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.