Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 Blogs

For the past three years I've written this blog, "Between Pages"--a crazy blog offering a sneak peek into my reading and writing endeavors. But I've written other blogs, too. And 2010 offers me a new opportunity to leave behind my blog about reading the Bible through in a year and now taking up a new blogging endeavor. I'll still be blogging on Between Pages, but I've been thinking about one of the following. Have an opinion? Send in your vote.

I suppose this is my favorite idea: a blog that would revisit some of my published writing (articles, essays, stories, columns, etc.) and reprint them on the blog along with some of my comments, including when, where, and how the work came to be published.

A blog offering a peek inside the working mind of a pastor preparing a sermon. Would pastors be interested in this one? I don't know. It could be very boring stuff, but I might have to spice it up with some zaniness.

And, if neither blog idea works, that's okay, too. I've got plenty of other insanity I can dream up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 2010 Reading List

I'm already hard at work making out my reading list for 2010 . . . and I've already found a rather large stack of books I intend to pile on my desk very soon. But here's a short list of some of the odds-on-favorites right now:

The Great Fire--a history book about the largest fire in U.S. history during the days of Teddy Roosevelt. Sounds hot!

And Here's the Kicker--a book by Mike Sacks featuring conversations with comedy writers.

This Odd and Wondrous Calling--a book about two pastors (one male, one female) and their public and private lives. This could be really good or really awful. But I'll reserve judgment until I read it.

A People's History of the United States--sounds interesting to me.

Beavers--a book about the critters that are chewing down my trees along White Lick creek. I want to write about beavers in 2010.

When the Game Was Ours--a book by Larry Bird and "Magic" Johnson about their games through college and the NBA.

Pops--a biography of Louis Armstrong, one of my favorite singers

Look at the Birdie--a posthumous collection of unpublished stories written by Kurt Vonnegut, a writer I read religiously in college, and an Indiana native.

This is just a start . . . but I'm ready to get going on my new reading list. And as for writing . . . I've got a list there, too. But that's another blog.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 Review of Books

I'm not sure how many books I read in 2009. Thirty? Maybe?

But now that the year is winding to a close and I'm able to offer a retrospective, I thought I'd select some of my favorite titles, perhaps by category. Instead of an Oscar or a Tony, however, I'll call these a Toddy (my personal choices among the books I read this past year).

In the category of History . . . the award goes to The Path Between the Seas, by David McCullough.

In the category of Science . . . I'll have to go with The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

In the category of Biography . . . the award goes to Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde, by Thomas Wright.

In the category of Sociology/Culture/Opinion . . . I'll have to swing with Digital Barbarism, by Mark Helprin.

In the category of Collection (Essays or Short Stories) . . . I'll give the award to What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell.

In the category of fiction (novel or stories) . . . I'll give my Toddy-okie-dokie to Life Among the Lutherans, by Garrison Keillor.

In the category of theology/Bible . . . the award goes to The Bible, by Karen Armstrong.

In the category of poetry . . . the award goes to Collected Poems, John Updike.

And, finally, in the I-don't-know-how-to-categorize this department . . . the award goes to Writers at Work (any of the 6 titles in the Paris Review series that I read this year).

Now, come to think of it, I did read more than thirty books in 2009. I just can't remember what I read! But the longer I stare at the shelves in front of me, the more the titles jump out at me.

Next blog: what I hope to read in 2010 . . . a starting point, anyway.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

All I Want For Christmas . . . Part 3

Today we drive. And we experience a second Christmas of flying wrapping paper and unbridled avarice. Me? I need more underwear and typing paper. So please, Santa, have mercy.

As for reading the galley proofs of The Ultimate Christian Living . . . coming along nicely, thank you. Tonight, if we don't return too late, I'll read more, make notes, enjoy.

I've got to get this thing completed. The deadline looms (Jan. 4) but I'll be ready. So far I've only discovered a couple of typos in the first 200 pages and, well, I've got the full 12-days of Christmas to complete the remainder.

Should be a piece of cake, since I've already given my five golden rings and my drummers drumming.

Friday, December 25, 2009

All I Want For Christmas . . . Part 2

For those who may be wondering . . . we had a total of 1126 in worship on Christmas Eve (four worship hours). Great music, wonderful spirit, and hopefully a connection with God that won't soon leave us.

Now I have a Christmas afternoon to continue reading the galley proofs of The Ultimate Christian Living. It's a great book (to be published March 1, 2010). If I don't get too tired, I may begin writing the Introduction--the final piece of the book and my last contribution to make the book complete.

I'm very impressed with this book . . . but I also recognize that I'm not as spry as I used to be. I'll read and write for as long as I can, but after that, if I fall asleep . . . well, everyone at my house has already fallen asleep anyway. I'll just join the party.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

All I Want For Christmas . . . Part 1

For the past three months I've been waiting on the good word from Health Communications (my publisher in Florida . . . and oh, how I'd love to be in Florida now that winter is here!). At long last the word arrived yesterday . . . dragging along with it some additional work. But that's okay, I'm glad to do this work because I'd been asking for this Christmas gift for some time.

As it's shaping up, I'll be reading galley proofs of my next-to-be-published book: The Ultimate Christian Living. I'm very excited about this one. The book will hit bookstores on March 1, 2010 and will include essays by or about such nationally-known luminaries such as Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Bill Graham (written by yours truly) and Bishop Will Willimon. I also solicited some fantastic essays from others like Rev. Linda McCoy (who pastors The Garden, St. Lukes, Indianapolis).

So . . . I'll begin on Christmas day, after giving my gifts to the kids. One of the great things about having older children now is that they don't care about opening presents any more, and we actually have to rouse them out of bed on Christmas morning. They'll open their gifts, and then go back to bed for the rest of the day. Hurrah! Free afternoon for me and Becky!

Once the excitement is over, I'll begin reading the galleys for the book . . . I'm the first reader!!! I get to proof it, but most of all, enjoy it.

Revisit me on Christmas day and I'll tell you how I'm coming along with my work on The Ultimate Christian Living. Jesus would be proud . . . I'm gonna work my butt off on his birthday sharing this gift with others.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Christmas Eve Sermon

Tonight I will be putting the finishing touches on my Christmas Eve message . . . a short story, or parable, that I have been working on for about a year. What's been tough about this one is the trimming (just like trimming a tree). I had to continually cut off the dead ends of the story, all of the excess words, all of the sentences that didn't belong.

But I think I have a nice piece that will read well and will, hopefully, be inspiring and insightful on Christmas Eve. Anyway . . . it should be fun.

As my schedule is shaping up now, I may also have time to write on Christmas day. But should I? I think I started this year's Christmas Eve message last Christmas . . . so maybe this year, Christmas 2009 . . . I'll get a head start on 2010.

If the fates allow!

Christmas Kringles & Jingles

Okay, I couldn't help it. A few weeks ago, I penned these limericks for Christmas. Enjoy them. And if you are offended, just read on to the last limerick. (At least you'll know I am aware of my own deficiencies.)

Two elves from the region of Clay
Went on strike to protest their low pay
Said one, "I'm intent
To blackmail The Gent
And hold as collateral his sleigh."

On the night before Christmas Eve
Mrs. Santa said, "Hey, I believe
That I'm pregnant or I'm
A bit late for my time,
But I didn't know I could conceive."

Elves say (though with some remorse)
That the Claus is a sexual force:
And yes, it is true,
Saint Nick's fathered a few.
(Which is why he's so jolly, of course!)

This author wrote verses--some slick--
And others penned terribly quick
To make some folks coo,
"I'm offended by you
When you poke fun at jolly Saint Nick!"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday Sabbath?

Sunday was, as it usually is for me, a free-wheeling non-stop ride. Great worship, with some very inspiring moments led the way, and then in the afternoon, I made a wide sweep in the car and visited several people in three hospitals. On the way home, I picked up my son at a football game at the park, and then finally, at home by four p.m., I ate a quick bite and prepared for the arrival of our Calvary Christmas carolers. These kids did a great job, and our whole family enjoyed them very much!!!

At last, when it was time to settle down for some writing, I made it count. I first whipped out an essay I've been writing in my head for over a month, but in an hour, I'd completed a fairly nice 2500 word first draft that I have entitled "Road Kill". I hope to sell it to an outdoor magazine.

As soon as I had completed that essay, I dove head first into an absolutely insane piece of humor that I entitled, "Chasing Tiger Woods". It's a zany piece about the products I would like to endorse (in the event other companies pull the plug on Tiger). I whipped this one out and sent it immediately to an editor at The New Yorker who seems to enjoy my insane brand of humor. So we'll see about this one . . . it's timely, but it might be just a bit too edgy for The New Yorker.

Finally, by ten, I was ready for a long-winter's nap. No more writing to do. Just sleep, and dreams of other essays, other nutty-work, that I fully intend to begin on Monday night!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Another Friday Night . . .

Another Friday night. My wife is attending a teacher's staff party. My son is going to bed early to prepare for a weightlifting meet on Saturday. And me . . . I'm doing what every serious writer in America is doing on a Friday night. I'm licking stamps . . . or, perhaps more accurately, I'm sticking stamps on envelopes. Piles of them. Mounds of them. Great heaping masses of them.

I have my index cards on the table, ready to record where I am sending my latest supply of essays, magazine articles, and proposals. I'm sending material to such illustrious magazines as The New Yorker, and also to obscure literary journals like Pleiades and The Kit-Cat Review (no, this is not a pole-dancer's magazine).

Earlier in the day, I prepared for this onslaught by taking out a new mortgage on the house so that I could afford to buy stamps. What is it now . . . 44 cents for a small letter? But these ain't small letters . . . these are massive envelopes stuffed full of sheaves of paper. That's a mountain of stamps (and MOST of the manuscripts will be rejected and the stamps wasted). But that's the gamble writers engage in daily, weekly. Day after day. Week after week. Lots of stamp-stickin'. Lots of envelope lickin'. Better believe it.

A Friday night. Exciting.

But hey, if you're a writer, you understand. Friday nights are for licking stamps, stuffing envelopes, addressing mailing labels.

Turn off the TV. Get crackin'!

Laughing Matters

Some time back, my wife took notice of my writing proclivities: "Whenever things aren't going well, or whenever you are stressed, you write a bunch of idiotic humorous junk."
Very interesting. Insightful. Perhaps even spot on psychologically correct.

But then, there has always been a correlation between humor and drama, between the need to laugh and the realities of the human experience. There was a movie entitled, Punchline, starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field, which dealt with this reality. And writers like Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld have also noted the long-standing intersections between humor and real life. In other words, we want to laugh about death, suffering, and hardships because it's one of our coping mechanisms.

Okay, enough psychological mumbo-jumbo.

I've been writing scads of humor lately . . . in fact, some of the best laugh-out-loud material I've composed in years (but that's just me), and I have about a dozen essays now that I feel compelled to send to publishers for a look-see. Trouble is, every magazine editor in America says she wants more humor, but humor is notoriously difficult to place (and sell), and it is also the most difficult form of material to write. Every editor, every publisher, every movie producer, every writer, will admit this.

When I read a book, or go to a movie, and I end up crying at the end, I'm never as impressed with the narrative or the screenplay for a drama as I am with a knock-down piece of humor. Humor is far more difficult to pull off, and those who can do it well always amaze me. When I read something that is incredibly funny, I often study it for weeks, reading and re-reading the words, the sentences, the flow, to get a better perspective on why it works and what makes it work.

Funny . . . but I just work that way.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Writers Block

Last week a friend sent me a Christmas card that read: "Did I see that you had three books published this past year? Don't you ever suffer from writer's block?"

In short: no. Never.

Truth be told, I've been churning out drivel since I was ten years old. In my closet, I've got notebooks filled with ideas for stories, novels, essays . . . . It's been years since I've tapped these ideas, however, since I'll never get around to needing them.

Sure, there have been many times when a story has stalled, but if that happens, I just stop writing on that piece and move onto something else (or, in my case, click on another file, another novel, another essay, or I begin something new entirely). There have been times when I've tried to write a piece, say, with a certain tone or tenor, but I couldn't get into the drama. No problem, I just start writing something that strikes my mood at the moment, be it humor, poignant, or idiotic.

Just looking back on the past seventeen days, I've turned out the following (and not always in a steady flow, but often working on several of these at once):
* Two travel articles about non-Napa valley California boutique wineries
* The initial stirrings of a new book proposal to be entitled: The Seven Deadly Virtues
* A reworking of a science fiction story about a viral disease carried by the common house fly
* Scads of limericks; a peck of poems; a rickshaw full of rhymes
* At least a dozen letters to editors pitching other essays I'd like to offer to their magazines
* At least a half dozen emails to editors pitching other book proposals I'd like to offer
* This blog each morning
* Three humorous essays, each of which I turned out in thirty minutes flat, and which are some of the funniest crap I've written in decades
* Sermons, newsletter articles, Post-it notes, business letters, Christmas cards & handwritten love letters to Becky (which she receives DAILY).

Okay, so maybe I do get writer's block when it comes to writing love . . . but Becky doesn't care. She gets to read all of my other stuff. And that should be enough for any woman.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

By the Books

Sitting above my computer I have a small library shelf of books. These volumes have been important to me through the years (and I frequently buy new, up-to-date editions).

I have six of these books, to be exact: a Bible, a Biblical concordance, a dictionary, a thesaurus, Jeff Herman's Guide to Publishers and Literary Agents, and The Writer's Market. These six books form the double-trifecta supporting my writing efforts.

I'm rather serious about these six volumes, and if one of them is missing from the shelf, I go looking for it. I might yell, "Hey, who took my thesaurus?!" or "Where's my dictionary?!"

And usually a voice will call back, "Hey, don't blame me! You left it in the bathroom on the floor!"

Okay, so maybe I did . . . but that's all the more reason for people to keep their grimy little mitts off my books.

Last night, I used the Writer's Market for two hours . . . emailing editors, addressing envelopes for future submissions, perusing new and untapped markets out there which have not yet come into contact with my version of insanity. But hopefully, with the help of a few stamps, some of these editors will very soon read my work and ask, "Where have you been all my life?"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just Another Manic Monday

When I dropped into bed on Monday night, I looked back on the day with something akin to awe and wonder. Having spent most of the day darting from hospital to hospital, I eventually made my way back home where, in my usual fashion, I fixed dinner for the wife and the sixteen-year-old munchkin. Then Becky said it: "I'm exhausted, and I've got papers to grade, grades to enter, and cookies to bake for a school party."

Then I said it: "Go take a refreshing nap. I'll bake your cookies." And so, I mixed a scratch batch and baked up the three dozen. But realizing I had a few hours to be productive in other ways, I darted into my library between bakings, removed two books, and was able to read two chapters from Kathryn Stockett's new best-selling novel, The Help (a real chick-novel if ever there was one), as well as an early John Updike short story--an epistolary concoction about an African boy who is adopted by an American couple, a story that Updike wrote in his upper-level writing apartment while chain-smoking in his younger days. All this while I baked cookies.

And then, in a sudden burst of inspiration, I fired up Old Sparky, my twelve-year-old writing companion, and in twenty-five minutes I'd written a thousand-word essay that I intend to send to The New Yorker (following some subsequent polishing). The essay, including the title, was EXACTLY 1000 words--a good sign, I thought, almost Biblical in proportion.

And then, on to the stack of mail, where I discovered a rejection from Harper's magazine stashed among the Christmas cards. And a bit later, on the laptop, I discovered another rejection from an editor at West Branch, a literary journal that was looking at some of my essays.

Further down in the email list, however, I discovered an invitation from another editor who was interested in reviewing one of my book proposals. "Sure," he wrote, "send me the proposal. I'd be glad to look at it."

Fantastic. I managed to find the proposal among the harem I have stashed on floppies and hard drives and, for the first time in over a year, re-read my own work from top to bottom. It was flawless, and having forgotten what I'd done twelve months ago, I was actually quite taken with the guy who wrote this junk, my younger-self. And, for a forty-page proposal, it was compelling.

Click. Done . . . . and done. Not a bad evening all things considered.

Now, I wait. But in the meantime, I'll keep baking.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Julie & Julia & Me

Over the weekend, I rented the Julie & Julia DVD. For weeks, Becky had insisted that we go to the movies to see this over-hyped chick-flick, but every time we checked our entertainment budget we discovered that we'd sent all of our money to Ball State or to Uncle Sam.
"Nothing left for entertainment?" Becky would ask.

"Nothing in the budget for a movie," I would say, "But if it's entertainment you want, I could disrobe."

And thus I was led to the DVD in the hope that watching this movie on the couch might lead to some necking . . . but, alas, sixteen-year-old Logan was always standing behind us sniping, "How can you watch this stuff? I've got a Jackass movie playing downstairs if you'd rather watch that!"

But here's the kicker. I actually enjoyed this movie. And why? No doubt because it was about two women who wanted to write (Julie and her blog and Julia and her first cookbook) and was also about two great marriages (Julie's and Julia's). This movie was cleverly produced and it also offered up some serious questions about the significance of love and the power of following one's passions while staying true to one's deepest commitments. In short, it was about setting goals, following one's heart, and plodding forward against great odds and numerous setbacks. Not really a namby-pamby movie. I'll tell you, that Julia Childs was really something, and boy could see cook (and I'm not just talking food ).

I enjoyed the DVD. And I hope Becky also enjoyed my attempt at entertainment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quoting Andy Griffith

Last week I had lunch at the Mayberry Cafe in Danville, Indiana. I was escorted to the Earnest T. Bass booth, where I found this quote on the wall: You know something Sheriff . . . as talented and as good-lookin' as I am, I just cain't get a girl.

Reading that quote brought tears to my eyes. I felt blessed, having already bagged my woman.

Still, I can't help finding affinities with my life throughout The Andy Griffith Show. I can identify with most every character on that show, and, of course, I have my favorite quotes, too. For example, here are what a few of my favorites mean to me:

Hey, Al . . . those hamburgers are ruined! I won't be responsible!
(Floyd the Barber speaking to Barney Fife in the wake of capturing three escaped women convicts.) Significance in my life: Becky shouldn't complain if I burn the Hamburger Helper. I mean, I do most of the cookin', so stop bitchin'!

Well, Op . . . I've tried to teach you that there's some good in everybody.
(Andy speaking to Opie about the awful possibility that they might have a new uncle.)
Significance in my life: I've tried to teach my children the same thing. But really, what good person can you find in Washington, D.C.?

If you wanna run with me, you can run with me, and if you wanna run with him, you can run with him. Just sorta make up your mind!
(Andy speaking to Helen on her front porch about her relationship with the new male teacher.)
Significance in my life: My wife works with scads of male teachers who are more intelligent, lively, humorous, and promising than I. But I'm not jealous. Really, I'm not. No really. I've been runnin' with the old broad (counting high school) for over thirty-five years and I just can't run any more. I can walk, hike, and kayak. But my runnin' days are over. I mean, I ain't Forrest Gump. So, yeah, if she wants to run with someone else, go ahead. But she won't get far. None of our cars will run past the county line. She'll be back wanting a jump start or something. And, of course, I'll be glad to give her a jump.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mom's Christmas List

It's a ritual I go through every December . . . . Mom calls. She asks me about books. "What titles do you want this year?"

Then, we dance.

I tell her I have all the books I need, but could really use some new underwear. She says, "I'm not buying you more underwear."

I sigh and tell her that she doesn't need to bother getting me anything (and I really, truly mean this!). I could have Christmas without gifts, VERY EASILY! "I have everything I need," I say.

"Well, then tell me what you want," Mom says. "What are some books you'd like to read?"

Okay, so to appease old mom I break down and give her a couple of titles. "I'll read anything from the Best American trade paperback series," I tell her.

The next day, mom calls back. "They have a lot of those books," Mom says. "Do you want the 2009 titles, or the 2010 titles?"

"Mom," I say, trying not to sound too intellectual. "It's not 2010 yet. Those books haven't been published. So, I guess I'll go with the 2009, since they are actually sitting on the shelf now."

"And where can I find them?" she wonders.

"In a bookstore, mom," I say. "In a bookstore. Just ask for anyone named 'Nancy' and she'll help you."

Mom doesn't need to be shopping for books. She needs something simple like underwear: solid colors, boxers, or maybe a pair that says: "World's Greatest Son"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Full Of It

It's no secret now that I intend to be buried in a Chock-Full-O-Nuts coffee can. I hope Becky can join me. Be a great eternity in there, kind of cozy, intimate . . . .

Well . . . but as I think about what I'd like to have written as an epitaph, several come to mind. I'll keep these handy . . . they'd fit perfectly on the sixteen ounce size.

It's true--death comes to every man.
But he's not gone, he's just visiting the can.


He was a writer who never knew ruts . . .
He never burned out, he was just chocked-full-o-nuts.


Becky always said, "He was a great lover."
But how would she know, never having another?


He wrote his own words and his own epitaph
Just so he could say he had the last laugh.


Inside this can you'll find the man
But he's gone for eternity.
And all he can say on judgment day
Is he's shorter than he used to be.


There's nothing left of his charm and good looks
After we bury the can we're burning his books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Bible Poem

I had one more of these zany things that I'd written a few weeks back. Enjoy.

It's In the Bible

Whenever you're down
Or depressed with a frown
And you need a good word at the end,
Then open the book
And have a quick look
For it's all in the Bible, my friend.

Or if you've got worms
Or your stomach's in turns
And you're rejected by kith and by kin,
Don't give it a thought,
Your worry's for naught,
For it's all in the Bible, my friend.

There's juicy stuff here--
Some cloudy, some clear,
And more that is swift as the wind.
There's parable truths
And prophets and soothes
For it's all in the Bible, my friend.

And the more that you read
Or feel you're in need
For something that won't flex or bend,
Just pick up the tome
And read it at home
For it's all in the Bible, my friend.

And at last, where you're weary
Or feeling quite dreary
And you have none upon which to depend,
You might think it odd
But you always have God
For it's all in the Bible, my friend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reading Isaac

The last few evenings I've ended my day by reading bits and pieces of Isaac Asimov's single-volume biography entitled: A Memoir. Here, Asimov--the lamb-chopped, bespeckled, Cro-Magnon renaissance writer of over 600 books--takes the reader through a dizzying array of experiences, mostly of the writing and publishing variety. (I wanted to paste a photo of Asimov in this blog, but his photos and images are carefully guarded, protected, and copy-righted by his estate, so I just pasted my own decade-old photo here .)

I read this little Asimov memoir at least once a year, just to remind myself that it's the act of writing, not necessarily the production of books, that must remain at the heart of a writer's choices and efforts. Asimov was always at the typewriter. He rarely traveled (never by air), rarely participated in book tours or marketing campaigns, and spoke only occasionally (usually at science fiction conventions).

Reading this memoir for perhaps a fifth time, I found some new nuggets. Early in Asimov's writing career (while he was still teaching Chemistry in college and had not yet made the jump to full-time writing status), he had already produced dozens of books. But in that first eleven year span, all of his royalties totaled $7,700. Breaking that down, he made $770 per year from all of his books, articles, essays and royalties combined. Chump change.

I also noted that, in the appendix, which lists all of Asimov's book titles by fiction/non-fiction and all things scientific--in 1988 Asimov wrote 14 books for one publisher. And that was just ONE publisher. Looking through the rest of his publishing history for that single year, I noted that he wrote a total of 33 books in 1988 alone, which may or may not have been his most productive year.

Astounding. Humbling.

Maybe I need to grow my sideburns!

Monday, December 7, 2009


They say that we experience life in bunches of three . . . and sometimes I wonder if that's not true.

Last week, when I sent out three batches of manuscripts to editors in places as far-ranging as New York, Chicago and Nashville, I later received three batches of mail in return from another set of editors who promptly told me, "No, we don't want your writing. You stink! And we can smell you all the way over here!"

Most of these rejections were just form letters (or actual slips of paper), but there was one rejection that gave me hope. A female editor of a Virginia historical magazine wrote this nice letter on one of my manuscripts: Well done . . . unfortunately, I can't use this right now. However, please do send me more of your work. And just so we stay in touch, I'm putting you on my e-mail list.

Okay, now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout . . . an editor who loves me, and a southern-belle to boot!

Writers don't get many accolades, and few people read anymore . . . and so it doesn't take much to make a writer's heart jump a bit with excitement. This woman actually appreciates me, I thought. She sees my potential. She likes the cut of my jib. And if she likes the way I string ten words together, I wonder if we should meet on Facebook?

Nah, I've got enough friends out there. What I need is an editor who will say "Yes!" and then write me a large check.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Prodigal Returns

On Friday night I finished reading Henri J. Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal Son--a classic Christian work centered around reflections of Rembrandt's painting of the Biblical parable. The fact that I finished reading this book on a Friday night is also indicative of how totally boring my life really is.

Still, Friday, on the whole, was something of a treat for me . . . as I felt like the prodigal returning home--at least in terms of writing.

After a hardcore workout at the gym early Friday morning (a pectoral and upper back day!), I purchased groceries , mailed some Christmas letters, and then returned home to settle in at the writing lab, where, over the next six hours, I hammered out a half dozen cover letters to various editors, emailed work to a half dozen others, and even submitted a small pile of poems (which is something I rarely do). I returned to my roots--and brainstormed my way to an eclectic blend of submissions in large thick packages that ranged from:

* An essay about Thomas Jefferson's last will and testament
* An essay about Gerald R. Ford
* An essay about the pileated woodpecker
* A personal opinion op-ed piece about the current sad state of publishing in America
* Six poems
* A personal essay about being a one-woman man (which I sent to the Atlantic, Harper's, and Outlander)
* Two book proposals (one to The Upper Room, and the other to Group)

And, what's more, this prodigal also returned with a vengeance and finished three Christmas stories that he hopes to publish NEXT YEAR. All in all, not a bad afternoon and not a bad return on an investment of six hours.

Which leads me back to Nouwen's little book. Guess I was just tired and my brain was fried. Thanks, Henri.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Going Without Glasses

A few days back I ordered a new set of prescription eyewear, and when I arrived at the office to have them fitted, the technician asked me, "Do you, by chance, read a lot?"

Do I read a lot? Does a Ozzy Osborne have a nervous tick? Do cows make pies? Does Peyton Manning throw touchdown passes? Does Tiger Woods cheat on his wife?

Yeah, lady, I read a lot. What about it?

"Well," she said, "these glasses are for distance only. Have you considered getting a pair of bifocals, or perhaps a pair of reading glasses?"

"No thank you," I said. "I enjoy holding my reading material at arm's length. Holding a book four feet from my face helps me to develop my deltoids."

"You might find that some reading glasses would help you."

"Listen, lady, there's a lot of things that could help me. Having a sixteen year old who would take out the trash would help me. Having a cat that doesn't puke on the rug would help me. Heck, my situation could be helped if Dunkin' Donuts called to offer me a job so I could make double tuition payments to IU and Ball State . . . but you don't see me complaining. I'll just squint."

That shut her up.

Next week, however, I am going down to CVS pharmacy to look through their reading glasses. I'll try on a pair. Of course, I'll need a pair that will make me look like Ricardo Montalban.
Otherwise, they won't help.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Googling Me . . . Again

It's weird . . . but every now and then I "Google" my own name. Yesterday, however, when I typed in "Todd Outcalt" in the image search, I found over 2400 images that were attached to my name. Most of these images were book covers (my books), or book reviews, or web sites associated with my books, or magazine articles I had written over the last 25 years.

But this guy also popped up. Wow. I have a twin out there. There's another "Todd Outcalt". Can you believe it?

Turns out (when I did further research on this impostor) that this fake Todd Outcalt is a graduate of Emory and Auburn University, that he also has a business degree, and is a General Manager at Airline Transport Professionals in Jacksonville, Florida.

Not too shabby for an impostor.

But, just in case people are getting the two us confused, let me set the record straight. The real Todd Outcalt lives in Brownsburg, IN. He used to be 6, 2" tall, at his best weighed in at a whopping 240 pounds, but has now shrunk to a paltry 6, 1" and weighs a measly 220, even while consuming a dozen donuts per week. He is a graduate of Indiana State and Duke. At forty-nine years of age, he pees about a dozen times a day and still doesn't drink enough water. He writes an average of five pages of material per day (about 2500 words).

And his goal in life? To move to Jacksonville, Florida, where he longs to become an airline transport expert.

Writing from the Trunk

Last night I stayed up late and read for about four hours, and one of the titles was John Grisham's new collection of stories: Ford County Stories. This is Grisham's first short story collection, and I believe all of these are originals, as I did not see any indication that these stories had been previously published in magazines. I'm not a huge Grisham fan (although I do have a surprising number of his books on my shelves). I do usually take a Grisham novel to the beach with me, however, just so I can toss it in the trash after I've read it.

But I was taken with the paragraph that Grisham included in the flyleaf of his new book.

Here, Grisham recounts his experience with his first book, A Time to Kill. Evidently, when his first book was published, he purchased 1000 copies, loaded them into his trunk, and attempted to hand sell them at libraries, reading groups and conventions. Few people bought a book and Grisham found himself in debt, loaded down with copies of his own book. And as he states, that first experience taught him that there was a world of difference between the writing of books and the selling of books. Wow, can I relate to that experience! That's why I decided a long time ago that I would just buy the books myself and give them away. Few people were going to purchase my titles, anyway, and I might as well have fun giving them as gifts.

A few weeks ago, while I was thumbing through another title in the bookstore, I happened upon another writer's observation along these very lines (and a very successful writer, to boot!). He stated it this way (my paraphrase): People hear the word "writer" and they assume that anyone who writes a book is wealthy. What they don't realize is that writers actually deal in pocket change and are, by definition, busted before the first page is printed. Every time a book sells, the writer gets a few nickels and dimes, like someone actually dribbling coins into the palm. Anyone who writes a book under the influence or with delusions of wealth or grandeur should get used to being in debt and surviving on half-priced cans of tuna fish.

Indeed, writers should get used to writing out of the trunk of their car. That's where their books are going to be stashed (just look in my trunk!). And after a few months of being broke, a writer can eventually take those books to the landfill, dump them, and return home to try again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Eating Corn

I'm reading a fascinating science/culinary/sociological book right now by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma. Here, Pollan offers us a fascinating study of the American diet . . . the stuff you and I put into our bodies every day, without stopping to think about what we are really eating.

As it turns out, most of what you and I consume is corn. In fact, about 1/2 of all the calories you and I consume every day comes from the cornfields of Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana. Corn is in most every food sitting on the supermarket shelf--most certainly anything that is packaged, bottled, canned, or wrapped. We just don't think about it that way.

For example, here's a breakdown in calories of the typical lunch from McDonolds (almost all corn): Soda (100% corn calories from corn syrup), milk shake (78% corn); salad dressings (65% corn calories); chicken nuggets (56% corn calories from corn oil, corn starch, and not to mention the corn the chickens ate to become chicken); cheeseburger (52% corn calories. How? From the ketchup, mustard, bun...which is almost all corn calories); French fries (23% corn calories from the corn oil they are fried in).

See what Pollan is getting at? Corn everywhere.

And, since I'm eating and drinking all of this corn everyday in my donuts, bread, soft drinks, bottled teas, and processed foods, it makes me wonder: why in the world would I ever actually eat CORN or corn on the cob or corn out of a can? Our bodies, just like the cows, chickens, swine and turkeys we eat, are essentially corn-fed protein and are remarkably different than the beef, chicken, pork and turkey our grandparents' generation enjoyed. In fact, none of these meats taste the same as they did just a generation ago. We just think they taste the same, but what we are really enjoying is the corn.

Wow . . . all of this talk is making me hungry. What's for lunch? Think I'll fix some popcorn and wash it down with a soft drink. (Total calories from CORN . . . 100%.)