Monday, May 31, 2010

Yellow Fever

A few days ago I received a nice response from another author urging me to continue my long-standing quest to write a biography of R. F. Outcault, whom many consider the father of the comic strip. His Yellow Kid panel began appearing in Pulitzer's, The World, newspaper in 1895 and was the first portion of a newspaper to be printed in "color". Hence, the Yellow Kid was born.

I've been trying to do some preliminary research on dear old R.F., but details of his personal life are so scant. I've even talked via phone to experts in New York and Louisiana, but it's tough going. I'm not sure there would be any way to dredge up the kind of material necessary to make his life interesting . . . but then, that's the work of the biographer, isn't it?

I do have a few reprints of Yellow Kid cartoons, and even an original Buster Brown comic (also his creation) but I'm not sure I have the kind of scratch necessary to get my hands on other original R.F. Outcault artwork. If only he'd known I would be here, a hundred years later, wanting to write about him, surely he would have written me into his will.

Ah, R.F. . . . were are you when I need you?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Waiting Game

Who was it that sang, "The waiting is the hardest part?" Tom Petty? The Heartbreakers? Both?

All sorts of waiting happening right now . . . .

Waiting for the end of another school year.
Waiting for the end of my wife's evening classes.
Waiting for editors to make decisions about book proposals.
Waiting for editors to make decisions about stories.
Waiting for editors to inform me about deadlines and dates.

In the meantime . . . while I'm waiting, I'm reading and writing. That's only fair. For every proposal or story rejected, I'll have two others waiting in the wings.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This morning, as I was sitting down at my computer, I looked to my right and noted an old book on the shelf: Onward, edited by Peter J. Smith. This is a collection of graduation and commencement speeches given by a host of people. From Madeleine Albright to Ted Koppel to John Updike . . . various pieces of sage advice and wisdom from college campuses large and small.

I am going to read some of these (again) this weekend.

And, in case there are graduates out there who want some of my sage advice, here is it:

Get rid of the funny-looking cap and gown as quickly as possible . . . you look ridiculous in that crap and no one will hire you if you are intent on looking like a moron. Next, if you haven't yet applied to go to college, get moving. At least do something. Don't sit around in your parents' basements watching Dumb and Dumber and wondering when you are going to catch a break. You won't. The world won't give you a break. You have to make our own breaks . . . and this might include putting forth so much effort and sweat that you actually break an arm or leg. Next, drink plenty of fluids. You will need to stay hydrated as you make your rounds looking for work and practice saying, "Do you want fries with that?" And as your pastor and friend, let me also recommend the following. If you are having premarital sex, stop! Your parents will get jealous. They don't even have that much sex and believe me, you sure don't know what the heck YOU are doing. If you are drinking alcohol, stop! Your parents need a drink worse than you do and they have real worries to deal with. If you don't have a place of worship, find one! God knows we could use more voices in the choir and youth group is over. Grow up . . . yes, for Christ's sake! And I do mean, for Christ's sake! The world needs you and your energy and your ideas and your gifts . . . and if you are distracted by all of this other malarkey, you're missing it. Stick to your faith and your values (yes, even in college) and you'll go far. Enjoy the sappy Hallmark cards that people purchase for you, but don't really mean, and make sure you cash out the gift cards before they expire. And last, but not least, start doing the little things like checking the oil and fluid levels in your car (so your dad won't have to) and put some of your own cash into the gas tank now and then. Really, your parents will appreciate it, and they might even brag about you to one of the two friends they have.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Prize Pulitzer

Last week I completed reading James McGrath Morris's fantastic new biography, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.

Purchasing this book (along with William Randolph Hearst: The Uncrowned King) was something of a whim. I wanted to read about the journalistic power struggle between these two giants in the early 19th century New York and gain a deeper appreciation for the rise of newspapers and, in particular, the role that one of my own ancestors, R.F. Outcault, played in the drama.

Joseph Pulitzer, in particular, was truly a rags-to-riches story. He was an immigrant who became one of the wealthiest men in the world. He started with nothing and ended with enormous wealth (but also blindness and loneliness). He also endowed Columbia University with the money that still bears his name, and the prizes that are given yearly in the literary community.

R.F. Outcault's comic, the Yellow Kid, was the first widely-read comic strip in America, published in Pulitzer's New York World, and was also at the center of the time in American history that became known as "Yellow Journalism". This era, in many ways, is still with us. But there is no doubt that Pulitzer, Hearst, and Outcault changed the face of publishing in America and ushered newspapers into the modern era.

Of the three, Outcault is the most shrouded in mystery . . . there is not much written about him, and facts and personal information is difficult to come by. Someday, I hope to be the one to write the first biography about him . . .

But until then, I'll just remain his weird great-great-great-great grandson, nephew, or whatever . . . without the "u" in the name. All I know is that most of us Outcalt's live up to our name (which means literally "no gold", or, in modern terminology, "I have no money").

Pulitzer and Hearst on the other hand . . .

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Betty & Me

I'm inspired by Betty White. Not only is she a great-looker (and in her eighties) but she remains sharp-witted, fit, and engaged in her career into the twilight of her life. A few weeks ago she hosted Saturday Night Live, becoming the oldest to host the show in SNL history, and I stayed up late to watch her . . . and I haven't watched SNL, not a single minute, in years.

Recently I heard through the tradewinds of publishing that Betty was going to be writing a book, too. (She'll probably have a ghost writer, and I'd love to be the ghost.) Still, I'll be the first in line to read about her life and work.

As a tribute to Betty, I also have rededicated myself to staying fit . . . just in case my wife will still need me or still feed me when I'm sixty-four and older. As I write this, I am already awake and beginning a new day, and I am headed for the gym. I plan to be there when the doors open and I will hoist amazing amounts of weight, struggle mightily under black iron, push and pull against cables.

(Incidentally . . . the sentence above was lifted from memory from the Gaines and Butler book, Pumping Iron, which preceded the movie of the same name and subject of bodybuilding, and is a book I purchased when I was fifteen. I've read the book no less than twenty times, I'm sure, and committed large portions of the book to memory, including the photos of Arnold, Franco, Lou and the other then-unknown bodybuilders profiled by Gaines and Butler in the 1970s.)

Oh, well . . . it was Arnold then (but he's a has-been now). Betty is my new inspiration! Who's yours?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Even More . . . From the Are You Kidding Me Dept

One of my pet peeves is this: reading my own work in print (finally) only to discover that some editor has hacked, sliced, and otherwise rendered my writing into incomprehensible form. It happened a few days ago when I re-read a column I had written. The column contained a multitude of comma splices, odd phrases, and wording that I never used in the original. Sure enough, when I went back and checked my submitted text (the one I had sent to the editor), it was an entirely different piece . . . no comma splices, no misspelled words, no odd phrases. What happened?

Well, it's a common practice that many editors feel that they have to edit . . . and if there is nothing to edit, many feel obliged to do something . . . including inserting commas into perfectly good prose, or taking commas out, or inserting words just for the fun of it. Now, to be fair, the best editors ask if they can make these types of wholesale changes, and the author usually has an opportunity for defense or rebuttal, even to explain the intricacies of commas and word selection. But other editors just want to tinker.

But here's my question: why would perfectly good writing be changed into incomprehensible gibberish? Help me, O great God of editors.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Walk On . . . and You'll Never Walk Alone

A good writer is always listening to conversation . . . patterns of speech, nuances of meaning, great dialogue.

On Friday I picked up two gems within the span of five minutes. I was making visits in an assisted-living community and happened to encounter the following . . . .

First, I passed an older gentleman in the hallway who looked like he was having some trouble walking. I didn't want to run into him, and so I slowed behind him and, at one point where the hallway narrowed, I motioned for him to proceed ahead of me. "After you, sir," I said. He looked at me, scowled, and then asked, "Where the hell are you goin?" (I could have given any number of answers: ontological, theological, relational . . . but I just walked on with a smile on my face.)

Moments later, as I was exiting off the elevator onto the second floor, a group of three older ladies, all with walkers, was waiting to get on. When they saw me get off the elevator, one of the women sort of stepped back, smiled, and said, "Watch out! Now there's a big man!" Interestingly enough, all three of them watched me from behind as I walked down the hallway instead of getting on the elevator. They missed their ride.

They were all in their eighties at least . . . all smiling. And none of them were dead. Walk on, ladies!

Friday, May 21, 2010

For Insanity . . . Press 1 . . .

We've all had those frustrations of waiting on the telephone while a recorded voice leads us through a series of directions: "For service, press one . . . for better service, press two . . . if you really need service, press three . . . if you are near death and want to make your last will and testament . . . press four. . . ."

Last week, I had the frustrating experience of trying to return a call from a television producer (yes, a Producer . . . as in "I want to be a producer" sung by Matthew Broderick). Of course, as I discovered, it was tough to actually talk to the producer.

I would begin my odyssey by listening to a series of recorded instructions that went something like this: "If you wish to talk to Billy Bob, press one . . . if you wish to talk to Bobbi Sue, press two . . . if you wish to talk to Mini Me, press three . . . ." Naturally, I would always wait for the final instruction, which was something like, "If you would like to talk to a real flesh-and-blood human being who is making minimum wage and probably doesn't have any clue who you are or how to connect you to the person who can really help you . . . press zero!"

I've become very adept at pressing zero as soon as I hear one of these recordings. Sometimes I get shot out the other end of the pipeline and end up talking to someone in New Delhi who asks for my social security number and the security code to my bank account (I readily give this information since there's nothing in my bank account--all my cash is at Ball State and IU--and no one in his/her right mind would desire to steal my identity). But usually I end up talking to a young receptionist who answers the phone was a quick, "Hello . . . could you please hold?"

Right away I'm making progress . . . I'm "in the system." And I wait. And wait. And eventually I reach the voice mailbox of the Producer who informs me: "I'm either on another call or away from my desk, please leave a message at the sound of the tone."

But as soon as the little bell sounds, I can never remember why I called. I usually just hang up, and some days later I'll think to myself, "Hey, self . . . I've got to call that TV producer back. I've heard that somebody out there is trying to reach me."

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I'm certain that, compared to most Americans, I watch little TV. Oh, I watch some shows and channel surf, but only in small snippets, and usually more to keep up with what is happening in the world and in the world of entertainment. I can barely stand to watch TV more than 30 minutes at a time (movies, sports, and TV dramas are preposterously long and had better be GOOD!) and I usually end up reading or writing or both while watching anything on the tube.

I watch some TV, but certainly not nearly as much TV as my son does.

Lately, however, my son has been asking me about writing a TV pilot. He has his ideas, I have mine. And perhaps this little project is one we can explore together and where we could find some commonality.

One thing that does impress me about my son is that, while he is watching a show, he is much like his old man. He begins by breaking down the action and the dialogue as he is watching, and is thinking about what all of those words and directions would look like on the page. (After all, someone has to actually write all of those award-winning lines and scenes.) Sometimes he astounds me by pointing out small details of action, or camera-angles, or even lines and how they are delivered, and asks, "Why did they do it that way?"


And so . . . how about this as a summer challenge? I'm going to ask my son to write a TV pilot, and I'll write one, too. Perhaps we can forge our two indelibly warped minds and penchant for the strange, the bizarre, and the off-beat, and actually create something that is so unique and weird . . . some crazy loon in Hollywood would actually buy it. Or not.

That, or we could use our scripts to light a campfire this summer. When I'm not watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show . . . I'll be roasting wieners.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More From the . . . Are You Kidding Me Department

Just when I thought I couldn't laugh any more . . . I was delivered from my misery with these silly moments of the past week.

An editor (to be named later) called last week feigning interest in one of my new book proposals. She did, however, seem deeply concerned by my inability to write the book in question. "Could you send me some of your previously published material?" she asked. Now, here's the kicker. She works for a publisher who has published, get this . . . eight of my books. Are you kidding me? "You must be new there," I said. "Your publisher has already worked with me eight times over the past decade. You probably have my previously published books on the shelf behind your desk. Take a look at them." She seemed shocked by this revelation (I hope she collapsed in her chair in awe or will at least call back with an offer to send me a coupon to Golden Corral).

A magazine editor sent me an email today (yes, just moments ago) to inform me that she would, indeed, be interested in reviewing a couple of my Christmas stories for a 2010 December issue (remember . . . writers have to think AHEAD, months ahead, years ahead!). "Send me a resume too," she wrote. "We like to have bio information on our first-time writers." Are you kidding me? First-time? "I've written for your magazine many times," I wrote back, "but it has been a couple of years since you've heard from me. I've been cracking walnuts and cleaning up dog poop." I'm expecting her to write back any moment with the exclamation: "Holy Cow! Mr. Alleycat, is that YOU? Long time, no hear, you crazy loon. How you doin' big guy? Love to publish more of your excellent prose!"

And finally, my wife recently had to purchase two textbooks for one of her night classes. Total bill for two slim books (one a VERY thin paperback) was over $200. A hundred dollars a book? Are you kidding me? Now here's the kicker. I know the publisher, and I was flabbergasted to learn that this price is, indeed, the retail price. A hundred dollars a copy? Where do I sign up for a deal like that? What writer (other than a lawyer . . . and these were LAW books) could get $80 per book in royalty? God-a-mighty, I'm writing the wrong type of books . . . why didn't I go to law school at Duke instead of shelling out the same amount of money for a lowly M.Div. degree? $80 a book in royalty? No joke. And as I told my wife, "You'd better memorize those suckers! Those are the most expensive paperback books I've ever purchased in my life!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Due Considerations

On a recent foray into a used bookstore, I walked out with John Updike's final collection of essays, criticism and book reviews: Due Considerations. My first stop in this collection was Updike's recollection of his earliest reading. His reflections on his childhood visits to the library brought back my own memories of my visits.

Among my earliest books read, I recall many--along with my intact memories of reading while sitting on a massive tree swing and on the back porch of the house.

I was always drawn to mysteries, and the Hardy Boys series was consumed in quantity. Later, I enjoyed many of the Alfred Hitchcock collections, and Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury were science fiction authors of note. Some of these novels were ones I read in school, hiding these novels inside a textbook and, while appearing busy, actually enjoyed reading them in class while playing hooky from the blackboard lessons.

I also recall a novel entitled, The Survivor, which was a WWII story about a Dirty Dozen-type group of commandos, but the author's name eludes me.

It wasn't until much later that I discovered the world of non-fiction and began reading biographies, natural history, and theology. But my earliest pleasures, then as now, were clearly centered in the novel.

Thanks, Mr. Updike, for dredging up a few of these memories.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I'm tired. But I'm wired.

After our Sunday morning service project and mission was complete, after sitting in the Indy airport for three hours, and after arriving back home with the question, "What can I write being this sleepy . . .?" I arrived at the conclusion that I only had the energy to write cover letters and stuff envelopes . . . and so . . . .

Now, twelve envelopes, two hours, and some-odd-dollars in stamps later, I'm energized by the prospects of sending out some of my best essays (two to various nature/wildlife magazines), a science fiction story, and a preposterous peck of poems (mostly light verse).

And if my energy and eyelids hold up for another few hours, I might still have enough gas in the tank to write one more essay after this blog.

But on what?

Some possible titles:
Eye See Ewe: One Writer's Odyssey Into the World of Llama Farming.

Well Red: A List of 1000 Word Novels That Will Bring You to Tears.

Sneezy, Dopey and Sleepy: Three Small Attitudes That Can Make a Difference in Your Sunday Afternoon.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Definitely, Maybe, Perhaps, Possibly . . .

I've had more contacts with editors and literary voices these past two weeks than I can shake a stick at. (I don't have a stick, but if I did, I'd shake it.)

Most recently an editor expressed interest in one of my book proposals (which has been in those able editorial hands for more than a year . . . yes, a year my good friends!). She told me she was definitely interested in publishing the book . . . well, maybe . . . perhaps, if everything goes well.

How does a writer interpret the strong possibility of a maybe or a perhaps?

Ah, such is life . . . such is the waiting game. But I'm hopeful this will all work out. I'm willing to write this book. I'm sort of excited about it in a rather devil-may-care kind of way if you know what I mean . . . .

Well, maybe. I might be. Perhaps.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Goin' to Carolina (no, make that NY) In My Mind

Perusing my deck of editorial contacts and outstanding submissions, I expect to soon receive feedback from a copious number of Manhattanites. Most of these, of course, will be from voices telling me to shove off, or get lost, or to go drown myself in the East River. But still, I'm holding out the hope that a few of these editors (some books, some magazines) will give me the nod to either begin writing or give me the gracious nod that accompanies the acceptance of an essay or story.

However, I won't stop there.

I've also had a few invitations to travel east this spring (or summer) and to meet some folks who, for whatever reason, deem me worthy of an interview or a listen. Okay . . . but what am I gonna say? I've got a few subjects I can talk about with some expertise (cracking walnuts, The Andy Griffith Show, sexual exploits with the wife some ten years ago . . . ) but when it comes to the manufacturing of talk-show fodder, I wilt. I've been watching more Seinfeld, trying to pick up ideas, and I've memorized a great line from Jerry McGuire ("You had me at hello!"), but these can only take me so far.

No, if I get to New York, I'm going to have to be at the top of my game . . . and I might have to buy a new suit and a fresh pack of boxer shorts. I hear New Yorkers expect fresh.

Becky has her opinions, too . . . but she's so busy with school and night classes four nights a week, we only see each other now as we drift past each other around midnight or at five a.m. and say, "How 'ya doin?" Naturally, if I do go to New York, she wants me to book a flight when she can tag along. "I hear they have Broadway shows there," she tells me. "Yes, and Al Roker!" I remind her.

I will, of course, stay at the Algonquin Hotel. Got the prices and everything.

Now it's all up to the editors.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Horse is a Horse of Course of Course

Now and again I go searching for a story that I wrote so many years ago, I have no idea where to find it. Recently, I've been driving myself nuts searching for a story entitled, "Every Boy and His Horse." As I remember it, it was a very nice tale, and I think I can do something with it.

Finding it, of course, is another matter entirely.

I wrote this story so long ago, I know it was saved on a Tandy 1000 floppy disk (one of those large disks that looked like a frisbee). I still have these, and the old Tandy computer, so I guess I could fire it up and do a search.

But I also have a printed copy in a tall stack of old manuscripts somewhere in my writing closet. I'll find it. Somehow.

A horse story, you ask? Yes, a horse story. But you have to realize that I grew up watching Mr. Ed, the talking horse. What show. Willllbbbbuuuurrrrr.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

From Our Pondering Department

Recently I've been pondering my response to several "opportunities" that have been presented to me.

The first comes from and deals with the question of whether or not I should offer some of my writing as a Kindle product. I had participated in the Amazon "shorts" publishing opportunity some years back, and now have the option of offering these same works on Kindle . . . but I'm pondering. Should I do this? There is a great conversation stirring currently about the massive changes and challenges presented by digital availability--not just writing, but movies, photos and journalism. There is incredible pressure on creative people to give their work away . . . to essentially make movies, books, newspapers, and television shows available for free.

I may not know much, but I do know this. No one can compete with free. And if all creative products are free, very soon there will be no more books, movies, music, videos, television, or drama. Who can earn a living giving their creative energies away for nothing? Very few. Before long, there will be nothing but golden oldies to read, watch, or listen to.

So . . . to Kindle or not to Kindle . . . that is now the New Question.

I'm also pondering several speaking engagements, appearances and invitations that have suddenly appeared on my voice mail and in my mailbox. Do I purchase air fare and travel for these events with no promise of compensation? Still, these folks have asked rather nicely . . . and when publishers and producers are involved, I hate to say no to the hand that feeds me a few peanuts now and then, and occasionally a cashew. So . . . to go broker or not to go broker . . . that is the question for the bank account this week. And with my daughter leaving for England soon, my wife taking a full load of classes and purshasing $500 books, and the whippersnapper kid driving a junk truck that costs an arm and a leg to insure . . . I'm just wondering . . . can old Dad afford to fly around the country hawking books that will bring 75 cents a piece in royalty?

If only I were selling Veg-O-Matics or ShamWows . . . .

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Mom the Marketer

Ever since I tried selling my first cup of lemonade on the street, mom has been pushing my wares. She's the biggest promoter of my books, and some of her methods are intriguing.

Take, for instance, an ad that appeared in the newspaper the day of a recent book signing. That wasn't my idea . . . mom put it in there. It read something like:

Come see the super spectacular author Todd Outcalt sitting behind a tiny table at 6 p.m. this Friday at the mall. He's a sight to behold in his Armani suit. He signs, he dices, he can even wiggle his ears. Don't miss it. Bring a bus load of friends.

I did see one old friend who said, "Saw your ad in the paper."

"I didn't put that in there," I admitted.

"Who did?"

"My Mom."

Mom also displays my books in the shampoo emporium where she works . . . and every time a customer buys, say, a bottle of Redken or Big Sexy Hair, she points to one of my titles and says, "Need a book? My son wrote these! Great for reading in the shower while your shampooing your big sexy hair."

Every now and then someone buys a book, takes it home, and wonders, "How did I walk in for shampoo and conditioner and walk out with a book written by this bozo?"

Good ol' mom. My marketer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Finish Lines

There are some writing projects that defy completion. One of these, for me, is a novel that I have worked on for years (make that decades).

I'm now nearing the completion of this massive work, but the closer I get the finishing lines, the more difficult the work becomes. It's an oddity.

If my past serves as a guide, I'll likely finish this book off some afternoon or evening, or perhaps on some rainy day . . . I'll write those final lines (which are actually the first chapter of the book), an then I'll have something.

Finishing this thing will also give me an element of personal satisfaction, as I will be able to say, "I wrote another one." My kids will shrug. My wife will yawn and remind me, "So what, your books don't sell!"

And after that, I'll start another book . . . and I have several titles I've been working on:

Let Her Down Easy: A Unique Weight-Training Program Using Your Wife as a Weight
Going Nuts: Making Your Own Trail Mix Using Cashews, Peanuts, and Pistachios
Under Wear: How to Get Forty Years Out of Your High School Wardrobe from the 1970s.
Oragami With Toilet Paper: Ten Animals You Can Make in Ten Minutes While You're Sitting on the Throne

Which one should I write next?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Thanks, Mom!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column for my mother. But since my mother doesn't read what I write (who does?) I guess I'll thank her here for helping me with the following:

For all of those diaper changes . . . thanks, I really appreciate it. I'm so much more comfortable and dry now.

For being my kindergarten teacher . . . thanks, my education really took off the following year.

For buying me books when I was young and telling me, "You can write that well" . . . thanks, I guess you were right.

For reminding me to return library books . . . thanks, I'm not a felon because of you.

For asking, "Are you writing anything new?" . . . thanks for asking anyway.

For coming to my book signings in the area and buying my books . . . thanks, you were my only customer.

For telling others about my books . . . thanks, you've doubled my sales by talking dad into buying a copy, too.

For making me power-of-attorney over your vast bank holdings and real estate investments . . . thanks, I'll do my best to get you a 5% return.

For being mom then, and now . . . thanks, you didn't mess me up too badly.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Humdinger Zingers


This past month I've received several rejections from Virginia editors who have had nice things to say about my essays on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison . . . but not enough nice things to say to warrant an acceptance for the magazines.

I can see why they might reject me essays on James Madison, but no one knows Dolley Madison better than me.

As a kid, I lived on Dolley Madison products, and I can still eat Zingers by the dozens. Give me a gallon of milk, a box of Zingers or some of those little Donut "Gems" and I'm set for an evening of nirvana.

Which leads me to wonder: perhaps I should rewrite my essays on James and include more references to pastry products. Dolley would be proud. And maybe those editors would reconsider . . . especially if I enclosed a Zinger in the orginal, untampered wrapper.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

From Our Office of the Dictionary


I love to read the dictionary. The way I figure it, the dictionary contains all of the other books that have been written. Still, there are always new and fascinating words to encounter and memorize. And I also love to make up my own definitions and try to coin new definitions that might stick.

As I anticipate the annual meeting of United Methodist clergy this year, here are a few definitions I would like to offer for the edification of all.

Boredom: (noun) otherwise known as the annual meeting of United Methodist clergy in Muncie, whereby pastors sit and talk about highly insignificant matters while daydreaming about their next meal.

Boring: (verb) see Boredom.

United Methodist: (noun) a Christian denomination purported to still be in existence, originating as a movement in England in the 18th century, and now gathering in out-of-the-way places like Muncie, Indiana under the guise of radical hospitality.

Annual Conference: (noun) a gathering of United Methodist clergy and laity held each year in odd places like Muncie, Indiana where clergy and laity listen to boring talks under the guise of excitement and radical hospitality and daydream of their next meals.

Voting: (verb) a procedure purported to take place at annual conferences that are held in really strange places like Muncie, Indiana, and carried out by either the a. lifting of hands b. verbal affirmation or c. lifting a voting card which most of the delegates have left back in their hotel rooms while dreaming of their next meal.

Voting card: (noun) the piece of paper prepared on the conference photocopier which most annual conference delegates left behind where they ate their last meal.

Cluster: (noun) various groupings of United Methodist churches whereby people get together to find, purportedly, greater success in thinking that a pitch-in dinner is orgasmic.

Delegate: (noun) anyone who has the audacity to attend an annual conference and actually sit through a session, any session.

Bishop: (noun) the guy who presides at annual conference and will still give the writer of this blog a great appointment because he has a sense of humor.

[Disclaimer: this blog is an equal-opportunity offender and should not be read by those who have heart problems, rickets, or who are nursing infants who are old enough to read.]

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Real Cheesy

Now and again I write poems. Here's one entitled Cheese. Have a bite!


Three thousand years before the Greeks
The Pharaohs dined on cheese and leeks
And labored over curds and whey
Like other cultures worked in clay.

And from the ancients came the new:
Swiss, Mozzarella, Brie and Bleu,
Limburger, cottage, cream and Gouda,
And Pepperjack so strong that who’d a

Thought to mix it with the cheddar?
But cheese, with age, gets only better
And compliments as many foods
As there are types of cheesy moods.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This is Your Brain On Writing

One day last week I decided to riffle through one of the filing cabinets in my office where all of my unkempt and unsorted piles of old writing go to die. Suddenly, I noted a file containing about 30 pages of material which I had labeled, "Fat Brain".

There's a story here.

Some time after I had written the book Candles in the Dark: A Collection of the World's Greatest Parables, I received a phone call from my (then) agent, Madeleine. "I think I can get you a nice writing assignment," she told me. "There is a web site,, that is looking for two original Passover stories to publish in electronic format only. They will pay $1000 per story, and also offer a 20% royalty on all downloads. Do you want me to get you the contract?"

"Absolutely," I said. "Does it matter that I'm not Jewish?"

"Just write the stories," she said firmly. "Write one this week, and one next week. And I'll tell them they can have your stories up and running on their web site by the end of the month."

I did. But there's more to the story obviously. First, this was at the absolute height of the "dot-com" craze, when guys like Mark Cuban and Steve Jobs were making their billions (that's b-b-billions, folks!). There were web sites and new ventures like springing up everywhere. And one of these was a site called "FatBrain." And they were willing to pay writers like me a nice little sum to write original material . . . FAST. Madeleine knew I could do it. Fast has always been my middle name (just ask my wife).

But you know the end of the story, too. I wrote these two Passover tales, received $1700 (less my 15% agent commission)--by far the largest pay day I've ever had for fiction and the most money I have ever made on a "per word" basis--and as soon as the stories were published,, like many other dot-com era ventures, fried in its own brain pan oils and went belly up.

Still . . . finding these stories in the filing cabinet brought back these glorious memories. I had my dreams. Believe me, I could have written a story a day for a $1000 a pop--and very good ones at that--even while working 60 hours a week as a pastor. Heck, I was already dreaming of earning that extra $365,000 a year writing Passover tales. What am I saying . . . for that much I would have written Hare Krishna tales. But it wasn't meant to be.

Now, I'm just another flat broke hack who is turning out drivel like this blog . . . hoping for that next phone call from an agent, an editor, heck, I'd even settle for my mom asking, "Hey, you wanna write a story and make $1000?" I would, of course. Ball State and Uncle Sam need my money!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Grass Bag


For some reason, I have become deeply infatuated with book collecting. My personal library is not that large, but I have read a copious number of books and articles of late about people who purchase first editions as investment and for the joy of collecting.

Last night, I checked out some of the New York city rare books shops online, and discovered a few things. For example, I discovered that it is possible to purchase a first edition copy of To Kill a Mockingbird if I had $17,000 sitting in a cookie jar. And I also discovered that the original printing of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was less than 1000 copies. A first edition (like the one pictured here) is available for a mere $175,000.

I'd buy it today if I could resell it to some other sucker for $200,000 the following week.

Anyone out there want to buy a $200,000 first edition of Leaves of Grass from a recently divested pastor who just sold his junk cars, cashed out his cracked walnut farm, and melted down the dental filings he pried from his molars with a pair of rusty needle-nosed pliers?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Waiting Game


Some years ago I led a writer's workshop, and afterwards, an older gentleman asked the question: "I've been waiting for an editor to respond to my manuscript for five months . . . when should I begin writing something else instead of sitting around doing nothing?"

I'm not sure how common this question is, but I have a short answer: "Get writing and stop sitting!"

The fact is, any writer who is attempting to keep his or her skills in pique condition, who is attempting to produce a constant pipeline of work, just can't wait. Or, another way to state it: while you're waiting on a response to one book, one essay, one poem, or one proposal, get cracking on something else.

And keep good records.

Over the weekend I realized that I'm waiting on no less than a dozen editors to "get back to me" and, if I count those editors who are being approached by my agent, this number might be more like two or three dozen. But I can't wait on these replies before I decide to write my next piece. Rather, I jot down the name of the proposal or other work on an index card, the date and the editor who is reviewing said piece, slip the card into a file, and then forget about it. Months, sometimes MANY months later, I might get a letter, a phone call, an email or a note by carrier pigeon informing me that "it's all over between us" or "you've got yourself a date, buster."

I must confess, however, that I am anxious about a few proposals and essays that I have sent out weeks ago. I expect big things from a few of these, especially the ones that I consider worthy of high consideration or the ones I believe have great merit. But even so . . . I'm not waiting around chewing my cud or sitting next to the mail box waiting for the letter to arrive.

Writing is like a bowel movement. You gotta keep things moving daily, like clockwork, or the words get constipated.

How's that for an inspiring image? Write on!