Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding Books

Imagine my surprise when, upon returning home from annual conference, I discovered that Becky had rearranged hundreds of books in my home library. She called it "cleaning" but the fact is, I'm still trying to locate titles. She double-stacked some shelves, created new arrangements.

However, I did discover "new" books. Books that I didn't realize I had. Classics that have been hiding for years in dust and neglect. Books that I had purchased thirty years ago but are just now seeing the light of day.

So . . . I did thank her. I had to admit, the library looks much better. It's very nice. And, well, it is clean.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Book Signing

I was asked to do a book signing at annual conference this year. Fortunately, it was a book signing instead of a book-sitting.

But there was one interesting phenomenon . . . every few minutes someone would walk up to me and ask a question about the merchandise. They assumed that, by virtue of the fact that I was sitting behind a table with a pile of books, that I worked for Cokesbury.

One woman walked up to me, held out a catalogue, and asked, "Now, let me ask you. If I order this robe for my pastor, can you guarantee me that it will fit?"

I looked at her and said, "Mine fits, lady, and I'm a rather large man."

Another guy walked over, held out an Adam Hamilton DVD and asked, "Do you have this in CD instead of DVD? You need to make sure you keep your inventory up. It's getting low."

I looked at the the DVD for the guy and said, "Are you sure you wouldn't rather have the DVD, chum? You can watch it on your laptop that way." He gave me a sneer and walked away. I think he was a district superintendent. Probably want to move me to Potato Run.

And then there was the woman who walked up to me and asked, "Why are you just sitting here? You've got customers waiting in line. You need to open up another cash register!"

"Yeah, yeah, lady . . . just join the rest of the deadbeats already. I'm selling books here. Wanna buy one?"

Anyway . . . always glad to help Cokesbury any way I can. But being a customer service rep instead of an author ain't easy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's His Name?

I have just returned from annual conference where, much to my surprise, I took the stage for the ordination service as three different people. Or, I should say, there were three different spellings for my name that appeared in the various programs and bulletins that were distributed.

To some, I was Tod Outcault (not a bad try at the spelling, but slaughtering my first AND last names is just plain weird).

To others, I was Todd Allcott (one of the more interesting attempts at spelling from "sound", but at least this person did spell my first name correctly).

And then, to others, I was Todd O. (I guess this person just wasn't going to attempt the last name, or just gave up).

Funny thing about a name like mine. People might know, but even the best of friends can't spell my name. But I'm used to it. Just call me Todd. Or Alleycat. Or O. I'll answer to most anything.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Writing From the Lobby

It's late here in Muncie, I'm tired, and I'm writing this blog on the hotel lobby computer just to prove something to myself. Amazingly enough, I've had several conversations today about writing, including two people who walked up to me and asked if I would help them with their book projects. Glad to do it. Love to help people fulfill a goal or a vision.

Tomorrow I will be blessed to sign books at the conference book table. I'll be surprised, however, if anyone shows up, even though there are three thousand people here. Still, it was nice to be asked to sit behind a table and smile over a pile of books.

Now, to bed, perhaps some reading, and then a good night's sleep. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Grave Robbers

Usually, once I begin reading about a subject, I find myself drawn to other titles that can deepen my understanding further. And in the case of reading about Abraham Lincoln's assassination, I then wanted to read about the many plots to rob his grave. So, toward that end, I read Stealing Lincoln's Body, by Thomas Craughwell. Not a bad book, but I was disappointed at times, as I thought Craughwell spent too much of his hard-earned research and writing dabbling in background information that didn't move the reader forward through the various dangers presented by the grave robbers and their clandestine plots. But I pressed on and finished the book nonetheless.

I also learned other things. Those Lincolns were a quirky bunch. Mary Todd rather fell to pieces after Abe's death (but perhaps who can blame her?) and Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son, actually conspired to have his mother committed to an asylum later, and he destroyed all of his father's important papers, letters, and correspondences that were more personal in nature. So these have all been lost for historical reference. Too bad.

I've visited Lincoln's Springfield grave years ago, but I have a craving now to go back. I want to see where Father Abraham was finally buried under tons of cement so no one can find him, and I want to eat a corn dog in the hot sun of August right there at the monument and drink a Sprite right out of the can. That is, after all, one of my quirky freedoms. And I'm thankful that Old Abe made some of it possible.

I hope to see him on the other side. He'll have to find his way out of fifty tons of concrete. I'll have to find my way out of a Chock-Full-O Nuts Coffee can. But hey, nothing ever comes easy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Author Info

One of the drawbacks to being away from the computer for two days is having to deal with a backlog of emails upon my return home. The delete key quickly becomes my new friend, and by the time I am done sorting and filing, I usually end up with a half dozen pastoral requests, a few dates and times I need to remember, some important attachments, and a couple of writing-related requests.

Last night (late) I finally began work on a large attachment I had received from a publisher requesting personal background, a vitae, questions and answers that the media could ask me, suggestions for interviews, and a new author photo. It was all quite dizzying, but I churned out the hullabaloo in a little under an hour and attached a personal photo of myself eating a burrito with one hand.

Some of the more interesting background I was asked to provide included:

Professional Clubs and Organizations You Belong To:
I do not belong to any club or organization (except the United Methodist Church). I abhor all organizations and meetings (of which I have an ample supply in my life, thank you). In fact, I have so many meetings, they are like gnats (I have to beat them away and they are a nuisance).

Awards, Honors & Professional Achievements
At ISU I was a recipient of a senior scholarship for English/writing that makes me proud (and, heck, it even paid my tuition). Otherwise, I once did a 315 pound bench press when I was a much younger man, and I have been driving the same car since 1992 and haven't even changed the oil. I am still married to my first wife. We have two children, which means we have been intimate at least two times in the past twenty years (is that good?). My mother thinks I am God's gift . . . but what does she know?

What Television Shows Could You See Yourself Appearing On?
CSI, Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern, Green Acres . . . or are you suggesting talk shows? If that's the case, then I'll go with Oprah, Larry King, and that show hosted by the beautiful woman on CNN who always makes me blush.

Anything Else We Should Know About You?
Yeah, I feed the cat and the dog every morning, change the litter box (my son's), and kiss my wife every day. I also love bringing in the mail. Tomorrow I am taking the family to Burger King. Fries all around. Oh, and I'd love to have a book that actually sells!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hunting for Readers

True story. This past Saturday I was sitting in a 1950's-style hamburger joint in Gainsville, Georgia with the family, listening to the Beach Boys on the jukebox. And, as has been my habit for forty-odd years, I brought along a book for reading. (I typically carry a book everywhere I go, even during sweltering heat and even if I sweat through the pages.)

As it happened, I was reading Manhut: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, by James Swanson. I was more than halfway through the book, totally engrossed in the thing, when this very nice waitress, a true southern-belle, walks up to me and asks for my order. I tell her, "I want a hamburger with slaw, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. And a cherry Coke."

She takes my order and then, no lie, she looks down at my book and asks, "Is that a good book?"

I riffle the pages as if to say, See how much I've read, sweetheart?, and then I answer, "It's a very good book!"

"Is it thrilling?" she asks.

"Yeah, it's thrilling,"I say.

And then here's the kicker . . . she tells me: "I just started reading about two months ago. I've only read three books in my life. And I've really gotten into James Patterson. Have you read any of his books? My husband likes his books, too. We are reading like crazy now. And we don't watch television any more at night. We get into bed, read a book, and then go to bed together."

I was eight hundred miles from home, in a foreign land, talking to a beautiful woman with a southern-drawl, reading a book about the Civil War and the murder of Abe Lincoln, and she flat out tells me how reading has transformed her life, her marriage, and her mind.

As soon as she takes my order I turn to Becky, Chelsey and Logan and say, "You see. That's what a book can do!"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Odd Jobs

Lately I've been trying to read more essays, and one of the books I take down from the shelves time and again is John Updike's collection: Odd Jobs. It's a singular volume of his collected essays, book reviews, and shorter pieces (most of which were originally published in The New Yorker). I enjoy the breadth and depth of Updike's interests and always find something to read in this nearly 1000 pages of material.

Reading Updike's collection, I'm also inspired to consider my own interests and what I hope to write about. As I peruse my own notebooks filled with ideas, here are just a few of the subjects I hope to write about in the near future:

An essay about R. F. Outcault, an ancestor who was the first to create and publish a comic strip (The Yellow Kid)

An essay about fitness for old guys like me

Toast recipes

A book proposal for caregiving through cancer

A scholarly essay about John the Baptist

Letters to teachers who have impacted my life (got to do this before some of them die!)

Margarine recipes

A youth ministry book proposal

A novel (that I hope to publish under an assumed name such as Cornelius McGillicudy)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Exploring Expedition

Last night I completed Sea of Glory, by Nathaniel Philbrick--the account of the U.S. Exploring Expedition that consisted of six ships charting the known world, discovering Antarctica, waring with cannibals, and overcoming enormous conflicts over the four years at sea. This expedition was the beginning of the Smithsonian Institution collection, and was rounded out by the court martial trial of the Expedition's commander, Charles Wilkes.
I've enjoyed all of Philbrick's books, and this one was no slouch. Makes me want to go to sea (sometimes).
Reading about the cannibalism also makes me want to write a book about it. Who, after all, wouldn't love a good cannibalism book? (Think I'll have liver'n onions tonight.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letter Campaign

Recently I've been writing letters . . . letters to editors, book sellers, executives, you know . . . people who matter. I've been trying to make a case for these people to use my bridal book in some capacity, even if they need scrap paper to start a fire.

Most of my letters read something like this:

Dear Important Person:

You are so special to a loser like me. What would I do without YOU? Hey, while you're still reading . . . how about a book? Need a new one--something that looks pretty on the shelf? How about my book? It's got a great cover. Real slick.

I've enclosed a book for your convenience. Sure, it cost me to send this book to you, along with the postage stamps, but it's all worth it . . . even if you just riffle your fingers through the pages once and feel the heft of my work. What you are holding in your hand is two-years-worth of my life: early mornings, late nights, all nights, writing during family vacations in the hotel room while the rest of the family is getting sun on the beach.

But, hey, I'm not complaining. I just hope you like this book. Maybe you can use it as a door stop?

Ya'll take care now!
Mr. Alleycat

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Over the weekend I received a request from a publisher to reprint a portion of an essay I wrote some months ago. This is maybe the third or fourth request I've had for a reprint this year.

What's happening?

Well, perhaps I've simply written so much material that it is inevitable that someone would want to reprint some of it. Or, publishers may be running out of material. Or, perhaps, I've written a few lines that are actually worth reprinting.

I choose the latter. Makes me feel good. Makes me feel like somebody out there likes me . . . that I'm good enough to deserve the love of a good woman, that I'm good enough to buy a T-bone steak now and then, that I might even be good enough to buy a big-ol roll of double-ply bathroom tissue and really enjoy myself.

I enjoy giving my permission for these reprints. I can only assume that somebody out there is reading.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Drive By

Not long ago, I was reading about a pastor who had made a bunch of money from a book and bought himself a new red Lexus. Me . . . I've never made money from a book, and I certainly don't have a new red Lexus. I drive a 1991 Caprice wagon, 166,000 miles, with no hint of heat or air. This is one of the four crap cars sitting in my driveway. She's a beautiful car, ain't she?

But I certainly had no idea how the rest of the family felt about old dad driving around in this piece of junk until Thursday morning, when I happened to drive past my daughter while she was at work. I drove past the community center as she was leading a group of children on a walk.

I rolled down the window (no . . . wait . . . the window is always down, I don't have air) and yelled, "HI, CHELSEY!" She looked up, noticed her dad and what he was driving, then hung her head in disgust. Kind of like Peter standing outside the courtyard denying Jesus. Never knew me. Didn't wanna know me.

Okay. But a year from now, she's going to be driving this long gray piece of crap in Muncie. Welcome to my life, sweetheart.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

'Riting in the Rain

It happens every now and then . . . a thunderstorm moves in, wakes me up, and beckons me to rise and write in the middle of the night. So . . . here I am.

And what am I writing?

Anything I want. Just like a 700-lb. gorilla.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Writing For Free

It is an important point that writers must make from time to time: that he/she will actually write for free. Now, if a writer did nothing but write for free, eventually there would be no more writers. But, the freebie is an important ingredient in promotion and proliferation of one's work.

This past week, I had opportunities to write several "freebies" for various blogs, web sites, and periodicals that would help push and publicize my books. Of course, I had to take the time to write these--but in my case, I was able to dredge up some old (but perfectly great) pieces from among my hundreds of floppies loaded with files. I found some very nice youth ministry articles that I had every intention of getting published (and now shall be, though be it for free) and I discovered a couple of bridal magazine articles that I hope will find a home in some of the thick news stand bridal magazines that sell for $9.95.

I love it when my editors call and ask, "Do you have anything on hand that I could publish yesterday?"

And I can tell them. "Sure. I'll get it to you a week from last Wednesday, you can publish it yesterday, and I'll look forward to seeing it in print today."

Strange stuff, these freebies. Like living in another world.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Searching for Myself

Over the past month, I've visited quite a number of bookstores--just dropped in really--in search of myself. These visits have been akin to drive-by conversations, and if bookstores had drive-up windows, I would have used them.

I've been curious to know if my publisher (Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget) has been able to secure contracts from booksellers, who, consequently, have placed my title into bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, Doubleday, etc. And I've discovered mixed results.

Usually, my visits go like this. I walk into a bookstore, I make eye contact with a friendly-looking helper or, hopefully, a manager and I say, "Hey, I'm just curious. Do you have a book in stock written by a deadbeat named Todd Alleycat?"

They always ask me to spell the last name. I pretend to struggle with it. They punch my name in the computer and in a few seconds the verdict is in. "Yeah," they might say, "we got a couple of copies. You wanna buy 'em?" OR "Sorry, never heard of the loser. You sure you spelled that name correctly? That's a stumper."

If they do have the book in stock, I say, "Thanks. I may come back and read it in my spare time. But I sure as heck ain't payin' for it!"

And then I pad back into the stacks, locate my two copies, and place it on the Oprah Book Club Table and sign 'em: "What a wonderful book you've written Mr. Alleycat! Changed my life! Love, Oprah"

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

After completing a new biography of Oscar Wilde, I realized that I had to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde's classic novel is one I've had on my shelves for decades, but I finally dusted it off so that I could read it in light of knowing more about the author. I was pleased.

The classic work is something akin to Dracula or Frankenstein (two other classics that have been butchered by Hollywood and bear no resemblance to the plethora of movies "based" on the novels). The Picture of Dorian Gray is a masterpiece of suspense, madness, and the macabre. And it was written in an age when this type of work was deemed largely "immoral" and was widely banned. Hence, I'm gonna read it!

The book was made into a movie in 1945, was shot in black and white (except for the portrait of Dorain Gray, which was filmed in color). I'm surprised no one has tried to write a new screenplay for this work. It's got all the makings of a great movie, ala Hitchcock.

Maybe I should get to work on writing it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


The plans are in place and the writing is completed. Now all I have to do is go "in studio", write a big check, and in a few months I'll have two new CDs produced: a CD entitled "On Being United Methodist", for those who need/want to know more about our church tradition and history, and a 2nd Christmas CD, to be entitled, "Another Christmas Book".

I enjoyed writing/collecting this material (hours of it) and it will be fun to produce something that may multiply in the hands of others.

Now all I have to do is pick a day when my voice is not raspy from Cottonwood or ragweed.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Signing

Friday night I travelled to Terre Haute to do a book signing at Walden's. There were few people in the mall, but there were several old friends who stopped by to see me after they noticed an article in the paper touting the signing. It was great to see them. And thank you, Dorothy, for hosting my failure once again!

Something funny always happens at a signing, and Friday night was no exception. I'm sitting behind my little table littered with books and a guy walks up to me, shoves a book in my face, and asks, "How much is this book?"

Now, it's not even my book. It's some giant hardback that they guy has pulled off of the shelf and he thinks I work for Walden's. But I take the book anyway, open the cover, and point to the top left where the price is listed. "Twenty-five, ninety-five," I tell him. "A bargain for a book that size."

"What's them little books there?" he asks, eyeing my paltry pile of trade paperbacks.

"Wedding books for brides," I tell him.

"Wedding books?!" He laughs. "You write for the ladies, do ya?"

"Why not," I say. "Women buy 90% of the books in America. Men like us, who read, are rare."

The guy looks down at his giant volume. "No S---! I didn't know that!" He yells over to his wife, a woman who looks like Herbert Hoover, "Hey, honey, this guy says I should buy this book. Makes me a reader."

As he walks away, he has a big cheesy grin. He looks back at me and says, "Thanks, mister. Thanks a lot! The things you learn!"

Sort of brought a tear to my eye. Oh, and I did sell two books. I want to thank my parents for buying them! Turned my book-sitting into a book-signing after all.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Donut and Me

Today is national donut day. (Every day is "national" something day.) But I'm a bit depressed. I haven't had my donut. I'm trying to keep my "losing" streak alive. Losing weight, that is.

I've now fallen below 220 lbs (on most weigh-ins) and I'm becoming a mean, lean machine, reaching for my goal of getting strong, fit, and tan for a summer cruise. But afterwards, look out Dunkin' Donuts.

Actually, the donut has seen me through many late night and early morning writing sessions. Sessions that, sometimes, have lasted for days, sessions that were supported by caffeine and powerdered sugar.

But, having said that, I will be driving past Dunkin' Donuts in a few minutes on my way to a book signing. I might just have to pick up a donut . . . you know, since it is national donut day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Editions

Some years ago, I began my search for collecting 1st editions of books. Of course, in the realm of book collecting, a first edition is akin to a rookie season baseball card. The earliest, or first, of anything is supposedly more collectible, and therefore more valuable, than later versions.

But although I am a bibliophile, I'm not really knowledgeable of how much books are worth on the open market of buying and selling. But I do have a feeling that one of my most valuable books is a first-edition of The Essays of E.B. White. This edition was published, I believe, in 1977, around the time of the author's death. White wrote such beloved classics as Charlotte's Web and Stewart Little, but he was principally an essayist who wrote for The New Yorker magazine.

Of the essays in this collection, one is particularly noteworthy . . . his essay entitled, "Death of a Pig." It is often considered one of the finest personal essays ever written, and it is an essay I return to every few years for re-reading. It is a startling piece of work.

So, I do cherish my first edition of White's essays. My copy is, actually, now filthy on the edges, due to my constant handling of it. But I am hopeful that this might make it more collectible. After all, my DNA is now all over it. And who wouldn't desire some of the residue of my life?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wilde Books

Last night I completed my reading of a most unusual biography. Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde, by Thomas Wright. I say unusual because this book is about the books that Oscar Wilde collected, read, and cherished. Wright was able to build his own biographical narrative of Wilde by noting the books that Wilde purchased, the books he read, and the books that defined his own life and expression.

My own knowledge of Wilde, prior to reading this biography, was limited to his plays--most notably, The Importance of Being Earnest. But I enjoyed reading about Wilde's books.

Of course, to many people, this biography would be a real snoozer. My wife kept asking me, "What's that book about?" "About Wilde's books," I told her. "Where they were arranged on the shelves, the colors of their bindings, and such."

"You're reading that?!"

Yes. I did. And the book itself was fascinating . . . as was Wilde himself. Wilde stuff.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who's Counting?

Last week, a newspaper reporter asked me a series of questions about my writing. One was: how many books have you written?

I had to point out to the journalist that he probably meant to ask: How many books have you had published? He seemed, initially, taken aback by my correction . . . but the distinction is an important one.

After all, the writing of books and the publishing of books are two very different things. If he truly were asking about writing books, well, then, great-god-of-macaroni, I've lost track of that number. I'm sure it would be approaching 100 by now. I've written at least a dozen novels (all of them suck, and that's why they've never been published), at least twenty children's books (mostly for my kids, and even my children didn't like them) and dozens of other books that, if I were able to assemble the accumulation of my essays, short stories, memoirs and poems and divide them into publishable collections, would probably fill a narrow shelf.

Looking back on my accumulation of written material, I often wonder what I could find in my archives that would be worth salvaging. But I have so many new ideas it's tough to "go home", as they say. The past is the past. And I'm a much better writer now than I was when I was thirty. Or, at least editors are willing to trust me now with their precious gems and they seem far more willing to talk to me now that I am old and gray.

It is most commonly accepted that the most prolific writer in American history (the world?) was Isaac Asimov, whom most people believe was a writer of science fiction. However, Asimov wrote hundreds of books in his lifetime. His titles ranged from hard science to science fiction, yes . . . but he also wrote books on history, education, literature, and even the Bible. He also edited an astounding number of books, too. He's one of my heroes. Asimov rarely traveled but a few miles beyond his New York flat, and all he did was write. All day. Every day. Week after week. Year after year.

I should be so lucky. I guess.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Book Royalties & My Salvation of Poland

After an early morning kayak, I came home to find that I had received a semi-annual royalty statement from a publisher. It was depressing, noting how far into the "red" my books have sunk . . . sort of like a drowning child gasping for air. But there was no hope in this statement. The royalties in the "red" already declared my books DOA. No number of shocks could bring these books back to life, and there is no amount of adrenalin that could jump-start them to life again.

However, I did note that the publisher had sold one of my books through a European agent to a Polish publisher. So now I can say that my books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Portuguese (don't ask), Spanish, and now Polish. The Polish edition has sold something like 350 copies. But of course, I'll never see a single KRONER in my bank account from those sales.

Anyway, I'll have to bask in the realization that I am helping the world. What Hitler did to Poland I am now fighting to overcome . . . one lousy Todd book at a time.