Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas, 2021

 "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.
(see you in 2022, Lord willing).


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Modern Settiing

 I saw this on another FB post (thanks, Dan Walsh), and had to post it. Every time I look at the picture, I see something else that makes me smile. Then I realize, He's with us today, the same as 2000 years ago. Merry Christmas.



Friday, December 17, 2021

Writing: Publish A Christmas Book?


 For those authors with contracts from a publisher, the choice has already been made for you. Your editor, or the publisher, or someone will decide whether you should write a Christmas book, contribute to a volume of Christmas stories co-written by others under contract to the same publisher, or even if your book (which may or may not have a Christmas theme) should be published in December.

For those who, for one reason or another, have chosen the "indie" route--those publishing independently--these same avenues are open to you, except that you alone will be responsible for making those same decisions, and more. You feel like an NFL cornerback, whom I've heard described as "being on an island." The difference, of course, is that your decisions may follow you for a long time, while the cornerback has a new chance in about 45 seconds.

Honestly, I was ready to give up my writing (again), but my wife--my second blessing--kept saying that she thought I had another book or so in me. I tried the premise she suggested, and it just didn't work. But when I threw out that premise, I didn't completely start over, because I had gotten to know the characters, and--by and large--I liked them. So I took it further, and pretty soon a novella had taken shape. And, since it wasn't Christmas-themed, I made the decision to release it in January.

As my Christmas present to you, the Kindle version of Medical Mystery will be available for 99 cents until the official release date of January 18, 2022. I hope you'll enjoy it. Despite all the problems I had to solve to get it ready for publication, I enjoyed writing it. So maybe my wife was right. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

What Has Christmas Become?

As we hurry, hurry, hurry, I find myself asking, "What has Christmas become?" 

We hurry to get the cards out, some of them going to people we hardly know, but they sent us a card last year, so we'd better send them one. We hurry around, checking items off our lists (either physical or kept in our heads) and keeping track lest we spend a dollar more on the gift for A than on their sibling, B.  We hurry to get the gifts wrapped and delivered, already planning the menu for the Christmas dinner and wondering whether everyone will show up. What if there are more...or less? 

The churches do their part, of course, with Cantatas and Christmas music, but the spirit of the season often gives way to the secular once we leave their confines and step into the world once more. Someone (I don't remember who, or exactly the phrasing) suggested that we take a step back and reflect once more on the gift that came down to all mankind, a gift that keeps on giving if we'll only receive it. All the rest of the trappings pale in significance when we truly consider the ramifications of this gift. 

So Happy Birthday, Jesus! And Merry Christmas to you all. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

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.

Note: I'll be back on Friday, and think I'll have some good news for you. Hurry back. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The First Christmas Without Them

 It's been over 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. I've remarried and my wife has showed me that it's OK to smile, 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, in September, 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 03, 2021

Writing: Don't Try To Write The Lost Chord

 

I hadn't thought of it in years, and had to look in Wikipedia to be sure of my facts. It's a fascinating story, and I recommend that you read it sometime. But the thing that stirred these recollections in my mind was encountering some words from one of my early books, words that I did not recall writing, but which touched my heart when I read them. My writing has always been of the style that is not planned out. I set down the high points of the story, populate it, and see where it takes me. But I am convinced that along the way, God has a hand in what I commit to paper, if I just give Him the freedom to do so. And sometimes the words are His, not mine.

The point of this is to be conscious of what we write, but not to the point where we are so anxious to write something "memorable. " It's not just to put down on paper some words that will touch someone an editor or agent, but rather to let God help us put down those words which may be just the ones that will touch a reader at some point in the future. In other words, don't try so hard to write something memorable to your own glory, but always for His. Or, as the author's notes in all my books conclude, Soli Deo Gloria. Because, after all, that's why we're writing--or should be.


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Post-Thanksgiving Musings

 Maybe it's just me, but until this week-end I've been focused on Thanksgiving. But now it's over, and I awakened to the realization that this is the first Sunday in Advent (I'm writing this on Sunday night). I've tolerated my wife spending so much time deciding on just the right Christmas presents, and (in today's climate) being certain we can get them in time. Now I'm grateful that she's spent that time and effort, and can see why she was busy with it. Thanksgiving's late date this year means that in just a few short weeks, Christmas will be upon us.

Other than recovering from the tryptophan-induced sleepiness that too much turkey, too much football, and too much else that follows our Thanksgiving, am I alone in realizing that Christmas is right around the corner? I'll bet that some of you have already finished your preparations for the holiday. And if you haven't, please know that you can join my club. Meanwhile, I guess I'd better get busy. I understand that Christmas will be here soon. 

Note: for those who haven't already read it, my Christmas novella, Silent Night, Deadly Night, is on special for 99 cents for the Kindle version at Amazon right now. Spread the word.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thanksgiving, 2021


Are you ready? Well, ready or not, Thanksgiving is two days away. It's different, this year. We may not be able to gather as we usually do, the "feast" may cost more, lots of things are different. 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 daily, symbol of the freedom we enjoy.

Our Thanksgiving Day meal may 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 still exists, 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.

Enjoy your holiday. See you next week.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Writing: Indie vs Traditional Publishing


You'd think that the process of waiting for a writer is over once they either hook up with a publisher or decide to "go indie." In the former process, you'd imagine that every step would be planned out, and all you have to do is wait for the money to roll in. In the latter, the author merely relaxes and lets the process take over. In both cases--wrong!

We're all aware of the time frame for the average novel published by a traditional publisher--from the time of signing the first contract, it may be anywhere from 12 months or more--lots more--until an author can hold the finished product in his hand. And, when you become aware of everything involved in the publishing process, it's understandable. But, you think, it has to be different when you're at the wheel of the indie process. Well, yes and no. It goes faster, but every decision is up to you--and when (as you should) you choose to get a professional involved for cover design, editing, and other functions--you are the one who does the choosing. 

Meanwhile, of course, you should be working on the next novel. And the one after that. And so forth.

Note: I thought I was through writing, but my wife thought otherwise, and--as usual--she might be right. I'm in the last phase of preparing a novella for publication. My time table is for it to be released after the first of the year (to take advantage of all the Amazon gift cards to be given). Details will be released soon--first on my newsletter, and later on this blog. Meanwhile, enjoy your preparations for the holidays.  

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Veterans Day, 2021


 Today 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 after the election results a year ago. 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.

I'll skip tomorrow, and see you next week.

 

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Cell Phones: Blessing Or Curse?


One of our favorite shows (yes, we record and watch them) features our beloved obsessive-compulsive detective who loves to say, about his gift, "It's a blessing...and a curse." More than once I've said that same thing about our electronics--especially the cell phones. 

I hate seeing someone in a conversation with others who has one eye on his/her cell phone. And seeing a couple in a restaurant--together supposedly but each checking their cell phone phone and never paying attention to the other--now, that practically brings me to tears.

Admittedly, I'm sort of a Luddite in this regard anyway. I use my cell phone to make and receive calls, and occasionally get a text (besides the political ones, which I usually delete, and the ones from my spouse, which I do NOT ignore). My wife, on the other hand, is often on her cell phone while listening to TV or crocheting or otherwise occupied, doing at least two things at once and sometimes more than that. I can't do it, so it's sort of difficult to see others divide their attention. 

And if you want to see how dependent we are on our cell phones, just try doing without them for a few hours, much less a day or more. Nothing brings us to our knees like finding that the Internet is down. Maybe it's just me. Don't know. Am I alone in this, or do you sympathize with me? Let me know.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Writing: Setting The Stage

As I began thinking about what to write on Friday, I thought about character descriptions. Does your heroine have brown eyes, or blue, or green, or hazel? And does it matter? The old trick of looking in the mirror and telling the reader about hair color and style, and all the rest of it, may work once--but not much after that.

I just received an advance copy of Patricia Bradley's latest, and she does a good job of describing her main characters to the reader in the first couple of chapters--as well as telling us who they are and what they do at the onset. Which brings up another point. The reader may not have read the books that precede this one in the series, so it's incumbent of the author to "catch them up," without revealing the entire plot of what's gone before. (By the way, I'm looking forward to reading more by Patricia--so far, so good.)

Of course, if you've chosen to write free-standing books (as I have), you'll need to set the stage for your reader in every one--occupation, quirks, the whole works. So you have that to look forward to with each of  your books

So, my advice is to set the stage carefully, and in the first couple of chapters if possible. Is this important to you? What do you want to know? What don't you care about? Let me know.

PS--don't forget to set your clocks BACK one hour at bedtime Saturday, and enjoy the extra hour we get back.


Tuesday, November 02, 2021

November (already)

 It seemed that, here in Texas at least, we went from summer to fall almost overnight. Suddenly (it seems), we're into the last two months of the year. Say good-bye (and good riddance) to Daylight Saving Time. The State Fair of Texas has come and gone already. The World Series will wind down soon, the football schedule is half-way over,  and they're already talking about the Winter Olympics. (Whether the US should participate in that is a topic for another time, although I have my opinion there).

For those who've been curious, my corner of North Texas celebrated Halloween in its own way on Sunday evening, and we had a few--actually, a very few--small children going trick-or-treating around our neighborhood in the twilight hours. Then, whether the grown-ups gathered around TV sets to watch the Cowboys or World Series or just to rest before the upcoming Monday, it was all over.

Oh, and if it hasn't hit you yet, Christmas is just around the corner--again. What happened to the rest of the calendar? Are you ready? That's what I thought.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Writing: Advice

 Wow. I looked at the publication date of my first published novel, and remembered the years (yes, years) that preceded it. As you know, if you've followed along, I got into this writing thing after the death of my first wife, and before I got my first novel's contract, I had a non-fiction book, The Tender Scar, published by an equity publisher--and it's still going, through its second edition now. Since then, I've had a number of novels and novellas appear in print. And along the road, I've received a lot of advice. Some of it was helpful, some not. 

For example, many people have said, "I've got an idea for a book," or "You should write a book about..." Although I've tried to behave toward those people like my Sunday School teacher would like, what I'd really like to tell them is that an author has lots of ideas. The trick is to turn them into a full-fledged novel. Try that sometime.

Which led me to ask you this: What is the best (or worst) advice you have been given, or (if you don't want to play that game) what advice would you like to give an author? I can hardly wait for your responses.  

PS--for those who've been waiting, I just finished the re-re-re-editing process for my next novel (well, a novella) and sent it off. I'll let you know as the drama unfolds. 


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Halloween

We've done some decorating for fall, although (with the air conditioner running some afternoons) it doesn't feel like it. Around our neighborhood, there's some question as to whether the trick-or-treating is going to happen on Saturday or Sunday. (Yes, we're about to reach the end of October already). Actually, I don't know when to expect it, if at all. For instance, many churches, neighborhoods, and other groups are holding "trunk or treat" at various times this month.

Then, there's also the big question. What if the doorbell rings at a critical point in the Cowboy game, which is scheduled for that Sunday evening? I'll be interested to hear how you plan to handle it. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Writing: character names

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 names in our next book, using copious notes to avoid tripping ourselves up along the way.

Ross Thomas gives a police chief an excellent name (Oscar Ploughman) but then sets a man with the same name 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 does, 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.

I know of one best-selling author who admits to hating research, and his lack of medical knowledge (or even that gleaned from a simple Internet search) shows it. Yet I forgive him because his books are so good. 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, October 19, 2021

Scattershooting

 When you're as old as I am, maybe you'll recall the column in the Ft. Worth Press (long gone now) written by Blackie Sherrod. Sometimes when he had a few lines he wanted to pass along to his readers, he entitled his column, "Scattershooting, While Wondering..." Sometimes the end of the title was worthwhile, sometimes not, but it was always worth the effort to read his musings.

Don't know whether it was really a function of my wife wanting me to write some more, or her desire to have me doing something between breakfast and lunch, but I've done it. I've written it, edited it (several times), given heed to editorial suggestions made about it, done one final edit, and now I'm getting ready to pull the trigger. More info as the process continues.

Hate to admit it, but now that the Dallas Cowboys are 5 and 1, I have to think that maybe they're for real. We'll see as things progress.

We're fully vaccinated and eligible to get a booster shot if we wish. Meanwhile, we're going to go get our flu shots. Hope you all stay healthy this fall and winter.

More about writing and publishing on Friday. Let me know if there's something you're really wanting to know. Otherwise, I may have to do another "scatter shooting" column, and we don't want that, do we?


Friday, October 15, 2021

Writing: The Importance of a Cover


I'm not only awaiting the final, final, final edits on my novella, Medical Mystery,  but I'm also awaiting the cover art. Since I've been indie-publishing my novels and novellas, I've depended on Dineen Miller to do the covers for the published versions, the Kindle versions, and the audio versions. (Her cover for my last novel is shown to the left). I know there are cheaper ways to go, but remember that I'm in sort of a special category--I'm what Larry Block refers to as a "Sunday writer," and I'm not under the same type of time pressure to write as those who consider this their primary source of income.

How important is the cover? Well, I'll ask my readers to chime in here. Do you think the cover is very important, sort of important, or not very important in choosing books that you look at? I'll be interested to know.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Just To Keep My Hand In


Having nothing better to do while I await the Cowboy game on Sunday, I decided to go through my hard disk and see what's there. In my Personal folder, I found the manuscript of a talk I gave to the North and South Carolina ENT Association not long after the death of my first wife. I recall that the person issuing the invitation had experienced a loss similar to mine, so I said, "Yes." The topic I chose was Navigating the Speed Bumps of Life, and the talk (which was copied into my Personal folder) had what I thought was some good stuff in it--so I decided to post it for anyone who needed my thoughts on the subject.

Long story short (and it's too late for that), I found that it was too long for a post but made a nice little Amazon Kindle booklet. So, in case any of you are interested in reading my thoughts, you can find it here. Just wanted to keep my hand in, while awaiting the final, final, final edits of my latest novella. 

See you Friday, with some words about writing.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Writing: Don't Hurry



 One of the hardest lessons for me its the admonition that I first hear from my agent years ago--don't be in a hurry to publish your manuscript. Whether it's indie-published or submitted to an agent or publisher, the reflex in all of us is to hurry it along for submission. I don't know when it soaked in--maybe it never has--but the lesson is really true. I used to grind my teeth when I'd hear someone recommend that we leave a manuscript for several days or several weeks, look at it again, perhaps rewrite (yet again) it, before submitting it. It's done. Let's get on with it!

But eventually, we learn. How many authors have we heard express that they wish they had done thus-and-such in their manuscript before submission? All of us know the drudgery of reading and correcting galleys. And if you are involved in an audio version, you may have to hear it again. We're all tired of hearing/seeing our words, but maybe it would be good to make those corrections while the book is still in the pre-publication form.

What's the couplet? "Backward, turn backward, oh time in thy flight. I thought of the words that fled from me last night."

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

 

As you've seen in my FB page, a US senator was teaching a class at the Univ of Arizona when a female (?student) followed her into the rest room, and despite her closing the stall door, stood outside it and delivered a harangue about "pathway to citizenship," while a bystander filmed it on their phone.

I don't know what bothers me most--the lack of logic shown by the person who delivered the diatribe telling how her grandparents were removed from the US (they were illegal, for goodness sake), the lack of common sense that someone would deliver such a harangue in the rest room, or the fact that an individual would include in their arguments "we got you elected, and we can take you down."

Yes, the proper venue for expressing your opinion to an elected official is via your vote, and if you can influence others to vote the same way, then power to you. But this way is ridiculous.

I hope every one will vote their conscience in a bit over a year, and that they'll go about electioneering the right way before then. But not this way! What do you think?

Friday, October 01, 2021

Writing: Tne First Draft

There's a magnet on my refrigerator that tells me first drafts don't have to be good--they just have to be written. That's true. I thought, since the pandemic was in full swing last year, and given my age, my days of writing were behind me. But my dear, sweet wife subtly encouraged me to try just one more time. I don't know if it was to give me something to do or what her reason was. Whatever it was, I eventually turned out the first draft of a novel. She made some suggestions, then another person read it and made even more. The end result, after numerous drafts and more recently a complete rewriting, turned out pretty good.

But it all started with a first draft. Once the words are down, it somehow seems easier to revise them, change them, even rewrite them. It may take a lot of drafts to do it--but it starts with that first draft.

What do you think?


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Anniversary of sorts


For those keeping score, it's been 22 years ago today that my first wife, Cynthia, succumbed to a brain hemorrhage. God has since blessed me once more with the love of a wonderful woman. I'm going to heed the advice of my friend (now deceased) in Florida, who said that not all events should be memorialized. Instead, I plan to think back on the wonderful life Cynthia led and thank God for giving me the love of yet another wonderful woman.

I'm watching the Cowboys and Eagles on Monday night football. Win, lose, or tie--it's entertaining. See you on Friday, when I promise to post something writing related--unless there's something else vying for my attention.  

Friday, September 24, 2021

Writing: Kill Your Darlings

 I can't recall who said it, but it's true--sometimes it's necessary to cut out words that you've written. You have to "kill your darlings," and often it results in a better novel. 

I have a target number--so many thousand words. It's not firm, because I publish "indie," but I try to stay roughly within it. My first reader, whom I ask to read mainly with an eye to publish-ability of the idea, said, "This doesn't read like a Mabry novel." I did a few changes, then asked an editor (yes, indie authors have them, too) to read and comment upon it. She did, making some excellent suggestions, including my rewriting the ending, changing the ending, and in general saying, "Redo it." Since I've had my share of editorial letters, I didn't kick the cat (much), and I'm about half-way through the revisions. 

I've probably cut 2% of the words, sometimes large sections, but I suspect I'll end up adding others. It just goes to show, however, that sometimes it's necessary to kill your darlings. The words may have sounded great to you when you came up with them, but if they don't add to the story, rip 'em out. It only hurts for a little while.

Ever had to kill your darlings? Let me know. I won't tell.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Ever Wake Up and...

Two AM. That's when I awoke, realizing I hadn't posted my usual Tuesday blog. Ever had that happen to you?

So, I immediately...went back to sleep. C'mon, how many of you have let something slide? Fess up. I'll never tell.

Off to get my teeth polished. See you Friday...unless I forget. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Writing: Imagining The Words


Writing is perfect for the person who's introverted. We sit down in front of a computer and imagine words that we might not say out loud in real life. We imagine people in situations that are made up of whole cloth, saying words that we pluck out of the air, and keep on doing that until we've filled our allotment of pages for the day. And when it comes time to send our manuscript forth into the world, we "put on our game face." However, instead of facing people for a limited amount of time, we're going to  put our words out there for thousands (we hope) to read and comment on for as long as the book is in print.

I love the quotation that I sometimes use as a signature line. "Some people hear voices when no one's around.  They are called mad, and sit in a room all day and stare at the walls. Others are called writers, and they do pretty much the same thing."  I may not have the words exactly the way writer Meg Chittenden said them, but writers will know what I mean--and nod. How about you?

  


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Snipe Hunt


Before my first wife and I were married my soon-to-be father-in-law and several of the brothers-in-law (all Aggies, I might mention) said they were going to take me on a snipe hunt. For those who might  have been raised in the big city (I wasn't), that's a fictitious event that involves the "hunter" chasing around hunting the snipe. Fortunately, I knew what they were talking about and so I didn't go on a snipe hunt--we just talked about it.

Recently, I went on a modern version of a similar hunt when at 4 AM (why do these things always happen at that time?) I was awakened by two loud electronic beeps or chirps. I eventually thought that it might be from the battery operated alternate power source that I've left hooked up to my computer. Even though the battery is no longer operative, it has half a dozen electrical outlets that furnish surge protection, so I've continued to use them (because it's too much trouble to unplug them and get another power strip). Because it's under my desk, I have to be careful not to hit the power switch, but it appears that I did, re-activating the alarm feature. Long story short--I found the source of the electronic beeps and fixed it.

I've looked around today and see lots of places which could cause me similar problems--always at 4 AM, it seems. Maybe this is due to our dependence on gadgets--we seem to have an abundance of electronic gadgets around, none of which I'm ready to give up. Have you done anything to avoid such an unpleasant surprise? 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Let Us Always Remember


 Tomorrow we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attack on us in our homeland. We have vowed never to forget...let's don't let up now (despite what our current "president" has done in Afghanistan). Never forget! Never forget! Never forget!



Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Day After...

How was your holiday? Did you do anything different? Did you reflect on the people still held hostage by those who follow a different law? Did you stop and think that only four days from now we'll commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the first ever attack on the US that took place on our own soil? 

Somehow, this didn't seem like a holiday this year. Don't know if it was because of the political turmoil, the international situation, or what. But it was different. So what did you do?


Friday, September 03, 2021

Labor Day, 2021

 

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, as well as our situation in Afghanistan.

I agree with over 80% of the US citizens polled that our troops should leave Afghanistan, but the way in which it was done by the person occupying the White House was terrible (as typified by the 13 US military personnel that were killed). I won't go into the politics of the situation, but will just say that we got over 10,000 Afghans out but left 100 or more US citizens (who wanted to leave) behind--the number seems to vary, depending on who you listen to. 

The flooding in New Orleans and environs is one of the worst natural disasters our nation has experienced, and comes on the heels of floods in Tennessee. 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, August 31, 2021

Busy Week

Don't know about your week, but mine looks pretty busy. I have a couple of routine appointments in the next few days, then -- well, who knows. I've gone through my next novel for the fourth or fifth time, and will soon be starting on the next phase of getting it published. 

There's always something else coming up, but that's what keeps me going. What about you? What's at the top of your "To Be Done" list--and what are the chances that it won't change in the next few days? 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Writing: Leaving Behind

I'm currently re-reading (as I often do) the books left behind by a number of deceased authors: Robert B. Parker, Dr. Michael Palmer, Ross Thomas, Donald Westlake. The list goes on. I intersperse it with inspirational (or, if you're as old-fashioned as I am, "Christian") fiction by living authors. But I'm often reminded as I read their words that a lot of what authors leave behind is encompassed in these printed words. That especially hit me as I re-read the last novel Parker wrote. He was found dead at his computer. But his novels live on.

It's at times like those that I turn to the little card fellow author, the late B. J. Hoff. sent me years ago. It pretty much encompasses what I'd like people to think about me after I'm gone, and the reason for my writing.


"It matters not if the world has heard, or approves, or understands...
The only applause we're meant to seek is that of nail-scarred hands."

What about you? What would you like to be remembered for?

 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

What Are You Feeling?




 This morning, two apparent suicide bombers were responsible for explosions at or near the HK International Airport, killing (so far) 11 US Marines and a Navy Corpsman, plus killing or injuring a large number of Afghanis. I've now heard that, to effect safe passage to the airport, the US Government has passed to the Taliban names, addresses, and other information about US Citizens and Afghan allies. What have we heard from the white house? If things go as advertised, he will speak about seven hours after the attack. 

What are you feeling? My emotions are too complex to tell. How about you?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Life As A Football Game

I watched a recorded program from the Big Bang series last evening. In it, Sheldon (the protagonist who has absolutely no common sense but lots of intelligence) is depressed because a theory that he has developed has been disproven. Through a series of misadventures, he watches a tape he made in childhood--for his "adult" self--and ends up seeing his father give a locker room speech to his losing high school team. Sheldon takes from this that, while he thought it was all over, "it's just halftime."

Right now, things look bad for those of us who watch with dismay the events in the Middle East. But, as Sheldon pointed out to me (and others watching), the game isn't over. And if we are fortunate, a different group of players will be elected and we can recover what our nation has lost. And even if that doesn't occur, we still have great Coach, urging us to play well, even if we're behind, because sometimes our reward comes after the game is over.

The game isn't over yet. Don't give up.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Writing: So What?

 


Sorry, Friday sneaked up on me. It's getting harder to remember to post, between watching the political theatre nowadays and doing all the things I have to do as a retired person and grandfather, the time got away.

I thought, when I was reading my first reader's comments about the initial draft of my next novella, about the most important lesson I ever learned about writing. I was at a well-known Christian writer's conference, early in my career, and was telling an individual about the idea for my latest novel. And he frustrated--actually angered--me by repeatedly saying, "So what?" I finally got the idea, though. There has to be something--plot, character, or circumstance--that gets the reader invested in what you're writing. Otherwise, it's just "blah."

So, writers--So what? Let me know.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Our Absentee Person In The White House


 We are approaching what I will always consider an important anniversary for our country--the time when we saw a breach in our security such as we had never seen before. Our nation came together to heal and grow stronger after the attacks of 9/11/01, and perhaps we will do it again. I hope so. But it will start by having a steady hand at the helm--one which is not present.

God bless America--and set her on the right path again.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Writing: Order Of Words


There are lots of things I had to learn (and few I needed to unlearn) when I began to write for publication. I had been the author of about 100 articles in refereed scientific publications, I had written or been editor of perhaps another half-dozen textbooks in my area of medicine, but still needed to realize that scientific writing was nothing like the non-scientific variety.

One thing I had to be reminded of was the proper order of adjectives in a sentence. Theoretically, more than three adjectives makes for "clunky" writing, and many people stop at two. I don't recall where I first saw it, but I thought then--as I do now--that it doesn't make much difference. It's just another rule/suggestion that is promulgated to those who want to write. Fortunately, most people who speak English well sort of automatically do this. And if we don't--well, I guess it depends on how picky your editor is.

Have a bright, productive new day. (Arrange the adjectives to suit yourself--that's how they came out naturally).

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Getting On

When folks here in Texas say that someone is "getting on," they need to use some sort of qualifier. It could be that he (or she) is working toward accomplishing something. It might be that the person speaking is talking about "nearly" something--as "it's getting on to supper time." Or it might be that someone is nearing the end of their life-span. 

Unless you're thinking about it, most of us don't consider that we're "getting on in years." I sometimes feel my age, but at other times I think I've achieved a level of maturity that I certainly didn't have in younger years. Being a grandfather is one way of feeling your age (try keeping up with the younger generation). Then again, it's nice to pass on some of the things we've learned when asked by someone who is willing to learn from our decades of experience.

When I was interviewing potential residents at our med school, I usually made them stop and think a moment with this question--What would you like written on your tombstone? When it's all said and done, what kind of legacy do you want to leave? A great scientific discovery? 

One of my senior residents once told me that when you think you're irreplaceable, put your hand in water and see what kind of hole it leaves when you pull it out. Remember that--but also remember that passing on what you've learned is irreplaceable. That's the kind of legacy we need to be thinking of leaving. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Writing: Weasel Words

I don't know where I first heard the term. Many authors use it, especially when teaching, and I've done it myself. It's a list of words that should be avoided in your writing. Some of them are passive, some are unnecessary (such as "very"--if it's necessary to tack an adverb onto an adjective, so something else to punch it up instead). Anyway, here's the bunch of "weasel words" that I try to avoid:




just

just then

began to

to

suddenly

some

rather

thought

wonder

that

started to

decided 


Any questions? Then, as Jim Bell says, Carpe typem. And good luck.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

They Need To...

My reaction to any sentence that begins with the three words above is "Who is this 'they' and how are they supposed to do it?" I just saw a comment on Facebook that suggests that the incident recounted be incorporated into a book. My reaction is the same as any other author. It takes more than a few paragraphs to make a book. We all have ideas--many authors keep a file of them--but one idea does not make a book. It sounds easy to make the suggestion, but it's hard to carry it to completion.

Of course, writing isn't the only thing that brings out this response in me. When someone suggests that thus-and-such needs to come about, I'm tempted to say that it requires a law to that effect, plus enforcement of that law by the appropriate agency. I may agree that changes need to be made, but I think in terms of what it would require for those changes to occur. In other words, I don't deal with the concept, but rather with what it would take to get it done. 

When you find yourself asking why something wasn't done or saying that something should occur, think beyond the desired concept and see where action by you will be required. You may find--as I do quite often--that there seems to be nothing you could do to accomplish this. But that's changing. We saw recently a book that describes things that can be done by the average citizen, for instance, to affect what's going on in our schools. You may be surprised--I was.

I'm not suggesting that you stop saying that changes need to be made. I'd suggest that you look to see what you can do about it.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Writiing: How Long?

 Lincoln was supposedly asked how long a man's legs should be, to which he allegedly replied, "Long enough to reach to ground." Too many of us--and I was once a member of this group--slavishly held our writing to certain standards, including length. The novels were supposedly about 30 thousand words (25 K to 35 K, say). Novels were longer, running 75,000 to 120,000 words (although I thought, privately, that nothing could hold my interest for more than 100 K words). These numbers varied from house to house, but you get the picture. There were limits, or at least, target lengths.

Since I started publishing my writing myself, rather than getting the help of a publisher in printing and marketing (and believe me, it can be nice to call on them), I haven't had to hold to any given length. My last "novel," Critical Decision, ran to 180 printed pages, and the typescript was a bit over 58,000 words--too long for a novella, too short for a novel. But that's how long I thought it should be--no need to add extra words or remove others. I published it. And I'm doing the same with my next one.

Do you think the length factor is overemphasized? Or does it even matter. Let me know.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Fact or opinion?


I think an opinion is fine--everyone should have one, based on their assessment of the facts of the situation--but if the person "opining" doesn't have the background, I give their opinion to the amount of credibility it deserves--sometimes, zero. And I get sort of tired listening to people who make a living as guests on various shows, saying "I think this," and "I'd guess that they'll do that." I'd rather hear as much of the facts as are available and draw my own conclusions, based on my own interpretation of them.

I'm a physician--no longer in practice, but keeping up with the latest trends in medicine. (I even get CME from the Annals of Allergy, and believe me, that specialty has undergone some changes since I retired.) And that's why I silently boil when people on Facebook advocate this or that because they hear something from a relative or friend. In medicine, we used to say that "time after time" meant twice, and was observation, not a controlled series. Yet people take the advice of a stranger repeatedly.

I just heard a former Congressman, a lawyer, say that when he wants medical advice, he consults his personal physician--not a florist or a teacher. Sounds like a good approach to me. How about you?


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.