social media? What should an author do to "get themselves out there"? I really want to know. And the comments, or lack thereof, will give me a pretty good idea.

PS--In case you're interested (and even if you're not), my next novel, Critical Decision, should be available on Amazon by mid-March, maybe earlier. I know, I know--it's taking a long time, but I hope you'll find it worth the wait.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Writing: Resist The Urge To Explain

Anyone who's taken a writing class or attended a writing conference has probably heard the initials R.U.E. I learned "resist the urge to explain" at my first real conference, when I sat in a group taught by Gayle Roper. She had each of us read a section of our work in progress, but didn't let us answer questions about it. The reason, of course, was because we wouldn't be present looking over the reader's shoulder to explain. We had to make it self-evident, and if it wasn't, we should rewrite it. The author should give just enough information for the reader to draw his/her own conclusion, but not so much that the person looking at the book bogs down with explanations. It's a fine line that we have to walk, and some are more successful than others.

One example of an author who gets it right is Susan Sleeman in her new novel, Seconds to Live. She writes about the witness protection program (which is actually called WITSEC--Witness Security Program) and computer hacking. There are lots of terms used, most of them unfamiliar to most of us, but Susan does a good job of making them clear without going too far over the line.

As a writer of mystery novels that have a medical component, I have a dual task. I have to sprinkle any necessary clues into the novel without being obvious about it. I also have the task of making it possible for the reader to follow along and understand any technical jargon--any "doctor talk" if you will--without being obvious about it. Thus far, I've been fairly successful, but every once in a while I find myself going too far. That's when I have to back off and tell myself, "resist the urge to explain."

Have you found this to be a problem in some books? Any tricks for hitting the middle ground, not going to far in either direction--not explaining enough or too much? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Who Do You Believe?

In the world of instant news that we inhabit, have you found yourself wondering which news source to believe? I'll admit that I have. Cable news, regular TV and radio programs, podcasts,  newspapers, Twitter, Facebook... The list goes on and on. It's reached the point where you can find out, any time of the day or night, what the latest opinion is. And if you don't like that one, move to another news source and get an opposite one.

My philosophy has always been to hear the facts and make up my own mind. But facts are sometime difficult to come by, although opinions aren't. How do you separate the two? Do you have any suggestions? I'd like to know.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Writing: Pay Attention To The Ending

I'm editing (for what I hope is the last time) my next novel, Critical Decision. As I went over (and over and over) it before sending it to the printer, I decided that there are a couple of things that should be carefully gone over by the writer: the opening and the closing.

The importance of the opening is obviously important. It's been said that this is the spot where you "hook" your reader and encourage them to keep on reading. Thus, the need for polishing that part of the book is evident. People spend literally months getting the opening just right, and I see why that's true. But the closing should also get the author's attention.

If the opening is what makes the reader turn the page and keep on turning, the closing scene(s) are what they take away when they're through with the book. Another way to put it is that you sell this book with the opening, but with the closing you sell the next one. Which is important to me? They both are--but I certainly spent more time on the closing of this one than I did on the opening.

What's your opinion? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Anyone Having Trouble Getting Started?

The long weekend (or however long you had off) is over. For the adults, it's time to go back to work. Kids, you have to go to school again. But throughout the land echoes the cry (either voiced or silently), "I'm not ready."

It reminds me of the story of a male or female (it works either way) who doesn't want to go to school. The woman standing over the bed says, "You'll go for three reasons. Number one, you have an obligation. Number two, there are things there you need to do. And number three, you're the teacher."

Well, I'm not the teacher, and my profession no longer demands that I go to work, but nevertheless, I guess it's time for me to move. But I really don't want to. How about you?

Friday, January 03, 2020

Writing: Next Novel

I've been promising it, and here it is: the cover for my next book. I think the cover artist outdid herself. I've been through many revisions myself, did more after input from my first reader (my wife), then had it edited (twice) by an editor, and as soon as it's ready, you'll be able to read it--probably sometime in February.

Meanwhile, here's the first scene to pique your interest. Enjoy.

Dr. Kathy Hoover stood at the back door, but soon found that shouting “Go do your business” to her canine companion had little effect.  She was anxious to return to the office, but the dog didn’t seem to understand. She really hadn’t wanted to take the time to come home at lunch, but Darren was out of town, and Kathy forgot to let Archie out this morning before she left. If she didn’t want to clean up a mess on her return home, she figured it was best to go at lunch time and take care of that chore. 
Finally, patience and the passage of time accomplished what she couldn’t manage by exhortations, and the deed was done. The dog at the center of all this seemed to sense that Kathy was leaving now. He whined to signal his disapproval. The master was at home and Archie was ready for playtime. 
She looked down at the dog and shook her finger. “No time for play. I’ll be back this evening. Now be good.” She wasn’t certain the golden retriever understood, but when she turned toward the kitchen, the dog lay down quietly. Kathy headed for the garage but didn’t quite make it before the doorbell stopped her.
Kathy paused and listened to the door chime’s reverberation fade. The local TV news had run a feature just yesterday about packages disappearing from porches. What if… She sighed and reversed direction. It would only take another minute or two for her to open the front door, check to see if FedEx or UPS had left a package, and bring it in if one were there.
Kathy looked through the pane of glass beside her front door and saw a panel van just pulling away. It wasn’t the familiar dark brown of UPS, nor did it bear the blue and orange logo of FedEx. And it didn’t look like a Postal Service delivery truck. Didn’t she read that Amazon had their own delivery service in some areas? Were those vehicles marked in some way? Whoever brought it, she might as well look at what they’d left.
She unlocked the door, took one step onto her front porch, and saw a small box lying on the stoop. The package was about the dimensions of a shoebox, wrapped in plain brown paper, with her name on a label. Otherwise, it bore no address, no return data, nothing to indicate the carrier. Strange. 
Kathy reached down to pick up the box. Now that the dog was taken care of, she needed to get back to the office. Then again, she couldn’t turn loose of the situation with the box. She wasn’t expecting a delivery. Had Darren ordered something without telling her? No, that would be totally out of character for him. If he’d purchased anything, whether a small household gadget or a new car, he would have discussed it with her. Even if he’d done it on his own, he would have alerted her to expect it. 
She really needed to go right now. But her curiosity fought with common sense, and her curiosity won. Before she could change her mind, Kathy took the package inside and headed for the kitchen, where she rummaged in the “junk” drawer until she found a pair of scissors with one blade partially broken off. Using the intact half of the instrument, she removed the plain wrapping and cut through the tape that held the box closed. When there was no explosion, she let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Kathy dug through the packing peanuts in the box until she found what it contained—a cell phone. 
By now, the dog had become interested in Kathy’s actions. He stood, stretched, and trotted to station himself beside her, where he watched with his head canted to one side.
Meanwhile, Kathy hesitated over the package. Had Darren arranged for a loaner phone to be sent to their house while his was being repaired? But she’d talked with him just last evening on his cell phone, and it was working then. And wouldn’t a loaner or replacement be an iPhone such as they both used? This was nothing like that. Matter of fact, she’d never seen one exactly like this one. 
Kathy looked at her watch and decided she’d deal with this after she got back home this evening. She was about to put the phone back into the box when it started to vibrate in her hands. She almost dropped the instrument. Surely this was a mistake—probably a wrong number. The caller ID was no help. It showed a blocked number. She decided to ignore the phone, but found it impossible. Kathy finally pushed the button to answer the call.   
The voice she heard had a mechanical quality. The caller obviously was using a voice changer of some sort. Nevertheless, the words were clear enough. “Dr. Hoover. Don’t hang up. This is deadly serious. Carry out my instructions or your husband will die.” 
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. But this didn’t appear to be a mistake. The phone had been delivered to her house. The voice addressed her by name. 
So far as she knew, her husband was in Washington, DC, attending a conference. Yet the voice was threatening his death. Kathy’s first thought was to call Darren and check on him.
The next words that came through the phone made her wonder if whoever was behind the voice could read her thoughts. “Don’t bother calling your husband. No one will answer his cell phone.” 
            The voice continued as though Kathy hadn’t responded. Maybe it was a recording. Probably so. “I’ll call you later with more instructions. Keep this phone with you at all times. If you do as I say, perhaps you’ll see your husband again.”
            Just as Kathy prepared to ask a question, there was one more message from the electronic voice. “Don’t tell anyone about these instructions. And if you’re thinking of replaying this message for the authorities or anyone else, don’t bother. It will erase itself in ten seconds.” 
            A click in her ear signaled the end of the call. Kathy stood for another minute, holding the dead phone, wondering how she’d gotten into the middle of all this.