Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Love Boat: Pre-Launch

Before Becky and I set sail on our 25th wedding anniversary cruise to the Caribbean, I thought I might want to make some changes. Perhaps Becky might enjoy taking a cruise with another man, I thought . . . and so I decided to shave my moustache the night before our departure. This was more difficult than you might think, as I have had my moustache since I was 19 years old (or, for those who want to keep count, for the past 30 years).

Here is a photo of me before the shaving, and me after.

Comments ranged from:

Dad, you look like an even bigger dork now! (Logan, age 15)
Dad, grow it back. You don't look the same! (Chelsey, age 19)
It makes you look so much younger, but I'm not sure I can get used to it (Becky)

Still, after 30 years, perhaps it was time to try something new. And what better time than before the anniversary cruise. My hope was that it might inspire Becky somehow. But would shaving my upper lip have any effect? Would she go for this younger version of the old me?

And, an even bigger question: Would writing a ten page love letter to my wife be a true demonstration of my ultimate power as a writer? Do love letters really work?

Let's set sail and find out . . . .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Love Canal

This will be my last blog post until around August 3 . . . so enjoy it. But please return at that time, as I will be starting a new blog series about my LOVE BOAT experiences, and you wouldn't want to miss that, would you? (Rated PG)

I did finally complete my reading of David McCullough's mammoth book (all 660 pages): The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal. This was a great book to read before my own virgin voyage. (Wait a minute, did I use the word "virgin". Becky's not a virgin and neither am I. My children, on the other hand, are both virgins . . . or say they tell me.) IS THIS STILL PG?

Anyway, McCullough's book won the National Book Award and I can see why. What a story. Thousands of workers dying of malaria and yellow fever. A failed French attempt to build the canal. The rise of U.S. industrialization and globalization after the Civil War. And a forty year digging that resulted in the creation of the canal.

It is difficult for anyone, however, to imagine the human dramas at play here . . . and how incredible the creation of the canal truly was, especially given the technology at the turn of the century. I'm hooked.

And, although our cruise ship leaving out of Puerto Rico won't go anywhere near the Panama Canal, I do hope I can be creative on my bon voyage. I've got my love letter written and stashed away inside the suitcase. I have written five love poems, one for each night at sea. I have my puke pills and an assortment of other drugs (all legal). And I've got my bedroom plans, diagrams even, with illustrations.

Now, I can only hope Becky will go along with them. See you again here on August 3. Mark it on your calendar. This next blog series will be nuttier than usual. And I shall return if the plane doesn't crash or the boat doesn't sink.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cruise Writing

As I prepare to take my first cruise, the old theme song for THE LOVE BOAT keeps running through my head. (Lyrics by Paul Williams)

Love, exciting and new Come Aboard.
We're expecting you.
Love, life's sweetest reward.
Let it flow, it floats back to you.

Love Boat soon will be making another run
The Love Boat promises something for everyone
Set a course for adventure, Your mind on a new romance.
Love won't hurt anymore It's an open smile on a friendly shore.


Cheesy? Sure. But what a show! And I never watched a single episode! I just turned on the TV from time to time to look at the bikinis.
As I prepare to set sail, I've also had some phone calls and offers, which always happens as soon as I am leaving town and cannot be reached. As it turns out, I've got a whole slate of radio call-in, talk-shows that I am supposed to do as soon as I return (I said "Book 'em, Danno!) and another editor promised to call me regarding some book proposals I had drawn up some months ago.

I'll be a busy man as soon as I return . . . as long as the ship doesn't sink!

Anniversary Cruise

For each of the past ten years, Becky and I have set aside a sum of money for a 25th anniversary trip. Earlier in the year, with the downturn in the economy, we debated whether a silver anniversary trip together would be a prudent decision, but together agreed that we would only have one 25th in our lifetimes, and that we should forge ahead. So we booked a cruise. A cheap one. About the lowliest excursion we could find.

But I, personally, am excited about the prospects.

For example, I can't wait to get on board and ask the steward: "Can you please direct me to the poop deck?"

Now, I don't know what a poop deck is, but it must be where all the bathrooms are located. I have a feeling I might get seasick and have to vomit. So, I need to know where all the hatches are.

I am also preparing for a 25th anniversary love fest. I am writing a very lengthy love letter which I intend to present at some low point of the cruise, perhaps when Becky becomes truly disappointed in the whole experience with me. I'm bringing a suit and tie for dinner. I intend to shave (well, my face, anyway). I have purchased cheap paperback novels to read on board.

Of course, I'll be keeping a diary of my love boat experiences, and I intend to share these in a new blogging series upon my return. But I've only got three days before launch, and I've got so much to do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lost Books

Here's an interesting book I just finished: The Book of Lost Books, by Stuart Kelly.

What's this book about? Lost books. Books that people like Homer, Shakespeare, etc. wrote, but now we cannot seem to locate them. They have disappeared from history.

Seems as if there are many writers who fit into this category. Many writers, like Pound and Kafka, were fond of burning their own works when they found them to be sub-par. They didn't want anyone to read work they considered weak attempts. But we know they wrote some books that were burned.

Other writers, like Shakespeare, certainly produced other works that were performed, read, or even published, but for some reason have not survived. Could they be discovered? Possibly. After all, about twenty years ago someone discovered some missing chapters from Huckleberry Finn . . . so it makes you wonder . . . .

Monday, July 13, 2009

Greek to Me

Last week, walking through the small King Tut exhibit at the Children's Museum, I suddenly found myself desirous of refreshing my Greek. I had three years of Greek as an undergraduate, tested out of some Greek classes at Duke, and continued to study through the end of my seminary days alongside Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac and some other squiggly-lined languages. But there's no doubt I could still pick up my Greek again if I put a bit of time into it.

Over the weekend I perused some of the Greek texts which I have shoved to the back shelves of my library and discovered that I could parse some texts here and there.

I suppose this whole Greek experience was aroused because of the Hieroglyphics in the Tut display. I remembered that the secret to translating the ancient Egyptian language was the discovery of the Rosetta Stone (above) which was found on the floor of a river if memory serves. This stone had both Greek and Hieroglyphics side by side, and that was enough for scholars.

I'm not sure I'll want to take the time to learn to read Greek again . . . but it might be fun to take up in my old age (in 16 months, when I turn 50).

Saturday, July 11, 2009


It's been some months since I was able to send out a shotgun blast of essays, articles and shorter pieces to editors, but I did get a couple of rejections today, including a handwritten rejection from Mr. Eustice Tilly himself (the cover mascot of The New Yorker magazine). Mr. Tilly didn't like my personal essay, but did think it was well-written and he did encourage me to send him other submissions. Okay, might just do that.
Mr. Tilly may come across as snooty and aloof, but he actually represents the pinnacle of essay, short story, and journalistic publishing in America. I hope to grace his wonderful pages at least one before I die.
Thank you, Mr. Tilly. You'll be hearing from me again very soon.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mid Year 2009

At the beginning of each year I set various types of goals for myself. Some of these are professional, others more personal. Now that we are just a bit past the midpoint of 2009, I thought I should at least take a peek back, do some self assessment, and see how I'm shaping up in my goals.

First, let's take one of my professional goals . . . which was to be more invitational in my evangelism and helpfulness of others (to find people in need rather than having them seek me out). Well, I've grown a bit here, I think. I have invited a fair number of people to Calvary, have had some personal spiritual conversations with people, and more recently, have invited a fair number of strangers to our Godspell performance (even offering to pay for tickets). Okay, not bad, but I'll strive to be better yet.

A personal goal for 2009 was to lose some weight and "get in shape". As I approach 50, this gets tougher, but, as Yogi Berra once said, "I ain't in bad shape for the shape I'm in." According to my wife, who sees me in another light on a regular basis, I have shaped up this year. I know I have become stronger and have gained some much-needed muscle again, but I need to do more cardio now that summer is here, and I'm still working to lose ten pounds of butter around the middle. I think it's from eating those bars of Crisco like they were cookies. But I'll keep working.

Writing? My goal was to write four new books in 2009. Since I have three books to be published in 2009 (which I wrote in 2008) I thought I should up the ante and push myself to write four new books this year. So far, I've been astounded. I am working on a new book for Health Communications that involves an entirely new role and venture for me (more on this later) and have plans to publish a book under a pseudonym (because no publisher will publish all I write under my own name) and I also have a third book that I will be working up later this year in partnership with another pastor you know and love (but I'll let her give the grisly details after we sign the contract).

Will I write four in 2009? You betcha! Do I hear five? Six? I have to remind myself that I'm only at the half-way point of 2009 and I could easily get other contracts from the more the half dozen proposals I've got floating in the midst of editors.

Finally, I've read a few books, too, and will easily read the Bible through in one year. My favorite Bible book so far . . . 2 Kings. Gained many new insights from that one. And my favorite book so far in 2009? I'll go with Manhut: The Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, by James Swanson.

Now, for the second half of 2009. It's a Friday-day-off . . . what to write today?!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google Me

Last week I received a very fascinating legal notice in the mail. It was a notice from a European law firm regarding a gigantic class action suit against internet giant, Google, regarding the copying and proliferation of copyrighted materials . . . including some of my books. Now, I'm not a legal expert, but I have been reading a great deal about this recently in books, newspaper, and op-ed pieces . . . even blogs. It is a subject being discussed among writers everywhere.

And here's the question: Can pages out of a copyrighted entity be digitalized, copied and posted on the internet for the taking?

Google claims that these postings only serve to help book sales and make an author's work more readily available to an adoring public. Many writers claim that this is an infraction of copyright law and that writers, publishers and such should be compensated for digitalized pages that are distributed across the internet.

It's a large question and one that has far-reaching implications for the future of publishing (in all forms) and the meaning and significance of publishing in general. My decision now is whether or not I want to "put my name" in the class action hat which could lead, conceivably, to some compensation from Mr. Google himself.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sorry For the Limericks . . . Apologies To All

Sorry, had a few more of these that are so terribly insane . . .

A celibate priest nick-named “Ricky”
Once preached with a viewable hickey
When asked, “What the heck?”
He kissed his own neck,
And his parish said, “OOO, that’s so icky!”

A rabbi who flew to the moon
Returned home a full day too soon
His wife gave him a look
Because she didn’t cook
And said, “Don’t expect dinner till noon!”

A healer from Budapest
Cured by faith and was doubly blessed
But he caught a bad flu,
So what could he do
But rub Vicks all over his chest?

The son of an Arabic shiek
Went to Mecca to worship a week,
But there on his hajj,
He saw a mirage,
And he thought that the earth sprang a leak.

A pastor from Saskatoon
Liked to party and howl at the moon.
But his anguish was great
When he stayed out too late
And on Sunday he slept in till noon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tour Guide

Recently we visited the King Tut display/tour at the Indianapolis Children's Museum. There was a great deal of information on this tour, and I'm always fascinated to see how a tour like this uses writers to lead visitors through the various displays. Everywhere we turned there were large placards with information like:

This room contains artifacts that were found in the antechamber of the tomb, with many gold objects and statues that influenced the king's migration into the next life and elevated his status to a god.

Well, now! Let me take you on a tour of my house. It's free. But at least my descriptions will give you some insights into how utterly boring my life is.

As you enter the Outcalt interior you will first note the cat puke stains on the cheap rug which was recently purchased at Target (40% off, a bargain that the king's first wife could not refuse). As you stroll into the great room, you will note the ceiling fan which no longer works and the thick profusion of dust on all the furnishings, indicating that this room is rarely used by humans. The dog, however, does sleep on the couch, and sometimes poops there, which is also indicative of these times, when humans clean up after animals and do their bidding.

As you enter the kitchen, please note the dirty dishes that fill the sink, half of which are used daily by the fifteen-year-old heir-to-the-throne who cannot clean up after himself. The fifteen glasses filled with orange juice residue are the product of the older child who is almost twenty and who must have her fill of Vitamin C.

Now, please round the corner into the living area, where we see the woman of the house reading a magazine and, perhaps, lighting a scented candle which she hopes will mask the cat litter box aroma. The king is just through the doorway in front of you, probably writing on a computer which was purchased during the reign of Amenhotep II.

Upstairs you will find the master bedroom where, every five or six months, mating rituals are performed between the king and queen. What happens in the other two bedrooms the king and queen would rather not think about.

Downstairs you will find an entertainment area where archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of pounds of aluminum pop cans and fossilized pretzel sticks under the sofa cushions, which the king sometimes snacks on during reruns of Andy Griffith. And please, feel free to make your way outside, onto the spacious grounds, where the weeds grow thicker than the garden vegetables and dank scents rise from the creek bed. Catch a crawdad if you like.

They are on the house.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Gray Hair and Rocking Chairs

It has finally happened to me: the onset of senility. How do I know this? Well, this afternoon, on this rainy 4th of July, I realized that I would rather sit in a rocking chair and read a book instead of watching television, watching a movie, or listening to a CD (or, if you got 'em, an IPod).

Currently I am reading The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, by David McCullough. It's a big book, and at 600+ pages, worthy of my time and fascination. It was, however, most difficult this afternoon to read about the thousands of workers who died of Malaria and Yellow Fever during the creation of the canal. The undertaking was immense and, even by today's standards, something of a miracle that human beings were able to cut a swath through a rain forest connecting Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

I also managed to do some writing this morning as well . . . and I'm fast at work on creating a new book proposal that I hope to have completed in a couple of weeks.

And while I'm rocking, I'm waiting. Waiting on the delivery of my author's copies of The $5 Youth Ministry (book number 18 for me). Hope it sells. After all, I can't rock forever, and someday I'm going to have to buy myself a suite in a nursing home.

Friday, July 3, 2009


In the past week I have had four people ask me to review their book proposals, or help to design and contour the same. Actually, this is one of my life joys, and I like helping people find a publisher for their work.

The difficulty always comes on the other end, however, which is preparing people for the greater possibility that their proposal will be rejected or, at the minimum, that the entire process will take so long that they will wake up one morning and discover they have grandchildren long before a publisher ever offers an answer to their submission.

That's why I have learned that proposals need to be like fleas, or like cherry tomatoes. As soon as I write one proposal, I have two others that I am working on. Currently, I have no less than six proposals winging flight around the publishing world. Some of these proposals are just quickie ideas that I write up in a fortnight and email to editors I know (or think I know). Others are full-blown behemoths of sixty or seventy pages, with footnotes and explanatory sections, all designed to grab the attention of some unsuspecting publisher or editor.

But since I can't write better than most, I've learned that I have to out-produce the bulk of the writers out there. It's the scope of my imagination and interests that are important.

Toward that end, I am hoping to work all day today (another Friday at home) on a proposal of some magnificent scope that will eventually find a home . . . somewhere over the rainbow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Church History

Last night I finished: A People's History of Christianity, by Diana Butler Bass. I was amazed by the sweep and majesty of this book, and it was made all the more delightful because it was written by one of my seminary peers when I was a Duke. She wouldn't remember me, but then, no one would. I kept to myself at Duke, ate my sandwiches in the crypt below Duke Chapel, and talked only in Hebrew verbs and conjunctives. I wore my hair and beard long and used the restroom on the bottom floor of the library (for safety) in the event of a nuclear blast.

But Diana has a winner of a book here, and it is filled with many exciting and remarkable sagas of the faithful throughout two thousand years of history. Her author photo on the book jacket also reveals that she is beautiful, which may also be part of her varied successes as a writer and professor of church history. Me, I'm still trying to write a book that will sell enough copies for me to buy a 1979 Pinto and add it to my collection of junk automobiles.

Incidentally, my 1993 Chevy pickup stalled on the corner of 267-Northfield yesterday and it had to be towed. No problems. I'm used to walking. That's part of the history of my Christian faith. Having junk cars keeps me humble and in shape. I even put some extra steps on my little pedometer so my health insurance premiums won't sky rocket again.

Thanks, Diana, for writing a nice book. I'll keep it on my shelves and read it again very soon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Stuff

I received a call last Thursday regarding my newest book: $5 Youth Ministry. Evidently, GROUP was able to streamline the publication and get it out before August 1. So here it is. Funky cover, huh?

I hope it will be helpful to all of those youth directors and ministries out there who need low-cost and no-cost ideas for ministry.

Looking at the cover, I have a hankering to ask: "Do want paper or plastic?"