Sunday, February 28, 2010


Now that my wife is back in school, taking night classes and filling her mind with great and lofty thoughts, there are even more books lying around the house. Becky has quite a pile of books on leadership that she is required to read, and, since I never met a book I didn't like, I feel compelled to read these books also.

Last week I read John Maxwell's, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Among the dozens of titles Maxwell has written (actually he hasn't "written" any of them, he hires the writers of his books) this title is usually considered his magnum opus. It is a good book, and one I would recommend to anyone who assumes any role or mantle of leadership.

Readying Maxwell, I'm always asking: Am I a good leader? Would anyone follow me across the street to buy a pair of shoes at Kohl's? Would my son follow me into the kitchen if I promised to make him a peanut butter sandwich? Would the dog follow me into the yard if it hadn't hiked on a tree in two weeks?

I'm not sure. It's difficult to gauge one's leadership capabilities. Which is why I'm always asking my wife: Am I good leader?

Usually, I wait until she is asleep to ask this question. That way, I can imagine any number of answers. And if none is forthcoming, I just write another paragraph. I let one sentence lead to another. That may be the only lead I get for a long time.

Friday, February 26, 2010


The Clerihew is a brief poetic form used in the 17th & 18th centuries to satirize famous people. It fell out of favor, however, and few people in our times have ever heard of a "clerihew." I recently wrote these, and they were rejected by The New Yorker magazine last week . . . so I'll share them here.

News Clerihews

. . . a clerihew is a psuedo-biographical verse of two rhymed couplets in which the subject's name makes one of the rhymes . . . although not many people can recite an example of a clerihew.
Mark Kurlansky in Salt: A World History

Tiger Woods
Had the goods
But in reprise
He womanized.

Mark McGuire
Played with fire
And now, tsk, tsk,
He's an asterisk.

Conan O'Brien
Was flying high in
Late-night show
But had to go.

Jay Leno
Left the show
But got the dough in
Before Conan.

Meryl Streep
Tops the heap
Of actresses
In movie biz.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Bookstore

It never happens, but HCI (one of my publishers) was able to get The Ultimate Christian Living published and distributed nearly three weeks before March 1, when the book was to be distributed nationally to bookstores. Last week I received a call from one of the marketing gurus who had set up a booksigning for me. But I said, "I know where that bookstore is. I'll walk in, talk to the manager, and make sure everything is arranged."

Big mistake.

The conversation went something like this . . . .

Me: Hi, my name is Todd Outcalt, I live in Brownsburg, and I'm a pastor and author of the book The Ultimate Christian Living. You have the book on your shelves and ________ had called you to set up a book signing. So I thought I would drop by and introduce myself.

Manager (all of twenty-five years old with pained facial expression): Who are you again? What are you selling?

Me: I'm not selling anything. I wrote this book (handing manager a copy which I have pulled from the bookstore shelves). I'm dropping by to introduce myself and check on the signing date you had set up with ________.

Manager of BOOKSTORE (ignoring book): Who are you again?

Me (pointing to my name on the book cover): That's me. I'm the author. I think you had talked with _________ about a book signing in March?

Manager: Who? What's this about? We don't do book signings unless they are set up by a publisher! You'll have to call corporate if you want us to carry a self-published book.

Me: No, this isn't a self published book. That's why I'm dropping by. My publisher called you this past week. And since I live nearby I thought I would stop in and introduce myself before the signing date.

Manager: Which publisher are you talking about?

Me (again pointing to the book which the manager is holding IN HER HAND . . . and I swear to Joseph I'm still talking nicely to this woman): This publisher right here. This is the book I'm talking about. It's on your shelves. I just pulled this copy so you could see what I'm talking about.

Manager: Where did you get this?

Me: Off of your shelves. Right back there. That's the publisher. That's the book we're talking about. That's my name on the cover.

Manager (looking peeved, incredulous, too busy to discuss a book signing which she has already arranged): I'm going to have to check on this. We only have one book signing set up in March.

Me: Could you check on that book title and the author?

Manager (still looking peeved, walks SLOWLY over to the computer and punches keys): We have a signing for The Ultimate Christian Living in March.

Me: That's me. That's the book you're holding!

Manager (finally looks at the book she is holding): Who are you again?

Me: Todd Outcalt. That's my name on the cover. (I realize I will need to hand her a business card to prove my identity! I hand her a dog-eared card out of my wallet.)

Manager: Oh, so you're saying you're the author! Okay. Yes, we have you in the system.

Me (wishing to God I had a black pill to take so I could put myself out of my misery . . . wishing I could walk in front of a moving bus . . . wishing that I could some day meet a book store manager who enjoyed books and appreciates authors.) See you soon!

Manager: By the way, how do you pronounce your name?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Searching for Tolstoy

The other night, in the Absolute Zero boredom of the Outcalt household, my wife asked me, "Do you have a copy of War and Peace?"

"War and Peace? You mean the Tolstoy classic?"

"That's the one. What do you know about Tolstoy?"

"I know he wrote War and Peace," I said. "He was Russian. He also attempted to improve society by eschewing all earthly pleasures. Probably even sex with his old, Russian battle-ax wife."

"Didn't he go nuts at the end?" Becky asked.

I strode to the library to retrieve my giant Mariam-Webster's: Encyclopedia of Literature. "Says here he gave away all of his possessions and then abruptly died a few weeks later. Good thing, I guess, since he didn't have anything to live for."

Minutes later, I'm in the library looking for my dog-eared copy of War and Peace. "Can't you find it?" Becky asks, watching some Olympic ski jumping on the side.

"I know I have a copy," I told her. "It's a paperback I purchased in Durham, North Carolina at that tobacco warehouse that had been converted into a giant bookstore."

"I remember that place," she said. "It was a mess."

"Still is!" After searching for twenty minutes, I gave up. "No War and Peace tonight."

"One of these days," Becky tells me, "You've got to get organized."

I note the piles of Warren G. Harding biographies straddling the floor, the great heaping mounds of manuscripts and uncompleted essays I'm still working on, the unstuffed mailing envelopes waiting to be filled, the many boxes of unpacked books that have been shipped to me by unsuspecting publishers. I'm organized!

But Tolstoy's War and Peace? It's a mystery. And I'll be agitated and unable to rest until I locate that copy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Late Nights With Warren G. Harding

Move over Jay Leno . . . I'm spending my late nights with Warren G. Harding. Really. Or, at least I have been.

Over the past month or so I've been writing various essays late at night (post-Olympics at times) and my most recent foray has taken me into the life and times of Warren G. Harding who, by most accounts, was the worst president in U.S. history I've always wondered: "Why the low ranking, Warren?"

Well, once you get into this fella, you find out more than you want to know. For example:

Harding was nominated (literally) in a back room deal at the 1920 Republican National Convention in Chicago because some powerful lobbyists and deal makers thought that the Ohio Senator "looked" presidential and had the charm needed to woo the ladies. This was the first national election influenced by media, and also the first following the women's suffrage movement, and Harding was elected in the largest national landslide in history. But in the aftermath of the extreme suffering of the first World War, few cared for anything other than a return to the good old days.

Harding didn't disappoint. He spoke of God often, and about getting back to them old time values, but all the while his administration was shot through with enormous secret scandals that involved money-laundering, bribery, and corruptions of the highest order. Harding had also managed to keep not one, but TWO, mistresses on the chain at the same time, and even fathered a child from the couch in his senatorial office and had secret service agents pay off the ladies with hush money.

But all of this was kept secret and did not come to light until after his death--his own demise in office shrouded with mystery. Did his wife poison him out of vengeance? Did one of his money-laundering buddies have it in for him?

Old Warren is a fascinating bird. And he's keeping me awake at nights writing about him.

Now, all I have to do is find a publisher for all of this soap opera fodder.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Last week I completed sorting all of my receipts and records for my 2009 taxes. I also formulated a budget for 2010 and was astounded to note that this year I'll be paying out a whopping $42,000 in college tuition to Ball State and Indiana University. Since neither my daughter (Ball St.) or my wife (IU) are intelligent enough to be on scholarship, and since our family has income and has saved a bit for this scenario, that means I'll write checks to cover the whole shebang!

Still, Becky asked me, "Are you sure you've got the correct figures?"

"Well," I said, "I ain't too good at cipherin' since I dropped out of the sixth grade, but go figure it: a year at Ball State, a summer internship for Chelsey in England, plus nine summer credit hours on top of that, plus your goin'-back-to-night-school tuition for spring, summer and fall . . . and you get $42,000."

I then went on to explain my three-point plan for staying alive in 2010:
* Spring is coming, and that means dandelions. Our yard will be loaded with 'em. And dandelion greens are edible. I figure we can save a month's worth of grocery money just living off the lawn, and this can include our copious supply of mulberries. If we get to these before the birds can eat them and poop the seeds on our cars, we can save big money on fruits and vegetables. And listen, I'm not even counting the walnuts in the mix. If the trees produce other nuts besides me, we're golden.
*Dunkin' Donuts . . . I'm still waiting on the management to call me regarding that 3-6 a.m. position for minimum wage. The way I figure it, I can bake donuts and write essays or book chapters at the same time. Or I could write a book about working at Dunkin' Donuts.
* Bodily fluids. I've got 'em. I can sell 'em. I did ask Becky if she would mind if I checked into the pay of contributing at a sperm bank, but she just laughed and reminded me that no woman in her right mind would consider an earthly-attachment to me. "And besides," she said, "look at the kids we produced together. You think the world needs more of them?"

I guess not . . . that would require more tuition after all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Public Apology

Listening to Tiger Woods's public apology yesterday, I realized that I needed to apologize as well. And so, I hope all of my friends and family will accept this carefully crafted lament.

Thank you for being here today. I would first like to apologize to my wife, Becky, because I have been so mediocre and boring. I'm truly sorry for the last twenty-five years of marriage and I pledge to do better in the future--you know, really spice things up. I also apologize for focusing so much on soups and for wasting so much of our hard-earned money on donuts. Of course, there are many of you that want to know more about our relationship, but what my wife and I have for dinner (and what we do afterwards) is really none of your business. And I patently deny the rumors that I have been taking performance enhancing drugs in the bedroom.

To my children . . . I'm really sorry for cooking so many wieners on the grill during the summer months. I regret that we didn't order more pizzas during your formative years, when all of us were making the switch form LPs to CDs and now IPod. But it was a very confusing time for all of us, and my deficiencies as a father were notable. I also apologize for not being there for you when you were setting fire to the basement.

To my colleagues at work . . . I apologize for tying up the internet and for telling so many weak jokes in staff meetings. I can only hope you will forgive me. In the future, I pledge to eat less pastry and do more of my work behind closed doors. I also promise to flush the unisex toilet after I've used it.

To both of my friends . . . I'll be sending you free copies of my next book. I apologize for writing about you both in the 3rd person, as if you don't exist. Next time, I'll use a first-person voice and watch the use of my adjectives more closely.

To my publishers . . . I apologize for my weak sales record and pledge to be worthy of your confidence in the future. Of course, there are many rumors floating around about me (that I am actually a woman, that my real name is Enrico Von Trapp, that I have pectoral and calf implants) . . . but most of these are fabrications.

Finally, to my mother . . . I apologize for not calling every Sunday night to make sure Dad hasn't broken his hip. I am sorry for being a sloppy son. I apologize for trying to can my farts when I was twelve (do you still have the jars?).

Thank you, and goodnight. I will not be taking any questions at this time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Author Schedule

I've noted that most authors' websites include a schedule of their upcoming appearances, speaking engagements, and book signings. So, let me here make the public aware of my 2010 schedule.

February 2010
No engagements at this time.

March 2010
There's a lady at a bookstore in Terre Haute who might invite me to do a book signing if she can get approval from her manager (some greasy guy with size fifteen feet who has a habit of saying, "Whaz your name agin?").

April 2010
Address to Mrs. Olsen's 1st grade class on the subject: "What color is your crayon, and where have you been sticking it?"

Possibility that I will sign books at my son's basement overnight party after one of his illiterate friends asks, "Did your dad really write all these books? Dude!"

May 2010
Nothing at this time.

June 2010
Possibility that I will sign books at the Annual Conference of the UM Church where the bishop will ask, "Are you still in Brownsburg?"

July 2010
Address to the annual 4th of July party at our house on the subject, "Who wants another weenie?" I will sign books afterwards using Kruden's spicy brown mustard.

August 2010

September 2010
Scheduled to address Dr. Elroy McGuilickudy's pre-natal birthing class on the subject: "Do you know how you got into this mess?" By invitation, I will also sign books between contractions.

October 2010
Just a few odds-and-ends, with the biggie being my keynote address to the Boy Scout Jamboree: "Okay, who put the snake in my pants?"

November 2010
Hoping that TIME magazine will follow through on their profile interview for Man-of-the-Year. Otherwise, I will be interviewed by the 4th grade class at Fancy Gulch Elementary and answer questions like: "When did you know you wanted to be a writer?" "Have you ever killed someone and written about it?" "If so, where did you bury the body?" "Could we see it?" "Recess is in fifteen minutes, what else should we ask you?"

December 2010
A big month, with lots of writing activities. I am scheduled, as always, to give away hundreds of books that no one has purchased, going broke again in the process. The copies that I cannot give away I will use as a car jack or as filler for the large hole in the basement wall where my son's friends used their heads as battering rams during the Super Bowl party. Should you like a copy of my book, please send $4.00 to cover P/H and write to:

The Author Who Sells No Books
PO Box 666
Any Town, U.S.A.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reading Glasses

Age eventually catches us in its long grasp . . . and for me, one of the deepest frustrations is my inability to see the printed page. I now have several pair of reading glasses floating around the house and office, and I find myself reaching for them often.

Each pair of glasses gives me a different appearance.

I have a brown pair that Becky says makes me "look like a geek."

I have a yellow pair that makes me "look like a freak."

And I have a black pair that makes me look like "Clark Kent".

The latter is about the closest I can get to looking like Superman. So I wear these glasses around the house when I'm reading. I take my shirt off and flex my pecs while I'm eating nachos and licorice whips. This is the closest I can come to impressing Becky with my strength and acumen. But I must not be "super" enough because she always tells me to get some clothes on. My son turns away in disgust and begs me to allow him to move out of the house.

Can reading glasses really do this to a person . . . reduce a man to Clark Kent in the eyes of his family? Don't they see the "super" me lurking behind the lenses?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bridge Work

Every few months, I begin reading a massive book that will take me weeks to complete. I began reading The Great Bridge, by David McCullough just after Christmas, and I finished it last night. It's the fascinating story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge--at one time considered one of the eight great building wonders of the world.

I knew bits and pieces about the father and son Roebling team who eventually completed the bridge (fifteen years in the making), but there were so many obstacles, it is amazing that the bridge became a reality. This story is, indeed, one of the great wonders of the modern age.

Reading at the commitment of the Roeblings to the endeavor (and their many sufferings) I felt so insignificant, seeing as how I have not built anything of lasting value in my life (other than a complete collection of Andy Griffith Show reruns). Although, I did once build a bridge out of an erector set when I was ten years old, but it rusted out and eventually succumbed to the elements. That's what will happen to me, too. Rust. Burnout. And a final collapse.

I can only hope that when it finally happens, I'll be somewhere near a vacant hole.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And Here's The Kicker . . .

I have a new favorite book for 2010 (so far). It is Mike Sachs's wonderful series of interviews with comedy and humor writers entitled: And Here's the Kicker . . .

Some great stuff here, and some fantastic interviews with top comedy writers like David Sedaris and Al Jaffe. I couldn't put this book down, and I carried it to bed with me several nights. (I didn't read it in bed, I just carried it to bed and slept with it under my pillow since Becky was already asleep and there was nothing better to do!)

About the time I was cracking the pages of this book, I also ran across one of Mike Sachs's own pieces of humor in The New Yorker, and I devoured that, too. Naturally, he has a flair for interviewing top humor writers, and this is a must-have book for anyone who aspires to write humor for television, movie, or magazine.

I enjoyed this book so much, I was always laughing out loud (LOL--I just learned what this means!) and saying stuff like, "Hey, sugar, you'll never guess who wrote Caddyshack!" or "Holy Mother-of-Pearl, I didn't know MAD magazine was adult humor!"

Reluctantly, I place this book on the dusty receptacle of my overstuffed bookshelf, but I'll be reading this one again very soon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fifty Dollar Valentine's Day

The truth is: I have always cheated on holidays, especially Valentine's Day. I don't buy cards (won't give Hallmark the satisfaction of my money). I make my own cards and I write my own verse and letters. And I've learned through the years that I can make my woman laugh or cry, or both. All she has to do is look at me . . . and she cries. And I don't buy traditional gifts either. No chocolates. No flowers. The last time I tried that gig, Becky looked at my box of chocolates and said, "You probably picked these up at Walgreens while you were driving home today, didn't you?"

How did she know?

So, this year I'm giving her a heartfelt letter (which I won't publish here) along with another card/gift and a coupon which she can cash in some night when she just has to have ME. I won't have to worry about cashing in the coupon for months, probably, but it helps just knowing the woman is carrying me around in her purse and desiring me while she is teaching 7th graders. And, just in case you are wondering what else is on the slate for the little woman, here's one half of her Valentine.

A Valentine Worth Fifty Bucks

I could give you chocolates, dear
Or flowers by the bunch
But gifts like these you'd say were queer
Since you do no ask for much.

And since you're not expecting, honey,
Words I did not pen
I'll give instead this bit of money:
Two twenties and a ten.

Go buy yourself some under pants
Or if preferred, a bra,
And maybe later we can dance
(or maybe not at all).

Or you could get yourself a meal--
A really nice one, too.
Or maybe later cop a feel
If that's what you'd rather do.

The point, of course, is that I know
Your preference for cash,
So take it, save it, spend it slow . . .
Don't thank me. Have a bash!

Instead of spending on some box
Of sugar, or dry flowers,
I've stashed this money in my socks
For these romantic hours.

No need to thank me. Have a blast!
Invest it if you please.
That's why I'm writing love to last
While kneeling on my knees.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Best Spiritual Writing

For the past decade Philip Zaleski has served as the general editor of The Best Spiritual Writing anthology. This year's collection (2010) does not disappoint, and readers can discover here some insightful and inspirational writing from such luminaries as Rick Bass, Billy Collins, Pattian Rogers, and John Updike . . . just to name a few. I have enjoyed, and am enjoying, this slim volume.

As odd as it may sound, this collection features writing on such varied subjects as Google, nature, and the blessings of being an ageing writer. Not all of these essays would be recognized immediately as "spiritual" in dimension, but in the reading one is often drawn to a deeper place inside, or experiences a sense of loftiness (God, heaven).

I'm always trying to write spiritual, too. Trouble is, it's difficult writing good spiritual--even if one is writing specifically about God, the Bible, or anything religious. Most spiritual writing falls flat. Only the best writing truly "lifts".

Well, but it's Friday . . . my day off (usually). Time to get to the gym and sweat. Time to come home and clean the kitchen. Time to write something spiritual.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Are You?

Watching THE WHO at the half time of the Super Bowl, I was reminded of several conversations I've had recently via email/phone/letter with various editors.

Two weeks ago, I received a book proposal rejection from an old editorial voice at JW & Sons in New York. The editor dropped me an email to say that the publisher was not interested in my proposal--a unique historical book that I have been working on for seven years. "While you have demonstrated in the proposal that you can certainly write this book," she wrote, "I'm afraid that you are best known as a health and fitness writer."

Health and Fitness? What the heck! Where did this come from? Sure, I've written a great deal on health-related issues, especially breast cancer, and I've had my fair share of articles published in fitness and health magazines, but . . . Health and Fitness?

As crazy as it sounds, I've also had editors who have rejected some of my health and fitness proposals based on the assumption that I am principally a "spiritual or religious writer" or even a "niche author." I've also been pegged as a "humor writer" at times, or a "youth ministry author". It's amazing how easily writers get pigeon-holed, and how quickly.

I also recall a few months back when, after submitting one of my mystery stories to a magazine editor, she wrote back with a terse, "Why not show me some more of your science fiction?"

The fact is I do write, and have written, in all of these genres and more. All are accurate about me. I write health and fitness. I write spiritual and religious (even pastoral, adolescent, satirical and Biblical in theme). I write memoir. I also write science fiction, mystery, romantic, and mainstream. I have book proposals in my arsenal that range from nutty-insane to, I hope, insightful, historical, practical, spiritual, and biographical. I write what moves me . . . in the moment, in the day, in the week.

Still, as one of my long-lost literary agents once asked me: "Who are you? What type of work do you want to be known by?"

My answer: just a good writer. What's wrong with that?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My $5's Worth

Last year (2009) I was blessed to have three books published . . . one of these being $5 Youth Ministry. This was probably the fastest book I have ever written, or seen produced, from start to finish. Essentially Group Publishing said, "We really like your idea, but we want it NOW!" They got it.

I've seen a few advertisements for this book in various youth ministry magazines, and a few days back, noted a review, which was favorable. In essence, the book is timely and practical--offering hundreds of ways that youth ministries can continue to thrive in a tough economy and even grow . . . all from using $5 ministry ideas. Low cost. Big value.

Even the book itself is a value. There are few books these days published under $10, and this one gets in under the wire at $9.95 (maybe even less on some web sites). Really, what can you find under $10 today? Cases of soda pop cost more than that, and once you drink it, it's gone.

Better yet, this book seems to be helping a lot of people in the church, and includes some tips and how-to lessons that cannot be found elsewhere: how to find, apply for, and write a youth ministry grant; how to develop partnerships; how to ask for money; how to grow youth ministry stewardship in the teenagers.

I'm glad people are talking about this book and are finding it on the shelf. And I hope more people say, "Hey, you gotta have this book! This guy is giving copies away!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My New Fan Club

In the past month, I've received a surprising number of cards, letters, emails, and blog postings from "fans" who say they are enjoying one of my books, or have read one of my essays in a magazine, etc. I've even had two fans in Brazil, who wrote telling me how much they are enjoying the Portuguese edition of The Best Things in Life Are Free (which no one reads in English).

Of course, I don't let all of this attention go to my head . . . even though I have noted that an increasing number of writers now have "fan clubs" that are designed to accommodate the ever-increasing desire for daily Twitters and intimate details of the writer's life. I'm not sure who organizes these fan clubs, but I thought I'd at least provide some updated information for all of my fans overseas. And, since I don't Twitter, perhaps I can answer a few intimate questions for my loyal reader-base.

Q: So . . . whaz-up?
A: Lots of new happenings, dingo. Already this morning I've made a pot of coffee, shoveled snow off my front steps, and used the bathroom twice. I stopped by Jiffy-Lube and had my wife's car serviced (I'm just a great husband that way). And, since my wife is home today (no school, snow day) perhaps I'll service her later.

Q: Do you take any pills?
A: Lots of 'em. Doctors orders. I take a whopper Flaxseed oil pill every day to inject some "good cholesterol" into my body, and when my torn rotator cuff acts up, I crush some Advil tablets into powder, make lines on the coffee table, and snort 'em. Other than that, I'm as healthy as a Billy Goat.

Q: How do you balance being a pastor and a writer?
A: Well, as a child I could ride a unicycle down the handrail of our staircase. That's how I learned balance. I also chewed gum and read the Bible at the same time. I only fell one time--on top of my brother--and he said, "You're always throwing the Bible in my face." I can no longer ride a unicycle, but I do carry the Bible on top of my head a couple of hours each day to keep a proper balance in my life.

Q: Are you for real?
A: Well, I do have occasional lapses where I become animated and take on the appearance of Spongebob Squarepants, but usually I'm me.

Q: Is there a possibility that I could meet you some time to get your autograph?
A: No possibility.

Q: If I sent you copy of your book and enclosed return postage, would you autograph a book?
A: Yes, but I would use the name, "Bartholomew Eggcreme" since I like it much better than my own.

Q: When might you start Twittering?
A: Difficult to say. I'm still operating at home with an old rotary phone and my family is on a three-party line. I do have a cell phone, too, but I can only dial in numbers of those who have first called me. It's embarrassing for me to ask my son for help and, actually, it takes me nearly sixteen hours just to write one blog posting like this . . . so you can understand my dilemma. Twitter? Geez-louise . . . I just don't know.

Q: What can you tell us about your personal life, then?
A: Is this not personal enough?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Odd Book?

On Super Bowl Sunday, I read This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Private and Public Lives of Two Ministers, by Martin Copenhaver and Lillian Daniel. Portions of this book I had read in magazines in the months preceding, but reading the book in nearly one sitting (during a Colts loss--congratulations New Orleans!) was something of a treat.

All in all, I found this book insightful and confessional, though something tells me that, while most non-clergy people might find this book "odd and wondrous", the average pastor would not discover anything new in it, other than learning about how two pastors, one male (older) and one female (younger) have personally coped with the insanity called pastoral ministry. Still, I enjoyed the book and the insights that Martin and Lillian provided. The book was revealing--but was predominantly confined to issues of call and parish.

I would have loved, however, to learn more about their "private" lives, especially as they each balanced work and home. Family issues (particularly as to how they each balance their parenting roles and work) were clearly lacking. But maybe that's my issue.

In short, I did find the book wondrous (actually, at times, it was indelibly inspiring) but I didn't find much in the book that was "odd", most likely because I live inside the "odd" every day. Martin and Lillian, in the introduction, point out that they wrote the book in the hope that it would provide insights for non-clergy folk who have ever wondered: What do pastors do? How does a pastor work and live? How does a pastor serving in a large church find balance?

These are good questions, but pastors who have stayed the course in pastoral work (surely for as long as Copenhaver's thirty+ years) have already answered those questions for themselves. The real question is: Do other folks understand the pastoral life and calling, or do they simply operate with stereotypes? My experience, as Martin and Lillian point out, is that the vast majority in the church and in society still have copious amounts of stereotypes in place, and don't really understand the pastoral work and life at all. Women clergy, in particular, would find Lillian's essays far more enlightening (I think) than Martin's (since, as a man, he doesn't have as many barriers to break through).

And that's where the book can be helpful. And that's why I'd recommend it for non-clergy, or those on the path toward ordination. In that light, it's an odd book.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Very Interesting

This week I received a most interesting handwritten note from an editor. After submitting a personal essay for his consideration, he wrote back: "It sounds like an interesting relationship."

I guess he had read my essay--a reflection on twenty-five years of marriage--but his note impressed me as somewhat shallow. I hope my essay was well-written, but more than that, I hope my marriage is more than just "interesting."

Lots of things are interesting: chess sets, igneous rocks, the newest laser printer. But if all I've got to offer is "interesting", well, I'm not interested.

What really interests me is why editors write what they write in response to my many submissions?

I would be interested in knowing the answer to that one.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Grant It, Please

Large chunks of the past two days have been devoted to writing a grant for the church. I hate grant writing . . . though I'm almost always successful at obtaining grant money. In fact, over the past twelve years, I've written grants totalling more than $150,000. Not too shabby.

Writing a grant is like trying to find a date on eHarmony or There are lots of questions to answer--and how one answers the questions determines the response of the foundation board who may, or may not, want to dance. But really, how does one answer questions like:

Q: What can you tell us about this project?
A: It's like building the ancient pyramids of Egypt. This is a church, so we are going to employ lots of cheap labor and, where, possible, we will leave off the cap stone while discussing the book of the dead. Picture a pyramid without a top to it. That's our project.

Q: Who are you going to use on this project?
A: We'll find people on the street who will work for food. Or, we'll stand in the parking lot of our local Long John Silvers and ask, "Wanna shine a flashlight in my crawlspace?" The airport will be another source of labor. We hear there are people who are still waiting for a flight back to Albuquerque and we'll feed them soup and salad in exchange for a day's work (see grant budget for $15 for chili-five way at Steak N' Shake).

Q: Are you gonna oversee this project, or will it be some other flunky in your organization?
A: Oh, it'll be me, dingo! I'll be asking lots of questions like, "Hey, did you know I can see your butt crack when you're up on that ladder?" or "Aren't you gonna take a sack lunch up on the roof . . . or at least a Twinkie?" or "Have you seen Avatar?" I'll be writing all of this up in my final report and submitting it along with coupons to Macaroni Grill.

Q: When do you estimate the project will end?
A: This is the church. Nothing ever ends. It is eternal . . . and it goes on and on and on.

Q: Well, just give us an estimate then!
A: Okay, how about this: We'll get'r done by next Friday!

Q: Now, really, how much do you need to get this project done? Don't pad it. Just give it to us straight.
A: Listen . . . you know as well as I do that we could do this job for $11.95 if we shopped at Lowe's. But we're talking NEEDS here. And the fact is, we NEED a lot more than $11.95 if we are going to upgrade our light bulbs to 60-watters, filter the sulphur taste out of our drinking water, and purchase a new chair for my office. Sure, on paper we'll be saying we need this money for HVAC needs, but we could really use a new chain saw, too, or one of those big clipper things on the end of a telescoping pole that can cut limbs 150 feet up. And I'm not even going to mention some of the personal grooming tools we could use around here (shoe shine kits, etc.). Just send a large check at your discretion and we'll call it even.

Q: Anything else?
A: I sure would like to dance. Call me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ode To Aaron Reuben

Pssssttt. Pssstttt. Over Here! (Floyd the Barber acting as head of his posse).

Did you know that Aaron Reuben died this week? He was the long-time producer of The Andy Griffith Show, the most important television program of all-time. In order to celebrate the many gifts that Reuben gave through this show, I have taken a few minutes to write him an Ode (what is an Ode anyway?).

To Aaron Reuben

Thank you for giving us Aunt Bea's smile,
And Opie, and Otis, and Gomer Pyle,
For "fibberty-gibbit" and "Shazam!"
For "Nip-it" and Helen's Leg-of-lamb.
You made a star of Barney Fife
And Thelma Lou (though she weren't his wife) . . .
A whole dang town that never had sex
(But something always happened next)
Still, on the show Andy kissed a lot,
But Helen was a teacher and not real hot:
We got the idea they were written in tether,
Though not a single show where they slept together.
Like Lucy and Ricky, and Dick Van Dyke,
There were separate beds, though they had a tyke:
"Little Ricky" for Lucy and "Richie" for Dick,
(Giving birth without sex was rather slick)
No single episode with a drug or a whore,
(Though men often dreamed of Tyler Moore).
Perchance women thought Andy had a tight a**
But who's makin' out with Earnest T. Bass?

Yes I know some will say that this Ode is mean
But I can't count the number I've seen
Of each episode, trailer and dialogue,
(Though most people think I've slipped a cog)
But really, Mr. Reuben, I wanna give thanks
That I've known Don Knotts as well as Tom Hanks,
That my life has been richer because of Floyd,
And I've had Goober to fill the void
Of those lonely nights when my wife was away
Attending a class (hey, what can I say?)
I watch Andy Griffith to pass the hours.
Believe me it's better than taking cold showers.
My kids are like Opie, my wife like Charlene,
And I quote every episode I've ever seen
Reminding them daily that life is a smile
And hope they'll visit with me awhile
In Mayberry or inside the Fix-it Shop
Or watch episodes until we drop.

Thanks, Mr. Reuben, I'm on my knees
In gratitude. May you rest in peace!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Marriage Editing

Recently, it seems that I've been doing more editing than writing.

Now that my wife is taking night classes, I am frequently asked to read and review her various papers with an eye toward criticism. But listen, any man who would criticize his wife's writing is asking for trouble.

"How can I improve this paper?" Becky might ask.

"Looks great to me, honey. Reads like a charm," I say. Then I add, "It's fine!"

"But if you were reading this to critique it, what would you say?"

It's at this point that I stuff five Kit-Kats in my mouth and mumble something inaudible like: "Mmmsstttuuummpppffffnnn."

No, critiquing my wife's papers is like making comment on her rear. I'm not going there. And not that there's anything wrong with my wife's rear.

It's fine.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

January Blues

In early January I mailed out an impressive mound of material to no less than twenty magazines and journals. The first returns are now coming in, and so far, reviews are not favorable. I've had:
* Five rejections
* A couple "we really like your work, try us again"
* And one "I'll publish your idea if you can write about _______"

I keep track of all of this dizzying array of material by making notations on index cards which I keep inside a small metal card file that I've had since the fourth grade. It's beaten, dented, and a bit rusted, but the card file has been with me a long time. I keep it because my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, once told me to shut my trap or she would send me down to the principal's office (Mr. Huffman) for a couple of whacks. At the end of my fourth grade education, Mrs. Wilson gave me the card file and told me to get my life organized or I would end up a delinquent. I didn't know what a delinquent was, but I liked the sound of it, and it sure as heck beats what I do most days.

I keep the card file handy so I can record rejections and keep a running tally of how many people hate my guts and can't stand the sight of my name in the top left hand corner of a manuscript.

It also helps to have a record of these rejections so that, later, should one of these editors accept one of my essays, articles, or columns, I can look back with pride and say, "You know, you turned me down forty-seven times before you said 'yes'. You remind me of my wife!"

Which reminds me, I have another card file somewhere around the house with Becky's name in it. I'm keeping tabs on her, too!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fantastic Four

Last year (2009) I had a goal of writing four books. I didn't achieve that goal. I did write two books, and a rather impressive slate of essays and articles, but I did not rise to the dais with the prize. This year, I am renewing my goal of writing four books.

Currently, I have these four books (all in proposal form) in circulation with publishers. I'll save time and not mention what all of these books are about (and I don't want to jinx the projects by talking about them too much . . . but that's my hangup).

Book Number One has been making the rounds in New York and elsewhere, and at least twenty publishers have or will be taking a look at it. This book would take me at least two years to research and write, and I am hoping and praying I get to write it. I wouldn't get this book written in 2010, nor 2011 either, but it sure would be fun to get an official "okie-dokie" to get crackin'.

Book Number Two exists as a kind of "promise". I've had one publisher tell me: "We would publish this book, but can't do it in 2011. If we did publish this one--which is great book, by the way--we'd be placing it on our 2012 list and you can decide if you want to wait that long." Okay, sounds good . . . but I'm gonna sleep on that one.

Book Number Three is still being reviewed by a publisher who just sent me an email last week. They have had this book for over a year and are still considering it, they tell me. Okay, slow as molasses is still sweet, but really, what's the hold-up? Make a decision already, Mr. Publisher!

Book Number Four is "in my head". All of it. In fact, it's a book that, if published, I can say that I've worked on for twenty years. It's been in my noggin a long time, great chunks of work that I just need the time to transcribe. Actually, if I had an uninterrupted week free of wife, kids, and other elements of humanity or conversation; if I could live on coffee and black licorice for a week, I could get this one done with several days of frantic typing. But what's fun about that? Still, I'm going to get this one written this year. It's been in my head too long and I need to make room in my cerebellum for more Andy Griffith Show trivia.

I hope all of this falls into place this year . . . but if not, I'll just get a little more sleep.