Friday, July 23, 2021

Writing: Active and Passive Voice (And Zombies)


 When I first began to write "mysteries with heart," one of the "rules" drummed into me as a neophyte writer was to avoid the passive voice. Theoretically, it was because a sentence in the passive voice failed to put the reader into the action, whereas a sentence written in the active voice pulled the reader in. I honestly don't know that that holds true 100% of the time, but it does sound peculiar to write something in the passive voice. Even scientific writing avoids it. Actually, it has become such second nature with me that I had a difficult time coming up with some examples for this blog post.

Put as simply as possible, the active voice makes the subject the "do-er" of the sentence, whereas the passive voice makes something being done to it. One blog post I recently read suggests that we identify the subject and verb in the sentence (yes, we have to recognize subjects and verbs--deal with it)...anyway, it suggests adding the phrase "by zombies". This is a sure-fire way, I'm told, of identifying a passive sentence.

Here are some examples they quote

  • Mistakes were made (by zombies). Tears were shed (by zombies). — passive voice
  • The new policy was approved (by zombies). — passive voice
  • We are often told (by zombies) to use the active voice instead of the passive voice. — passive voice
I doubt that you'll be called up to use this a lot, though. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Rain...again

 

Checking the weather forecast for rain is proving to be as accurate as throwing darts, and equally hit-and-miss. We found that we had a leak in our roof by the simple expedient of my wife coming into the living room where I was watching golf and telling me "We have a leak in our front bedroom." Since this room is primarily used to put things in until we figure out where to put them (we rarely do) or when we prepare it for guests (we rarely if ever need it for that), it was serendipitous that she caught the leak. After the rain had ceased, I saw that we'd actually lost some shingles over where the leak was coming in. By using the Internet and searching "roof repair," I contacted three companies, and one actually responded right then. Better yet, the man who came out got up on the roof, saw the damage, and used a couple of tarps to stop the leaks until we could contact our insurance company. He also explained the process in case I'd forgotten.

Figuring that the process would be long, drawn out, and difficult, I filed a claim--which turned out to be easier than I expected. After going through the phases of evaluation by the adjuster (also better than I pictured it), choosing a roofer (we chose the one who responded initially), and getting the new roof put on (they did it in one day and did a great job). Now we're having to await getting new gutters and re-staining our back fence. But, it will have to be delayed a bit, because I'm hearing the rain again outside.

We can't complain. We've had good people all the way, but because of so many people coming and going to do the work, guess how much writing I've gotten done! But that's okay. This is a good time to catch up on my reading, and that can be done in small increments. And a writer has to read...right? Yeah, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Writing: Time to Write


 I've been retired from medicine for almost two decades now, and I still hear it from time to time: "You must have time to write. You're retired." I've actually written about this several times, and if anyone is looking forward to having all that time for yourself after you retire, I can only say, "Forget it."

As  best I can tell, there are three types of writers. There are the people like Tom Clancy who make a living from their writing. They are full-time writers, and they make enough from it to lay down their "full-time jobs"--only to make writing their full-time job. And if you think that one day you'll be able to join their ranks, I have a bridge I want to sell you. I don't have the figures, but I suggest that you not bank on getting that big break. Although it is certainly possible that will happen, it's sort of like playing big-league baseball. The possibility is there, but the likelihood is small.

The other end of the spectrum is the writer who snatches time from their full-time job, whether it be outside the home or within it, to write. These are the people who basically work two jobs--one that pays their bills or keeps the home together, the other that they do because they have to do it. Have to? Yes, the reason most of us keep writing is because we absolutely can't not write. (Poor English, but accurate).

Some of us fall into the middle. We're what Larry Block calls, "Sunday writers." I fall into that category myself. I am not dependent on making a living by my writing, and I refuse to make a profession from this. Some of us write one, two, sometimes many more books that result in a few sales. Why do we do it? Because we can't not write. 

But hooray for all those of us who fall into the last two categories. Maybe we're the only people who read what we write. Then again, maybe it will affect our lives--and that's important enough.

 



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The More Things Change...

There's a saying (I won't try to say it in French) that the more things change, the more they remain the same. That may be true, but the changes we've all seen in the recent past don't seem to me to be going back to "the way we were." The pandemic has made us all change our routine in greater or lesser ways, but some of those changes seem to have been incorporated into our daily routines and may be permanent.

Many people have been forced to "work at home," telecommuting via electronic means (computers, Zoom calls, even using the--gasp--telephone). And although some companies have allowed their employees to be back in the office, a number of them have discovered that it's cheaper and (in some instances) easier to allow employees to continue working from home. This may change in the future, but I'm betting that it won't be universal.

In Texas, we've gotten rid of the mask mandates (whether they work or not remains a point subject to argument and I don't plan to address that here). The grocery stores, post office, and most big box stores have put aside the mandate for masks. But as a result of hand-washing, social distancing, and to some extent masking we have seen a lessening of common upper respiratory infections. How much this will continue, no one knows. For now, the practice remains--not enforced, just force of  habit.

There are a number of changes that are going on. Some are good, some are not. But they have changed our life. Any changes in yours?

Friday, July 09, 2021

Writing: Is It Too Late To Start?


I've just celebrated another birthday. I think I'm going to follow the example of one of my friends, who said she was "Sixty-four plus shipping and handling." Funny, I don't feel any older. The aging process doesn't pay attention to the number of miles we've piled up or the number associated with our birthday. It simply happens. And whether we're thirty-five or eighty-five, when we reach the point that was assigned to us before we were born, then we'll die. Don't believe me? Read Job 14:5 and Psalm 139:16.

Should we work until then? Some think so, and it's fine for them. My pastor once said that he wants to go after preaching his last sermon. A member of my specialty thinks he'll continue working. But infirmities and physical disabilities may intervene, and cause us to change that.

My world collapsed with the death of my spouse of forty years. God later blessed me with the love of another wonderful woman, and I've had twenty more years that I once didn't anticipate. And when I decided to retire from medicine, the Lord saw fit to take my book that I wrote after the passing of my first wife and turn it into a second profession that has produced almost twenty novels and novellas (I'm not sure how many and I don't plan to take the time to count them). My first one was published when I was seventy years old. And I plan to keep writing (although more slowly) so long as I have strength.

How about you? Have you made any long-term plans? That's fine--but be prepared to change them. God's plan is always better.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

How Did You Celebrate?

I'd imagine that this question was asked in some form or another of everyone returning to work after the long weekend. At the Mabry household, we had some time with family, as well as time spent in reflection, napping, whatever my wife does while I'm "thinking" (which involves time at the computer or in front of the TV set), and various other things that occupied us. It seems that retirement has put us into either a groove or a rut, you can decide which, that doesn't vary much except when others are involved. We're glad to see them, but are also anxious to get back into our routine.

As we get back to our everyday lives, let's not forget the meaning of the holiday just past--what we really celebrate, and why. Our flag is still up, and will remain so 12 months out of the year. We're glad for the freedom we have, even though we see struggles for these freedoms each day within our courts, our legislatures, and our center of government. It will never be over, God willing, because when we stop standing up for our freedoms, we shall all fall. I hope that's never the case. How about you? 


Friday, July 02, 2021

Independence Day, 2021

Sunday 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.

should be back blogging on Tuesday. Meanwhile, enjoy your holiday.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day, 2021



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. 

All gave some. Some gave all. Let's honor them.

NOTE: I'm going to take off for the month of June. See you back in July. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Cynthia Ann Surovik Mabry



 Although God has gifted me once more with the love of a wonderful woman, your influence was greater than you could ever imagine, and lives on even today.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Retirement

I had occasion to have dinner a few days ago with a person who is retired, and, as it always does, the question came up of how we ever managed to do everything on our plate while holding down a full-time job. The answer, of course, is that we, little by little, add time for the things we've always wanted to do but never had the time for. 

For example, just for the past few weeks, my wife and I have enjoyed our "retired" status enough to take a couple of hours out of our day to watch recorded episodes of a program we watched only sporadically earlier in our life. Matter of fact, we sort of resent things that come up to make us change our routine. After all, "we're retired."

As a writer, and before that, as a physician, I lived my life by other people's schedules--whether meeting a deadline of a publisher or answering an after-hours call. It was a happy day indeed when I no longer had to live my life according to the dictates of a beeper or a deadline set by someone else. But, little by little, my "have-tos" have been replaced by "if I decide to." And it's wonderful.

Eventually, you'll "retire" from whatever keeps you captive to someone else's schedule. How have you begun to replace those "have-tos" in your own life? I'd like to know.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Writing: Choose Your Audience

When an author is pitching a work of theirs, one of the questions they are asked is, "What is the audience for your book?" No fair saying that it will appeal to all ages and both sexes--you really should figure out your audience and aim it at them.  Some writers go so far as to aim their writing at a particular person, feeling that "if he/she likes it, I'll be okay." If it helps to have a mythical reader in Dubuque, Iowa, go for it. But your book should be aimed at some segment. There is no such thing as a universal specific, either in writing or in medicine. If there were, we'd all be using it.

After that, my suggestion is to look back when you've reached an area in the book where its message is clear (and if it hasn't become clear by that point, why not?) and see if you need to fine-tune your work. Then do the same after you've finished the book and see if you've accomplished what you set out to say.

In summary, when writing a book, decide what audience you're setting out to reach, then decide what the message of the book is to be, and finally, see if the finished product meets your goals. Sounds simple, but it's not. 

Think back to the last book you've read. Did the author accomplish their goal? If not, where did they fall short? It will help you be a better writer and reader in future. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Back Writing

I normally don't post here about my writing (that's for Fridays), but I guess I should say something.

I've received sort of a "kick in the pants" to start writing again. Actually, I've been reminded that there are still things to do, and sitting around, enjoying my "retirement" isn't among them. So, to start things off, I've offered a couple of my early novellas to reintroduce people to my writing. Last week, I offered the Kindle version of my early novella, Emergency Case, free. 

Now I've reduced the price on another novella, Doctor's Dilemma, to 99 cents for the Kindle version. That offer starts today and runs through May 20 at Amazon. After that--who knows?

Meanwhile, I'm back working on my next novel? Why? Because it's time. Stay tuned. 

Authors, have you let the pandemic slow down your writing? I'd like to hear how you avoided it.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Writing: Suggestions

I copied these from someone (sorry, I can't give attribution)--they're pretty much the things that most writers learn by the time they had their first or second critique. But they're worth repeating. (And is there anyone out there who's been caught in the situation pictured here? I prepare, and add a spare roll when the one in use get low. How about you?)

RULES FOR WRITERS:

-Don't overwrite. We've all heard it--never use a dollar word when a dime one will do.

-Don't use too may adjectives and adverbs. I was initially told to use none of these, but you have to use some

-Write tight. Or, take unnecessary words out with your first edit.

-Don't use cliches, platitudes, and other similar words. 

-Vary sentence length. No run-on sentences.

-Avoid passive verbs and passive construction. 

-Show, don't tell. (This, plus the above, are the first lessons a writer learns--and they're important).

There are more, but that's enough for now. What others can you think of.

NOTE: If you go to Amazon before midnight (Pacific time) tonight, you can download the Kindle version of my first novella, EMERGENCY CASE, free. The URL is below: 

https://www.amazon.com/Emergency-Case-Richard-L-Mabry/dp/1728894859

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Thoughts On The Family Structure

Looking at the various blogs and posts about the holiday just past (and I absolutely refuse to use the term "birthing person" no matter how hard the liberals try to change our vocabulary--but that's another column), it's apparent that the days of the "nuclear family" are changing.

I grew up in an era that, sort of like "Father Knows Best," featured a mother, father, and two or three children. But second marriages, although unheard of or spoken about in hushed tones in earlier days, have now become common. They may be, as is my own case, because of the death of a spouse and remarriage of the survivor. It may be that two people, having taken the wedding vows, have discovered that they were wrong, then or now, and chose to dissolve them...some for very good reasons. But however it comes about, the family unit, more often than not, now includes two or more fathers and/or mothers, and the offspring of two or more unions. Which makes for a complex (and at times insoluble) problem when it comes to who spends what holiday with whom.

Things change, whether we want them to or not. I don't have the answer, and I suspect that none of the readers of this blog do, either. But when we approach the situation with understanding, we're one step closer. 

How about you? 


Friday, May 07, 2021

Writing: Can Writing Be Taught?

One of my mentors (James Scott Bell--yes, Jim, you have to accept your responsibility for getting me going) says that writing can be taught. Matter of fact, he's written books, a number of which I refer to periodically, that teach it and do it well. But is there some ability within the true writer which helps them tell their story in a way that keeps the reader coming back? 

To begin with, I believe there are certain admonitions (I hate to call them rules) which are basic. Show, don't tell, is a famous one. It's best typified by Chekov, who said not to tell him the moon is shining, but to show the effect. There are many others, things that we learn early on, and they're all valuable--but they can and should be broken if they get in the way of telling your story. I note that, although I learned early in school that one should never end a sentence with a preposition, now it may be acceptable at times. No rule is inviolable.

I'm rereading some of the early novels by Robert B. Parker, and when his protagonist speaks of learning to paint, she says something that is applicable to writers as well. "Other (writers) could sometimes tell me things not to do, but they didn't even know how or exactly why they did what they did." In writing, we call it your "voice," and it's hard--maybe impossible--to explain.

What to do you think?

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

What Is Retirement?

 When I was younger, I had it all planned out: work until I was in my 60's, then retire, probably die at 65 or maybe even 70. But the further along the road I got, the more that goal kept shifting. Before I retired from the practice of my specialty, my wife of 40 years passed on. Later, he gifted me with the love of another wonderful woman, and about that time I got started on my second career, that of writing. 

Even though I've kept up my CME and paid the fee to keep my medical license, I doubt that I'll ever practice again. After the publication of about 20 books (starting with the non-fiction book, The Tender Scar, that I wrote after the death of my first wife), I've found it hard to write any more. So what's next?

As He always does, God will direct my paths. I have about 20,000 words written on my next novel. As I said before, I doubt that I'll practice medicine again, but I've followed with interest the viral pandemic we've all gone through and the actual science published about it. And, in one way or another, I've managed to keep busy.

So what's next? I guess the admonition is "stay tuned." Meanwhile, how are you doing?  Have your ideas about retirement changed? 



Friday, April 30, 2021

Writing: Getting Their Attention


 I keep a bookcase loaded with books I've already read, and when I re-read them I find lines that I skimmed over the last time. That's why I keep them, that's why I re-read them, and that's why I suggest firmly that a writer should read widely. When I first started writing, I was pointed toward a particular book and told, "Write like that." I couldn't do it, but it was something to aim toward.

There are three points at which a writer should make a reader sit up and take notice: the opening scene (and ideally the opening sentence), a point about half-way through the novel (the remedy to a "sagging middle"), and at the end of the book. It need not be the closing words, but certainly the last paragraph of the book should be memorable...so memorable that a reader will think about it long after he closes the book.

Of course, it's nice to catch the attention of a potential buyer. And it's good to have something in roughly the middle to keep a reader from throwing the book across the room. But the nicest thing of all is to leave the reader thinking about that last scene, that last paragraph, the last sentence. That's what brings them back.

Your thoughts?


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

How Did I Ever Do That And Work?

We keep a calendar on the refrigerator and fill in the blank spaces as necessary with obligations. For awhile, it was pretty empty, but then it all hit at once! Much of it is the mundane, everyday activities that all of us go through--haircut, HVAC checkup, etc. But in the past few days, we have had something down every day, and often two or three things per day. In addition to that, of course, there are the phone calls and messages that require us to rearrange everything and tend to them, because--after all--"we''re retired."

Of course, we're glad to do these things. But the question that comes to mind is, "How did we ever find time to do all this and still work?" And, "what do people do when they don't have someone to ask for help." Oh, well. I'm glad we're available. Of course, my writing has taken a downward trend because of all these other things, but so far as I'm concerned, writing comes second to doing other things, anyway. 

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by things? And how do you handle all that--especially if you're not "retired"? 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Writing: Learning From TV Shows

My wife have recently been celebrating our (relative) independence as retirees by binge-watching recorded episodes of The Closer. We also have been fans for a long time of Blue Bloods, which we also watch regularly. As an author of medical mysteries, I'm always ready to learn something from my TV-watching (as well as my reading), and this has been no exception. Just keep an eye open for something we might use.

At somewhere around the 3/4 point of each episode of The Closer, someone says something that gives the lead character an idea of how to solve the particular mystery that is the subject for that hour. And it's made me realize that, although an author of mysteries need not hide such a clue at the first of a book, it's not a bad idea to plant a clue early in the book and then reveal the real key late in the book that solves everything.

This isn't valid in every instance, but it is helpful every once in a while. What have you discovered when watching your favorite shows that is applicable to the book you're reading or writing? 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

"Permanent Record"

How many times have you heard it (or said it)? "That will go on your permanent record." True, it's mainly  said to children, and we're beyond that. But did we ever change our behavior?

There's an old joke, told among physicians. What do you call the person who graduated last in a medical class? Doctor. I've followed the careers of my med school classmates, and some of the ones that finished at the top of the class turned out not to have such great successes. Others, who finished near the bottom, had stellar careers. (For those interested, I ended up in the top quarter of 100 students). The point--a great education doesn't guarantee success. A great work ethic does.

When I was a junior in med school, it was either a simpler time or I'm remembering it that way. When I was trying to decide where I was going for my specialty training, I looked around and chose the program I wanted. I talked with the chairman there, he said I was in, and that was that. Nowadays, a residency is chosen after careful deliberation, followed by application to several programs with a fervent hope that the one choosing the applicant would be the best one. But I had a more casual approach, I guess. Simpler times.

To close the loop, let me say that when I finished my residency I felt well-prepared. I had some excellent training. I took some courses in rhinology along the way, and as my experience grew, I  became interested in allergy, so my specialty--when I finally sub-specialized--became rhinology/allergy. I was able to do very well in that sub-specialty. My assessment, in the end, was that where you studied didn't matter so much as what you did with the knowledge you gained.

The point to this story (if there is a point) is that one need not be at the top of the class nor graduate from the best school with a fabulous record to be a success. It's up to the individual to use whatever they are given to the best advantage. Have you?



Friday, April 16, 2021

Writing: The Changing Face Of Publishing

I'm sort of unique, I guess, and some other authors are, too. I've published with a recognized publisher, put out a handful of novellas  and two novels as an "indie" author, and in the process had not one but two agents. So I guess it's okay for me to opine on the current state of publishing, and how it got there.

There once was a time when the only way to get published was to have an agent accept you as a client, then hope they were successful in interesting a publisher in your work. Then, you wrote three or four books under contract, and hoped that the publisher--after looking at your figures (it is, after all, a "for profit" enterprise)--would give you another contract.

Tired of this chronic uncertainty, first a few and then many more authors struck out to independently publish their works. These "indie" authors found that there was a good bit that publishing houses did for them--covers, editing, even marketing. But they also found that they got more money to keep once they'd covered the expense of doing or having done for them these chores. 

Now, we're seeing publishers calling themselves "hybrid" houses. It used to be that a hybrid author was one who'd published both independently and under contract to a publishing house. Now a hybrid publisher was one that will charge an author to do all the things the publisher had usually done. This "pay to publish" entity used to be called a "vanity press" and was looked down upon. Now it's got a new name, and a sense of legitimacy. 

Things are still changing. Agents are branching out. Hybrid publishers are springing up. And if you get a handle on it, check back next week--it will probably change.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The More Things Change...

For those who are interested (both of you), the epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr translates loosely as "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I'm not going to argue the original French, or the provenance of the quotation, but simply say that it's flitted across my mind several times in the recent past.

I still remember the first big change in my life. It was when "my pastor," the man whom I'd heard preaching regularly for years, accepted a "call" from our church to another. I couldn't believe my ears. Surely this man had made a mistake. I thought I'd spend the rest of my life hearing Brother Dearing preach, but he was about to leave. I even talked with him, and heard him use such phrases as "God's will." Of course, I eventually accepted his moving on, just as I accepted other changes, some even more significant, in the forthcoming years.

 Things change. Recently, my golf partner moved to a retirement home, and because of weather, advancing age, and several other factors, we've had to put our regular golf games on hold. Maybe we'll resume them, maybe they won't. But I've learned that change is inevitable, and have learned to accept it and make the best of the circumstances.

Since the pandemic began, I've written "at" another book, and I'm about half-way through it. Maybe I'll get it finished, perhaps not. But I'll either persist and get it written, or I won't. Either way, I'll accept the change. Because change will occur, whether we want it to or not. 

How about you? Have you seen any changes in your life? How have you handled them? I'd like to know.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Writing: The First Draft

I've published both contracted and self-published books, both fiction and non-fiction, and both novels and novellas (a distinction that seems artificial). And there's one aspect of all of them that requires writing: the dreaded first draft.

Ann Lamott talks about the "s****y first draft." Jim Bell writes about "writing fast, editing slow." Every author has their own way of doing things (for those that might be interested, I edit each preceding section before writing another, like Al Gansky), but no matter what method you use, it all starts with a first draft.

Lately, I've found myself revising over and over, still not fully satisfied with the premise and the way I express it. I've done this enough that I no longer fear "running out of soap," as one preacher of my acquaintance calls it. But I do want to make certain that every book fulfills two criteria--1) it tells how average people deal with their circumstances, either with God or without Him, and 2) it's the best work I can put my name to. 

But the first step, whether it takes a month or a year, is that first draft. As the refrigerator magnet sent me by my agent says, "First drafts don't have to be good. They just have to be written." What is your opinion?

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Spring Is Here


 Two days after Easter. Here in North Texas it's cool enough in the morning to make the fireplace feel good, and warm enough later in the day to make the air conditioner kick on. (Glad we have the kind of systems that automatically go from one to the other).  But there's no snow or freezing rain, so I'm glad for that.

Watched the Texas Rangers for a bit on Sunday. Just about the time I'd decided that maybe they'd win a game or two this year, realized that MLB--going along with cancel culture and saying that any action that disagrees with them is bad--is going to move their All-Star Game out of Georgia. So switched over to golf, which hasn't (yet) been taken over by the liberals. 

All those things we were putting off until "after Easter" are now due, so it's time to get moving. Is your list long, or have you got it down to a manageable size? Mine has sneaked up on me, so I'll get on it--as soon as I get around to it. How about you?

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Easter, 2021

 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; al├ęthos 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 02, 2021

Writing: A "One-Trick Pony"

 It's no secret that I've had problems with turning out a new book since I published my last about a year ago. Fortunately or merely by accident, it was published just before our nation--actually, the entire world--went into lock-down mode during the pandemic. It has more to do with my age and status--I'm retired from medicine--than with my sympathies (if you follow my blog, you know where they lie). Without going into the politics of the matter, let me just say that in the past few weeks I've opened a couple of documents in my laptop and begun work on what should be my next book. Meanwhile, I thought about the advice I often offered to fellow writers who were about to publish their first effort--don't stop there. You may never have another work published, but surely you have another book in you. Put it out there and let the decision rest with someone other than you. Don't be a "one-trick pony."

I have finally come up with the outline (in my head, of course) for what will probably by my next book, and my wife (who reads all my stuff) just today gave me the key to revising an older book on my computer which will be yet another book after that. Of course, all this may change, but for now I'm ready to plunge onward. I don't plan to be a one trick pony in my writing. I've published seventeen or so novels and novellas (not sure, and don't want to count),  and as long as God gives me the ability and the breath, I guess I'll keep on writing. And I hope that the rest of you who have even a spark of creativity will do the same. Let me know.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

"To Protect and Serve"


After consulting several of the writers' groups of which I am a member, I would venture a guess that the phrase, "Life begins after coffee" would serve as a motto for most of us. And for those non-coffee drinkers in the group, perhaps something that involves chocolate, tea, or a caffeinated soft drink would be better. I, although I head (slowly) toward the coffee pot first thing in the morning, have been thinking about another motto--To protect and serve.

Admittedly, my reading lately has moved toward detective stories of various types so I have encountered it a lot, but that motto has come to mean more to me as I apply it to my own life, as well as those whom I know.

Is it our duty as authors to protect those with whom we come in contact? I think that after listening to us or reading what we put into writing (whatever the format) the listener should have no doubt that the ideas we put forth are the result of reasoned logic, not what someone else says, whether it be on the Internet or in conversation. We've all seen examples of The Big Lie, that if told often enough, may be accepted as truth. Let us be spreaders of The Big Truth.

What about serving? Like it or not, we are all setting an example of service--either positive or negative. My wife puts me to shame when she includes in her prayers those in our circle who need God's special touch--for healing, for resolution of circumstances, for help in any way. We can't always serve in a physical way, but when we can, let's not be like those in the parable of the Good Samaritan and "pass by on the other side."

Admittedly, to protect and serve may not be the most popular motto around, but I think it is applicable not only to others, but to ourselves. What do you think?

Friday, March 26, 2021

Writing: Every Word Is Important

 I don't know how you read through a manuscript before subjecting it to print. Some folks read their work aloud. Some go over it, word by word, backwards (I guess if it's in Hebrew you go over it in the other direction). A few simply leave it alone, thinking that autocorrect will straighten everything out. 

I've had something like 17 or 18 novels and novellas published (I don't want to go back and count--that's close enough). Some have been self-published. Others have been published by various publishing houses. All have been subjected to proof-reading to a great or lesser degrees. And there have been errors in almost all of them, errors that slipped by the author and various people whose job was to catch errors.

Don't think that's true? I was just re-reading one of the published works of a novelist whose name would be familiar to many of you, a novel that was published by a reputable publisher and which (I'm sure) was proofread. And I came upon this sentence: "He had back hair that was slicked back upon his head..."  I think the correct wording included BLACK hair--can't see back hair going all the way up on the person's head. But if you leave it to autocorrect to clean up your errors, this will slip by, because "black" and "back" are both accepted words.

So what is an author to do? My suggestion is to accept the fact that sometimes a word slips by that makes a good example on a blog post. What about you?









Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Age Is Just A Number

I've made the comment more than once: age is like a roll of toilet paper--the closer to the end, the faster it seems to go.

Yesterday, a blog that I follow talked about "age is just a number." I sagely nodded my head (yesterday, I could node sagely), and found this comment at the end: "... inspired by a comment on our agency’s blog in 2012 by accomplished author Dr. Richard Mabry who stated, “Age is just a number.” Thank you for the inspiration, Doc." Wow. I didn't recall making the comment, but I've said the same thing lots of time...age is just a number.

 I've done lots of things in my life, both in my first profession (medicine) and my second (writing). I've sometimes wondered how I'll be remembered. And I've always come up with this: I'd like to be remembered, as was my father, as a man whose word was good, who never let up on giving his best. If that was how I was remembered (and I hope it's a long way off), I'll be satisfied.

How about you?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Writing: Hard Work, Perseverance, and A Bit Of Luck

I'm a published author! It's hard to realize, sometimes. Of course, it  may not mean as much to me as to some others. I wrote or edited a number of textbooks as well as over 100 articles in refereed journals before retiring from medicine. I still recall when I started my practice that it would be kind of neat to be invited to speak before my county medical society. When I retired from medicine, I had been invited to speak all over the world, written the textbooks and articles I already mentioned, was considered an expert in my area of practice, and in general had gone well beyond the hopes and aspirations I had when I started out. However--I've said this before, and I'll stick by it--the biggest thrill I had during all those years was seeing the expression on the face of a patient I'd helped back to normalcy.

My transition to writing began with the death of my wife, Cynthia. I read just about everything I could get my hands on about then, but couldn't find anything that captured my emotions adequately and gave me hope for the future. So I wrote The Tender Scar, which is at present in its second printing and has helped many others going through what I did. While I was trying to get that published, several people suggested I try my hand at writing fiction. I took up the challenge, and thought after four attempts that gained forty rejections that I'd failed. But then an agent and an editor decided I was worth their efforts, and that was the beginning of my writing "career."

Was it the result of hard work and perseverance? Certainly these played a major role. Several times along the way, I was ready to quit, but God had other plans. Eventually, these came to fruition.

So should you read? Definitely. Study the craft? Certainly. Write, write, write? Every day. Follow the BIC, FOK mantra? Yes, put your behind in your chair, fingers on the keyboard, and keep at it. But do you need to be at the right place in the right time? Yes--and only God knows where and when that is. Meanwhile, if you feel that you have a book inside you, by all means let it come out. The rest really isn't up to you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

What's Next?


 First it was going to be fifteen days to stop the spread of the virus. That morphed into a longer period, but there was hope on the horizon. By my calendar, it's been about a year since we started all this. A number of governors (including the one of my state, Texas) have lifted the restrictions, although many of us, even those who like us are a couple of weeks past getting our immunizations and thus not infectious, will continue to wear masks in stores--mainly for the benefit of those around us. As we transition into normalcy (or what passes for it, anyway), where do you go from here?

I've had a problem writing during all this, and I have found that I'm not alone among my colleagues. But it's time to get back on that horse (figuratively, of course--it's been too many years since I was actually on a horse). Then again, since I'm retired from my first career, medicine, it may be that I should also pack it in for my second career, writing. I guess only time will tell.

Have you decided what you'll be doing as we're freed up from some of our restrictions? Go back to your regular way of life, or start something new? I'd like to hear it.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Writing: Will Your Book Be Next?

It's tough enough to string together a bunch of words, have it make sense, and get people to like it. Now there are people who are looking at the printed words to find some that are unacceptable and might harm impressionable minds--words such as those penned by Dr. Theodore Geisel (you may know him as Dr. Seuss) and images such as Tom & Jerry (which are supposed to stimulate violence) and Pepe Le Pew (which fosters rape, so the "experts" say).  Cancel culture isn't coming--it's here.

Are you cleaning out your bookshelves to remove some of these books? Have you considered that your words might cause sensitive folks to say they're filled with hidden messages? Authors, have you changed your work-in-progress to make sure what you're writing doesn't send readers to their safe space, never to open one of your books again?

I'm wondering if the writers of Christian fiction will be held to this standard. How about some of the secular books that are filled with questionable language and obscene actions? Where does it begin? And where does it end? What do you think?

  

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Give What's Needed, Not Just What You Have


 We took a look at the "phone booth" we'd been showering in and decided it was time to update our facilities in the master bathroom. We'd been using what was there since we moved in over ten years ago, and besides the fact that it was not (and never was) up to code because the shower door was too small, we really wanted more room.

We listened to a couple of salesmen, compared prices, and were about to settle on one of the "replace your shower with our model" ones when I got a call from the third one on our list--he was in our neighborhood and wanted to know if it would be okay to drop by and look at what we had. Then, when he looked at our current facility, he blew me away with this--he paid attention to what we wanted, not just trying to fit what he had to sell into our space. And his bid was actually lower than the others.

We've now showered in our new space (the glass doors have been added since I took the picture), and it feels much better--not just because we gained almost a foot of space by going with the newly designed space, but because it was what we wanted. It wasn't just what would fit into to the space we already had.

Does this lesson speak to you? It does to me. When you're trying to "sell" something, listen to the customer. Try to match what they want with what you have to sell--not vice-versa. I wrote my non-fiction book, The Tender Scar, after the death of my wife because nothing else spoke to me and my needs. That brings to mind the old admonition to write the book you want to read. Make sense?

Friday, March 05, 2021

Writing: The Two Hardest Things

I found this from several years back, and it has quite a meaning for me. Maybe it will help you, as well.

 I am not a runner. To me, the only reason to run is if you're being chased. But there are runners who read this blog, even some of you who run the 26+ miles of a marathon. Power to you, but as for me, no thanks.


I'm rereading (for the umpteenth time) the books written by the late Robert B. Parker, and I came across this bit of dialogue that hit home. Spenser, the protagonist, is going for a run with his girl-friend, Susan, who only wants to do a couple of miles.

"You realize you're running the two hardest miles," he says, referring to the first and last mile of a run.

"Maybe," she replies. "But if I didn't run those, I probably wouldn't run any."

If you think about that, the same applies to a task we don't look forward to. The first mile corresponds to getting started, something we put off as long as possible. Then, when we get started, we always encounter other stuff we need to do along the way. I know both Kay and I have that feeling sometime. And that brings us to the last mile--completing the task we set for ourselves. That is, the finishing touches (including editing and rewriting).

So, are we running the two hardest miles? I know I feel that way sometimes, and I suspect you do as well. Want to tell me about it? I'd like to hear.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

"I Know What I Like"

How many times have we said that? "I know what I like." Despite what the critics may say, regardless of what others say and do, how many of us refuse to be lemmings and follow the leader, even though we're secretly thinking, "But..."

I still recall attending a play at a theatre in another town, a theatre that I supported both with attendance and financially--and leaving at intermission because I wasn't being entertained. I knew the man in charge of the theatre, and was aware that he chose the plays. I had the temerity of telling him not only that we had left at intermission, but why. His response has been hard to forget. "Anything by *****, even a flawed one, is worth watching." (I won't say who the playwright was--you fill in the blanks.)  My reply should have been, "But I know what I like...and this isn't it." Instead, I left it alone. Now that I'm older, I realize that his mentality was that he knew what was good for me, even if I didn't. And to my mind, that's wrong.

As an author, I have always advocated reading widely. Read the good stuff so you know what is good. Read the bad stuff so you know what to avoid. But never, ever, ever try to make everyone happy. Some people will like what we write, others won't. They have their own likes and dislikes. And that's fine. That's how it should be. Free choice. 

What do you think? Is my attitude the wrong one, or the right one? Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Writing: Recurring Characters

 


I'm fond of reading (for the third or fourth time, sometimes) the work of authors who published many years ago. One example is Ross Thomas, published some time ago, whose work is timeless. His stories, when brought up to date, have a ring of being there--stories of machinations reminiscent of what is undoubtedly going on behind today's headlines. One rule he doesn't seem to mind violating is the one about recurring characters in his novels. As authors, we're encouraged to either use a fresh set of characters in our next story, or--if we insist in using the same ones in our next book--using copious notes to avoid tripping ourselves up along the way.

Thomas, for example, in the book I'm currently re-reading (Chinaman's Chance), tells how a character is killed off during an ambush, but in a subsequent book he shows her being assassinated in a completely different way. He gives a police chief an excellent name (Oscar Ploughman) but then sets him in the same character in a different book with a totally different background. I'm willing to forgive these missteps, mainly because of the writing that Thomas sells, but they show how he ignores the "rules" that authors are given. It shows me that rules aren't a guarantee of success in a book--good writing overcomes slavishly following the rules. Every time.

Have you found errors and ignoring rules in the works of some authors? And are you willing to give those breaches because the writing is so good?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

What A Week



At the time of this writing, it's above the freezing mark outside and we're about to recover (although some Texans are still without power due to downed lines and transformers). We've been fortunate--fireplace kept us warm as we watched TV, units did their best to prevent chill even though it was minus three degrees outside (some people had no heat), water uninterrupted for us. We've been fortunate, and continue to pray for those not so fortunate.

We'll be celebrating our anniversary tomorrow. It hardly seems like 20 years since God sent us a FedEx (well, it seemed that way) and told us we should be together after such a time alone. Thus far, He's been right--as He usually is. 

Hope you all are able to get things back to normal. See you again soon.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Writing: Lessons Learned (Sort Of...)

One of the things that marks a true writer is that they never stop learning. That's why every conference, every get-together, every interaction with readers may be an opportunity to go away with one pearl of wisdom. 

I still recall a conversation with a reader in which I was asked a question that made me change my work-in-progress and resulted in a minor alteration in future books. And before you ask, I'm not sure exactly what it was. There are so many things I've incorporated into my "voice" now, and although some of them were gleaned from the reading I've done and from sitting at the feet of successful authors, a few of them were those "pearls" that came from a conference, a session with fellow authors, a one-on-one conversation with a reader. Each one is important, and whatever "style" has resulted, I can only thank those who contributed along the way.

For those of you who know I hang my hat in Texas, let me say that we're safe, dry, reasonably warm, and doing our best to "hunker down" and ride this winter weather out.  Stay safe, friend.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Brrr, It's Cold...

We're here in the deep freeze in North Texas. Snow is high and getting higher. Anyway, the temp is below freezing--supposed to get down to minus 3--but we're safe and relatively warm. At least, for now. You'd think this is good weather to hunker down and write, but I haven't really accomplished much.

I imagine it will be a few days until things get back to normal. Meanwhile, stay safe. See you in a while. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Writing: Any questions?

 


This has been a busy time at our house--today, we finally got the last touches put on our shower. We still have to wait up to a couple of weeks for the glass wall to complete it, but we should be able to use our new shower tonight. Yay!

Then I noticed that I hadn't written a blog for tomorrow, which is Friday, my usual day to set forth my undying wisdom about the writing game. So instead, I'll ask you if you have any questions you'd like me to answer. (Since this also goes up at my author page, let me ask that you go here to ask them, so that I can let everyone see your question and what I made up--I mean, answered).

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Everything Old Is New Again

My wife can't understand why I don't use my iPhone for more things. She reads her email on it, uses it for her shopping list, receives phone calls on it, and in general uses it for almost everything. I, on the other hand, use mine mainly for phone calls. I guess I'm like the man who would buy the Farmer's Almanac because he "wasn't farming as good as he could right now." I guess the march of time is leaving me behind...but that's okay. I like older, more familiar things.

Those who follow me know that from time to time I'll pull out from my collection some of the older authors and re-read their work. Don't know why I have this affinity for writers who are now deceased, but I've also noticed that what was written about fifty years ago could just as well be pulled from today's headlines. For example, Ross Thomas wrote about lobbyists in a style that could come from today's headlines. And the stories written by Robert Parker and Donald Westlake don't ever get old--even when I've read them several times.

In reading through some of these authors, I've decided that maybe my colleague, Brandt Dodson, was right when he said, "There's only one plot in all of these mysteries--two dogs, one bone." Maybe that's true. Have you found it to be so? 


Friday, February 05, 2021

Writing: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

When I first began writing, I was advised to get a post office box and use that for my address, to retain anonymity. There are stories floating around (which I've decided may be apocryphal--certainly based on my own experiences) that authors should keep their physical addresses to themselves. I've never seen this. Actually, other than a few folks at church, I've never even been recognized as an author. But I digress.

One of the "chores" that falls to me as a result of my PO box is a trip every few days to our local post office. One of the things that helps me plan these little jaunts is a service that I've found helpful, whereby the post office will send me on a daily basis photos of the pieces of mail that I'll be receiving in my box. (What about the physical address, you ask? That's usually junk mail.) And today I received notification that I was receiving a book sent to my postal address. No explanation, it just showed up in the "package" delivery slot. I can hardly wait to find out what it is and who sent it.

Anyway, the reason for this post in the first place is to ask this question. Have you been advised to use a post office box for your address? Have you ever wished you had not given someone your physical address? Or is all this a nasty rumor started by the postal service to get us to use boxes? (Just kidding, USPS. Don't take it seriously). 

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Now What?

 


Everyone seemed to be of the opinion that they were tired of 2020, and could hardly wait for the new year to get here. Well, we've had the first month of 2021, and my question to you is whether you've seen a change yet. 

We've been fortunate here in Texas, compared with inhabitants of other states. Despite our being in the group that is most vulnerable to the Covid infection, and having to wear a mask when we leave our houses, we've otherwise been able to carry out our daily lives--going to the grocery, shopping, making the trip to the post office, etc. And my wife and I have had our first immunizations against the Covid-19, with an appointment set up for our second shot. 

Others are not so fortunate. They are pretty well shut in, either due to governmental decree or personal choice. And although the age group that is most vulnerable is now getting immunized, lots of people are still waiting for theirs.

I guess my question is, "We've seen the last of 2020. Now what?" Let me know your thoughts.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Writing: Publishing

 


It seems that publishing is not so simple anymore. Years ago, there were several ways to get your manuscript to a publisher--"over the transom," by meeting them at a venue and getting an invitation to submit, etc. Gradually (and I really don't recall when), agents became the gate-keepers for editors. First you acquired an agent, then he/she submitted it around to the various publishers who were deemed the best bets, etc. At some point, the option of "independent" publishing lost the reputation it had (with reason) acquired, and it became okay, even sometimes fashionable, to publish without benefit of a publishing house.

What is the current status of an agent or a publisher? No one really seems to know, but to me, having been on both sides of the equation, I think they have their points. For the author whose work has never been published, it will be helpful to have a publishing house behind you. Usually, the house signs supplicants (and I chose that word on purpose) to a contract for two or three books. If the books sell well, they may repeat the process, but with rare exceptions (and they exist), you're only as good as the sales record for your last few books.

I'd love to hear your opinion. Agent or not? Indie or publisher? Let me hear what you think.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Cut Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face


I've heard my mother and my aunt say this many times. And I guess, if I followed my initial inclination, that's probably what I'd end up doing. Unhappy with the current behavior of the technocrats--Amazon, Google, and their ilk--I wondered what effect my holding up the publishing of my indie-produced books and novellas would have on Amazon. The answer will probably surprise you. Or maybe it won't.

One agent postulated via a tweet that books made up only a small percentage of Amazon sales. I set out to find out if that was true, and immediately hit a stone wall. Amazon is pretty stingy with their information, and this is one of the things I couldn't find out, using the typical search engines to look into the situation. I did find lots of other information about Amazon, and if you're interested, you probably will, as well. 

It appears that Amazon has available about a million books for purchase. Mine represent an infinitesimal number of all those, and it probably wouldn't bankrupt the company if I withdrew from sales all the novels and novellas that I control. Besides, as has been pointed out, it's sort of nice to get that royalty check from them--even if it's smaller than I'd like.

What do you think? Whether published by a house of whatever size or self-published and sold on Amazon, even if you're a pre-published author or simply a reader, do you believe there's anything we can do to react to the actions of the tech giants? I'd be happy to hear.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?


 I've spoken more times than I can count to groups, and I can always count on one question being asked. "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer, of course, is ideas are all around us. Admittedly, it takes a bit of imagination to flesh them  out, and there's a certain talent (or luck or whatever) to turn them into a story that will hold the reader's attention through the whole book.

When I walked into the parking garage of the med school one evening I had the thought that "this would be a great setting for a kidnapping." I turned that idea into one of my more successful books, Stress Test.

Ideas aren't the thing. What marks a real writer is the ability to take a single idea, flesh it out, add the things that keep the reader's interest through out the book, and give them a flash-bang finish--what Jim Bell calls a "knock-out ending" that will have them taking a deep breath when it was over and start them looking for another one of your books.

When you can do that, you'll have turned a simple idea into a book worth reading. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

"I Need A Disease..."


My hackles go up when one of my fellow writers posts on one of our writing loops a query that begins with, "I need a disease..." Sometimes it takes a different format. "I need a substance that will cause profound abdominal pain that goes away in a few hours," or "I'm looking for a way that my hero (or heroine) will require surgery that keeps him/her out of things for a week, but then lets them resume all activities." They have an idea, and are asking a bunch of others to chime in with whatever will make it work. And these people may not know any more than the questioner.

When I got into this writing thing, I finally settled on writing medical mysteries (with a dash of romance), because I "spoke the language." To me, this meant time spent in devising scenarios and getting answers to questions such as this. It just seemed wrong that my colleagues, instead of doing the looking and searching themselves, would trust others to do the work for them. I go through a lot of possibilities before I settle on one that works.

This doesn't mean that I resent an author asking if their scenario makes sense, or even if the skeleton of an idea works in the real world if they've done some preliminary work themselves. I get these requests from time to time, directed to me and sent after the writer has done some of the looking. They're wanting me, because I "speak the language," to fine tune the idea (or suggest an alternative that works). But people who want someone to do all their work for them are the same ones who pick up a golf ball that's two feet from the hole and give themselves a putt when the club championship is riding on it. There shouldn't be a "gimme" in that situation.

That's my opinion. What's yours?

Friday, January 15, 2021

Writing Amidst Chaos

 

Can you bring order out of the chaos that has surrounded us for so many months? That's what Fiona Art has done with the various colors pictured--bring order to what at first appears chaotic. But I can't really do that with words. And, from what I've seen and heard, I'm not alone among my colleagues.

A lot of it will depend on what's around us, and it varies from person to person and time to time. I have an idea for a work-in-progress with which I started many months ago. But every time I begin to work on it, another event or circumstance comes up that saps my desire to write. 

Maybe my situation is different. I won't say that I'm old, but I'm long past the age when AARP is sending me material. And it's not because I'm writing because sales are a necessity--I'm retired, and unless something changes in the future I'm not dependent on the income from my writing. Of course, my primary reason for putting the words together is because I felt a definite sense of a "call," which means that my efforts should reflect positively on my God. But that's hard to do in the present circumstance.

I don't know how long it will take me to complete the current work, but since I'll independently publish it, I can work to my own schedule. What do you do when you're called upon to bring order to chaos? Any ideas?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Communicating

 

Some of us are old enough to recall our first phones--even the ones that featured "central" (operator-assisted calls) or low numbers (ours was 246). In my small town, I don't have any recollection of my parents using our phones for anything other than important calls--never "just to talk" or (heaven forbid) for "gossip."

I still recall the circumstances of my first cellular phone. My Dad was to have a procedure, and I was signed up to attend a conference in Chicago. I was ready to cancel, but he'd have none of it. As a compromise, I got one of the new phones that I could carry with me (or wear on my belt, (as I did this one).

During my first few years in practice, I carried a "beeper," and responded to it like a dog hearing whistle. Eventually, I exchanged the beeper for a phone which I carried in my pocket. After I retired I looked upon my phone as a lifeline for making outdoing calls, not for receiving them. That's just the feeling I had. And when texting became a "thing," I scoffed. "That will never take the place of an old-fashioned conversation."

Now people depend on their cell phones for everything. They use them for consulting the Internet, sending and receiving texts, even...calls. And just about the time we all get dependent on such Internet means of communication as Facebook and Twitter, the "powers that be" exercise their hold by taking down those accounts.

I don't know what folks will do to fill the hole. I'm sure that they, like I have, will turn to alternatives such as MeWe and CloutHub (Parler is temporarily down). But whatever we choose, the new method of communication will soon find a spot in our life. We might even come to depend on just calling. You never know.