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?






Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Haircuts

We never think about getting a haircut (except that it's time we have to take out of our day)--until we've gone several weeks without one. My last haircut, if memory serves me correctly, was a bit more than 2 months ago. When I was in practice, I used to go every 2 weeks. After retirement, I sometimes let it slide to 3. But I've never gone this long without a haircut...until now.  A few more days, and my wife would be forced to wield the clippers upon me. Then, the Governor said it was safe, and I was one of the first ones to sign up at my regular barber.

Yes, today I get a haircut again. Or, at least, I'm scheduled for one. We'll see how that goes.

Women, especially those who depend on their stylist to do a bit more than cut their hair, have an even worse problem. We'll leave it at that--in this case, the less said the better. But feel free to chime in with your special problems.

In the meantime, we'll see how this step back toward a more normal life goes. True, I'll wear a mask, and so will the barber. There will be adjustments all around. But at least I'll go forth from the barber shop feeling a bit more normal. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Writing: Effect Of Being At Home (Readers and Writers)

We're beginning to open things up (except for those who live in some of the states kept at home indefinitely--and you know who you [and your governors] are). Since we're in the group that's a bit more at risk, my wife and I will continue our routine for a while. Actually, it hasn't made much difference.  However, if you're leaving the house now, I have a question for you. Has this enforced time at home altered your reading habits? Has the time at home made you appreciate your family more (or less)? Has your tv-watching increased or decreased?

For the writers among us, have you--like I--found it difficult to concentrate long enough to do a lot of writing? I've already posted that this is a problem among some of the writers of my acquaintance. How about you?

Just asking. I'd really like to know.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

What To Post (redux)

It seems that everyone wants to ride to COVID-19 horse, and everyone has an opinion. I've spent a little time recently looking over old posts. This one seems to still be pertinent, and I thought I'd recycle it. If you have any other ideas, let me know.

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

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

A post that is safe? I've gone on and on, considering and rejecting various things I could write about. And, finally, I've come up with a post that anyone can find fault with. Enjoy.


Friday, May 01, 2020

Writing: What Goes Into A Book?

There are many things the indie-publisher has to learn, and many occasions when they say, "But my publisher usually handles all that." Well, you're doing it now, and although you can get advice (as I did) from many trusted sources, some of this will be learned by trial and error (as was my case).

If your book is non-fiction (and in a few cases for fiction), it has a note at the front. A particular pet peeve of mine is someone who calls it a "Forward." It's a "Foreword." A word that is at the front. I colleague and friend of mine with whom I wrote or edited several technical books continued to call it be the wrong word. I hope you won't make the same mistake.

You'll want to put in a copyright notice--sometime like "Copyright 2020, Richard L. Mabry." Nothing fancy. No need to mail something to yourself and let the postmark show you copyrighted it on such-and-such a date. You wrote it, so you hold the copyright. But it never hurts to put that at the front of the book. If you need a medical or legal disclaimer, that goes here, also.

If you have blurbs for your past books or nice reviews for this one, they can go in front or at the end, whichever you prefer. If you're going to write another book, a "tease" of a short segment of it after your current book is nice. I didn't even think of this in my first few indie-published books. But we live and learn (and take advice from others).

Authors usually put "acknowledgements" or "author's notes" at the front, as well as a dedication if they want to add one. If, by now, you're thinking this is too much, realize there are people who help you, as well as books on the subject. My favorite (and the last time I looked on Amazon, it was free in e-book form) is Salvette's Frontmatter, Backmatter, and Metadata. It has more than I needed, but better too much than too little.

There's more, but--like me--you'll probably learn it by experience, and a little at a time. Good luck.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Thoughts

One thing that this self-isolation does is give us time to think. Or, at least, it should. I find that, as Yogi Berra said, everything takes longer than it takes. At the end of the day, I find that I've done very little, yet the time has gone. But tomorrow is another day--and another chance to squander time.

Since my second profession is writing, I've thought a bit about that, including the effect the current pandemic will have on the way we do things. Have people gotten used to reading e-books, and when book stores open, will they have any customers? How long will we wear masks and practice social distancing? What will a modern romance novel look like if they have to include keeping six feet apart? Or will future novels be dystopian, or perhaps historical?

Then I think about my first profession, and there's a great deal of confusion there. I don't think I'd be able to do much via telemedicine (although, given my limited experience on the other end of that, perhaps my former colleagues are thinking the same thing).

My state is starting to slowly open up. We'll see how things go. In the meantime, what are some things you've been wondering about--given all the free time we have--and would like to share?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Writing: Make Your Book Stand Out

What's the competition like? The figures change, depending on your source and the time frame, but the one that sticks with me is that there are something like a million new books published every year. Of course, some of these are laughably amateurish offerings. Others are from well-recognized authors or excellent debut offerings, whether they are are put out by recognized publishers or self-published. So what can you do to make the average reader want to choose your book?

If you started reading this piece with the goal of finding that bit of advice that will make your book an instant success and get it on the best-seller list immediately, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. The best advice is, and always has been, to write the best possible book. That way, when someone sees your name on an offering, they will want to see if it lives up to the reputation you've already established. If so, they'll want to read it. But what if you're a debut author?

That's more difficult, because you don't have a following already. And that's why authors are constantly encouraged to establish a social media presence, even before their first book is ever published. That way, you've got a small (but hopefully vocal and/or influential) group of people ready to see what your new book looks like. And once it's out, you can start...writing the best possible book (again). In other words, word-of-mouth is the best advertising. It always has been, always will be. Anything else--giveaways, launch parties, skywriting, or what have you--is aimed at association in the minds of the reading public of your name and a good book. You never stop those efforts...at least, not if you want your public behind you.

What's your opinion?


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Technology is wonderful...

...when it works. When it doesn't, it's a source of frustration. We've gotten used to those three-shots and four-shots of people we're used to seeing together in the studio, doing their programs from their home or a remote location. But we've also seen situations where guests on various TV programs were doing their segment from elsewhere via Skype or some other program, and seeing that it doesn't always work. None of us were expecting this, of course, and some glitches were to be expected. But they don't seem to have gotten much better with time.

This past week I had to have a video visit with my primary care physician--not because of any problem, but in order to keep refilling the medication I've been on. Wanting to be ready, I went to the medical center's website (which I had to access by entering my user name and password). But when I attempted to get set up for my video visit, I found that my browser wasn't recognized. No problem, I thought. I've got another browser I can use. But it didn't work either. Thus, a call to their IT assistance number.

I ended up downloading a third browser, then two plug-ins, before I thought I was ready. Then I used the tab on the site that allowed me to check my hardware, but kept getting a message that there was a problem accessing my server. After about an hour of this, I gave up. When the call came through, I was able to hear my physician, but not see her. She, on the other hand, could both see and hear me. We got through all this, but after it was over I felt like I'd been through a wringer.

My wife was due to speak with her cardiologist last week via video, but they never could get things to work. We're still waiting for a call-back on that one.

Yes, technology is wonderful...when it works. We've been able to worship via long distance using our TV. Some of us have seen some great movies and plays. When it works well, we tend to take it for granted--although I won't in the future. How about you?

Friday, April 17, 2020

Writing: Giveaway?

A question that a writer must eventually answer is whether a giveaway of their work--novel, novella, poem, whatever--is worth it. Some authors talk about the ROI--the return on investment. That is, what do you get back from what you give away?

When you're under contract to a large publishing house, it's a bit easier to give away copies of your book. You have to get your name and brand "out there" in order to sell books, and the publishing house has probably figured in the cost of the books you'll give away to do this. But when you're independently published, although it's still important to do various blogs, interviews, and other activities culminating in your giving your book to a winner, you have to buy and send out those books. And in the back of your mind you keep thinking about ROI--what am I getting in return?

I'm not saying it's a bad deal, mind you. With each book I've published (including my latest, Critical Decision) I've arranged reviews, guest blog posts, interviews and other activities that tell the public about my new book. And giveaways are always a part of these. But I'm beginning to wonder about the ROI. Because of the stay-in-the-house rule most of us are working under, I've made three of my novellas free on Kindle. This had a two-fold purpose: to give people who are about to go stir-crazy something more to read and to give folks who might not be familiar with my work the opportunity to do this at no cost.

I made two novellas--Emergency Case and Surgeon's Choice--available on two separate weeks. This week I'm just finishing making Rx: Murder free on Kindle. The first two resulted in 659 and 944 free downloads respectively. We'll see what the third produces. There hasn't been a huge increase in sales for my other books thus far, but we'll see what happens. The jury's still out.

What's your opinion? Does a book giveaway or a free download of an ebook tempt you? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Random Thoughts

I subscribe to a number of author blogs, and I've noticed one thing about them: the writers don't really know what to post. Well, neither do I. You've noticed (if you follow this blog) that it's difficult to focus on such things as telling a story during this time. Our creativity--at least, mine--just won't function. Eventually, it will resolve, of course. Whether our ability to write comes with it remains to be seen.

There's all kinds of political stuff to post about, of course. I have my views--strongly held ones--but I've tried thus far to be neutral in my posting. If things continue, though, I may have to let some of them out. And I'll warn you--it may not be pretty.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful, meaningful (although different) Easter. This, too, shall pass. Meanwhile, we'll have some great stories to share with others.

How about you? What's consumed your thoughts and actions as we enter into this next week of enforced "captivity"? I'd really like to know.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter

The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed...Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead'...."
(Matt 28:5-7a, The Message)

In the ancient world, the message was this: "Christos anesti; aléthos anesti."

In our modern language, the words are different, the message the same: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!"

Have a blessed Easter. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

What's Good About It?

We're in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. Some of you are getting "cabin fever." We'd love to know when we'll be able to get back to normal. Is there going to be a "new normal" for us?

Think how the followers of Christ must have felt. The man they hailed with palm branches and cries of "save now" was castigated, arrested, and sentenced to die on a cross--the most ignominious of deaths. Think how they felt.

I think of a saying I first heard years ago. It's all going to be okay in the end. And if it's not okay, it's not the end. We're not assured that bad times won't come--they will. We're assured that God has not forgotten us. It's not the end. Not yet.

Easter is coming. Easter is coming.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

"They Also Serve..."

I thought the other day about the lines from Milton's sonnet on his blindness, about "They also serve who only stand and wait." Since there was time,  I went to the Internet to learn more about them. What brought it to mind was the fact that, although I am a doctor and also have military experience, I'm in the "more mature" group that's apparently most vulnerable to Covid19 infection. So despite occasional desires to volunteer my service, I have to be content with "standing and waiting."

According to Wikipedia, the last line of the sonnet (usually identified by its first line: When I consider how my light is spent...) is sometimes quoted out of context. It has to do with him using his talent, as we're all supposed to do according to Matt. 25:14-40. Milton says that surely God does not expect day-labor effort from those whose talents are diminished as his was by his blindness (which was probably from glaucoma). He finished by saying, "They also serve who only stand and wait."

Perhaps nowadays we should say we serve by washing our hands and by staying at home as much as possible. If we have other talents, we should use them. But if we only "stand and wait," then do it gracefully. What do you think?

Note: I'm making my novellas available during this time of enforced inactivity. For the next five days, Rx:Murder is free on Kindle via Amazon. Even if you've read it, let others who might be unfamiliar with my work know about this. Thanks.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Writing: Even If We Don't Want To

I've had difficulty "getting going" lately--one would think that enforced isolation would be the ideal time for a writer to get things done. But, although I have a good idea about my next novel, I've revised and revised the first two or three thousand words, but haven't gotten beyond those.

I decided to ask some of my colleagues if they had a similar problem. I sent out queries to eight authors whom I knew fairly well, and in the next three days I got three back--either the other five were busy writing or were afflicted by the same malady I'm experiencing. Maybe that's an answer in itself.

Jim Rubart lives in what I consider semi-isolation anyway, and says he's not particularly affected by the quarantine. The person who gets most of the blame/credit for my entering into the writing field, Jim Bell, says that writing always includes some degree of isolation. He  says he's also taking advantage of the time to watch old movies, catch up on his reading, and go riding around with his wife, enjoying the wide-open streets of LA. Jim handles deadlines, which are mainly self-imposed, by marking off days on a calendar.  Robin Hatcher sends a well-thought-out reply that says isolation doesn't affect her very much (since that's sometime her routine when on deadline), but she's had to cut down her news watching because of the almost constant coverage. As for deadlines, whether imposed by herself or an editor, Robin feels she has been training for these for three decades.

Many writers believe they should write something every day (even if it's awful, as Robin puts it), and it dawns on me that I've continued doing that--blog posts, ideas, various "stuff." Meanwhile, I think I'll ignore the TV and get on with my life...including writing. How about you?

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 clichés. 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.



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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.