Thursday, February 26, 2009

Still More From the Vault

One more foray into the vault. From my kid's book, One Strange World, I found this one about dieting, which may become a part of my life during Lent.


I'm on a diet

And losing weight,

Eating less

And feeling great.

The pounds are melting,

Inches, too.

I'm closely watching

What I chew.

I'm proud of my

New discipline.

I'm looking light

And feeling thin.

I feel so good

I'm persevering,

But slowly feel

I'm disappearing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More From the Vault

I'll crack the vault door open a bit wider today. I didn't have much time to read last night, but I did find a couple more silly poems in that old book I'd written for my kids. I think Chelsey, in particular, liked these two (less my drawings):
Tommy Target had a tapeworm
That was nearly ten feet long.
It stretched from pancreas and liver
To his duodenum.
And no matter what Tommy Target ate
He couldn't get any fatter,
Because the tapeworm at it first
Before it reached his bladder.
(Kind of makes you want to eat your peas and carrots, doesn't it?)

Sue and Sal
Were two peas in a pod.
Sue was blue!
Sal was red!
Not isn't that odd?
Sal said to Sue:
"I wish I were blue."
And Sue said to Sal:
"I wish I were red."
And that's all they said.
Do you know what happened?
Sal turned blue!
Sue turned red!
And then they looked
At each other and said:
"Sal, you're blue!"
"Sue, you're red!"
Now aren't they odd,
Sal and Sue,
Two peas in a pod?

(Kind of makes you want to just eat the carrots, doesn't it?)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Opening the Vault

Not long ago I was actually having a deeper conversation with my son and daughter. One of those rare occassions when I realized that both of them could actually talk about life and their feelings and some of their goals. In the course of this conversation my son asked me, "Dad, do you remember when you used to write stories and read them to us?"

"Yes," I said, "But I was a lot younger then."

"Do you still have any of that stuff?" my daughter asked. "How about that book of poems with all the funny drawings?"

Wow, I'd forgotten all about that one. So last night, I sat down and began riffling through my filing cabinets and was astounded to discover drawer after drawer of material I'd written over the past thirty-five years. Some of it was pre-seminary work: writing I had produced when I was late teens, early-twenties (pre-marriage, pre-children). I thought I'd burned those files a long time ago, and maybe I should have.

A lot of these files contain stories I'd written when the kids were young. And yes, I did manage to find the book my daughter remembered. I'd entitled the book, One Strange World. Here are a couple of the weird poems (less the drawings):


I've got friends named Sally and David,
Mark and Mertle and Sue.
And there are friends you can name by name
Because they are friends with you.

I've got friends who are kind and funny,
Loving and playful and true.
And there are friends who can make you laugh
Because they are friends with you.

Do you think if my friends and your friends met
They could help us to be friends, too?
Then your friends and my friends would know each other
And I would be friends with you.


My daughter's name is Chelsey
And she is quite a treat.
She drinks her milk and spins her toy
And plays with Daddy's feet.

And if I live to be a hundred
And act the way I ought'r,
I'll always love the little girl
Named Chelsey, who's my daughter.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Saturday and Sunday nights I had to take a detour, a side trip, a quick vacation. I was growing weary working on my book manuscript for GROUP, so I decided to focus on some science fiction for a few hours. I did manage to dredge up three stories that I'd been working on for some time, and I sent these out to some science fiction/fantasy magazines.

Probably nothing will come of it, but at least it was fun. I've published a fair number of science fiction stories over the past four years, but nothing spectacular as far as recognition goes.

I also keep thinking about a science fiction tale concerning a forty-something male pastor who wants to be a super hero in a galaxy far, far away. A guy who is married to an ageing school teacher who is taking instruction in space flight. They decide, after twenty-five years of marriage, to go on an expedition to another galaxy, dig rocks, and categorize these for a museum. They have lots of fun together labeling the rocks and then they get jiggy wid'it and decide to save a planet from extinction. I wonder . . . would a thing like that sell?

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way To . . .

Generally, on Fridays I try to write for four or five hours. But this morning was different. I had to drive downtown Indianapolis to the State Board of Health to obtain a birth certificate so I could apply for a passport so I could take a 25th anniversary cruise with Becky so we could . . . well, you get the picture.

But listen, have you been to the office of the State Board of Health recently? Man, I'm telling you, I could have contracted any number of deadly or infectious diseases just being in that place. And I'm not kidding.

The experience was just too rich, too absorbing, too hilarious for me not to write about it. I sat in the office waiting for my birth certificate and just watched and listened. The people. The conversations. The inexhaustible number of story lines. I got home and just had to write it up. So that's what I'm working on this afternoon (which will be an article or a blog for another time).

My State Board of Health Experience! I'm just glad to be alive.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

There's a hymn I've never sung, but the title intrigues me: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. I often feel this prayer emerging when I am writing like mad to meet a deadline.

In my case, I'm also praying, "Guide me, O thou team of editors." Yesterday I received another batch of email guidance from the "team", each offering their insights and expertise on my manuscript. Overall, I'm in fantastic shape. As I gauge an honest assessment of my pace, I'm going to have a first draft of 200 pages completed by the end of the month and then they can have at me again for a second rewrite in March.

I wrote from 9 to 11:30 last night, got fifteen more high-quality pages completed as I faded in and out of consciousness and focus as I helped my son with his algebra homework (what a combo!), and didn't even touch a cup of coffee. I was also proud of myself yesterday. I only had one donut, even though there were boxes available to me. I guess Jehovah is guiding my appetite, at least.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I am rather burned out on reading, but I did finish this book by Lee Iacocca last week, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? Iacocca writes with passion and persuasion (or at least his writer has transcribed his notes well, since I know Iacocca didn't actually write this book). There was one concept about leadership and organization that I will bring away from this one, however. Really struck me.

Iacocca says that any organization's success can be boiled down to basics in two parts. I'm inclined to agree. Here they are:

People & Priorities

In other words, a great leader surrounds himself/herself with capable and gifted people (then turns them loose to do their thing). The team works the organization on the same page because they share the same priorities. Very simple, but accurate no matter what the size, scope, or purpose of the organization.

Organizations don't work well when either: the people who work the organization are not the right people OR the priorities are not clear, or accepted, or pursued with dogged determination.

I like his stuff. That's why my marriage has worked for twenty-five years. I found the right person (my wife) and she pursues the priority in her life with myopic intent (making me happy). I have first-hand experience. This stuff works.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Conference Call

Last week I finally had the talk. The one I've been waiting for. The call.

I found myself on the phone with . . . count 'em . . . four editors. Each one offered opinions and insights about the book I am writing for GROUP publishing in Loveland, CO. I'm about 2/3 of the way through the book, but now I know where I am going. I have everything from a contract, to a plan, to a deadline. I'm glad I continued to write on this book even though I'd not talked voice to voice or face to face with anyone for two months.

Essentially, I've got five weeks to produce this book. They are very excited about it. So am I. I've never had a team of editors calling to spur me along like a racehorse.

Last night I wrote fourteen pages of great material, and at this rate, working every night at that pace, I'll blow the deadline away and have the book completed by the end of February. Anyway, that's MY deadline and I'm sticking to it.

Old Sparky is still holding up under the smoking keyboard. But I actually have a plan to purchase a new Dell laptop in a few weeks. Hang in there, boy! Help is on the way!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Literary Reviews

My work rarely warrants literary reviews, but, quite frankly, my wife's opinion is the one that really counts. Sometimes she will actually read my writing and make comment.

Like my Valentine's Day poem. Gave it to her when we went out to dinner Saturday night. She loved it. Said it was one of the best things I'd written. (But what the heck does she know?)

Anyway, she's keeping it in her sock drawer next to other cards and letters I've written her over the years. That review speaks volumes. She actually thought it was sock-drawer-worthy.

I can't wait until she reads the original I'm writing for her birthday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'll Be Your Valentine

It's no secret that Hallmark Inc. invented many of our so-called "holidays", including this idiotic Valentine's day on Saturday. Now, I have for years refused to buy my wife a ten dollar card and feed the Hallmark coffers, but I do write her an original poem each year expressing my love and devotion. I'll be giving her this poem on Saturday. I do invite other men who feel the same to borrow my sentiments and pass this along to your wives. (Sure, you can give me credit as the author!) Go ahead. I double-dog dare ya!! No, make that a triple-dare!!!!!

I’ll Be Your Valentine

If you don’t ask for dinner
(Since you need to be thinner)
Or don’t try to drop me some line,
And you don’t ask for boxes
Of nougaty chocolates
Then I’ll be your valentine.

If you don’t ask for kisses
(Since you’re still my missus)
And you don’t expect romance sublime,
If you’ll just be a homer
And watch reruns of Gomer
Then I’ll be your valentine.

If you don’t ask for food
Or if I’m in the mood,
And don’t expect dancing or wine,
And you don’t expect honey
Since I ain’t spent no money
Then I’ll be your valentine.

If you don’t expect bed
Like the night that we wed
And you don’t have to have it this time,
If you just don’t cave in
To this pop Hallmark sin,
Then I’ll be your valentine.

If you forgo the showers
Of red, rosy flowers
And don’t ask me to whisper, “Be mine!”
Then we’ll spend a night
In this pale, cheap moonlight
And I’ll be your valentine.

And finally, don’t fear,
I still love you, dear.
That’s why I’ve written this rhyme.
Just to prove that I’m true
And it’s all about YOU.
And that I’m still your valentine.

(Final note from Todd: I will be taking my wife to a nice dinner on Saturday, and will complement this with roses and a huge box of chocolates sure to fatten her thighs. What do you think I am, some kind of an idiot? I still want to live to see the next Hallmark holiday and by golly she'd better get me a nice birthday gift this year.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


In the past two months I've read a fair amount of my wife's writing. She has written reports, educational assessments, letters to parents, emails to colleagues, and some very official-sounding copy employing the use of words not within my limited hick vocabulary. I had to look up some of the words in the dictionary, but when I found the entries they all read: "This is a word that an idiot like you would never use . . . so forgetaboutit."

Her writing has impressed me, especially her use of correct English and unmixed metaphors. And I like her style. The letters she has written to some parents reminds me of the same style and tone she used to take when she wrote to me in college. Stuff like:

Dear Mr. Outcalt,
It is with regret and deep sadness that I write to you today to express my disappointment with our date of Friday last. Just who do you think you are? You think you have so much going on that I don't have better options? You call that a kiss? And what's up with leaving a 6.5% tip? Until you can show improvement, I'm placing you on disciplinary report. Shape up, sonny!
Ms. Osburn

Clearly you can see what I'm up against. Especially since Becky has saved all of my letters. My old letters read more along the vein of:

Dear Honeypot,
Can I rub your knee again? Or is it just hot in here? What'll it be this Friday? Burger King or Wendys? Your dad still hate me? Do you still like me? Please check _____yes or _____no.
Have a good'n,

Monday, February 9, 2009

My Grammy

I've never been a song writer, but I did read with some curiosity, this week, an essay that asked the penetrating question: "Does a Grammy matter anymore?"

Well, I can't speak for others out there, but my Grammy has always mattered to me. I've had my Grammy since 1960.

Currently, my Grammy is sitting in Robinson, Illinois. She's 95 years old, still beautiful, but deaf as a post.

My Grammy doesn't read my blog, which is a good thing. Reading this blog, no doubt she would wonder: "Where did I go wrong?"

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Catching Up

Sunday afternoon and evening I played catch up to some reading and writing . . . books and work I have wanted to complete for a long time.

On the reading front, I'm finally out of the gate reading Niall Ferguson's massive history of the economy: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Ferguson is one of those world -renowned historians whose work has been at the top of my reading list for a long time. I'm glad to finally get started on this one.

And I was also able to find a start to a short story that I've been wanting to write for over two years. I've had the story in my head for months, mulling it over, composing entire paragraphs and strings of dialogue from memory, and it was nice to finally get around to committing it to a floppy disk before Alzheimers sets in and removes my ability to remember where I live.

I didn't get the nap I was wanting, but I was able to take a nice walk with Becky and admire all of the houses that are still for sale. Not a bad Sunday when I think about it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Write Stuff

In the past couple of months I've received several emails and a couple of phone calls from friends and colleagues who essentially want to know: "I've got an idea for a book or an article: how can I get it published?"

Now, as far as my own experience when I was nineteen years old, say, or twenty-five, and was posing these same questions to more experienced writers, I would always get the brush off. Most everyone I approached--authors, agents, editors, publishers . . .anyone who was actually "inside" the publishing world--brushed me aside. I can think of a few exceptions, but for the most part, the attitude was: "If you don't know how to do it, leave me the flip alone!"

I hope I've fared much better than this when it comes to helping and giving what little advice I have. And so I'm writing this blog for all of those who have written to me.

In fact, I've learned that this is one of my greatest pleasures: helping someone find a successful outlet for his/her work, or reviewing a manuscript, or just talking on the telephone with someone who is frustrated for lack of response from an editor. I've been there many times. I'm still there. And I love supporting people who are out there trying to write for enjoyment or for money.

I really don't have much successful advice to give to people (especially for someone who needs income), but after eighteen books and a few hundred published articles and essays, I know I've learned a few things about what works, and what doesn't work, and what publishing involves . . . and I really don't want to keep those experiences to myself. Everything in the publishing world is changing very rapidly now, and I'm still learning, too. In fact, a writer must continually reinvent himself/herself constantly. A writer must find the new idea, the new voice, the new slant . . . and then work like hell to make it the best.

And that's why I always begin with that bit of advice first, and these questions: How hard are you willing to work? Because writing is work. And it's going to take a lot of time, concentration, and energy. And writing is a solitary pursuit. How secure are you within your own skin? Can you work while everyone else is asleep? Can you rise before everyone else is awake? Can you sit in silence for hours on end and just listen to your own heart beat? Can you work on something for weeks, months, even years without the slightest possibility of success and still sit down over a pot of coffee and write even more? Can you do this year after year after year? Is it your life?

If you can do these things . . . then YOU are a writer, my friend. And eventually, count on it . . . if you perfect your craft, you will succeed. Because one thing I've learned, too. There is still a demand for writers in a world where most people cannot write well. And believe me, most people cannot write well. Most people can scarcely write at all. So just keep writing, and working, and the chips will fall.

And don't forget this definition of a writer: A writer is someone who WRITES!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another Wow Day

As I write this, it's closing in on midnight (Wed.) regardless of what the time says on this blog (which is always wrong). This is the first chance I've had today to check my voice mails, my emails, and to open mail . . . and, wow . . . more writing than I can shake a stick at.

First, I open a letter from the Upper Room informing me that they are going to publish two of my little devotions. That's nice. The editor even wrote me a handwritten note that says, "It's been ten years since you submitted last. Don't wait so long next time. Write more . . . like very soon!" Thanks, Lynn . . .that's very inviting.

Then I open an email from some dude I've never heard of (almost deleted it, actually). He informs me that he is the lawyer who handles the subsidiary and publishing rights for Health Communications, Inc. in Florida. It seems that a magazine wants to publish a quote from my book, The Healing Touch (why, I'll never know!) and he wrote to ask: "Are you okay with that? Want to grant permission?" Quote away, I tell him. They can have as much of my stuff as they can stomach. Though why anyone would find anything I've written to be quotable . . . a real mystery.

Finally, I get both a voice mail and an email from GROUP publishing in Loveland, CO informing me that, yes, I'm going to be under a very tight deadline very soon to finish a youth ministry book that is to be titled: Youth Ministry For Tough Times. I now know who my senior editor is, who my layout artist is, and who will be working up a contract (which I still don't have).

All in all, not a bad night. Kind of makes me sad to go to sleep. Like, I might just stay right here and write for a couple of hours to meet that blasted deadline . . . .

The Blog As Personal Journal

For many years I kept a personal journal. It was a little flowery book with a locket on the side and I kept it under my mattress next to my Barbie dolls. (No, wait, that was the diary I found on the playground when I was eight.)

But lots of writers do keep personal journals. There are actually some famous ones out there. For example, The Journals of John Cheever was published some twenty years ago to both critical and commercial acclaim. Cheever's journals were given even greater cult status after they showed up in a Seinfeld episode. More recently, I noted that the Journals of Joyce Carol Oates were scheduled for publication. Obviously, a massive tome that will chronicle her entire life and thoughts about writing.

Now, my journals have been nothing along this scope, but as I've thought about journaling more recently, I've come to the conclusion that my blogs have become something akin to my journals. They possess the same kind of rapier wit (?) and cynicism that my journals might reveal.

Anyway...enjoy my journals.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


There was a time when I wrote limericks by the hundreds. I have a vast supply of them. But since the limerick of the bathroom wall is no longer appropriate, I've taken to writing "religious" limericks. Last night I took ten minutes and scrawled these on the back of a napkin. Hope you enjoy them.

A bishop from Saskatoon
Ordered drink in a forlorn saloon,
As he stretched out his ring
He was called on to sing
But his voice couldn’t carry a tune.

There once was a priest from Vermont
Who spoke in a long, flowing font
When asked if he’d try
To make apple pie
Said, I vood iv I cood but I kan’t.

There once were two deacons from Drew
Who sat every week in their pew
And heckled the priest
Who said, “Well at least
There aren’t any more than the two.”

A pastor from downtown French Lick
Developed a sporadic tick.
When she preached in her jeans
Some commented, “She seems
To be just like the rest of us hicks.”

Two brothers—a priest and liar—
Became tangled in a strand of barbed wire,
The liar tried prayer
And the priest cursed the air,
And between them they started a fire.

There once was a pastor named Todd
Who feasted on donuts and cod
But the church read his blog
And said, “He’s slipped his cog.
For a pastor he’s incredibly odd.”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl Reading

Last year, I remember that I read Jeff Yeager's book, The Cheapskate's Guide to Saving Money, in its entirety, during the Super Bowl. Last night, during the game, I finished reading The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, by Mark Bittner. I have realized for years that I don't have enough attention span to watch any game from beginning to end, so I have to read or write to keep my sanity. I enjoyed this book, and for several reasons.

Last spring, when our family traveled to San Francisco on vacation, we rode the cable cars several times. Each time we passed the sign for Telegraph Hill, I would say, "Look, kids, that's the hill where the wild parrots gather."

"Dad, what are you talking about?"

"You know," I'd say, "the story about the man who adopted all of the wild parrots. They made a movie about him, a documentary that won an Academy Award last year. And there's a book, too. And I want to read it."

"Dad, you are so lame. A real loser," Chelsey told me.

"Take me Chinatown," Logan insisted. "I want to eat large, heaping portions of rice, pounds of it, along with two whole chickens and a rooster!"

"Don't you want to see the parrots? Don't you want to learn something from the lovely man?"

"Just buy your book and read it," my wife insisted. "Leave us alone."

I did. And I did. During the Super Bowl. Thank you very much.