Wednesday, December 31, 2008

100 Books

Here on the eve of New Year, I've been reflecting on my goal of reading 100 books in 2008. The idea was something of a whim twelve months ago, and I really didn't know if I'd be able to achieve those heights while doing so many other things. But looking back, it's been an amazing journey.

I note, for example, that somewhere mid summer I'd reached the forty book mark and knew I'd have to step up my game. I began carrying books with me everywhere I went (the license branch, pharmacy, bathroom, prostate exams) and I read more books in bed, into the wee hours of the morning, than I can recall. Also, I must confess that my 100 books also includes several books on tape, and several half-read books that I'm combining to count as a single book. For example, I've read half of Stephen King's newest book, Just After Sunset, and half of Mother Teresa's book, Come Be My Light, which have combined to give me nightmares about God sending me to hell for feeding the hungry and helping the outcast.

But I did read 100 books, and this in a year when I also wrote nearly 50 sermons, a fair share of studies, numerable blogs, three books and a plethora of articles (by my count some 300,000 words) all while working 50-70 hours a week in my pastoral gig and also transitioning one kid to college and another to high school. Naturally, I don't recommend you try this at home, unless you, like me, want to go without food, water and sleep for long periods of time. My wife and I are still trying to get to know each other on a first-name basis. Next year, I will have to remember her birthday and our anniversary. But what's-her-name has been swell through this whole thing.

How many books do I plan to read in 2009? Well, not 100. I'll probably drop back to my manageable 30-40 book pace, but I do plan to read the entire Bible in 2009 (see come January 1 . . . but I'll still be writing this demented piece, too. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

King Couplings

Rounding out my 2008 reading list is Sex with Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge, by Eleanor Herman. Not as risque as my mother would have me believe, but a fairly good and amazingly fun history of all of the ways that sex has been used inside the European corridors of power to gain lands, armies, and influence. Some of the stories here are well-known (King Henry VIII leaps to mind) but there are more sordid tales, too.
Of course, reading this type of book as my 100th title of 2008 is much more enjoyable than reading, for example, a book written by some theologian or, perhaps, a commentary on the book of Leviticus. Of course, I can read about David and Bathsheba in the Bible, but I want to read about the kings who had four mistresses and got kicked out of the castle.
Naturally, as I was reading this book, I proudly displayed it on the coffee table so my wife would take the hint. She did. But her response was, of course, "Believe me, sweetheart, you're no king!"
And so ends the wild reading experiment of 2008.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stroke of Genius

As I was reading My Stroke of Insight (by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D) my wife asked, "Are you enjoying that book?" My answer was slow in coming. "Enjoy isn't the word I would use," I said. "It's a fascinating personal memoir of a brain scientist's own stroke, what she felt during the stroke, how she had out of body experiences, her thoughts about death, about the health industry, and her long, eight year recovery process. I'm not enjoying reading about a bloody brain, but it is certainly fascinating."

I read the book in a few hours, and found several fascinating points of interest with the author, particularly as she is an Indiana State University grad, and following her stroke taught at Rose Hulman in Terre Haute and eventually made her way to IU, where she now teaches out of the Med Center in Indianapolis.

But that's where the commonalities end.

Jill Taylor, after all, is a genius who graduated from Harvard, Magna Cum Laude.
I graduated from Duke University, Lawdy How Cum.

Jill Taylor was voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine this year.
I was voted "Most Likely to be a Disappointment to his Mother" my senior year in high school.

Jill Taylor is a wonderfully witty and snappy fifty-year-old woman who apparently has never married.
I am a neary fifty-year-old man who has been married for twenty five years to a witty woman who snaps my head off.

Jill Taylor is a great success who has now written a best-selling book her first time out.
I am a dismal failure of a writer who continues to produce large quantities of landfill fodder.

Jill Taylor's mother nursed her baby back to health over a span of eight years following the stroke.
My mother didn't buy me any underwear this Christmas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Poor Me

As 2008 is rapidly nearing an end, I am frantically reading books. I am still determined to read 100 books this year, and by my count, I'm going to do it.

One of the books I did complete was Poor Richard's Almanac (just selected portions, of course, written by Ben Franklin). I enjoyed the book, especially such pithy sayings as:

Both fish and visitors stink after three days.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Well, old Ben had a nice way of turning a phrase. But I've learned a few things over the years, too. Here are some of my musings.

Fifteen-year-old boys won't eat lima beans, not even if they're covered in chocolate sauce.

Never buy your wife a practical Christmas gift.

Don't crack walnuts on the sofa cushions.

Don't try to drive on ice.

If you are feeling depressed, eat a donut.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night Before . . .

Twas the night before Christmas when Calvary Church
Sang "Joy to the World", with Mark on his perch.
The banners were hung by the altar guild ladies
(Some new ones, as well as some made in the eighties).
And all the poinsettias were arranged on the altar,
While Andrew had hopes that his wicks wouldn't falter.
And Jennifer greeted and shared a nice rhyme,
While David and Alison kept watching the time.
Michelle was there, too, for a long night of prayin'
But working with Todd, we're amazed that she's stayin'.
The building was scrubbed by Gary and Brian,
And Lori took care of the kids who were cryin'.
Fay made the fliers, and Tonya made cookies,
And Shellody counted, along with some rookies.

When all of a sudden, but what should appear,
But a choir singing praises . . . walking in from the rear.
Their cheeks were like roses, their dimples did glisten,
And they sang around midnight hoping someone would listen.
But my, how the people sang praises to Jesus,
The children, the youth, and even us geezers.
The people were dressed in their best of the season,
Though a few people coughed and a couple were sneezin'.

Then up to the rooftop our voices, they carried,
Though a few who can't sing lost the count, or they tarried,
And the people of God looked like jolly old elves
And we weren't that bad-looking in spite of ourselves,
Our faces still glowing by the car where we parked it
(We're still picking candle wax out of the carpet!)
But that's Christmas Eve in this Calvary steeple,
Where God still shows up, and people love people.

No, the meaning of Christmas is still filled with mirth,
If we but pause to ponder the Blessed Child's birth.
And we can't glean God's laughter in one single night
When we're learning to walk more by faith than by sight.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Messed Up

I have also gained much from reading Mike Yaconelli's book, Messy Spirituality. Mostly, I enjoyed Mike's stories about his messed up faith. He points out that our journey with God is always messy business, and our faith is, at best, an imperfect blend of failures, insecurities, dead ends, and do-overs. That's faith as I know it, too.

As we near Christmas, I'm even more reminded of how messed up we truly are. Somehow, we muddle through with God's help.

And sometimes God gives us comfort in unexpected places: donuts, coffee seem to work for me. I'll be doing my messed up thing in 2009, too. Can't wait.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Simple Church

As 2008 draws to a close, I am frantically reading books in order to attain my goal of reading 100 titles in a year. I'm going to make it (I have a plan).

I've also been overjoyed to discover that some of the books I've been reading in December have been some of the most thought-provoking, especially in the area of theology, ecclesiology, or eschatology (I love using big fancy seminary words). Hence, I enjoyed reading, and actually gained much from, Thom Rainer's and Eric Geiger's book, Simple Church.

Essentially, they point out that congregations grow when there is a simplicity of focus, expectation and programs. The more complex a congregation is (most congregations) the more difficult it is for the congregation to grow (in size, giving, mission, or ministry). They also discovered that the larger the congregation is, the more likely it is to be a simple church, and churches that are growing, are very likely simple in their design and makeup.

I think I serve a simple church (at least I hope we are). We aren't trying to do everything (simple), don't layer people with hundreds of meetings (simple), don't have hundreds of programs (simple) and we don't make hundreds of announcements in worship about the hundreds of programs we expect people to get involved in (simple). We are using the KISS principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.

We do FPU, a few Bible studies, women's groups, teens and children...all small groups, and that's about it. Our worship is simple and concise. And we don't have more than 20 missions that we support, so people can easily understand what we are trying to do locally or in the world with a single glance. People can also easily enter into Calvary, take a new member class and make a profession of faith. Then they can get involved in a group (that's important) and they can learn to find a place of service (that's important). SIMPLE.

And I think that's why Calvary is still dynamic. People are not overwhelmed. And people have enough complications in their work, their families and their pace, they simply don't want complexity in their walk with God. SIMPLE.

I liked this book very much and I plan to reread it every year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Writing Christmas Emails

Why does it seem that Christmas (at least the "family together" part) gets more complex with each passing year? Over the past two weeks, I've been exchanging emails with many in the family, trying to work out an answer to the simple question: When are we getting together?

So far, here's all that I know.

If the weather holds up nicely on Christmas eve, we have the firm committment of a strong maybe with overtures of possibility that my inlaws may arrive to spend the night and celebrate Christmas with us on Christmas day. However, in the event of snow or prevailing winds, we will likely get together earlier in the week (before Christmas Eve) unless someone gets the sniffles or either of my children have other plans . . . and in that case all bets are off and we may get together at some time between Christmas and New Year's day at a time and location to be named later. Now . . . as for my parents, they would like to see us the day after Christmas, but there has already been strong disappointment expressed that it couldn't be arranged earlier, and if we do get together the day after Christmas it is an unwritten and unspoken expectation that we will spend the night and drink Folgers coffee the following morning while watching the squirrels eat out of the bird feeders and everyone gathered around the fireplace will bathe in the glow of utter civility and tranquility and all that Merry Christmas jazz. And if this doesn't work out, they will drive over and see us whenever the roads are clear . . . Ho, Ho, Ho.

Happy planning!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Big Day # 2

When I have a big day I always want to celebrate. So when Becky and Logan were finally at home I told them, "Drop everything, we are going out to dinner."

"What's the occasion?" Becky wanted to know.
"I've had a big day," I said.
"What . . . that wart finally fall off?" she asked.
"I'll tell you about it in the car."
"Are you kidding me?" Logan blurted out. "I've got a bunch of homework. I'm not going out to dinner!"

[Note: Picture here cartoon father picking up fifteen year old kid and spinning him around on the tip of his finger like a basketball then tossing him like a sack of potatoes out the picture window into the creek. It never happened, but I was imagining same in my mind.]

"You can order anything on the menu," I finally said. "Even that fifteen pound hamburger you've had your eye on."

[Note: Kid and wife load in old piece of crap car against their better judgment and I relate story of multiple editors who can't keep their hands off me, the books, the emails and the voice mail offer that is still saved on the message board at home.]

"You drug me away from the house for that?" wife asks. "I've got papers to grade. I've got lesson plans to create."

"Humor me," I plead.

"Dad," fifteen year old chimes in (he's not heard anything . . . listening to iPod with ear buds), "I'm ordering a steak."

[Note: Dad here considers driving old piece of crap car into nearest telephone pole and ending it all. But he knows his insurance rates will go up. He does buy his family a nice dinner; they keep asking why. He tells them again how much he loves them, that he would do anything for them, that they can have his liver, pancreas, or left lung in a pinch, and that he has, once again, spared their lives in the old piece of crap car. The son orders a steak and two large desserts. When dad gets back home from church meeting around nine p.m., he begins writing on old Sparky.]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Big Day #1

I made a note in my calendar so I would always remember the day. It was last month, November 20, a Thursday afternoon. I arrived at the house, gathered up my mail from the box, and parked. Sitting in the car, as I gleaned through the mail, I noted that I'd received a letter from an editor who was informing me that she was accepting one of my essays for an upcoming anthology.

Not a bad day so far. But when I stepped onto the front porch, I noticed a box. Inside the box were two copies of a book I'd contributed to more than a year prior. I'd forgotten all about that little project, but it was a nice feeling seeing the final product. I unpacked the books, stuffed them on the top of my bookcase (where I will likely discover them again in five years and say: "Oh, so that's where those are!") and strode into my office to check emails. Still not a bad day.

Lo and behold, when I pulled up my long list of emails, I discovered that two other editors had written to me. One was informing me that she was approving my book manuscript for publication (after two rewrites) and she was sending me forth to conquer with help from the marketing department. And the other email was from an editor at the United Methodist Publishing House requesting that I help write a new curriculum for confirmation (so I'll probably be traveling to Nashville some time this summer). Still not a bad day, and getting better.

Finally, when I checked my voice mail, ten minutes later, I noted an odd phone number on the caller ID. Never seen that phone number before in my life. But when I checked the message, I encountered the voice of a very excited editor who was informing me that she loved the book proposal I'd sent her last week and she couldn't wait to get her grimy hands on my manuscript and, in fact, the publisher wanted to know how quickly I could write the darn thing, since they want to publish it ASAP! I listened to the message three times just to make sure it wasn't a prank (like my brother, talking in a falsetto voice, trying to yank my chain). But no, this woman really wanted me!!!

Oddly enough, I have yet to talk voice to voice with the two editors who are determined to get my next book out in six months, and I have until the end of the year to write the whole shebang and get it polished up. I just keep sending them emails saying, "I'm writing like a man possessed every night until the wee hours of the morning and, look, this better not be a prank," and they keep sending me emails back saying, "Keep writing you sick little puppy you!" and others that inform me that, "yes, we will get you a contract in the mail very soon as soon as we figure out how to deal with a nut like you."

My Merry Christmas is going to be merry after all, and I'm carrying pencils, paper, laptop and my thesaurus with me everywhere I go. I'm not going to let these folks down and I'll write all night if I have to in order to get my 50,000 word manuscript completed (which should actually be a piece of cake, seeing that I have two weeks to get 'er done).

Everyone should have a big day from time to time . . . I just hope this doesn't turn out to be one of my old high school teachers trying to get payback for all of those anonymous papers I slipped underneath the teacher lounge door.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shoot Out

One of the big books I completed last week was Duel, by James Fleming: the history behind the infamous duel between then Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, in 1804, in which Burr killed Hamilton with a single shot. Wow, politics was rough back then, and duels were a common way of settling the score (though few died) and figuring out who the "real men" were. One thing's for sure, the politics of the early 1800s was already almost irretrievably corrupt, and George Washington had even noted that political parties would be the destruction of the nation if leaders adhered to ideology and partisanship over the public good. Funny, the more things change, the more they've stayed the same in the domes of power.

Of course, there are many reasons why one politician might want to shoot another one, but Burr killed Hamilton because he had called him a name. (Namby Pamby Little Runt, or something like that.)

When I think of all the names I've been called over the years, I wonder why I haven't been given permisson to shoot someone.

In second grade, Billy Stephens gave me the evil eye and called me a "funny boy". I shot him with a rubber band and had to stay inside at recess and write "I will not shoot Billy" on the blackboard a hundred times. In cursive.

And when I was in eighth grade, Tammy Danner called me a "zit face". Yes, it was true, but believe me, she was no prize. I didn't bother firing a snappy comeback. I just goosed her. Principal's office that time.

Good thing I didn't carry a derringer in grade school. The thing could have gone off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Am Happy to Inform You

Most every day, when I roll back into the house around 5 p.m. or so, I check my emails and my voice messages. And sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Yesterday, when I settled in for the evening, I checked my emails and felt my heart leap at those six wonderful words that writers always love to hear/or read:

I am happy to inform you . . .

This one was from an editor who, over the past six months, has accepted about 75% of what I've written . . . and she actually pays me, too! In this instance, she was accepting an essay that will be included in a book entitled, The Ultimate Teacher. I wrote my wife's story (going back to school, becoming a rookie teacher at the age of 45, etc.). Becky read it last night for the first time, and I pointed out that this essay was the only piece of mine that she's read all year.

"This is the first thing you've written all year that was worth reading," was her snappy comeback.


I just hope she demonstrates that kind of wit in the classroom!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm No Wimp

One of the books I purchased for Logan (Christmas gift...don't tell him!) is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Keeney. Of course, I had to read it myself. It's a great book. Very halarious, and smacks of the best and worst memories ever dredged up from middle school years. The book did have one tidbit that brought back a flood of memories for me, and confirmed my self-assessment that I am no wimp. The author mentions paying another middle school student to eat chewing gum that had been pried off of the bottom of the desk.

Now, I wasn't in middle school at the time, but I made a fair amount of money in high school actually performing dares/stunts like this. Some of my un-wimpy records include:

$12.00 gleaned from the other members of the varsity basketball team when I ate a piece of chewing gum from the boy's shower floor (Dentine, as I recall).

$5.00 for finishing a lollipop I found in the rain-soaked school parking lot.

And I actually took Becky to the Junior year prom by eating a tangled mass of 6 Milk Duds that several friends found under the bleachers (and paid me to eat), for a total of $40.00. Heck, in 2008 dollars, that's something like $400. Man, I'd eat a lot of stuff off the bottom of desks for $400, even today. I'd still lick lead paint off the walls for $400.

Don't think I'd do it? Wanna bet?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tired But Energized

I'm in an odd writing situation currently (more on this later) . . . .
But in the past four days I've written a whopping fifty pages of material in an attempt to meet an internal deadline (and perhaps an actual deadline) that I've placed out there on the horizon. As I write this blog on Sunday afternoon around 6 p.m., I am preparing to go to the youth white elephant gift exchange . . . and I need a break.

My eyes are actually watering (no, I'm not crying because I am listening to my wife's Perry Como Christmas CD) because I've been staring at Old Sparky's screen for hours on end, trying to keep the old machine going through one more book before the whole shebang goes up in smoke.

I've been saying, "One more book" for many years now, and Old Sparky has yet to let me down. I'm tired, but energized. Another hundred pages and I've whipped out another tome!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Car Crap

In order to fulfill my goal of reading a hundred books in a year, I'm finding myself reading a fair amount of poetry collections. These poems also seem to be provoking some of the poet in me (though over the years I know I've written hundreds, if not thousands of verses). Driving home on Thanskgiving with our fourth car (a 1993 Chevy 4X4 pickup) it occured to me that all of our cars now have over 100,000 miles on them, and our driveway looks like a used car lot. And since I'm sending all my money to Ball State and Uncle Sam, there' s no new car in sight. Hence, I had to wax poetical about my car-driving reality.

When You're Driving An Old Piece of Crap

Yes, you know that you're cheap
When you're driveway's a heap
Of plastic and metal and scrap.
But you really don't care,
Cause you're ridin' on air,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Oh, you pray for your wife,
Every day of your life,
That her days won't end in mishap,
As she drives to her work,
In a car that's a jerk,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Yes, some people zoom by,
With their nose in the sky,
And they'll flip you the bird as they lap.
But you don't give a dip,
You just chug down a nip,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

And some friends drop in
Who believe that they'll win
With a Hummer putting them on the map.
So you take them a spin,
And they don't come again,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Yes, you're always in pain,
In the snow and the rain,
As you tighten yourself in the strap.
But you don't really care,
You just send up a prayer,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

The best friends you knew,
Say "Trade up for the new",
When your wiper blades no longer clap.
But you know it . . . you feel
You'll just die at the wheel,
When you're driving an old piece of crap.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Call of the Wife

For some reason, I felt like a wild man this week, so I read Jack London's classic novel, The Call of the Wild. London certainly writes eloquently about his own wild man, as embodied in the dog, Buck, but I'm not sure old Jack ever experienced the full brunt of domestic life (though he did nearly sail around the world at one point and seemed to have a successful marriage). Still, I enjoyed The Call of the Wild, but thought I'd write about the real call that most men experience.

The Call of the Wife

Oh, the call of the wife is a clear call,

It's wild and it's true and it's tried.

The call of the wife is a mating call

That cannot be denied.

Yes, the wife often calls in the morning:

"Get out of that bed, you louse!"

And she reminds her hubby and children

That she's the ruler of her house.

But the call of the wife ain't a burden,

Not even when feeding the cat,

Nor after an evening of passion when asked:

"Can't you do any better than that?"

Oh, a man may wander in pack or herd,

May endure harsh weather and strife,

But no matter how many sirens may call,

He responds to the call of the wife.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Late on a Tuesday Night

Surprisingly, I found myself at home Tuesday night with no meetings to attend, no attachments, and no appetite for snacks. And with everyone else busying themselves with homework or grading homework, I decided to settle in for a night of fast-paced writing.

I never set out to keep track of anything I do, but I couldn't help but notice that after two hours of furious typing, where the ideas were coming faster than my fingers could respond, I'd produced fifteen pages of decent material. Something like three thousand words, which I'll take any time at that rate.

Later than later that night, when Becky and I met in the middle of the house, she asked me what I'd been doing. "I wrote one-tenth of a new book," I said. "If I get nine more nights like this one, I'll have the entire thing done. And by the hour, I could write the whole thing in a day."

"That's nice," she said, yawning.

And it was. A great night indeed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Queen Preacher

I thought it would be a good idea if I read a book on preaching, written by a great preacher. So I finished Barbara Brown Taylor's tome, The Preaching Life. It's a great read, and I enjoyed Taylor's brief essays regarding the place of Bible, Imagination, and Worship in sermon preparation.

Her essay on imagination, especially, hit a chord with me. Especially since there are so few imaginative people in the church today.

But as for preaching the good news, I wonder:

How about creating a rotating pulpit, so the pastor can preach Lazy Susan style?

How about creating a vibrating pew (sort of like a Disney ride) so the congregation can not only hear the message, but feel it, too? Rumbling, gyrations, vibrations at key moments in the sermon!

How about a 24 hour sermon line (a hot line to the pastor(s)) where people can tune into their pastor at work, in their cars, at home with the flip of a switch? (Hello, all you church members out there . . . glad to be with you tonight as you're brushing your teeth and getting ready for bed!)

How about having church on the streets, in soup kitchens, or in the subway, so the sermon has to come from the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around us?

Good old, Barb . . . she's got so many ideas for an Episcopalian!

Monday, December 8, 2008


As I was reading my biography of Daniel Boone, I noted that, in 18th century America, the three most-read and influential books were (in order): The Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and Robinson Crusoe. When I read a book, I have a tendency to be led to other titles so I can learn more about this first. In this case, I wanted to know why Daniel Boone would want to read Robinson Crusoe. So I decided to revisit that old novel myself.

Reading Crusoe, I was amazed at how much Steven Spielberg has swiped from the novel when he shot Castaway, starring Tom "Life is Like a Box of Chocolates" Hanks. But Crusoe is definitely an 18th century phenom. The literary devices and style that worked in the 1700s just don't work to capture a modern-day readers imaginations and interests. After thirty pages of plant description and observations about the geography and tides, I grew weary of the book. When does Crusoe meet Friday? I kept asking myself. Answer: Not until near the end of the novel. By then, I'd had enough interior dialogue and first-person observations about corn stalks to tide me over for a good long while.

And here's an interesting fact. Crusoe wasn't a castaway at all. Seems like he took up permanent residence on his island (sort of like Gilligan after his three hour tour and the five seasons he was on TV and all the reunion shows that came later!) and stayed for twenty-five years. Listen, you're not a castaway after that length of time, you're a native, and don't you forget it.

Well, one good thing though. I did complete "a classic". I've had two new copies of Crusoe on my shelf for twenty years (never opened, still in the wrapper) and I was glad to finally darken their pages with my filthy, donut and coffee stained fingertips.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

CD Delivery

The first of my five audio CDs that I recorded in studio some weeks back has finally arrived. But I'm not going to listen to it. (Have you ever listened to your own voice on a recording? My voice is sickening and I'd rather listen to yowling hyena.)

Funny thing about a CD. By the time I come around to using the latest technology, it's no longer the latest technology. My son has informed me that no one listens to CDs anymore. Everything is iPod, MP3, digital download, etc.

Oh, well. One of these days I'm going to get hip and buy a few of the latest gadgets . . . a color TV, a gas stove, a telephone . . .

I'm still yelling at my neighbors out the window.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Writing Solo

When I was a young, aspiring writer, I recall reading a quote that read something like: "Writing is, by definition, a solitary action." As time has gone by, I've come to realize how accurate those words truly are. After all, very few people actually read what any writer produces.

Take Thanksgiving, for instance. At one point, my mother asked me, "Are you writing anything new these days?"

"Yes," I said, "In fact, I'll bring you some copies of a few things I've had published this past year. And I'll have three new books published in 2009."

"That's nice," she said. "How does Becky read all of the stuff you write?"

"Becky? She reads very little of what I write. She's tired. Worn out. She reads textbooks. Student essays. She could care less about reading what I write."

"You don't say! Well, I guess she does have a life!"

She has a life. That's an understatement. Recently Becky asked the kids if they had read a humorous essay I had written about the family a few months ago. "Why would I want to read something dad wrote?" was Logan's response. "I started to read it, "Chelsey said. "But I got busy." "That's all right," Becky chimed in, "I haven't had time to read it either."

Years ago, I used to write stories (and even publish a few) for my children and their entertainment. Sort of daddy's special gift. They would even ask me to read some of my stories as dinner entertainment. Now, the mere suggestion of reading one of my works-in-progress sends my son into agonizing spasms: "Dad, just bring me another pork chop! You gonna eat your hamburger helper? Here, let me take that sweet roll off your plate!"

"I have to listen to two hundred thirteen-year-olds tell me their stories all day long," Becky adds, "why on God's-green-earth would I want to sit here and listen to one of yours?"

"It's just a little something I've been working on for five hours today," I'll say. "Thought you might want to learn about Jell-O, or maybe hear a story about my old dog, or read some of the silly poems I'm churning out on my blog."

They just keep chewing.

Writing is certainly a solo pursuit. It's no wonder so many writers end up sticking their heads into glowing ovens!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Glazed America

A few weeks back, I noted a new book that was published by an IUPUI anthropology professor. The title: Glazed America: The History of the Donut, by Paul Mullins. I knew I had to buy and read the book. The day the book arrived, I read it in a single sitting . . . sort of like I would eat a donut. One bite! Whole! Right down the hatch!

I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot. For example, the donut was probably a Dutch invention, but donuts became popular in America on the front lines of WWI. They have been an American staple since, and, in fact, are deemed an American food . . . so much so that other nations often look to the donut as the source of America's health problems and other woes and some nations have even passed laws barring Krispy Kreme from setting up shop on their shores. Professor Mullins also devotes an entire section to the significance of the donut in faith communities (how about our coffee and donut hour at Calvary?) and the deep significance we continue to place on eating a donut with a friend.

Of course, I knew all of this . . . that's why I eat donuts! But I must apologize for my donut craze. It's gotten a bit out of control. I realized this as I was reading the book. As I was finishing off the final chapter, I realized I had subconsciously eaten the cover off the book! Wow! Let me tell you, the Glazed America book jacket was absolutely the tastiest paper I've ever enjoyed!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Canadian Groupie

It happens about this time every year . . . I get a phone call, an email, or a letter from a woman named Claudia in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She tells me how much she enjoys my books, tells me how many of my books she has purchased, or given away, and then wonders if she can buy more directly from me (with my autograph, of course). She especially loves Candles in the Dark, the one book, so far, that I have worked the longest and hardest on, but which went out of print the fastest of any of my titles. This book was translated into Chinese and Korean editions, and for all I know, I might be a best-selling author in Beijing or Seoul, but what good does that do me in Browntucky, Indiana?

Now, I'm not sure how people like Claudia find me, and I'm even more perplexed by my god-like status in Calgary, Alberta! (And why Calgary, of all places? Are there no bookstores there? Do Canadians read more out-of-print books by unknown and unsuccessful authors like me? Why form a Todd Outcalt book club and have my face tatooed on her forearms?)

Anyway, of course I wrote her back yesterday informing her that, yes, I would be most happy to send her a few of my books (as I do have the only remaining copies in existence) and I would even toss in free postage to Canada. Heck, that's the least I can do for my groupies. Gotta keep the fans happy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Disney and Daniel Boone

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I managed to finish a number of books, including the massive and comprehensive biography, Boone, by Robert Morgan. Though Morgan is best known as a poet, he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Daniel Boone. I learned a great deal about this national figure, including the following:

Daniel Boone wasn't really a "big man", as the Disney theme song suggests (version with Fess Parker). Boone was a rather rail thin and scrawny five ten, one hundred-seventy-pound dude.

Boone didn't make much war on the Native Americans. Oh, sure he killed a few people when he had to, but by and large he tried to live peaceably with all of the Indian tribes, and this during a time (mid 1700s) when many of the tribes were being slaughtered.

Boone was a trapper, and spent whole months at a time by himself in the Kentucky wilderness. Brave dude, and smart--killed a lot of beaver!

It's also not true that Boone was "born on a mountain top in Tennessee" (again, the Disney theme song--shame on you Disney!) nor is it true that when Boone was born, the "land of the free" was already free. The colonies had not yet been liberated from England (Disney has no shame!). And here's the biggie: Daniel Boone absolutely, positively never wore a coon-skin cap! Wow! My entire childhood was a sham! My sense of history has been shattered. What Mrs. Gore taught me about America in the second grade was all a big fib!

Thank you, Mr. Morgan, for putting my life back in balance. I can sleep soundly now.