Thursday, July 31, 2008


Yesterday I received a phone call from an editor at Abingdon who is working on my latest book (School's Out) to be published in spring 2009. I'm giving all of my royalties to our building fund (so I hope it makes a bundle).

When the editor called, I thought he would be giving me information about all the deficiencies of my manuscript, and all of the rewriting I would need to do (which can take weeks/months). But he called to tell me he found nothing that needed to be changed (no typos, no misspellings, no chapter rewrites, no do-overs). "NOTHING?" "NADA!"

Wow! This is a first for me. I've never obtained this kind of perfection before in my writing, so I must be getting better. He actually liked the book!

Now that I've reached a new eschalon in my writing, I'm going to celebrate. Tonight I'm going to ask Becky for her hand in marriage, and if she refuses, I'm going to go out and eat a slice of coconut cream pie at 11:30 p.m. before I begin another night of writing. Something tells me it's going to be pie tonight. But, hey, that's just me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Visiting the Library

A few days ago I visited the Brownsburg Library. I happened to be driving down Tilden when, all of a sudden, the urge to handle a book consumed me and I literally turned around in the first available driveway and headed back to the library.

As a kid, I spent some time each week visiting the tiny library in town. I usually checked out mysteries or horror story collections. And there were times when I just strolled through the stacks and looked at the selection. Sometimes for hours. But, hey, I was an odd kid (and was often called "Odd Todd"). It was only later in my life that I gave up my dream of becoming an axe murderer and decided to read instead.

Going to the library still gives me a thrill. I love the smell of fresh books in the morning. I always enjoy seeing the new titles on the front shelves and every now and then I will ask a librarian if the library happens to carry a title by an obscure writer named "Allcott", "Outcoot", or "something like that." Of course, libraries never have my books on the shelves, which gives me great relief. I can't deal with the idea of people actually reading my books, and have yet to meet anyone who has actually read anything I've written.

The closest I've ever come was in a library some years back when someone asked me," Hey, didn't you used to be that guy who wrote those books that no one reads?"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Number 150

I note that my last blog was number 150. Seems like I just started writing this thing, but I guess the blog fever takes over.

I'm not sure what reading and writing insights I'll have in my next 150 blogs, but thus far in my life, I have had no dirth of books to read or ideas to write about. So I guess the words will continue to roll.

However, just so my faithful readers might know what to expect, I am planning on writing about the following in the coming weeks:

A book written by a married couple who "did it" for 101 straight days. (My wife and I will be reading this book and making our plans.)

A book about how all 50 states got their current shapes. (Who was the doofus who came up with Indiana, by the way, and why can't we work out an arrangement to be merged with Hawaii?)

A best-selling novel about a deaf mute who communicates through dogs. (Currently, my dog communicates through me.)

I'll also write about my latest writing exploits, about requests from crazy editors (I hope they don't read my blog), and about my "writing closet". Tune in. You won't want to miss any of the fun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Kid Stuff

Saturday morning our house was infested with nieces and nephews. I was sitting in my study, writing, when the youngest nephew walks up and asks, "What are you doing?"
"What's that?"
"What are they?"
"These little things," I said, pointing to the computer screen.
"Those aren't words," he said. "They're bugs."
Out of the mouth of babes.
"Get lost kid. Go sail a boat in the toilet bowl!"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More Lewis, More Clark

I'm continuing to read Undaunted Courage: Merriweather Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, by Stephen Ambrose. I carry it with me everywhere I go--clamped under my arm pit, saddled in my car, to football practices, idling next to the bed when I wake in the morning. But I'm making headway...the book itself being reminiscent of the kind of arduous and all-consuming journey that carried the party across the American landscape in 1804-1806.

One thing I've learned from the book: Many native americans were fond of eating dog (but not all) and eventually Lewis and the exploration party ate dog, too. In fact, Lewis once wrote in his journal that he prefered dog to deer or elk.

This revelation has caused me to look upon our little black pug, "Buster", with curious fascination. How would one go about eating a dog, especially one as succulent and tender as the pooch who sleeps on the sofa and eats scraps from the table? I don't think I could do it. Makes me sad just thinking about roasting a dog haunch.

I've also come to the conclusion that I wouldn't have to eat dog to be treated like one. I mean, I work like a dog, eat like a dog, sleep like a dog, and my wife often treats me like a dog. Come to think of it, our dog might actually have a better life than I do. He seems much happier. Starting next week, I'm feasting on his kibbles 'n bits.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rewrites & On the Road

Yesterday I received a call from the editor: "Can you rewrite your book in three weeks?"

"Well," I said, "that all depends. Am I rewriting a few paragraphs, or a few chapters?"

"I'll get back to you."

Writing, they say, is actually rewriting. It is revising again and again. Or, in my case usually, it is writing so quickly that the editor might say, "This is a complete do-over."

A few weeks ago I was at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and noted that Jack Kerouac's manuscript of "On the Road" was on display. I spent a few minutes gazing at this manuscript, which he produced as a stream of consciousness on a scroll. The entire book is one page. Very little rewriting (and these were merely typewriter XXXX's placed over unwanted words or phrases).

Okay, so Jack could do it and produce a masterpiece. Maybe that's the key. Next week I'm going to go in search of odd mediums on which to write. I'd love to submit a manuscript written on an old sliding glass door, perhaps, or on 45-pound Olympic barbell plates. How about writing on a roll of toilet paper--I mean, if I really wanted to make a statement? If my wife will let me, I might even use some old crayons and write on the walls. Wouldn't that be grand, producing an entire book in the living room?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Christmas in July

This week I received confirmation from a publisher that two of my memoirs/essays have been accepted for publication in an upcoming Christmas anthology that will be published in 2009. Better yet, I'm actually getting paid for these, so I can now buy another cup of coffee before I send the rest of the cash away to Ball State and Uncle Sam.

What's interesting about writing these essays is that I whipped them out a couple of weeks ago in the heat of July--a frenzy of writing over a four hour late-night escapade where I produced four essays and a total of 5000 words. Not a bad pace. Kind of tough writing about Christmas in July, but I guess I impressed the editor enough to get the acceptances.

Both of these pieces were memoirs--one about the Radio Flyer (the little red wagon) that we gave to Chelsey for her third Christmas (back in the B.L days "Before Logan"). Another is about a woman I know who has an angel tree in her living room year round.

But writing about Christmas has also tweaked my thinking: What am I going to get my wife this year? She's always chastising me for waiting until the last minute to shop for her. So, here's my plan. I'm going to keep an eye out now. And the next time I see a new set of soup bowls or a coffee-maker or some cooking utensils on sale, I'm taking the plunge. Women do like practical gifts, don't they?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Reading of the Will

A few days ago I discovered the will that my wife and I had written more than ten years ago (actually, a lawyer drafted it for us). There it was, tucked inside our home safe (with the secret combination R-15, L-45, R-35). I couldn't remember what would happen in the event of my own death, so I decided to read the will.

It's a rather short document (which may say a great deal about the significance of my life) and essentially states that if I die my wife gets everything. If she dies, I get everything. If we both die in some tragic malfunction (say, our microwave blows from heating up too many hot pockets, or we both die of heat exposure on a hike through Eagle Creek park) then all of our worldly goods go to our two children, to be divided equally, but held in trust by a cousin, who will, no doubt, be absolutely thrilled to death herself by the prospect of seeing our two urchins safely into adulthood.

Got all that? Well, I think it's time to write a new will. I've even been looking into those "do it yourself" will kits that you can buy at Wal-Mart. (I note that if I buy two kits, I also get a set of steak knives.)

My new will must have some caveats. First, my wife will need to make sure I'm dead. Got to leave me on ice for a week, at least, and my death must be verified by at least three competent physicians. I'm giving everything to my wife (again . . . she has everything anyway) with the exeption of:

My library (which will go the Smithsonian Institution for future generations to laugh at)

My original art work (which will go to the Guggenheim in New York. My stuff won't be any odder than the junk that is there now)

Anyway, these are my gifts to humanity. I hope future generations will be thrilled to receive them. Thanks for reading. Got to get to Wal-mart.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reading in the Rain

I had everything planned for Saturday at the beach (in Michigan City). A couple of magazines, a big thick book about the Lewis and Clark expedition, a Chicago Tribune newspaper. But then came the rains--a downpour actually.

Per my usual habit, I rose early before the rest of the family, slipped out the door at Al & Sally's Motel early Saturday morning (yes, that's actually the name of the motel!) and drove to a nearby gas station for friendly talk with the tattooed teen tending the cash register. I also picked up two coffees and my newspaper. By the time I got back to the motel I was soaked.

Let me tell you, it's tough reading in the rain. Ink melts. But it got me to thinking . . . .

There's money to be made out there for some bright, enterprising young upstart who can invent a book or magazine that can hold up against the elements. Some kind of computer Geek. Not the kid at the gas station. Can anyone say, "Bill Gates"?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Newspaper Clippings

A few years ago I realized that I'm still of a generation that reads the newspaper. To me, reading the newspaper is a daily ritual, a way to begin the day. I rise early enough to make a pot of coffee, trek the hundred yards down my driveway to the mailbox in the boxer shorts my mother buys me at Christmas, dodge headlights in the darkness, and then back to the house for a quiet read at the bow window in my office (easing into the rocking chair) as the sun rises.

Done this for years. Kind of "old-manish", but it still works for me. I don't watch television news, don't do internet news, don't listen to radio, don't text message, don't yi-fi or google, so the paper must suffice. Kind of a staple.

Now, if there's a downside to the newspaper, it's that clippings can mount up. My wife clips abundantly, and this summer she's been cleaning out large coffins filled to the brim with clippings--old stuff yellowed with age, some so brittle they nearly fall apart at the touch. She found several clippings about me that she has saved over the years.

Her favorite is a profile written a few years ago in which the journalist described me as a "salt-and-pepper Clark Gable."

"Clark Gable is dead," she reminds me.

"Yeah, and I'll bet he's not lookin' too good these days, either," I tell her. "A lot more salt than pepper, if you know what I mean."

"Kind of like you," she says.

"Just clip," I tell her. "Don't comment."

She laughs as she crumples up my photograph and tosses it in the trash. Funny, I always seem to end up there, kissing yesterday's coffee grounds. But hey, that's journalism.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Say "No"

Over the years, I don't think I've ever said "no" to a single writing request. The reasons for this are legion. First, I'm rather old school when it comes to accomodating a need. An editor calls or writes offering me space to create, and even if I don't have time or an idea to float, I just don't feel that I can let the editor down. Secondly, I'm sort of like a cheap hooker. Even if the pay is low (which it most always is) I can arrive at a reason why I should prostitute myself for a ten dollar check and five hundred words.

That's why, over the years, I've heard Becky many times ask me, "What are you writing about now?"

"Mattresses," I might say, or, "horseback riding" or "cancer" or "vacationing on Molokai", or tuxedo rentals" or "sleep deprivation in bodybuilding". (Yes, I've written on all these subjects and dozens more).

"But what do you know about mattresses?" she might ask.

"What do I--hey, I sleep on a mattress, don't I? I have fun on a mattress, don't I? I spent five years of my seven years of adolescence on a mattress! I'm Mr. Sealy-Posturpedic, baby!"

"Can't you say 'no' to anything?"


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More Sedaris

One of the wittiest and funniest writers on the planet right now is David Sedaris--a guy who has made a nice living writing for public radio and publishing his essays, the most recent collection of which is entitled: When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I can't wait to read it. In fact, I'm taking this book with me when I go to the beach (Lake Michigan) for the day this Saturday. A quick trip calls for a quick read, and Sedaris's essays move with the pace of a great blog. I think I have everything he has written on my shelves at home.

As our family prepares for the beach on Saturday (remember, it's just a day!) I've already had to field numerous complains from the younger set in the family.

Is this trip really necessary? I'm going to miss out on a whole lot of sleep.
--fourteen year old son, soon to be fifteen

The beach. Again?! Awwwhhh, Dad!
--eighteen year old daughter, soon to be nineteen

We'll save some money and I'll pack a basket lunch instead of eating out.
--the wife, who is six months younger than I am and you'd better believe I never let her forget it.

Why can't we have a private room?
--Dad (dreaming of his lovely woman and trying to remember what she looked like at age twenty-two in a bikini)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I'm halfway through the seven-hundred page book, Undaunted Courage: Meriweather Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Stephen Ambrose. Yes, I'm reading about Lewis (and Clark!) and learning about the myriad experiences they had up the wide Missouri and beyond. Makes me feel a bit saddened by the lack of exploration in my life.

Still, I did run away from home when I was four (got five blocks away and turned back when I heard my mom calling. She could yell VERY LOUD . . . something about getting my skinny little butt back in the house or she was going to come down there and . . . ).

When I was fifteen I technically could have been arrested for breaking and entering (but both of the houses were condemned and besides, officer Finkeldinkel knew it was just a prank).

And when I was forty-two my wife allowed me to walk down to the corner gas station and buy a box of Jugu-fruits so we could watch a $1.95 DVD on television.

As you can see, I've explored much of this great land of ours. Next week, I'm going to muster up the courage to wade across white lick creek, imagining I'm deep in Sioux territory. Come to think of it, I'd better bring the dog along as well as some prayer beads for trading.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Best Sentences

Some weeks ago I began a search for some of my best personal sentences. I wondered if any of my language might stand the tough scrutiny of time, since most of what any writer creates has the tendency to become mush. As it turns out, my best sentences, I think, turned up in my fiction, such as:

This, the opening paragraph of my short story, "Baseball Season", which was published in 1993, but I wrote the story in 1991, when I was thirty years old.

The winter was too long in 1968, as I had spring fever, hoping for and desiring the return of baseball in the early days of April. It had been a long winter of sadness and ill content for our family--my aunt had died in late November, a cousin was killed in a race riot in Milwaukee, and my older brother, Forston, was drafted just out of high school and went to fight the war in Vietnam.

It was a tough story to write, imaging life from the vantage point of a young African-American male in the 1960's & 1970's. But I still like the story.

I also like the ending of my short story, "Bag of Tricks", which was published in 2005, but was a story I wrote soon after my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm not sure how to characterize the story (mystery, romance, literary), but writing a story about a husband who is trying to save his wife's life was tough. The story ends with these words, but has some of my best sentences, I think:

He looked up, into the void of night, a brilliant moon tumbling slowly across the stars. Then, with one fluid motion, he tossed the pills high into the darkness, watching the bottles glisten and glint in the beam of a passing headlight, each one falling away, falling away, into another life.

I may still discover some good sentences, but it's tough rereading my own words ten, twenty years after writing them. Most of the time I wonder: What was I thinking?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why Do You Keep Writing?

Every now and again my wife will ask me, "Why do you keep writing?" or "Why don't you just give up?"

Short answer: There's always the slim chance--though slimmer all the time--that someone might actual purchase one of my books. I might actually make some money from writing words some day.

Last week I read that the average "writer" in America makes less than $20,000 in a year. I was surprised it was this high. I've never made that in a year from writing, not even close. But there are people out there who make millions (some, even, tens of millions a year) so that must bring that average up to that $20,000 a year figure.

So, I always answer in the same fashion. "I'm writing for the money, baby." I'm still holding out the hope that someone, other than my relatives (and the people I bribe) might buy one of my books at the bookstore. And if they do, I'll get a royalty. Something like 75 cents a book. Heck, I'm going to buy another cup of coffee right now!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Self Help

Without doubt, the rise of the so called "self-help" book, has been driving publishing for a long time. Most bookstores have a section of "self-help" titles--books that, supposedly, assist people in changing their lives, their finances, their relationships, their jobs, their cars, or anything that ails them.

But I've come to the conclusion that these books are lost on me. I can't help myself. Only God can help me . . . and my wife.

In fact, my wife helps me more than I help myself. She tells me how to dress, what to cook, how to cook it, and, in the event I'm up late writing at the computer, she might even poke her head into the office at 2 a.m. and bark, "Knock it off and get to bed!"

You can't get that kind of help from a book. Still, I wonder . . . . I've got some great self-help titles. Surely there are some poor, pathetic souls out there who think they can help themselves if they purchase a small tree carcass for $12.95. How about:

You've Fallen and You Can't Get Up: Ten Steps To Help You Rise Out of Your Lazy-Boy Recliner
Watching Rachel Ray Cook: How to Make the Most of Your Hamburger Helper
Drugs, Sex, and Rock-n-Roll: A How-to Guide for Getting More from Your Boring Mid-Life Crisis
The Wisdom of Forrest Gump: A Lover's Guide to Shrimpin', Pimpin', and Making Your Own Chocolates

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Books on "Tape"

One of the literary developments of the past decade has been "books on tape"--or now, of course, CDs. The idea being that a person can listen to a book in the car or while soaking in the bathtub. Not bad, really.

I've got my fair share of these, too. In fact, I usually purshase a "book" or two on CD whenever I plan a long car trip. My problem is, I tend to buy up more CDs than I can listen to at any one time.

I see, looking at my shelves this morning, that I have several yet unopened books, including:
Reason for Hope, by Jane Goodall
The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman
Life's Journeys, by Fred Rogers ("it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood"...that guy!)
and I've got four or five yet to be opened CDs of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion collection.

Some day, on a car trip to a galaxy far, far away, I'm going to open these babies. Problem is, with gas at $4.00+ a gallon, how can I afford to go anywhere but Barnes and Noble (where, of course, I buy more books on CD)?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Reading Decor

A few weeks ago I was standing in a Barnes and Noble bookstore waiting for my wife's flight to arrive. At one point I happened to find myself scanning the titles on the Home Improvement shelf--those big books with full-color photos of luxurious houses and makeover ideas of the rich and famous. I had to take a peek. After all, I knew it was only a matter of time before my wife wanted to make over another room in the house (say, the kitchen, or heck, let's say the living room, too).

But all I found were ideas that were going to cost lots of money (even the ones that were titled "Low budget home improvement ideas" or "remodeling on a dime"). Why can't these authors just tell it like it is? "Hey, this makeover is going to cost you ten grand, and if you think I'm kidding, wait until you get the bill!"

But after our recent bathroom remodeling project, I've got a few books in the cooker myself. I need to make some money, so editors, be on the lookout for my proposals. Here are some that should sell.

How to Find Cheap Carpeting That Will Hide Dog Barf Spots
Kitchen Makeovers With a Leaky Sink
How to Redo a Bathroom When All of Your Money is Going to Your Daughter's College
Ten Ways to Trick Your Wife Into Thinking You've Painted a Room
Twenty Neat Crafts You Can Create With Cat Hairballs
A Hundred Ways to Save for New Appliances (Including Selling Walnuts From Your Front Yard)
How to Stuff a Squirrel or Beaver for the Fireplace Mantle
Ten Tools You Can Use in the Garage or Bedroom (and how to tell the difference . . . )
Bathroom Makeovers You Can Live Without

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Best Books MId Year

A few weeks back I received the following comment about my blog: "You seem to read a lot of books that aren't related to religion. Why is that?"

Simple answer: Most religious books are boring, and my interests and tastes have always been so broad I can't even begin to learn all I want and need to know from perusing the religious book shelf. I also see myself as a lifelong learner, and I want to learn about everything from history, to science, to sociology, to micro biology.

Now that it is mid year 2008, I thought I'd take a look back over the past twenty-four months or so and select my "best of" books and a few that I would rather have not read. Here's goes.

Best Business/Leadership Book: I've read dozens, but I'd have to go with What Got You Here Won't Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith. It's that good, and I plan to reread it every couple of years.

Science: I'll go with The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman.

Biography: Eistein, by Walter Isaacson.

History: Charlatan, by Pope Brock. An American story most people know nothing about and incredibly fascinating, especially if you can stomach the history of testicle implants.

Sociology: My Freshman Year, by Rebekah Nathan.

Memoir: The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.

Law: The Constitution of the United States, by FSG editors.

Human Sexuality: Toss up between Sex God, by Rob Bell, and Bonk, by Mary Roach.

Travel: The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson.

Novel or Short Stories: (A thin year for me as far as fiction, but I'll go with:) The Best American Short Stories, 2007, edited by Stephen King.

Okay, I'll toss in Religion (but most of what I read was REALLY bad, and Joel Osteen's book tops the list . . . sorry Joel): Sermons from Duke Chapel, edited by Will Willimon (okay, so I'm still a Dukie).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Finding Editors

This week I've been searching for editors . . . not in the hide-n-seek sort of way, but via the internet. In particular, I've been trying to locate an editor, any editor, who might take a peek at a book proposal written by two pastors.

Funny thing, how these editors can hide. I've sent emails, made a few phone calls, even threatened bodily harm ("answer your phone or I'm coming down there with two guys named Vinnie and Earl and they'll offer you some persuasion!") . . . still, the editors remain elusive.

But I'm not giving up. Next week, if I don't hear from these people, I'm pulling out the heavy artillery. Some ideas:

I'll find the cell phone numbers and begin to call incessantly until I get an answer.
I will inundate these editors with piles of my college poetry, written in Elizabethan English, and with no attached return postage.
I will threaten to cut off my index fingers (I mean it this time!!!!) if they don't read my manuscript.

Hurry up, Mr. Editor. Lord, I don't want to lose my digits!