Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's 2021

 Just because the year changes doesn't mean things will suddenly change. God willing, we'll gradually see the end of mask mandates, social distancing, and Covid-19 in general. Personally, I expect that the immunization will gradually induce immunity in the community, but until then we'll be good and try not to be spreaders.

Meanwhile, we'll celebrate 2021 (I've just now learned to write 2020) in our usual fashion--asleep well before midnight. However you choose to usher in the new year, may you be safe and well. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas, 2020

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Put Your Oxygen Mask On Before Helping Others"

In the latest edition of the otolaryngology academy newsletter (yes, I still read it), the current academy president got my attention with that word of instruction, followed by these words. "I encourage us all to offer words of support and a listening ear to colleagues, friends, and families. We all need each other to get through these challenging times" 

I had just been meditating on how different Christmas will be this year. There won't be as many around our table and tree. Admittedly  I was feeling a bit down, and then I read those words. "Put your oxygen mask on before helping others." In other words, take heart yourself and then help those with whom you come in contact who might be feeling down. 

This is Christmas, whether celebrated by a multitude together or one by one. The message remains the same. God has given us a Gift--one not wrapped in shiny paper but clothed as an infant--and that Gift means eternal life to those who will receive us. Pass it on. 

I'll be taking the rest of the month for some time of "vacation." May you each have a Merry Christmas. Take time to reflect on the meaning of the day--then pass it on.

Friday, December 11, 2020

A Texas Christmas

 I've had several requests to republish this. Hope it makes the Christmas season more real for you.  It did for me while I was writing it. 

The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did. 

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It didn’t take place in a bunkhouse, it occurred in a stable. And it wasn’t just a baby—this was God’s own Son--the Christ child was God in blue jeans, as one of my friends puts it. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God Himself in a diaper, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine. 

Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Christmas Without Them

 It's been almost 20 years now since the death of my first wife, but I still get requests for this piece that I  wrote after my first Christmas without her. Covid-19 has brought some changes, but it's still a tough time. I've been gratified at the continuing ministry of my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death of a SpouseDespite having had multiple novels and novellas published, this work of non-fiction remains the most satisfying among them all. I hope this piece ministers to those who are finding this season especially tough.

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

Friday, December 04, 2020

Writing: R.U.E.

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

Maybe your heroine is Amish, and she does something that those of us unfamiliar with their practices would find unusual. How do you work it into the story? Perhaps you use a word that isn't familiar. How do you explain its meaning without sending your reader scurrying off to look it up?

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

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Facebook...or Not?

I'm faced with a dilemma. Not what to write about. I've already got a WIP (work-in-progress) with about 15,000 words written and the rest in my head--I'm just not motivated to write, with everything else that's going on. No, my dilemma is the social media sites. Should I continue on Facebook and Twitter, or jump to Parler and MeWe? 

On one hand, I'm used to the "old standards." But on the other, I've really gotten tired of some of the "rules" and algorithms these sites have put in place. Do my posts and tweets really reach the same audience as they once did? For that matter, will they reach anyone at the new sites?

I find myself going back and forth, without making a commitment. Maybe I should post on both the "old" and "new" sites for a while. What is your opinion?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving, 2020

 It's different, this year. But despite the changed situation, we can still find things for which we are thankful. When I looked out this morning, I saw the American flag flying, as it always has, from the stanchion attached to the front of our house. There may come a time when we can no longer fly our flag, but until that day, Old Glory will be displayed, symbol of the freedom we enjoy.

Our Thanksgiving Day meal will be a bit different, but we'll still eat it in gratitude--gratitude for our family (near and far), gratitude for enough and more when there's so much want around us, gratitude for the freedoms we take for granted. The political climate, the changes necessary because of the "plague" that surrounds us, the situation in general--all these things affect us, but we can still find things for which to be grateful. I hope the same applies to you all.

See you next week.

BTW--the Kindle edition of my novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, is priced at 99 cents for the next month. Happy holidays. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Writing: Memoirs

I was asked recently for some suggestions and help in writing a memoir. Since this is a type of writing I don't ordinarily do, I honestly haven't thought much about it. But, since the request came from one of my relatives, I didn't just blow it off. Instead, I researched the subject a bit, and thought I'd share the information with you.

It's amazing how much "research" we can do by just entering "writing a memoir" in the search engine of our computer. I did, and the first page was filled with suggestions (plus not a few "pay me and I'll publish it" sites). Putting those sites aside, here are my suggestions.

1. Decide the purpose of the memoir. A "memoir" differs from an autobiography in that it simply focuses on one theme or event of a life. So, what's your theme? What's the central truth you want to convey? Settle this in your mind before you start typing.

2. Is this written for publication, or just to get the words down on paper, perhaps for yourself or for your family? There's nothing wrong with the latter. I've often said that if only one person reads what you write, be it a novel or a non-fiction book, perhaps you're the only one who needs it. If the audience is wider than that small circle of yourself and perhaps your family, keep this in mind as you write.

3. Start with something that will pique the reader's interest. For goodness sakes, don't just tell it chronologically. Start with something that will get your reader interested. Then add scenes, both long and short, that illustrate your point. Diagram your life--or the parts you want to emphasize--and choose what will be the opening scene, what will continue the reader's interest, and what will be the concluding scene and truth you want to convey.

4. Be prepared to start over, again and again. It's not easy to write something knowing it will be read by others, and you'll be tempted to shine it up a bit and make yourself look better than you are. But folks aren't going to read the perfect story...they may start it, but tell them about yourself, warts and all.

I haven't said anything about finding a publisher or getting involved with the writing world. That comes later. It's enough to start. If you finish, then you can get into that part of it.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Just Thinking

 Random thoughts--don't make more of them than that.

I'm glad I left the practice of medicine when I did. There was a time when a physician cared for the whole patient, even when our complaint was outside his/her field. When those situations occurred, we got the word that such-and-such a doctor would be best for us to consult. And out increased knowledge is great (Yes, I keep up, even though I'm retired), but there are too many times when I've run across things I know the physician is doing because "the regs require it."

None of us knows what's ahead. The President has every right to contest the election--and the circumstances are suspicious (although the network crawl still refers to them as "unsubstantiated" even as the person being interviewed substantiates them). We don't know what's ahead, and that's tough. Whatever happens, I have to trust that I'll get through it, the same as I have for so many years. 

I'm still working on my next novel, but mainly in my head. I'll probably sit down and finish writing it one day, but then again, I never thought I'd have one published, much less a bunch of them. Right now, though, I'm going to take it one day at a time.

It seems that a number of my friends and colleagues are voting for free speech without censorship by going to new apps such as Parler. I have a presence on Parler and MeWe, but honestly, it's taken me a long time to get used to Facebook and Twitter--don't know about the newer ones. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Veterans' Day, 2020

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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2020

Where Do We Go From Here?

 For those checking in, expecting to see a post on writing, let me explain--this election is going to end up in the courts, and however it's decided, we'll still have a divided country. I'm not sure where that leaves us...or me. So for now, I'll just say "I'll be back...I think. I just don't know when or in what form." 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020


 If you haven't done so already,  please vote. Some, myself included, live in states where early voting is allowed, and we did just that. If you see the length of the lines, don't be discouraged--remember, rather than the "scrunched-together" ones we're used to, they include people who are observing social distancing. And if you're tempted to give up, recall what's at stake. Vote!

We live in a republic (so far) that depends on the votes of the people to choose the leaders, That means that each vote--including yours--is important. And if you don't want our system of government to change, vote!

We'll watch the results this evening as we always do, although this year is totally different from years past and we may not know the final results for anywhere from a short time to a long one. No matter the outcome, remember what my parents taught me--if you don't vote, you can't fuss about the result. I hope you'll heed that advice. I did. Vote!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Writing: Getting Started

Everyone will be posting Halloween-themed material today--except me. We don't expect many trick-or-treaters tomorrow night. So I thought it appropriate to post this instead, since it answers questions that I sometimes get.

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Will Trick-or-Treat Be Different?

 Admittedly, it's not as easy as it once was for me to pause the TV and pry myself out of the recliner to answer the door, but I used to actually enjoy doing it on Halloween. My wife and I got a real kick from the little ones in their costumes. I enjoyed dispensing candy. (Admit it--you, like me, give out the stuff you don't much care for first, saving the things you like for last and secretly hoping you'll get some).

But this year promises to be different. Not just because it falls on a weekend (glad it's not on a Sunday, which calls forth a lot of comment, which I won't get into here). But because of the specter of Covid-l9. Is it really worth catching it to get some candy? What about costumes plus masks? And some "experts" are even saying that both Halloween and Thanksgiving should take on a new look, and be celebrated in splendid isolation. If you're the type who really looks ahead, what about Christmas?

I know what we'll probably do--prepare with a bit of candy, mainly things that we'll have around the house for our own enjoyment, but not be too disappointed if the doorbell doesn't ring. And as for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I'm sure my wife has plans. Personally, I'll take it one day at a time. How about you?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Writing: Rejection

I thought it was about time for me to mention that I've put together some early blog posts in a little Amazon booklet, First Lessons. These are aimed at persons just getting started, although some of the lessons in them are still applicable. Here is a segment from an early chapter. The lesson, of course, is to take rejection as a way of life if you're going to write. Enjoy--then write.

"My first novel was sort of "written to order." At my first writers' conference, I met an editor who was a huge baseball fan. He discovered that I had played in a number of baseball fantasy camps, alongside some of baseball's greats. He said, "Why don't you write a novel about a doctor who goes to one of those camps?" Having no better sense than to think writing a novel was something that could be accomplished by anyone who put their mind to it, I did just that. I completed it in four months and sent it off to him. He encouraged me to revise it, which I did, and then he took it to the editorial board, who turned it down. "Oh, well," I said, "this is easy. I'll just send it to somebody else."

"I obtained permission from several editors to send them a proposal. I also sent my proposal off to a web site that judges your work, and if it meets their standards (about half the submissions do), they send it to a number of publishing houses. I was thrilled when a major publishing house contacted me and wanted the full manuscript of the novel. "Aha, they don't do that with every submission." (True) "They're going to accept it." (False). I got a very nice form rejection letter from them. 

"But the story doesn't end there. Two weeks later, I got a letter from the same publisher (different person), advising that they'd seen my novel's posting on that same site, and asking for the full manuscript. So, I got it printed up (again), and sent it to them (again), and it was rejected (again). It doesn't quite measure up to Steve Laube's story of the writer whose rejection notice came FedEx (because they really wanted to be sure, I guess), but it's close.

"By the time every publisher to whom I'd submitted novel #1 rejected it, I was well on the way to completing #2. Then, through a series of circumstances, and attendance at another writers’ conference, there was renewed interest in novel #1. So, I've rewritten it yet again, and it's under active consideration, as is novel #2.

"If there's a moral in there somewhere, it must be that rejection is a way of life for authors. Don't give up. True, write new work, but keep the old one around and pitch it every once in a while. You never know what's going to come of it."



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

My Muddled Brain

  I'm finding it hard to write in the current circumstances. My mind has been taken by the pandemic and all its various aspects, the election and all the back-and-forth that comes around every four years, and the things that go on around us that together make up this thing called "life."

We're been concerned about how our family is doing--and will do in the future as everything plays out. We often look at our daily schedule--which remains subject to change as things come up--and wonder how we got everything done and still went to work every day. And then again, there are the wonderful little surprises that life throws at us--like coming into our kitchen first thing in the morning and while we're getting set to have our coffee discovering that we've had a leak under our sink that has left water all over our vinyl flooring that was installed only a couple of weeks ago. Things like that.

The way it looks now, my next novel will be published well after the first of the year. That's not the most important thing right now. Meanwhile, I'll leave the final resolution in the same Hands that created us and the world in which we live. I recommend that to my readers, as well.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Writing: Climbing The Mountain

 When you pick up a book, do you ever picture the writer? I don't mean looking at the picture on the book jacket. I mean, do you ever think of them as a flesh and blood entity who has hopes and dreams, needs and wants, the same as you? Do you ever wonder whether they write full-time (few have achieved this status) or steal a few minutes from their "day job" to put the words together? Are they self-published or is there a publishing house behind them? For that matter, do you ever even look at the book jacket to see who publishes them?

Most authors have a dream of having their name on a book jacket. Few attain it. Think of the stories behind the next book you read. I'm reading a series of novels right now by a woman who starts the first book with an author's note thanking the small publisher who "took a chance on an unknown author" and gave her a start. Then, there's the story (although it may be apocryphal) of the man who indie-published a novel and sold it out of the trunk of his car, but who is now a best-selling writer. I think it helps to know the background of the author. 

My own story involves a publisher who was getting a fiction line started, an agent to whom I just happened to send the first few chapters of a novel, and some luck. Whatever the circumstances, with few exceptions we have a mountain to climb before acceptance of our book comes along. Some never achieve the heights of which they dream, some do. But one thing marks the successful author. We keep on climbing. Even after we get to the first level, we keep on climbing. Because you're only as good as your last book, and none of us know when the book we're writing will be our last.

Think about all this when you next pick up a book. It will enhance your reading experience. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Speaking The Language

 Although I've long ago (almost two decades) retired from the active practice of medicine, I still "speak the language"--that is, I understand what is being said, and sometimes what is implied. And it's hard for me, at times, to understand why others don't have that same knowledge. But I'm trying.

Our step-son called the other night because his pre-teen daughter had a nosebleed. My wife tells me that she's had them before and knows how to handle them, but this was apparently something new for him. My children, on the other hand, soon picked up from me the dictum (only slightly joking) that they should consult me "if the bleeding was arterial." My step-son didn't speak the language, my children had picked up a lot of it from being around me. There was no right or wrong in this. Just the circumstance in which they had been exposed to certain things.

I guess that was why I took the unusual step of posting this weekend about steroids--I saw misinformation coming out of the mouth of some of our politicians, and got sort of frustrated about it. I don't guess it did much good, but I explained something that was clear to me although not (for whatever reason) to those who twisted the meaning. 

Should those of us who speak the language--whether it be medicine, the constitution, the rules of baseball or whatever--remain silent? Or should we speak up? Let me know how you feel.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Speaking of Steroids

Although every physician knows the rudiments of the HIPPAA legislation--especially the "privacy" part of the rule--apparently not everyone does. If you're unclear, I suggest you refresh your memory. The reason I bring it up is to remind the reporters that keep asking for more information on the treatment rendered to the President that doctors are limited in what they release. Also, since none of the reporters seem to have enough medical knowledge to interpret some of what they're asking for, they are reminiscent of the dog chasing the car--what do they plan to do with it once they get it?

But the thing that really got my dander up yesterday was the suggestion that the President is suffering from "roid rage" due to the steroids he received. Thus, this post to differentiate the two types of steroids--something doctors learn early on, but which apparently isn't covered in journalism school or preparation for serving in Congress.

The type of steroids that give "roid rage" are called anabolic steroids. These are what athletes sometimes take to "bulk up." They do have side effects, but we need not go into them, since that's not what was used in this case. What the President was given was a corticosteroid. This has side effects as well, but they have to do (in my experience) mainly with a burst of energy and difficulty sleeping--something that wouldn't affect the ability to govern, and would be hard to see in this President.

The President last night said he was off dexamethasone, the steroid he'd been given to counteract and/or prevent any inflammation in the pulmonary system, so probably this was all moot. But I wanted to put it in black and white--there's a difference in the types of steroids, a difference that's quite large when you consider the usage (but not, apparently, when you are in a political fight).

Friday, October 09, 2020

Writing: It's Tough

 Why keep on writing? I've asked myself that a hundred times during the past six months. When I retired from medicine, I had no intention of writing. I had written or edited nine or ten medical books, and after the death of my first wife, I crafted (after many months) a non-fiction book, The Tender Scar, which is in its second edition and continues to minister to those who have suffered a similar loss.

Why, then, did I feel the need to try my hand at writing fiction? Honestly, it was the result of a sort-of challenge to do just that, a challenge that came from some knowledgeable people. And that is how I ultimately ended up with a total of nineteen published novels and novellas. But during these past few days, it has been nice to ignore the unfinished manuscript on my computer, preferring to enjoy the time away from writing. Yet, it still sits there while a still, small voice tells me I should work on it, and I get emails from time to time that gently (oh, so gently) tell me how much the words the Lord gives me mean to them. And that's why I know I will soon attack the manuscript with the idea of finishing it. Because, just as I was led to dip into writing in the first place, I feel the need to keep on putting down the message that, no matter what our circumstances, we're never far away from redemption. And if I can continue to spread that message, I will. To do otherwise would be to disrespect the One who got me into this in the first place.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Why Bother?

 We've sort of centered our TV watching this past week or so on various aspects of the political scene--mainly the debate, plus posts on the President's health (both accurate and glaringly slanted) and that of others.  

I've also read some of the online posts, which isn't wise if you're watching your blood pressure, and even some of the comments, which is a definite no-no. I seem to be unable to keep from doing these things, even though I know that they don't mean a lot. The best advice about social media was given to me long ago, and although I believe it and try to practice it, it's hard. A person wiser than I told me, "You don't have to enter into a fight with every post that takes a differing view from yours." Very few, if any, disagreements are settled via social media posts.

In that case, why bother? What I try to do is see if there is anything new that I don't already know--but I use the search facility to see if it's accurate or not. And if the information isn't backed up, I simply put it in the category of "tell it enough times and see if you can get someone to believe it." That's a well-known maneuver that goes back many years.

Some "polls" are fair, some unfair, and a few are actually designed to keep people from voting ("suppression polls"), thinking "what's the use?" So I take them with a grain of salt. And social media is part of today's fabric, and I can't let it go completely--just as sometimes I don't take my own advice, and thus, try to correct a false post.

What's your stand regarding social media? I'd like to know. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Writing: Choose Your Subject (Carefully)

 Finding the idea for book--indeed, the general outline--is usually not a problem. Although the non-author may feel stumped, most writers find that they accumulate ideas fast enough to end up with a list of books they'll never have enough time to write. The problem isn't the idea, or even the general outline. It's the book itself.

As you know, if you follow this blog, I tend to collect and reread the books that I've enjoyed over the years. Recently, I pulled a favorite from the shelf and soon found myself wondering why it was such a best-seller. The parts that were supposed to engender excitement and hold my interest did just that, but I had to wade through so much to get to them that I gave it up. 

This particular author had recently turned out books that I jokingly felt the best thing about them was their usefulness as a doorstop, due to their length. This one was special, but I couldn't recall why. The ones I found myself going back to read multiple times were those that held my attention from the first few pages. Not only that, I admired the way the authors strung together words in simple sentences that demanded my attention--no compound sentences or words that sent me to the dictionary, but simply a narrative that was easy to follow and made me turn the page.

If you're a writer, think about this as you craft your next book. And if you're a reader, think about the books you'd go back time and again to read. These--and not necessarily those on any best-seller list--are books that would make it onto my bookshelf, to be read over and over. It doesn't matter what they're about so much as the way they're crafted. See if you agree.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Almost Didn't Post This


Actually had another post ready, but decided that this needed to go up. My first wife, Cynthia, passed away 21 years ago yesterday, after 14 days in the ICU where we prayed for the best and tried to prepare ourselves for the worst. Since then, God has granted me yet again the love of a wonderful woman, so although some people never achieve what I've been given, I am doubly blessed. Nevertheless, the influence of Cynthia on so many lives, including mine, will never be forgotten.

I started not to mark this anniversary (it happened 21 years ago), harkening to the advice of a dear friend: "Some anniversaries need not be observed in perpetuity."  I may follow that advice next year. Just not today.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Writing: When God Is Silent

In going through my computer, I found this information, written some time back. I thought that perhaps there was a writer somewhere for whom it would have meaning. I hope that's true. In my own case, I subsequently chose to "go indie" and haven't turned back. Maybe you're considering your own course of action. Whether you're still waiting for a contract, can't make up your mind about publishing your work yourself, or there's another reason you're stuck, I hope this helps.

 God made a promise to an old and childless Abraham that someday he would be the father of many nations. Fourteen years after that, Isaac was born to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Did you ever wonder what happened during the prolonged period of waiting the patriarch endured? Did Abraham worry because he was getting older by the day without the son God promised? Did he agonize, wondering if perhaps God had forgotten His covenant? Did he consider trying other gods, hoping they’d do better a better job for him? We may not know what Abraham did during this period, but whatever it was, it’s evident he never lost faith in God.

What would a writer do if subjected to such a prolonged silence? Would the unpublished writer keep trying despite rejection after rejection? Would the previously published writer persevere when there were no more contracts? We’ve all felt it—the urge to throw up our hands and quit. Should we do it, or, like Abraham, keep the faith?

Like other writers, I have endured some of those silent periods, and I have to confess that during those times I worried...a lot. I wrote for four years before finally getting my first contract. I was ready to give up many times before then, and once I actually quit, although God had other plans. After that contract, though, I thought things would go more smoothly. Wrong. Despite four published novels, I endured a silent period again, waiting for a publisher to want my work. When there were no phone calls, no email messages, I wondered if God had forgotten me. Perhaps the call to writing I imagined feeling wasn’t real.

Finally, when I received another contract, because of publishing schedules I learned there was to be a hiatus of a year and a half between the publication of my last book and the appearance of the next one.  Although I worried that no one would remember me after such a prolonged absence, the void period turned out to be just what I needed. When you encounter periods of silence like these, remember that they may represent an example of God’s perfect timing. If you are overcome with worry during such a period, remember Abraham. He never lost faith. We shouldn’t either.

Does this speak to you? It did to me...both then and now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Silent Majority

 I can't recall the exact figures (and I'm too lazy to look them up), but a survey recently showed that a majority of conservative voters are afraid to let their true feelings be known. I'm not sure why this should occur, but it certainly is true--even in our suburban area. We have displayed our candidate's name on a garden flag placed in our front yard, and have already replaced both the flag and the metal holder once. And we'll do it again, and anticipate continuing to do so as long as necessary.

One of the things that marks our country is the freedom its citizens have to free expression. But it seems to me that expression has been progressively dampened over the years. Now, one group feels free to be more vocal--both verbally and physically--while the other fears retribution if they let their true feelings out. Maybe that's a false feeling, and if so, I apologize. But it sure seems that way to me.

It seems to me that the best way to express our desires and allegiance is with our ballot. There's some question about that process, but we plan to vote--a secret ballot cast in person--and hope that the result coincides with our desires. But even if it doesn't, we plan to continue our opposition--in public, if need be. How about you? Will you be part of the silent majority, or will you exercise your Constitutional right to speak out? 

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


 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


 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, " 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 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?