Off Topic: The Other Side of the Opioid Conflict

I’ve spent the past week or so with my mother, who has, among other ailments, degenerative osteo arthritis and ulcerative colitis, a hyper-active immune system disease similar to the Crohns that has plagued me over the years. I’ve watched her struggle slowly and painfully to her feet, stand for a few seconds with the support of her walker to be sure she’s steady, then carefully move from one room to another. She’s having a hard time getting her 86-year-old body moving and she’s constantly in pain. The other day, her left knee threatened to go backward with her and knocked her off balance. She caught herself, but it scared the tar out of me.

The cartilage is gone from both of her knees and her left shoulder, and use of her left arm is restricted. Getting into and out of the car is an exercise of strength and determination and a constant battle against the pain. It takes her a week to recuperate from one day’s worth of outings.

Every three months, she gets steroid shots in both knees, or in one knee and the shoulder. She’s not allowed to have them more often than that, but for the first month and a half, she’s better. The pain isn’t as bad, and she can move about with a little more freedom.

That leaves a month and a half where she can’t do much without excruciating pain—and here’s where the ulcerative colitis problem comes in. Though the condition is under control, it, like Crohn’s, is incurable and remission lasts only as long as the medication continues working. I don’t know about all hyper-active immune system diseases, but UC and Crohn’s patients are restricted to only one type of over-the-counter pain reliever: Acetaminophen. Tylenol, which works great, for lightweight pain. Hers isn’t lightweight.

Short of some intravenous pain med, the only kind of prescription relief she can get is Tramadol—an opioid. Not everyone who takes opioids become addicted to them. I didn’t. Mom didn’t. But because people do, getting them has become harder than ever.

When the crack-down began, my mother’s doctor took her off of them. The only affect on Mom was the fact she had nothing but Tylenol to relieve her pain, but she can’t use them often because the dangers associated with it are increased because of her age. She has used topical Lidocaine patches and creams, but she’s not supposed to use them to the extent she needs them. The instructions on the box of Lidocaine patches say that she can use only one. She has three places where she needs relief—and when things are bad enough, her back goes out, so that makes four. Whenever one part of the body gets funky, everything else in the body tries to compensate, which gives overall pain. How can she get relief?

One thing that happens when I (or anyone else, for that matter) post something like this, is that all sorts of people comment about natural oils and teas and diets that work for simple pains and ailments. And some of them are great. For instance, we discovered that wintergreen oil does indeed work with a type of arthritis Mom has in her hands, and that a teaspoon of mustard or vinegar stops leg and foot cramps. But nothing like this works on the types of pain-causing problems Mom has.

I don’t know what the answer is, and it’s killing me that I can’t help ease her pain. When I’m here, I do everything I can for her to keep her from having to move very much, but I don’t live in the same town she does and I can’t be here all the time.

Pharmacists and chemists are under attack these days. The general population seems to hate them for one reason or another. But I’m praying that they can come up with an answer for those of us who need a regular form of pain relief. It’s hard to watch someone you love live with so much agony.

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Especially for Writers

I’m in the process of starting a new book . . .

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What is “Genre”?

Late last week, I received a request to edit someone’s manuscript. Once I asked what the genre was, I never heard back. A friend suggested that the potential client didn’t know what “genre” meant. I’ve been so steeped in this business for so long, that thought never occurred to me. Surely a person would know what type of book they’re  transferring from their brain to their keyboard.

But maybe not—or maybe they know, but just don’t know the proper term for it, which is “genre.”

  • The most basic definition of “genre” is “category.” 

Simple as that. However, new writers, especially, balk at categorizing their work. Their story idea is fresh, new, never-before-attempted, and utterly mind-blowing.

Maybe yes, maybe no, but it still needs a category and here’s why: readers have to find your book. If what you’ve written is basically Sci-Fi-with-a-twist, Sci-Fi readers will want to read it. But how will they know where to find it if it’s listed as—shudder—“other” or some similar term? Where in the store, cyber or otherwise, will they find it?

That’s the point of being able to categorize your book: to help the reader find it.

What categories are there? That’s where things get muddier these days. The basics are Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, etc. along with all their sub-genres. For instance, the Mystery category alone includes “amateur sleuth,” “police procedurals,” “detective,” etc. Then comes all the hyphenated terms, like Mystery-Romance, Historical-Romance, etc.

But knowing the umbrella term is the first step. The way to know your primary genre is to actually know the elements of your genre. “Boy meets girl” is basic for Romance. If your story begins with this and builds heavily upon it as the pages turn, then there ya go–you’ve written romance. “A crime has been committed” is basic for Mystery. If solving the crime is the focus of every page afterward, then you’ve got yourself a mystery.

These sound formulaic, and they are for a reason. The formulas work. Readers expect certain events to occur in a certain order when they’re reading their favorite genre. What’s new to the formula is you. Pour yourself into the book, but don’t be afraid to call it what it is.

  • The Same Thing, Only Different

In his how-to for screenwriters, Blake Snyder provides an alternate list of “genres” to answer the question “What is it?” But guess what? Even his alternatives are formulaic because, as I said, the formulas work.

Blake’s list isn’t intended to help retailers know where to place your book, but it’s a great tool for the author’s use. It allows the author to tell a potential agent, or simply a reader, what the book is about and what it’s most like.

Though I’m not going to define them here (you can get the book on Amazon), Blake provides ten alternative genres that don’t rely on the traditional formulas and a short list of movies that fit the bill:

  1. Monster in the House: Jaws, The Exorcist, Fatal Attraction
  2. Golden Fleece: Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future
  3. Out of the Bottle: Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, Freaky Friday
  4. Dude with a Problem: Die Hard, Titanic, Schindler’s List
  5. Rites of Passage: 10, Ordinary People, Days of Wine and Roses
  6. Buddy Love: Dumb and Dumber, Rain Man, and, not listed, Tango & Cash
  7. Whydunit: China Town, JFK, The Insider
  8. The Fool Triumphant: Being There, Forest Gump, Amadeus
  9. Institutionalized: Animal House, M*A*S*H, The Godfather
  10. Superhero: Superman, Dracula, A Beautiful Mind

After you’ve read Blake’s explanation behind his genre list and his description of each, you’ll have a better idea of what your book is like. Knowing that helps you pitch it, whether you’re trying to get an agent/publisher, creating an ad for your own publication, or hoping for a sale at some event.

  • The Death of Genre

So, maybe you still can’t categorize your book. It’s too much of a blend. Has too many elements of different genres to fit nicely into a single one.

Don’t fret. We have an answer for that.

In “2 Tips for Genre Mash-Ups,” I told about my own Women’s Fiction/Mystery mash-up and how Donald Maass helped me work my way through it.

Quick recap: my soon-to-be-released Ride to the Altar is an unlikely blend of two genres. It doesn’t contain a plot and a subplot, but two entirely different plots. And it’s not easy to categorize like most hyphenated novels are. In a Historical Mystery, the crime is solved in a historical setting. The setting itself doesn’t have its own plot. Or a Sci-Fi-Romance, where again, the science fiction aspect doesn’t have to have its own plot.

Mine is Women’s Fiction and Mystery. According to the exercises I found in Chapter 2 of Maass’s book, as long as I develop each genre as if it was its own novel, then find the tangents in a central message, I can blend these just fine. And I did.

Maass encourages exploration in novel writing; rule bending, rule breaking, rule transcending. Problem is, you have to know the rules—or in this case, the genres—to know what you’re rebelling against. How could I possibly develop each genre in Ride to the Altar if I don’t know the elements of the genre?

But the end result presents a challenge. For the amateur, like me in this respect, pitching such a book can be difficult. Readers want to know whether the novel fits their favorite genres. Agents want to know what the book is about—and prefer to be told in a one-sentence pitch. How do you pitch something so complicated in one sentence?

Not even Maass provides a clear answer as to where in the store these books would be placed, but he does say this:

My literary agency has prospered thanks to genre-blending fiction. We are glad we took on novelists who were initially hard to classify. Their ground-breaking ideas can be harder to launch, but once airborne can fly high. Out-of-the-box story ideas can hit readers with their novelty . . . 

Nothing uplifts the human heart like hope, and his comment here has that in spades.

Regardless of what Maass and Snyder say in their wonderful manuals, there’s a fact that can’t be overlooked: they’re professionals. Experts. They already know the things they’re teaching, have tons of years under their belts, in fact. Despite Snyder’s new list of genres and Maass’s rebellious proclamation of “Death to Genre!” they know enough about it to know what they’re revising and rebelling against.

Beginners need to learn the basics first, and understanding the basic genre you’re writing in is the most basic step.

So, answer Snyder’s question: What story is your book most like?


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Exciting New Christian Titles for April!

April 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Pelican Point by Irene Hannon — After inheriting a crumbling lighthouse, ex-Army doctor Ben Garrison wants to sell it. But Hope Harbor Herald editor Marci Weber is determined to save the town landmark. Can these two romance-wary souls finds a meeting of the minds…and hearts? (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing)

An Amish Heirloom by Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller, Kelly Irvin, and Beth Wiseman — From bestselling Amish authors come four novellas about the meaning and tradition found behind every family heirloom. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Historical Romance:

This Wilderness Journey by Misty Beller — He’s been sent to retrieve the new missionary… But she’s not at all who he expects to find. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy — Deborah and her sister and two little children survive a wagon train massacre. Trace finds them and takes them home. He finds himself their accidental guardian. He must protect them all and gain justice. When he does, all these friendly visitors–especially Deborah–will leave him forever. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

First Love Forever Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Marcia Gruver, Cynthia Hickey, Carrie Fancette Pagels, Martha Rogers, Lorna Seilstad, Connie Stevens, Erica Vetsch, and Jennifer Uhlarik — Coming face to face with a lost love can be awkward when the heartstrings are still holding on to the “what ifs.” In settings from 1865 to 1910, nine couples are thrown back on the same path by life’s changes and challenges. Can love rekindle despite the separation of time and space? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

All Things Beautiful by Keely Brooke Keith — It’s 1868 in the settlement of Good Springs, and Hannah Vestal is passionate about writing fiction and keeping her stories to herself. When her father asks to read her work, she decides to have it printed secretly for his 50th birthday. Hannah tries to arrange the printing with the settlement’s pressman, but the witty and dapper Henry Roberts has better things to do with his ink. In order to secure settlement support for his printing press, the elder council says Henry must print an error-free copy of the New Testament before the settlement’s 8th anniversary celebration. He is determined to meet their challenge, but when the enigmatic Hannah proves to be a beguiling distraction, Henry longs for something more than a life at the letterpress. (Historical Romance from Edenbrooke Press)

Adoration by Olivia Rae — Sir Darrin de Longue is desperate to get his lands back from Lady Faith de Sainte-Marie, the woman who betrayed him and may have had a hand in his father’s murder. But King Richard discloses on his deathbed that Lady Faith is the king’s daughter and then issues an ultimatum Darrin must obey. In order to reclaim his lands, he must marry Lady Faith and get her with child in a year’s time. Lady Faith has loved the rowdy and bold Sir Darrin since childhood, but cannot be a true wife to the bitter, angry man whom she has wed. In order to gain his trust and love, she vows to find the truth about his father’s murder. But when she stumbles upon deadly secrets, will she be able to prove her innocence–and his–to erase the past and win Darrin’s heart? (Historical Romance from HopeKnight Press)

Under Prairie Skies by Cynthia Roemer — Illinois prairie, 1855. Unsettled by the news that her estranged cousin and uncle are returning home after a year away, Charlotte Stanton goes to ready their cabin and finds a handsome stranger has taken up residence. Convinced he’s a squatter, she throws him off the property before learning his full identity. Little does she know, their paths are destined to cross again. Quiet and ruggedly handsome, Chad Avery’s uncanny ability to see through Charlotte’s feisty exterior and expose her inner weaknesses both infuriates and intrigues her. When a tragic accident incites her family to move east, Charlotte stays behind in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the elusive cattleman. Yet Chad’s unwillingness to divulge his hidden past, along with his vow not to love again, threatens to keep them apart forever. (Historical Romance from Mantle Rock Publishing)

The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo — The last time New Orleans attorney Jean-Luc Valmont saw Maribel Cordoba, a Spanish nobleman’s daughter, she was an eleven-year-old orphan perched in the riggings of his privateering vessel proving herself as the best lookout on his crew. Until the day his infamy caught up with them all and innocent lives were lost. Unsure why he survived but vowing to make something of the chance he was given, Jean-Luc has buried his past life so deep that no living person will ever find it—until a very much alive and very grown up Maribel Cordoba arrives on his doorstep and threatens all he now holds dear. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

General Contemporary:

Shadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels — Crisis pregnancy worker Marissa Moreau suspects her husband is cheating, but little does she know how close to home her husband’s infidelity hits. College student Kaitlyn Farrows is floundering after a relationship with her professor leaves her pregnant. Soon she lands a job and a support system at the local pregnancy resource center and things seem to be turning around. But when Marissa and Kaitlyn become friends, neither one knows they share a connection—Colin, Marissa’s husband and Kaitlyn’s former professor. When their private lives collide, the two women must face the ultimate test of their faith and choose how to move forward as they live in the shadows of hope. (General Contemporary from Barbour Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

Secret Past by Sharee Stover — With gunmen at her doorstep, Katie Tribani learns her true identity. She’s been in witness protection since childhood, and now her crime-lord father has found her. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])


Young Adult:

Chase by Glenn Haggerty — Tyler, a middle school newbie, shadows drug runners to rat out the methamphetamine dealer before his friend turns into a brain-dead druggie. (Young Adult, Independently Published)

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He is Risen!

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The Point of Good Friday

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Road Trip Results

Sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t turn out as well as you hope. Take this past event in Galveston, for instance. Texas Association of Authors’ founder and president Alan Bourgeois did everything right. He scouted the location, did tons of ads and promos, thought he had us off to a great start. But he couldn’t stop Hurricane Harvey, which damaged one location, messed with an alternative, and postponed the event for several months. Nor could he know that the secretary he’d booked the third location through had double booked the venue. So, one week before the event, we were moved to a school cafeteria.

This is the first time TAA has tried to hold an event in Galveston, and first times are always semi-successful learning events. I’m sure Alan learned a lot, and I know I did. And, I got to reunite with old friends and make a few new ones.

Linda Pirtle and N.E. Brown

Linda Pirtle, Dana Wayne, Patty Wiseman, and N.E. Brown–the Northeast Texas crew.

with Mary Hamilton and Nancy Kimball, friends from ACFW

Networking with other authors is one of the benefits of events like this. I always check out their set-ups and learn so much. Many had great banners, like Dana’s below, instead of the poster on an easel, like I had, that we kept stumbling over. Her banner fit perfectly behind the table and didn’t get in anyone’s way.

Dana’s table set-up and banner

I also got to interview an author who had great info for a book idea I’ve been playing with, enjoyed coaching a young writer who’s already ahead of the game in many ways, and was reminded that even disappointing sales days had purpose and could be fun (thanks, Nancy).

Thing is, there isn’t too much in life that doesn’t benefit the author in one way or another. MSB and I had a great time in Galveston, shopping the Strand and hitting up the museums (pics coming Wednesday), and discovering the culture of a beach town—something that’s always fun for us inlanders. Galveston is a great setting, and I am likely to use it as such in one of my stories.

It’s true, attendance at the event was low and sales were virtually nil. But would I do it again? You bet. Measuring it in means other than sales, I’d say it was a smash hit.

Posted in Authors, Misc., Promotion/Publicity/Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Especially for Writers

Posted in Authors, write tips, Writing, Writing Tips | 4 Comments

Road Trip!

I think I have everything ready for the Galveston Book Festival:

  • Books, inventoried and boxed
  • Price list
  • Ebook cards, inventoried, priced, and prepped
  • Cash to make change and Square for credit cards
  • Table cloth and decorations
  • Jar of giveaway candy (Worther’s Originals—they don’t melt)
  • Author poster, price poster, “we take credit cards” sign, “ask about our ebooks” sign
  • Guest book for newsletter sign-ups
  • Pens for autographing
  • Utility plug to keep the phone charged and extra chargers in case I’m not near a plug (no phone, no credit card sales!)
  • Business cards
  • Tablet for notes (you can pick up great tips from the other vendors/authors at these events)
  • Signed by Author stickers
  • Award stickers from Texas Association of Authors for The Final Ride

I think that’s it. This is different from our festival trips, where we have to supply the table and tent—and my AC, because MSB knows what happens when I get too hot. With this event, everything is included. Except the tent. We’ll be indoors.

Tell ya what, if you’re a Texas author and don’t belong to TAA, you should. B. Alan Bourgeois is always on the look-out for great opportunities for the members, including library shows where librarians and retailers can purchase your books, signing opportunities through festivals like this or individual events, newsletter and radio announcements of new releases, and more—things I haven’t had time to explore. Through this organization, I have opportunities all over the state—the nation, if I allow them to take my books to library shows.

If you’re not a Texas author, see if there’s a similar organization in your state. The membership dues and extra prices for opportunities are worth it. Frankly, I’ve seen considerably higher prices required by similar, national organizations.

Investing in your business is a good use of your money. Join a national organization of writers for whatever your genre is. That is a must, because networking is a must in this business. You meet other authors, blog designers, marketing experts, book cover designers, agents, editors, publishers. If they’re involved in the business in any way, they’re likely to belong to a national organization. Join organizations like TAA for sales and visibility opportunities. Any marketing opportunity is important. While organizations for writers are geared toward the business, organizations like TAA are geared toward the reader. And ultimately, we all work for the reader. The more visible we are, the better.

I enjoy making personal sales, but cybersales are vital too. There are organizations that aid in marketing through cyber means exclusively. I belong to one of these too.

We all go through the joys and pains of writing, of giving birth to the stories in our heads, but once they’re born, we have to remember—this is a business. Start considering the professional side of being a writer as early as possible.

Meanwhile, if you’re anywhere near Galveston this weekend, come see me!


Posted in Misc., Personal, Promotion/Publicity/Marketing, The Business | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Researching for the Historical Novel

 When the managing editor for Smitten Historical (a Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas imprint) asked me to join in a collection of historical romances, I got excited. I’ve always wanted to write a historical. I’ve even delved into it a time or two with Slider, published in The Saturday Evening Post’s collection of short stories and an unpublished short story called Masquerade.

The as yet untitled story I’m working on now fits in with my series of contemporary western romances, except it’s a historical western romance. Things aren’t that different—cows, cowboys, and the girls they give their hearts to—but they’re different enough that I need to research. I was flipping through MSB’s Time Life collection called “The Old West,” and found reference to the Harvey Girls. Immediately I had my story idea involving a cowboy and a Harvey Girl. I’ve never heard of the Harvey Girls, so of course I jumped on the internet and did a quick search until I found a great article about them plus a vimeo of an interview with a latter-day Harvey Girl.

Along with these resources, I found one more. Not long ago, PBS did a series called “Texas Ranch House,” in which 21st Century Californians came to run a 19th Century ranch in Texas. Several folks from all over the US came to join the experience. Everything for this ranch was supposed to be authentic to 1867, after the Civil War, when cattle roamed the ranges free of ownership. But Fred Harvey didn’t start his Harvey House hotels and restaurants until the 1880s, so I have to make time adjustments. Still, the PBS series is vital because it shows life on the 19th Century ranch, and as I said, very little has changed. They still needed pens and chutes, range and water, and the men necessary to work it all in 1887 as they did in 1867.

So there’s my research start: books, internet, videos. From these I can learn setting details; character descriptions; clothing, kitchen items, and everyday articles of use; attitudes of the time; hazards of the time—lands, with these three resources, I can learn everything I need to know to write a romance novella set in the 1880s.

Using the resources I have at hand, I study and observe, noticing everything I can in the pictures and videos and looking up terms I’m unfamiliar with. I went so far as to figure out what an 1880 barbershop looked like and what all a barber did, because one scene takes place in a barber shop.

The trick with research is not using in your book everything you learned. Doesn’t that sound odd? But it’s true—as you study your era, setting, and culture, the temptation is to show off your new knowledge for your reader. This kind of info dump (or research dump, as I call it) bogs down the novel and bores the reader. So use of the information is the same as in any novel: you reveal what you’ve learned through the character’s daily activities.

I learned some fun things about the 19th Century barber shop, but instead of describing them to the reader, I let my character, Cal Hardy, do it:

Walter Neville swept up what looked like a half pound of hair and sent a stream of tobacco juice toward the spittoon. “’Afternoon, Cal. Be right with ya.”

“Ain’t in no hurry.” Cal rubbed his jaw and studied the handwritten sign over Walt’s new National cash register. Walt had gone up two bits on both hair cut and shave—three bits on a bath. And heaven help anyone who needed a tooth pulled.

So, on the off chance someone didn’t know that the barbers also served as dentists, now they do. They can also see the progress of technology through the cash register. NCR was founded in 1884, and one of the earliest Harvey Houses was built in Ladonia, Texas, in 1887, and Ladonia is close to Fort Worth, one of the cattle capitals of Texas, complete with stockyards which were built in 1887. Now we know the era of my setting.

I can know all this about when the stockyards were built, when NCR released its cash registers, etc., but it’s not necessary that my reader does. I want my reader to feel immersed in the time and culture, not educated about it. If she learns while she’s being entertained, so much the better. And if I can convince hardcore Texas history buffs that I did my research, so much the better still! But I’m a novelist, not the author of a history textbook, so my goal is to entertain and enlighten through the stories I tell. Research dumps have no place in Historical Romances.


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