Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Writing Space #11

As Mr. Stephen King will attest, every writer has his valuables. That is why I keep a safe in my home office. This is a secret safe. No one knows about it . . . not even my wife. I make sure that I tell no one that the combination is 36-14-44. I can't bear the thought of someone breaking into my safe and stealing all of my valuables.
For example, what would I do without my 1970 Thurman Munson baseball card? That's in here. I've also hidden away such irreplaceable treasures like: a 1910 Liberty head dime that I found in the backyard when I was ten; my grandmother's gall stones in a mason jar; five video tapes that preserve evidence of my children's birth and Becky birthing them; an old bottle of Coppertone lotion from 1978 (my summer of love); a glass eye (I'm keeping it on hand in case I need it later).
I'm sure Mr. King has none of these treasures in his office in Maine. He probably has crab cakes and lobster tails. His safe is probably at the First National Bank of Maine (and he probably has his millions insured through FDIC). My safe is in my closet, and if the house burns, I lose everything.
Mr. King doesn't worry about his future. I have to keep these items in my safe to make sure I have a retirement fund.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Writing Space #10

There is no doubt that Mr. Stephen King will be displaying many of his office awards and artifacts on his interactive web site. But here is one of my artifacts. This is a piece of the Championship Floor from the 1991 NCAA basketball tournament, when Duke beat Kansas for their first championship. This hunk of hardwood sits atop one of my office shelves and was given to me by Steve and Mary Baker when I lived in Noblesville.

After I took this photo, I also noted that there was a piece of wadded paper sitting next to it. That paper has been there for three years, and remains there, because my wife refuses to clean my office. I remind her daily that this is one of her roles--cleaning woman! But whenever I point this out, she curses at me and leaves the room. And so the paper remains. I have no idea what it is, but you can bet I'm not moving it.

Mr. King has pristine book shelves. Mine are dusty.

Mr. King has a willing wife who is also a cleaning woman. I've got a busy school teacher who makes me cook, clean, wax, repair, paint, restore, sweep and mop. When I am finished writing this blog, I'm going to wad up another piece of paper and place it next to my hunk of the Championship Floor. We'll see who wins!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Writing Space #9

Now when it comes to me and Mr. Stephen King, I have no doubt that I am in better physical condition. When it comes to writing, Mr. King is prime beef, but I can still lift a hundred pounds over my head (although I usually lift my wife, and she's heavier!) and could probably whoop Mr. King's scrawny little butt.
This is my last, however, is my last place trophy from the bodybuilding competition I entered when I turned forty. My wife kept telling all 240 pounds of me, "You'll never get into shape. You'll never get a six pack out of that soggy belly." But forty pounds less and four months later, I was a lean, ripped 200 pound, deeply tanned old man. Got pictures to prove it.
Here's the trophy I keep in my office to help me remember my last place finish. My son makes fun of it and reminds me that he can do, at the very least, as well as I did. He writes on my trophy with a sharpie. He hangs his underwear on the trophy and says, "Look, Dad!" Then he whoops me!
Mr. King doesn't have a trophy like this . . . I'm sure of it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Writing Space #8

Mr. Stephen King and I have few things in common. Mr. King is a famous and successful author. I am an unknown unsuccessful author. Mr. King is suave and sophisticated. I am a hick.

However, Mr. King and I do have one thing in common. We both like to read. Here are some of the books in my office. These represent about a third of the books I own. I love to bring people into my office and show them my books. I like to hear them whisper, "This guy must be an intellectual giant . . . reading all these books!" But then I speak, and they realize that I am just a Hoosier dork who happens to have 2000 comic books on a shelf.

I have several of Mr. King's books on my shelf. Mr. King has none of my books. And if he did, that would certainly be a most frightening proposition!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Writing Space #7

This is the window in my office. I sit here in the rocking chair when I read the newspaper in the mornings. I like this window . . . it is one of the reasons I wanted to buy the house. I like that window, I said to myself.
I know this . . . Stephen King doesn't have a window like this in his plush office. It is a great window.
Eat your Shawshank Redemption Heart Out, Mr. King!

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Writing Space #6

By now Stephen King is getting close to having his interactive web site up and running. Readers can visit his office. Now you can visit mine.
Here is my trash can. As you can see, I sometimes eat Graham Crackers while I write. I love 'em. I love to say "Graham Cracker". I wish my nick name was "Graham Cracker" Outcalt.
It is also worth noting that my trash can sits next to the overloaded electrical outlet. My computer, printer, lamp, and other accessories are all plugged into this outlet. I love to watch it spark! It inspires me to write faster before my computer monitor blows up or flames out.
Mr. King has a personal maid who takes out his trash. I have a fifteen year old teenage boy who wears the same underwear for ten straight days and can sleep for twenty hours in cracker crumbs.
Mr. King eats caviar and drinks fine wines while he writes. I eat crackers and drink high fructose corn syrup straight out of the can.
Mr. King doesn't write trash. This is where I toss my books after I write them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Writing Space #5

Soon people will be able to see many of Stephen King's books on his interactive web site. But for now, you can see mine.
Here are most of my published works, including books in Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese. Why some have been translated, I don't know . . . . People read Mr. King's books. These are the only existing copies of mine!
Mr. King creates imaginative titles for his books, such as The Tommyknockers, The Shining, and The Green Mile. I might as well have numbered my books and titled them, Here's Number one, Here's Number Two, etc.
Mr. King goes on twelve city book tours sponsored and paid for by his publisher. I, on the other hand, had to drive to both of my book signings, and the manager had forgotten to order the books . . . so I ended up shaking hands with the three people who showed.
Mr. King has had a long-standing practice of signing any books his fans send to him, if they include return postage. I, too, follow this sacred practice. I live on 700 N. in Brownsburg and if people don't want to mail my books to me, they can chuck them out the car window as they drive by. I have a large ditch.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Writing Space #4

Mr. Stephen King will soon have his interactive web site up and running. You may visit his home office. But first, please have a look at mine.

Mr. King has many writing awards on his wall: autographs from famous actors who have graced his films. I have a blank wall.

Mr. King's wall is loaded with photographs of him standing shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrity and power. My wall is a sad indication of the total empiness of my life, the sheer barrenness of my existence, the complete and utter despair I experience each time I sit down to write.

Mr. King drinks coffee while he writes. So do I.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Writing Space #3

Very soon, Stephen King will be posting photos of his home office on his interactive web site. But for now, I invite you to take a gander at my space and see how our offices compare.

Mr. King will be showing photographs of his many paintings and writing awards. I, on the other hand, still have a blank canvas, as you can see. This canvas has been sitting in my office on the easel for sixteen months. I intend to paint it some day and hang it over our mantel in the great room.

My hope has always been that I could paint my wife in the nude, but she tells me I will have to settle for painting slugs and other invertebrates. I paint wonderfully with my hands (as I learned in Kindergarten) and this method has served me well.
Mr. King has million dollar paintings in his office (Picasos, Rembrandts and such). I, on the other hand, have a canvas from Hobby Lobby.

Mr. King has posters of his many movies, cameo appearances, and screenplay awards. My wife once gave me a birthday card that said I was the greatest, but that was twelve years ago, and there has been a lot of water flow under the bridge since then. I recycled the card and used it to take out the coffee grounds.
Mr. King has a wall of fame. I have a twenty dollar easel.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Writing Space #2

Since Stephen King is still going to create an interactive web site featuring his writing space, I couldn't resist beating him to the punch. Obviously, Mr. King has a great office in which to write and he is both neat and efficient. I, on the other hand, am a slob, as you can see.
My filing cabinet is filled with hanging files. These files are filled with dozens/hundreds of essays, short stories, book proposals, and other rejections, as well as book contracts and writing agreements. The piles on top of my filing cabinet are my notes, photocopies, and assorted books that I am using to write yet another book (which is scheduled for publication in early 2009).
Mr. King has a personal secretary who helps him sort notes and conduct research. He also has a secretary who can answer the phone and field multi-million-dollar calls and offers from Hollywood and New York. I have a dog who pukes on the couch when I am away from home and doesn't budge when the phone rings. My cell phone records voice mails from angry editors.
Mr. King has an immaculate filing system. I am still searching for the combination to a padlock I purchased in 1978 so I can ride my bicycle.
Mr. King has a filing cabinet loaded with book deals and movie rights. My filing cabinet contains book contracts that have enabled me to buy more floppies and half a ham sandwich.
I read Mr. King's books. Mr. King does not read my blog.
Come visit me tomorrow in my office, I have more junk to show you!

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Writing Office #1

A few days ago I visited Stephen King's web site and noted that he will soon have an interactive page that will allow readers to visit his home office and see the various artifacts and awards that he has gathered around him as he writes. I thought I would beat him to the punch and allow others to see what kind of space I write in, and how vastly different our spaces are. So, here's the first of my photos.

Here you see my writing space. The computer is a twelve year old Compaq with an old floppy drive. The monitor is about shot, and often, as I am writing, it shorts out, smolders for a few minutes in a purple haze of ozone scent, and then, after a gentle pounding, blazes forth again. I have written a dozen published books on this machine and have plans to write more if it doesn't burst into flame. As you can see, I have many floppies. Nearly a hundred of them, in fact. These are loaded with book proposals, short stories, essays, manuscripts in various phases of production, and ideas that I hope to work on in the future.
My space is a mess. Stephen King cleans his work space daily and buys a new computer every year. I feel that, on a good day, I've accomplished a lot if I don't end up with second degree burns on my upper torso. I have no idea how many hours I've spent in front of my little faded monitor, but I keep hoping that I can get one more book out of it before it goes to that great electrical recycling bin in the sky. I have been saying this for over a decade.
Stephen King has a top-of-the-line computer. I have a piece of junk.
Stephen King doesn't use floppies. That's the only digital storage I have.
Stephen King is a multi-million dollar writer. My books earn enough for me to buy a sandwich now and then.
Stephen King is a household name. I often misspell my own name.
Stephen King has a fantastic web site. I have a blog.
Thanks for visiting my office . . . please come back tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Writing Notes

This week I settled down to write notes, cards and letters to a long list of friends, relatives, and associates. It's something I try to do every year before school begins and our family, school, and work schedules go haywire and I find myself eating, driving, talking, and working . . . all at the same time.

Writing these notes always challenges me in good ways. I must stop, think, and consider what I want to say to people I care about.

But my wife is always the toughest. What do I say to a woman I've known since age fourteen? What do I write to the mother of my children? I find my letters to my wife are just too businesslike, even as we approach out twenty-fourth anniversary. They always go something like this . . . .

To Whom It May Concern:
It has recently come to my attention that we have been married for twenty-four years. During this time, this association has produced some marvelous results. It is my hope that our mutual association has been beneficial to us both, and I hope that our good relations may continue to grow exponentially into a third decade of profits.

Thus far our pension funds have grown faster than the S&P 500 Index, and your contributions to the bottom line have been much appreciated. The two junior partners have also helped, but one is now due for a promotion. However, I not looking to take on another junior partner at this time!

Please receive this letter as official invoice for services rendered from 1985 to the present. I trust that the next quadrennium will produce much the same results and that the cafeteria plan and other full benefits will continue unabated and that profit margins will continue rise per our agreement.

Yours truly,
Outcalt Incorporated

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Benji

Last night, during the Olympics, I read another fifty pages of the biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. My impression of Benji hasn't changed much (based on other bios of read about him). For a guy who looked like my aunt Hazel in a bad powdered wig, he sure did get around with the ladies. Seems like every few years, he was switching horses (my phrase, not Benji's).

I'm not sure that many of our founding "fathers" knew all that much about fidelity. Benji seemed to have a woman in every port and even by the time he became ambassodor to France (he was an old man by then) his prowess with the fairer sex was legendary.

Personally, if I ever go to France, I'm going with my wife. I'm not wearing a powdered wig. I'm wearing my own hair. I'm going to show my wife a good time.

This is going to happen in 2028! I hope my wife can hold out for a few more years.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


On Saturday I began reading a thick biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. I took this book with me to Saugatuck, Michigan when Becky and I set out for a one day early anniversary beach excursion. I got sunburned, but did manage to learn a bit about Benji's early life, including the obvious fact that my blog has a lot more in common with Benjamin Franklin's sense of humor than I realized. The guy would have loved blogging.

Benji was also nothing to look at . . . kind of like me on Saturday. I showed up for a day on the town wearing a pair of flowered shorts (green) and a bright blue shirt with whales as the pattern. I noticed that a lot of people were looking at me as we walked around town in the a.m. I asked my wife about this. "It's because you look ridiculous," she said.

I didn't really believe her until three gay guys who noticed me at breakfast started laughing at me and later, when a tour boat sailed by down the canal, I heard the tour guide over the loud speaker say, "Hey, Ladies and Gentlemen, take a look at the guy on my right. Yes, you see all kinds of fashion statements when you are in town, some better than others!" The whole boat-full of passengers and the crew were laughing and pointing, but I just waved and walked on.

Later, I changed in the back seat of the car. As Benji would have pointed out in his Poor Richard's Almanac many years ago: "A fool and his clothing are soon parted."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Living Testimonials

I rarely get feedback on my blog "on my blog", but I do get quite a number of responses when I cross paths with people who usually ask: "Do you really write that stuff?" Still, here are some of the more timely testimonials I've received to date.

Dad, don't write about mom. You're embarrassing her.
--Daughter (18) who will soon be leaving this house and won't have to endure further embarrassment from her father.

When do we eat?
--Son (15) whose kitchen excursions continue to drive our food bill into the stratosphere.

You're insane. I'd always suspected that I got the better half of the gene pool, and your blog proves it.
--Brother (43) who doesn't realize that I'm adopted.

When are you going to give up this charade of being a writer and come home to my lovin' arms?
--Wife (?) who never said this, but seems to share this sentiment every time she burns the meatloaf and asks me to come to bed during a late night writing marathon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


A few weeks ago I wrote an article for The Christian Century magazine. I thought it was a crisp, insightful, and thought-provoking piece . . . and so did the editor. But alas, there just wasn't a "place for it in an upcoming issue."

So, I rewrote it for another clergy mag and last week I got the word that it had been accepted as a "retread". That happens a lot in writing. A writer gets an idea, slants it for a particular magazine's tone and tenor, and then the piece dies on the vine and must be rewritten for another audience and tone.

I recently also sold another "retread" to an editor of a book series. That's fulfilling--the ability to be able to find something that is old, moldy and littered with dust and then find a home for it.

Next week I'm going in search of more treasure. I have piles (and I do mean piles) of written material that I have stashed away in filing cabinets, shelves and boxes. Hundreds of thousands of words, millions of words, and most of it I can't even remember where, how, or why I wrote it. Kind of like discovering gold in the backyard.

Excuse to go dig now!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How To

Last week I was in a Barnes & Noble bookstore and noted the proliferation of "How-to" titles that have seemed to proliferate like fleas. There are books that can show a person "how to" make a deck, "how to" produce fuel oil from leftover salad dressing, or "how to" take the SAT test.

I wonder: are we really so helpless that we don't know "how to" do some of these things? I mean, if you look closely, there are actually instructions on how to fix a Pop-tart (the instructions are on the box). Are there people who actually need a manual for Pop-tarting? Heck, I've ruined entire meals without any instructions at all!

Still, I've been thinking: Do I have any books inside of me that could assist some of these helpless Americans who need instruction so badly? I think I do. Here are a few of the titles I've come up with. I'm glad to help and show you "how to".

How to Clean a Navel: Ten Easy Steps to a Better You Before You Nap.

How to Start an Andy Griffith Show Rerun-Watchers Club in Your Garage . . . and Twenty-five Recipies Aunt Bee Used to Make

How to Choose a College for Your Child: The Ultimate Parents' Guide For Talking Your Daughter Out of the Ivy League and Into an Affordable Four-Year degree at a State University Nearby and How to Pay For It Over the Next Decade

How to Understand a High School Freshman: What Makes 'Em Tick, What Ticks 'Em Off, and What To Do With the Ticks After You Remove 'Em from the Scalp

How to Please an Older Woman: The Ageing Man's Guide to Interpreting Female Overtures, Innuendos, and Subtle Body Language

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hiking with Sedaris

I realized yesterday that I have slowed immensely in my reading goals. At this pace, I won't come anywhere close to reading 100 books this year. Still, I'm approaching 50 (and a book a week ain't bad).

I did finish reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris, one of the funniest writers on the planet by my estimation. His essays always make me howl and in reading this, his latest book, I've kept pace with his entire corpus of writing. The guy spends most of his life in Paris, which is envious, but somehow he manages to have enough odd American experiences to justify a book every year.

He has a couple of hitchhiking stories--which is an experience I've never had. The closest I've come to hitchhiking was when my car broke down (actually wouldn't start) in a parking garage. I managed to find a ride home, but the guy who offered the ride was a college student and I don't think he said a single word the whole trip.

Getting my mail every day is about the longest hike I make. My driveway is 125 yards long, and this morning, going out to get the newspaper in the thunderstorm, I had all the adventure I wanted. I thought of the title of the book when I noted a lightening strike across the road. I'm grateful that I was not engulfed in flames.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Author Photos

Last week I was reading over my 20 page book contract and noted that I am to send 25 professional author photos (8 X 10 glossies) to the publisher for marketing and promotional purposes. Funny how I often overlook these little details.

Over the years I've had my picture taken by a number of professional photographers who have been sent my way via publishers, newspapers, and magazines. They are never what I hope for. Every time, I anticipate that I'm going to get a female photographer who will conclude our photo session by saying something like: "You know, you look kind of buff. Why don't you take off your shirt, go outside, use that shovel, and let me photograph you chucking that pile of pea gravel over your shoulder?" She would click away at the shutter and admonish me to "work it, baby, work it!" or "now you're showing me something!"

This never happens. All of the photographers who have been sent my way have looked like Chuck Norris or Grizzly Adams and they always start the photo session by asking, "So, where do you want to do this?" I always take a step back before I realize they are talking about photography. They always carry tripods and get their beards enmeshed in the attachments.

Even at home I can't catch a break. My photo is usually taken by a forty-seven year old, slightly bow-legged, pidgeon-toed wife with two thousand dollars worth of dental work. She looks through the shutter and says, "Get back in the house, take off that shirt, and put something else on. You look ridiculous."

I ask her if she wants to go with me while I change shirts.

She doesn't.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I have completed a most interesting book on geography and history entitled: How the States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein. Essentially, the title of the book reveals the contents. How did each of the states come to have their respective shapes? What's the deal with West Virginia? (Have you ever really studied the shape of this state closely? It's absolutely weird!) Why are Colorado and Wyoming nearly identical rectangles? And the most interesting question as far as I'm concerned . . . why would anyone in his/her right mind want to live in Indiana when there are far more interesting states to live in?

Reading this book helped me to understand why Aaron H. wants to move to New Mexico. It's far more intriguing.

Shapes and sizes, of course, define much of what we do. People are drawn to some shapes, and not others. People have always considered me square, for example. My wife is a peach. My dog is an oval. I prefer triangles. In fact, I would drive a triangular car if they made one. But I'm stuck driving a box in a little box state.

Some day I'm going to break away like A.H. and buy a triangular car, load my square body into the circular seat and drive away to a hexagon-shaped island in the middle of a rhomboid sea.