Friday, September 18, 2020

Writing: Hook 'Em Fast


 I'm re-reading (as is my practice) some of what I consider the best fiction in my libraries, and seeking what I can glean from these masters. One of the people who influenced me early in what I laughingly call my writing "career," and who still exerts a great deal of influence on me, is James Scott Bell. He describes himself as a "recovering lawyer," living (despite everything) in LA, and full of advice that I often take.

One of the things I've learned from what I've been taught about writing is that it's best to get the agent, editor, and/or reader engrossed in the story early. Noah Lukeman says that this should be done in the first five pages. Bell tends to get this done even more quickly. For example, here are his opening lines from his book, Try Fear:

"The cops nabbed Santa Claus at the corner of Hollywood and Gower. He was driving a silver Camaro and wearing a purple G-string and a red Santa had. And nothing else on that warm December night."

Now, if that won't get your attention, nothing will. I doubt that any of my openings are as successful at grabbing the reader as this one, but you get the picture. Look on your shelves and see how the first page or five of your favorites stack up. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Scattershooting


 The late sportswriter, Blackie Sherrod, used to periodically do a feature entitled Scattershooting While Wondering (you fill in the blank--he chose a different one for each column). Well, that's how I feel today. I don't really have one coherent thought to tie it together. So, I 'll just scattershoot.

One of the problems of being retired is that sometimes I have too much time--to much to watch cable TV, too much to think about what's going on around us. I know--most of the time I post about not having enough time, despite what others might say, but today I've had time to think. And it can be dangerous.

It's fifty days or so until the election, and our NoMoRobo app is getting a workout as our phone rings several times a day with political calls. We've already had one metal stand and the garden flag that goes with it removed sometime in the dead of night, apparently because the flag indicated our choice of candidate for president. We've replaced it, but it's a shame that it's come to that. Our neighborhood was formerly quiet, but now I'm not sure.

Sports have resumed, but they're by no means what we were formerly used to. Not only has the Covid-19 all around us caused some significant changes, but all major sports are being politicized to the point of being more statement than athletic contest. And that's a shame, as well. I wish I could enjoy NFL football, but I keep thinking about the sentiments emblazoned in the end zone, and how the players react to what used to be a moment of patriotism--the national anthem and presentation of our flag. 

Too much thinking. How about you?




Saturday, September 12, 2020

Contrast

 As we watched a retrospective about 9/11, my wife said, "What a contrast with the football players." I thought about the kneeling football players, all drawing significant salaries (much greater than what I've built up through many years of hard work), and those who--without thought of themselves--ran toward the danger. And I asked myself if we're not celebrating the wrong group.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Lest We Forget


 In case you've forgotten what day this is--let us never forget its significance.


Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Fashion Advice


 I'm writing these lines on the day before Labor Day, and growling about the new interface put into place by Blogger. (Yes, despite others' fascination with Word Press, I continue to publish this blog in the same format I started it in--old dog, new tricks, and all that).

Getting back to the question that sent me here to begin with, I'd always heard that you didn't wear white shoes, white belt, or anything else white after Labor Day. To do so would be gauche. 

Then came the pandemic, and we were all stuck at home for a bit (some still are, unfortunately), and what we were used to wearing deteriorated to yoga pants. tee shirts, and pajama bottoms for some. My summertime outfit was and still is a knit shirt, cargo shorts, white socks and athletic shoes. As for a belt, although I sometimes match the color of the cargo shorts, there are other times when nothing will do but a white belt.

Although Labor Day may be looked upon my many as the official end to summer, it's usually still hot here in Texas, and I'm in my usual outfit--including white shoes and socks, and (gasp) a white belt. Fashion advice advice is apparently desperately needed. Meanwhile, I'll keep on wearing my usual outfit until it becomes fall (really) in Texas--that may be sometime around Thanksgiving.

Hope your Labor Day holiday was good. 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Labor Day, 2020

This has been a year like no other. This weekend, we will recognize those who work throughout the year to keep the wheels of commerce turning. As we enjoy our time off, let us not forget both  those affected by the Coronavirus and the natural disasters that have come our way recently.

The flooding in Louisiana and environs is one of the worst natural disasters our nation has experienced. Of course, it could have been worse. But there are still many it has robbed of homes and property. If you haven't donated (time, things, money, whatever) to relief efforts, please do so...and remember that after the water recedes, there's still lots to be done. I won't presume to mention specific relief sites--you can choose your own--but please give.

I'll be back on Tuesday. Enjoy your time off. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

She Ain't What She Used To Be

Remember the "old" phones? I do. Actually, I remember the ones on a stand, that required you to hold the earpiece in one hand and talk into a microphone of sorts on a stand. I even remember the number we were assigned. You'd pick up the phone and tell the operator what number you were calling--ours was 246--or, failing that, who you were calling. We were fortunate enough to have our own line, not a party line (where you had to make sure someone else wasn't making a call before you could make yours).

Those days are gone, like Frank Green's store where he had a soda fountain, sold newspapers, and had the phone number of "one naughty naught." Gone are the days when you hung your washing on lines in the back yard or even in one of the "new-fangled" contraptions that had lines strung on metal poles and rotated allowing access to all four sides. All gone.

Facebook was supposed to allow people to connect with friends and neighbors. I guess it worked, at least for the first few years, but in going through Facebook this weekend, my impression was that it had devolved into a medium for party (and partisan) political material, intermixed with adventures in cooking, some cartoons and memes, and some other posts. The comments were no longer benign, but in most instances gave rise to full-fledged arguments (despite my observations that few if any of the opinions expressed there were changed by arguing).

Anyway, even though authors are advised to maintain a social media presence, I find it more and more difficult. I'm not always able to keep up with the latest fads in social media--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, and on, and on, and on. And when I dare post something that reflects my opinion, all-knowing "fact-checkers" might take it down. So I'll plan to post my conservative viewpoints here on my blog, where (so far) they've been able to stand. We'll see what the future holds. What does it hold for you?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Writing: Suggestions On How To Start

How to write a novel? The simple advice is, "Just start." Along the way, heed some other advice: "Be prepared for rejection," "It's not easy," and "Don't give up."

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. There are many good ones out there. Now, it's apparent that most are not currently held in the usual format. But if you're serious about writing, start here.  Writing, like algebra, will eventually start to make sense for you. if you keep on. And you'll pick up small tips that you'll incorporate into your writing until they become automatic.

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.

Notice that I don't mention editors or agents. 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. Somewhere along the way, you may make contact with an agent or editor who says they think your writing shows promise. Even if they don't offer representation or a contract, take those words and cherish them. And don't lose the name and number of the person who shows interest. You may be able to come back to them, either with a markedly revised manuscript of the one you showed them or (more likely) another book.

And keep on writing. It's the only way to get there. But even if no one but you reads your work, you'll be the better person for writing it. And that may be enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Tempus Fugit"

People consider themselves fortunate when they find the love of their life. I've been doubly fortunate, because after death took my first wife after 40 years of marriage, God sent another woman who taught me how to smile again. And, no--this isn't our anniversary, but a post on another site made me stop, look around, and see how much things have changed.

Recently I thought it would be neat to have dinner at one of the places where we first got together when we were going out. That's when I first discovered that time changes things. The restaurant where I proposed to her was out of business. So was another one we used to frequent during that time. I wanted to show her the ice cream parlor that my first wife and I used to go with friends after church, but it had become part of a row of businesses in a strip shopping center. And the church where my wife and I used to attend had changed so drastically that I almost didn't recognize it.

What's the lesson from all of this? Enjoy what you have when you have it, but don't try to revisit it years later. Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." I'd add, "You can't depend on things not changing. They do. So enjoy them while you can."


Friday, August 21, 2020

Writing: Where I Fit In

I practiced medicine for almost four decades, first as a solo practitioner and then, for the final ten years, as a professor at a well-known medical school.  I’ve been retired from medicine now for almost twenty years, but despite my having a certain amount of success as a writer, I still keep my medical license active and stay current with my Continuing Medical Education. At first it was primarily because I didn’t know how long I’d be successful at this writing thing, but finally I had to admit that, although I’ll probably never go back to the practice of my specialty, I enjoy staying up with advances in medicine.  And, believe me, it takes a lot of work to stay current. But if I don't, my readers will let me know.
I know writers who continue to teach and keep up with the latest classroom advances in order to do it well. Other colleagues work at their “day job” while still writing. Matter of fact, the number of folks who are able to leave their employment and write full-time is relatively small. The advice, “Don’t give up your day job,” is not just a joke.
As for me, that’s where I stand—with both feet still firmly planted in both professions. Writers, where do you come down? And readers, do you think about an author as someone who follows or has followed a different profession? Or are you just interested in him/her as an author?

PS--in case you're curious, I take tests like this to keep up my CME level. Here is one of the questions from a recent exam:
1. Lumateperone is:
a. a 5-HT2a receptor antagonist and a D2 receptor antagonist
b. a D2 receptor antagonist and an alpha1 receptor agonist
c. a D2 receptor agonist and a histamine (H1) receptor agonist
d. a 5-HT2a receptor agonist and an alpha1 receptor agonist

And, of course, you all know the correct answer is a.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"Life Is Like A Roll Of Toilet Paper"

Seems sort of unusual for a title of a blog, but bear with me. By this, by the way, I don't mean that it's to be hoarded--as many people began to do with this pandemic. Nor do I mean that it's important and not to be wasted--although that is true as well.

When we're young, we don't give a thought to our mortality. We're bulletproof, our whole life lies before us, and there's no time to think of what comes later. It's not until we get toward the end of that span that we think more seriously of what our life has meant--especially to others.

Lest you think that I'm suffering from some incurable disease, let me assure you that, other than the things that come with advancing years, I'm still sound. But every once in a while--no matter our age--it never hurts to think about what has gone thus far. In interviewing prospective individuals applying to our residency program, I sort of liked to bring them up short by asking them to summarize their own obituary in just a few words. At that age and stage of life, it was good for many of them to think of the years ahead of them and give thought to how those would be spent.

So, whatever your age, remember that your life is like a roll of toilet paper. And the closer you get to the end, the faster it seems to go. That's what I mean by this title.

PS--Tim Allen says that life is what happens between trips to the emergency room. Your thoughts?

Friday, August 14, 2020

Writing: Footprints in Sand Or Cement?

I decided to look  back ten years to see what I posted. It seemed to be appropriate then, and  yet again today. When your book (if you ever get it published) is out, will it leave footprints in the sand, or cement? How about the prints you leave with just your everyday life?

"When my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, was published I had a friend comment on the cover: "How sweet. His and hers handprints in the sand." It wasn't long until another made a similar comment, except he said, "...in cement." Which is correct? I wasn't sure then. I believe I am now.

"Cynthia and I used to enjoy trips to South Padre Island. Long walks on the sandy beach were just the time to talk, to plan, to relax and enjoy. And, since she matured but refused to actually grow up, she would sometimes stop and make a footprint or handprint in the sand. Of course, the incoming tide would erase it, but it was fun.

"What child has not been tempted to use the surface of a newly poured sidewalk as a tablet and inscribe his or her initials on it? And many workmen do the same to mark their work, a lasting memorial to what they've done.

"Last week Kay and I attended a golf tournament put together to raise funds for the children of her oldest son, Phil, whose life came to a tragic end this spring. We were sitting in the pavilion at dinner when I saw the pattern of a perfect leaf in the cement floor. We looked and found several others in various places. I don't know if this was a happenstance or a deliberate decoration, but I do know one thing: people will see those leaves for many years to come.

"Doing some things are like footprints in the sand. They're evidence of good times, and those are admirable. But other actions are like footprints in cement: enduring evidence of something done along the way. 

"At the tournament we encountered dozens and dozens of people whose lives Phil had affected in a positive way. After Cynthia's death, I heard numerous stories of how she'd influenced the lives of others. These were footprints made in cement, and they'll be around for decades.

"What kind of footprints are you making? I hope you're walking barefoot through the sand often enough to produce a smile. But I hope you leave some reminders in cement of the positive things you've done, as well."

There you have it. What kind of footprints are you leaving...in your writing, in your living?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Word Of Thanks...

On weekends, because we're in the "vulnerable" group and stay home a lot, I usually choose a tee shirt instead of my usual polo short. I had forgotten that I chose the one that had "veteran" on the front of it until a young man came up to our table at lunch and asked what kind of cheesecake we preferred. I didn't know what to say, but eventually my wife answered. In a few minutes, he was back and presented us with a to-go container bearing a slice of flavored cheesecake. He asked what branch of service I was in, and I answered, "Air Force." He replied, "I was in the Army. This is to thank you for your service."

That stuck with me. Then my wife reminded me that the printing on the back of the tee shirt said something to the effect that I swore an oath to protect this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and no one had relieved me of that oath yet. I've thought about that a lot, since then.

How long has it been--other than on Veterans' Day or Memorial Day--since you thanked a veteran for his or her service? How about thanking a policeman or fireman? How about thanking anyone for serving in any capacity, especially during these tough days? I plan to. How about you?

Friday, August 07, 2020

Writing: Encouragement

Writing is full of discouragement. When I write, I sometimes think of the words of Steven Furtick: "The reason we struggle with insecurity is we compare our behind-the-scenes with someone else's highlight reel." An author may take a year to write the 80,000 to 100,000 word book that is read in a few days. And while it's nice to receive the words that come in after the publication of a new book, there's always the thought that comes creeping into an author's brain: What if this was it? Suppose there are no more ideas forthcoming.

Besides that, is an idea enough? I've said before that anyone can have an idea, but it takes an author to convert it into a full-length book (or even a novella). It's hard work sometimes, although at other times it seems that the words simple flow onto the page. (Those times, by the way, are far between for me). While we're writing, we may get messages like "So-and-so has won the Such-and-Such Award" or "So-and-so's novel, (fill in the blanks), has been awarded the Murgatroyd Medal by the Happy Readers Society." And usually we're glad that these works have been recognized. We may even know the authors mentioned. (It's a small group, but growing larger all the time). Nevertheless, at times it's difficult (though we try) not to be just a bit jealous.

I've addressed before the reasons we write. Most of us feel successful if we get a few nice words in a review for the novel we have published, but what really keeps us going is a message like the one I just received--simple, short, but much appreciated. "Looking forward to your next novel." Six words that make me want to go back to work on my WIP.

Do you post reviews? Good. Do you show a book as "to-be-read" on Goodreads, and follow it up with your recommendation? Good. But if you contact your favorite authors to tell them you're anxious for their next book...  Wonderful. That will keep an author going for quite a while.





Tuesday, August 04, 2020

What To Write About?

Sometimes a subject for this blog post just pops into my mind. Sometimes I have to think about it. And sometimes there's simply nothing there. Kneeling instead of standing for our National Anthem? Too controversial.Politics? Not a chance. Religion? Even worse. I have feelings about all of these, but don't feel like writing about anything controversial.

Then I see the Space-X capsule splash down, I see two men whom I don't know and will never meet emerge from it, and my heart is filled with national pride. I'm not going to the Moon. Goodness knows I'll never volunteer for the trip to Mars. But as I hear the commentator talk about all the advances that have been made as a primary or secondary benefit to space flight, I'm glad that America is back in the game, so to speak.

I'll have more to say about controversial subjects in the future, but for now, I'm simply proud to be an American. How about you?

Friday, July 31, 2020

Writing: Time To Write

"You must have lots of time to write. You're retired." I cringe when I hear those words. Why? Because (1) I am retired (for almost 18 years now), and (2) I identify with the people who say, "Now that I'm retired I'm busier than ever." Yes--but not about writing.

Both my wife and I are retired, so you'd think I'd disappear into my "office" and write for several hours a day. Not so! I get up around 6:00 in the AM, although sometimes I sleep as late as 6:30. One of the sad things I've found about retirement is when you get old enough to sleep late, you find that you can't sleep late.

After a cup of coffee, breakfast, more coffee, I'm ready to....oh, wait. Today I have to get the car serviced. It's more than an hour's wait, so I have to go through the process of getting a loaner. Then when I get home I find my wife on the phone. When we're both ready, we talk a bit about the loaner car, including how it looks very much like my wife's car. That leads to a discussion of whether she should trade it in. Then it's time for lunch.

Now she's gone to run errands, and I'm ready to...oh, wait. I thought I was ahead on posts (I have a personal blog that I do on Tues and Friday, plus a fan page that I try to post five or six days a week). I look and find that I have missed today's deadline on my fan page. While at the computer, I do some blogs for the fan page so I'm caught up and a bit ahead. Surely I can write now.

Then I think about the point in the story I've reached. But I want my wife--my first reader--to give me her opinion on the first 7000 words of my story. Might as well wait for that. Meanwhile, I'll just glance through Facebook. Wow, where did the time go?

And so it goes. The life of a retired writer. Want to join me?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What's In A Name?

As my fellow writer, Bill Shakespeare, said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." Those lines, from the soliloquy from the play, Romeo and Juliet, should be familiar to those of us of my generation--can't speak to some of the younger folk, whose education may not have included some of those classics.

The movement toward more "politically correct" names has reached the National Football League, and apparently--even though those of Native American heritage overwhelmingly favor the old name--it has resulted in a change from the Washington Redskins to "The Washington Football Team." I wonder if it's just a hop-skip-and-jump to the point where we call them "the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins."

Will this lead to our saying good-bye to the name of the Cleveland Indians? Will the White House need to be renamed? Is it time for us to stop ordering such ethnic dishes as pizza or egg rolls? Where to we draw the line?

We now are told that almost 2/3 of the population are afraid to voice their beliefs. Is this what it's coming to?

Enjoy the line from Shakespeare while you can. Soon someone will complain about the thorns of a rose so we'll substitute a line about honeysuckle smelling as sweet. Just kidding--I hope.

Your turn. What do you think about renaming things to conform to political correctness? I'd like to know.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Writing: Adapting

Writers, how are you adapting to this new situation? Are you using the enforced time at home (some of you, anyway) to write, or are you (like me) finding it difficult to concentrate in these trying times? Every morning it seems that I'm faced with more information than I want about the latest in Covid-19, together with the riots that seem to gather strength as time goes on. Does it bother you?

And will your next book feature people in masks, social distancing, avoiding contact with others? Or will you write about the old order, when no one wore masks and social distancing was an unfamiliar concept? I guess the writers of historical fiction won't have to make that decision, and I'm not sure what the science-fiction crowd will be writing. But it's another thing to worry about.

Have you thought about any of this? I have, and I don't have answers. Do you?

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Politicizing Everything

Careful what you say via social media. Can it be misinterpreted? Can it be turned around and used against you? Is it best to say nothing at all?

I've decided to confine my more personal commentaries to my blog, where I can control those comments which are violently at odds with my own philosophy. It's not that I mind differing points of view--I don't, even though I've never seen someone's mind changed by an argument on social media. But when I'm lectured for opinions that are at odds with those of the commenter, opinions that smack of "I know what's best, and you must agree with me," then I think that person should voice them in their own blog--not mine.

The other day I needed a pair of sandals to wear around the house, and I ended up going to a different store and paying a dollar or two more instead of buying something with the Nike brand prominently displayed. My contribution won't amount to much, but I'm serious about boycotting a company with whose spokesperson I disagree. Do you sometimes find yourself buying something that may cost a bit more but is American-made?

We're also being certain to buy Goya products. I don't look at the labels on what my wife buys, but I'm happy to go against the grain and "buy-cot" this product. How about you?

Am I overly sensitive in this area? Or do you sometimes feel that everything you say can be (and sometimes is) politicized? I'd like to know.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Writing: Motivation


Why would anyone sit down and write a book, especially a work of fiction? I can perhaps see doing a non-fiction book if there's really a story you need to tell. But why write a work of 65,000 to 100,000 words? For those of you who are counting, when you figure 250 words per page (Times New Roman font, standard margins), that's up to 400 pages. Why would you do it?

The standard answer, of course, is that "I write because I can't not write." There's just a drive within you to commit words to a page and prepare it for others to read. If that's you, then power to you--get at it, but prepare yourself for disappointment. Lots of us write, and the number is getting larger every day. Self-publication of e-books now makes it possible for you to get your novel out there with almost no investment-- without editing (I really don't suggest that) and with a self-designed cover (again, I don't suggest it).  By the way, if you're waiting for that big contract from a traditional publisher, I'm afraid that you're in for a long wait. Those are becoming harder to come by.

Why else do you write? Is it because you're looking for a source of income? I've written about that before, and I'll say it again:  the number of those for whom writing is a sole source of income is small, and your odds of joining them are slim.

Want fame and fortune? Want to be recognized wherever you go? Sorry.

But if you have a message you feel you have to write, blessings on you. Maybe no one else will read it, but perhaps the only one meant to see it is you--and that's enough.

Can you tell what a writer's motivation is when you finish his/her book? Let me know. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Wearing A Mask

I've never thought much about wearing a mask. When I go to the post office, when I run an errand, I throw on my mask and go. I wore one for many years when, as a doctor, I did surgery. After my residency training (which included a lot of head and neck cases), probably the longest I wore one without a break was a couple of hours. And I never gave it a second thought. Oh, there was the sensation of needing to scratch my nose right after I first put one one, but that didn't last long.

Now, depending on which state you reside in, it's mandatory to wear one whenever you're outside. If you're able to go out to eat, wear one until you're seated, then put it back on when you leave the table and go. No problem. It is just the thing to do. Everyone is doing it. (And I don't want to start an argument in this space, with everyone saying that masks do or don't prevent Corona Virus transmission and giving their reasons--that's not what this post is about).

I saw a doctor (routine problem--no worries) on Friday of last week, and had my temperature checked before going in, wore a mask the whole time I was there, saw a doctor who likewise wore a mask, and observed all the requirements that minimized viral transmission. And I thought to myself, "How quickly we adapt. But, then again, the end result seems...at least, to me...to be worth the effort."

To me, it's not a political thing. I don't think "the man" (whoever you think that is) is trying to control our actions. The infection is real, and I plan to do everything in my power to avoid it. How about you?

Friday, July 10, 2020

Writing: Is A Blog Helpful?

About a year ago, I wrote this. In looking at it now, I wonder how accurate it is in light of the changes that have taken place. Is a blog necessary? Has social media changed? See what you think.

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

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

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

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

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

So, is this still true? I just saw a post by an agent who says "Yes, an author needs a website"--and her writing academy will design one (for a fee), as well as teaching you how to write. What do you think of that? Is it still true that an author needs a website? I'd like to hear from you.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Random Thoughts After Independence Day

I personally thought the speech the President gave at the foot of Mt. Rushmore was his best yet. Others may have a different opinion--as I've said before, no one was ever convinced during a Facebook argument, so I don't plan to engage in one.

I watched the Press Secretary hold another "briefing" just now. It seems to be a time when every reporter who's called on tries to focus on something that the President said or tweeted and asks questions that gets them their five minutes of face-time. Still wonder if the briefing would go better if the camera stayed on the podium, and even faster if they submitted written questions.

We flew our flag on Independence Day--actually, we fly it every day. Enjoyed the speeches and fireworks from a distance (sometimes with the sound turned way down). How about you? We have some things we still need to correct, but I'm glad to be living in the USA.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Independence Day, 2020

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

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

Enjoy the holiday--but recall why we celebrate it.God Bless America.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Where I Stand

I have carefully considered this post for some time before putting it up. Authors are warned to stay neutral. But it's time for me to speak out.

I was born white—I have no more control over that than I do over where I was born, my last name, or the circumstances in which I was reared. There’s no reason to compare what I or my ancestors did with an ideal. The main thing that counts is what I am now. How I feel toward others of a different color is influenced by their actions, not their race. I do not feel that reparations need be paid for something that happened in the past. I don’t plead guilty to white guilt, white privilege, or any other catch phrase that is popular right now. I recognize that there are still inequities, and I hope they are fixed. But don't paint us all with that brush.

The police have a tough job. Without law and order, we are reduced to anarchy. Any thinking person agrees with such an assessment. It's ridiculous to do away with all police because of some bad apples. We remove those, not all of them. But we are faced with demonstrators who appear to be pushing toward exactly that. I'd rather keep the police functioning, and improve them. 

I feel that George Floyd should not have died, and hope that, as the law goes through its process, justice will be served. There are many times when I feel that legalities slow what I feel should be done right now, but one of the things guaranteed to us all is a presumption of innocence until our peers have judged us guilty. When we remove that for a few, we remove it for us all. We can't speed up the process by demonstrating, and certainly not by looting or destroying statues.

I am in sympathy with those who peacefully assemble to petition their government, as is their right under our Constitution. But I am not in agreement with those who loot, destroy, and raise havoc, to those who hope to reshape history by tearing down monuments. To me, it is evident that many of those--perhaps the great majority-- who are currently protesting are not rewriting history, but merely raising their hands symbolically and physically against the country which I hope has learned from some of its mistakes and is constantly moving forward. I wonder if these protesters even know the story behind the statues and monuments they want to deface or tear down (or care about the history they are seeking to erase).

Every time I open my email, I find several appeals, asking me to support the party. What I’d like to see is some action, not just an appeal for more money. Are you listening, elected representatives? And what are you going to do about this?

Comments are closed for his one. If you agree with me, good. If not, post your differing opinion on your page. I’ve posted mine. 





Friday, June 26, 2020

Writing: Common Questions

It's been over a year since I answered these questions on this blog, but I guess it's time to reinforce them:

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? Ask away--and if I don't know the answer, I'll ask someone who does.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Influence

Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm a fan of the late author, Robert B. Parker. He had a PhD in English, but didn't really show it off--except for an occasional literary allusion, which he usually explains. The book I'm re-reading right now is titled Sudden Mischief, and has in the front matter a quotation from The Fairie Queene. It fits with the title, but almost seems out of place, and may represent one of the few times I can see evidence of his academic background. It certainly doesn't jibe with the story.

 It's also interesting to see to whom he dedicates his books. In virtually every case, he makes his dedication to his wife, with an occasional dedication to both her and his two sons. But anyone who follows his career knows that their relationship was a stormy one, and once or twice I saw him dedicate a book to another woman. I realize that I probably could ferret out the circumstances behind all this, but I choose to simply make a mental note of it and see if I can tell by his writing what he's going through and how it affects his mindset. Surprisingly enough, it's often possible.

In the present circumstances, with all the extraneous factors at play, I have found it hard to concentrate enough to write. I've had several stops and starts, which I have managed to get past. But I also find that I'm affected by the book I'm currently reading. Whether it's the late Donald Westlake, the late Ross Thomas, the late Robert Parker--and, parenthetically, I wonder why I keep coming back to long-dead writers--but anyway, they have an effect on me and I think it shows in my writing.

It makes me wonder how the circumstances around us affect our everyday lives. What do you think?

Friday, June 19, 2020

Writing: First Drafts

My agent long ago gave me a magnet which still hangs on my refrigerator. It says, "First drafts don't have to be perfect. They just have to be written." Another writer once said, "You can't edit a blank page." So we sit down with our idea, sketch out our characters and plot, and try our best to produce a good work. But the first action is to turn out a first draft.

It's a daunting thought that your words will be reduced to paper and kept there for all the world to see for as long as the work is published. The task, then, is to produce the best possible effort for your novel, since it's our fervent hope that it's going to be read by so many.  The printed book may eventually be consigned to the trash bin--either after having been read and re-read numerous times or partially read only once. The desire is to be in the former group, not the latter. But don't try to make the first draft your best. If so, you'll write it over and over but never get it just right.

The first draft may undergo numerous revisions. The final product may not (in some cases) bear even a token resemblance to the first draft. But it all starts there. Whether it takes a dozen passes to get there or only one or two, it all starts with the first draft. Don't let it buffalo you. Get started on that one...and good luck.

Questions or comments? Fire away.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

We "Should"

I've written before about the Tyrannical Shoulds.  They were made famous by Karen Horney, a psychiatrist who practiced over a century ago. I don't plan to discuss them except to say that I encountered them recently in a book and was reminded that I don't enjoy being reminded of what I "should" do...or think.

Despite what the vocal minority says, I don't think I'm a victim of "white privilege." And I don't think I "should" pay for prior injustices committed by others. Yes, I'm white. That was determined at my birth. I don't feel that I'm privileged. During my active years I worked hard for every penny (and there were times when I wondered if it was worth it).

I've lived through the times when blacks were treated as second-class citizens, I've lived through times when they were given privileges that they definitely deserved. I currently look on what might have begun as "protest marches" but rapidly deteriorated into looting and wanton destruction. And I weep. I weep for our nation, which is divided as never before. I'm ready for healing, but not to be told I "should" do something to atone for it.

It may have begun with the death of a black man, but it soon came to involve the deaths of numerous people--black and white, police and protesters. I agree that change is warranted, but not through lawless actions. And please don't tell me what I "should" do. I know what I think is right. What I'd like to see is some constructive action toward it.

End of rant. Now it's your turn.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Writing: Reason For Writing

I follow a number of writing blogs--probably more than I should, but it gives me an excuse to be at the computer doing something other than writing. Actually, it's helpful at times to see what other writers are going through. But one thing always brings me up short. When I see a post to the effect that "The Lord wants me to write this book." I don't doubt the sincerity of those authors--I felt the same way when I started writing--but there's more to it than that.  I continued to feel that way when four years passed without a contract after four novels garnered forty rejections. Why did I persist? Because I couldn't not write. (Forgive the double negative--you know what I mean).

Why do writers write? I can't speak for most of the writers in the secular field. I've been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of some of them, but I never really asked this question. My writing is in the Christian genre, which means different things to different people. To some, there has to be a presentation of the road to salvation, while others feel that it's important to show how God intervenes in various ways and different situations. It may vary with the publisher, or (if you're indie-published) other factors. But when we talk about that elusive thing called "voice" we usually include what your goal is in writing--how does someone feel when closing the book?

There are a number of reasons to write--for the money (wrong!), for fame (really wrong!), because God wants us to write (true in some cases, but in many instances it's to change the writer, not a reader). When I asked this question of my friends and acquaintances in the writing world, the universal first answer I got, the one that's true here, is a simple one: it's impossible not to write!

There you have it. If the person really feels that they have it in them to write a book, I say power to them. Whether it affects one person or a million is immaterial. Let them write it, and cheer them on. God knows why they write, and He'll see to the outcome.

What do you think?


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Keep Oriented

I am by no means an expert in SCUBA diving--matter of fact, although I'm quite happy looking at water from the safety of dry land, my few experiences involving diving with a mask and flippers left me thinking that a glass-bottomed boat was the way to go if you want to see what's down there. About all I can recall from various times I've tried SCUBA diving is this: always remember which way is up, and if all else fails, follow your air bubbles upward. They'll lead you to the surface.

Orientation is important. So is getting your facts straight. I've always preferred to learn what an authority says (sometimes several authoritative sources) before making up my mind. When it comes to something that's printed or repeated on the Internet, I want to see whether or not it's true before adding it to my list of facts. I believe it was Joseph Goebels (children, you may have to ask your parents who he was and who he worked for) who said that if you say something often enough, even though it's a lie, people will accept it as fact. Hanging your hat on something that's repeated, especially on the Internet, without anything to back it up is sort of like diving with a mask and flippers, but swimming in the wrong direction. If all else fails, follow the path of information--it, like the air bubbles, will lead you in the right direction. Otherwise, though, you may find yourself lost.

Let me know what you think.


Friday, June 05, 2020

Writing: The Two Hardest Parts

As I recall, in one Parker book, 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.

While walking in the neighborhood this morning, I was reminded of one of my columns, in which I talked about running the two hardest miles--the first and the last. That came to mind because I noticed that, since I don't like to walk some days, getting started was the hardest part.

I've been trying to start another book--actually, I have two I've been working on--but neither has the "zing" I wanted. One is a book about a doctor who's a failed baseball player. It's dear to my heart (for so many reasons), but as my wife pointed out, it's mainly of interest to me.

The other begins with a bang, and involves a nurse who gets a phone call from the ER that her mother has been brought in with a possible heart attack. I think I have an idea where this one goes from here. If so, that's part of my job. The rest is going forward toward what my friend, Jim Bell, calls a "knock-out ending." If I can do this, you'll see the book after the first of the year. But first, that all-important "last mile." And those that go between.

Do you agree that the first and last mile are the hardest?

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

America: Mixed Emotions

As I write this on Sunday, I'm experiencing mixed emotions. Yesterday, like millions of other Americans, I watched at 2:20 PM Central Time as we successfully launched a space exploration from American soil, sending two astronauts to the International Space Station. Yes, I said "we"--because I felt a sense of national pride that America was once more going into space. It wasn't because I was an Air Force veteran. It was because I was an American.

Not long afterward, I heard the President speak, not only giving credit and congratulations where they were due to the NASA and SpaceX people there, but also speaking about the the thugs and organizers of the rioting that, although it might have started as a peaceful protest against the brutality of a policeman in Minneapolis, did nothing to honor the memory of the man who died. And last night, for the fourth straight night, that rioting continued.

I don't have a solution for the rioting, although I have thoughts about it, its cause and how I'd handle it. But let me say this here: We have an opportunity as a people to rise above the problems that confront us, just as the rocket rose above the earth on its journey. May we take advantage of it. If we don't, we might never again experience the America we once knew.

End of monologue. Now it's your turn. Thoughts?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Writing: Suggestions

I started to title this one "rules," but decided that really there are no hard and fast rules for writers, at least none that will guarantee publication. There are suggestions that I've covered previously, suggestions that every writer has pounded into them from the start. Avoid passive voice. Don't "head-hop" (eg, keep point of view the same from scene to scene). Show, don't tell.

Well, these are suggestions that I've run across in my journey to becoming a writer. They don't guarantee publication--that takes constant learning, constant practice, and persistence. (Another way to put it is BICFOK--ask any writer what that means).

Meanwhile, try these for size.

"Don't use dollar words when dime ones will do." Sending your reader to a dictionary may make you look like you know a lot, but it won't get you readers. And may lose the person holding your book right now.

"Avoid using long, run-on sentences." If your reader has to go back to the start of the sentence to remember what it's about, it's too long. Write in short declarative sentences.

"Don't use excessive dialogue tags." "Said" is perfectly fine. It's almost invisible. When we talk , we don't snort our words, or chuckle them. We say them, or we snort or chuckle. But not all at once.

"Avoid cliches, platitudes, qualifiers, jargon, and overdone words and phrases." If you can't say it n plain English, start over and rewrite until you can.

What's your favorite suggestion to a writer? Let me know.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Cynthia Ann Surovik Mabry


May 28, 1937 - September 28, 1999

Your influence lives on.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day: 2020

Today is Memorial Day, an American holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It started out as Decoration Day, and originated in the years following the Civil War. It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

It is not a day for honoring those who previously served or are actively serving in our armed forces--there are other holidays for that, most typically Veterans' Day (formerly Armistice Day). And, although mattress and tire sales have seemed to come around on this three-day holiday, that's not what we celebrate. It's for honoring the gift given to all of us by those who didn't come home.

This is a bit different from previous Memorial Days--we're in various stages of recovering from a pandemic infection that was terrible (but could have been worse). But true to the spirit that made America great, we will arise from those ashes, stronger than ever. In the meantime, though, please join me in honoring those who sacrificed for our freedom. Freedom isn't free. All gave some. Some gave all. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Writing: Getting Out The Word

Every publisher (and every author who indie-publishes) have their list of things to do to get the word out when they publish a new book. But in these days of social distancing and stay-at-home, some of these won't work--but others will.

Should you do a blog tour? Go in person to all the surrounding areas and pitch your book? Author tours used to be a big thing, but even before the pandemic, they sort of fizzled out. My impression (and admittedly I never was a big enough "star" with the publishers that signed me to warrant an author tour) is that they never resulted in much. Under the present circumstances, they're pretty much gone by the wayside. So I'd suggest you scratch that idea.

How about appearing in various sites, associated with a giveaway? I've always tried to do guest blogs or interviews at a number of sites along with a giveaway to a randomly selected winner. Having done these now for a number of years, I have a pretty good idea of which sites get the largest number of "hits" and I try to concentrate on those. As for giving away a copy of the book, it always attracts a number of people, and I've not seen anyone not wanting the book. Whether it is responsible for more people learning about the book or even--gasp--buying it is an unanswered question.

When travel is allowed, giving a copy of your book to various libraries--church or municipal--remains a valuable tool. I like to give copies to my barber, my druggist, my physicians and their staff (and as I get older, that number increases). Some of these will be affected by the amount of travel you're allowed or with which you feel comfortable. The same goes for book clubs and schools (a Zoom meeting is definitely not the same as appearing in person).

What about street teams? Friend and colleague DiAnn Mills covers this quite well here, and I'll only add a word or two. My "influencers" (she gives all the names its called) are very helpful, but this list will undergo some changes as you continue to write. Don't think it's not a changing thing--it is.

No matter how you slice it, the best advertising remains word-of-mouth. Write the best book possible, and never rest on your laurels--always be writing the next one, and work to make it even better than the last.

What are your suggestions? I'd like to hear.









Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Correcting Others

When I began posting on Facebook, it was mainly to get the word out about my writing. Along the way, I accepted "friend" invitations, not only from people I knew, but also from potential readers. Since I had no way of knowing who fell into the latter group, I tended to accept virtually all of them.

Lately, I have had occasion to do a couple of things. First, I've had to "unfollow," and occasionally "unfriend" people because they have made comments on my posts and those of others that I felt were over the line. Second, I've begun looking through my friends list--and, honestly, I don't recognize many of them and don't know why I accepted them in the first place.

For a while I attempted to correct misapprehensions among some of the people who posted--what masks are supposed to do, my understanding about vaccines, and so on. It's not so much that I disagreed as that I felt, as a physician, I should correct any errors that were obvious. But it's gotten to be too much. It has been pointed out to me that it's not up to me to correct or change the minds of every person with whose comments I disagreed.

In the future, I'll confine myself to what I post on my own blog--"stuff" on Tuesdays and "the writing life" on Fridays. If I have something that I think needs to be said, I'll post it on social media, but not daily. The same goes for my posts on Facebook.com/rmabrybooks.

So, unless I have something important to say, I plan to be mainly silent. Agree? Disagree? Here's your chance (and venue) to chime in.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Writing: Common Misconceptions

I've covered lots of these, but it's been awhile since I addressed all of them in a single place. So, here goes.

Age: I was retirement age when my first novel was published. My non-fiction book, The Tender Scar, written after the death of my first wife, is still in print, and I've published lots of novels and novellas since. No, you're never too old--or too young. If you think you have a book in you, write it. If it's finished, pitch it to an agent or publish it yourself. Don't let age deter you.

Income: Writers aren't rich. Sorry about that. A handful can support themselves by writing full-time, but most of us can't. "Don't give up your day job" is excellent advice, not just the punch line of a joke. Writing, especially Christian writing, is done because you have to do it, not as a means of income.

Fame: When I became a published author, I expected everyone to recognize me. Sorry. When the news finally got out, I got questions like the one that starts, "My friend has written a book..." or "Explain where you get your ideas"...or--well, you get it. The lift comes from messages from someone who has read one of your books and got something from it. Not from fame and fortune.

Platform: Authors are advised to have a platform, even before they have anything published. All authors should maintain a social media presence, we're told. That may have been true at one time, but if you're going to try to keep up with what the latest way to maintain a platform, good luck. You can't do it. Cultivate a few aficionados who'll help get the word out, and don't neglect to do your best to keep your readers happy (mainly with good writing, as well as answering their questions), but other than that, I don't have any sure-fire advice.

Ideas and manuscripts: What sets a good author apart is not an idea--they're everywhere, if you just look for them--but rather what they do with it. It sounds easy to write a book, but it requires more than just an idea. It requires effort to string words enough words together to make a novel, or even a novella (which, incidentally, is harder to write than a long novel).

Learning: Never stop learning. Never. Never. Never. Keep at it.

And that's my advice. What's your reaction?