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 then

began to








started to


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



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


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?)


-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:

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 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.