Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blind Spot & A Poem

I once had a robust collection of reading glasses. But now I'm down to one pair. What happened to the others? I should secure my reading glasses on one of those dainty chains, have it dangling from my neck like an old woman playing Pinochle.

As my vision has deteriorated, so goes my memory. What happened to my brown, Howdie-Doodie glasses? Where did I hang my car keys? Why can't I remember the name of the person I just visited? And, what, pray-tell, is my son's name? I could have sworn I knew his social security number last year.

Still . . .

Or how about a poem? Here's one I wrote about reading glasses.

Reading Glasses

At first the distance was a dream:
My vision an aquarium
Of moving shapes and hazy forms,

Each paragraph's clandestine scheme
Withholding vowels from the sum
Of flat lines squiggling like worms

Across the page. But through the lenses
Words appear and miracles
Of sentences, each magnified.

I have, at last, come to my senses,
And "t"s appear instead of "l"s
Inside the ink where they reside.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Raiding Libraries

This summer I have purchased a rather large supply of "used" books . . . mostly discards from libraries around the country. Becky has taken to asking me to shed other titles so I can make room for these new stacks of books that are now littering the floors, the tables, the chairs. But I feel as though I am adopting these books. They need a home. And a quick glance at the old library flaps inside their jackets tells me that few people took them to the beach, or on vacation. These books seem lonely, almost bereft. But they are sadly familiar to me. I love them all.

For example, I am now the proud father of some first-edition hardback children with names like:

More Matter, by John Updike
The Collected Poems, Reynolds Price
The Colleted Poems, Stanley Kunitz
Lamentations of the Father, Ian Frazer
Couples, John Updike
A Month of Sundays, John Updike
The Indiana Way, C. Madison
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
Barrel Fever, by David Sedaris
The Christmas Blizzard, by Garrison Keillor
The Collected Poems, Richard Wilbur

I have many others at home now, but these are a few of my best first-edition finds. When I leave for a few days of R & R next week, I plan to take a few of these with me to the beach. I'll get to know them. We will have conversation. And afterwards, I'll give them each a prominent place on a shelf, in a box, or in some back corner of a closet where, perhaps decades from now, I will discover them again and be able to say, "Well, long time no see . . . how have you been?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Special Offers

If there's an editor who will pay me, I'll write practically anything for money. That's why I make special offers from time to time.


I've got my name and my offers out there, but few people call. Next week, I'll take to the streets and hold up my sign that reads, Will Write for Ink Cartridge.

It's tough going out there, even for writers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Thousand Sermons

I've been reading American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists. It's no doubt the most comprehensive, accurate, and moving biograpy I've read in years, and, surprisingly, there are so many correlations between now and then (especially around issues of itineracy, clergy families, salaries and insurance) my head is spinning.

Reading about how many miles Francis Asbury travelled on horseback and how many sermons he preached seems, from the outset, to be so amazing . . . and it was for that day and time. Miraculous, actually. But as I sit down and consider what I have done in nearly thirty years of pastoral work, I find myself saying, "This can't be right, can it??"

For example, take travel. A few quick calculations last night showed me that I've travelled an average of five thousand miles a year (by junk car) in pastoral service. Multiply that by, say, twenty years (very conservatively) and I get 100,000 miles. I'm not sure how far that is, but isn't that several times around the world? Gads!!

Or how about sermons? Being a Methodist, like Asbury and his ilk of yesteryear, I do keep copious records of my pastoral work, too: weddings, baptisms, confirmations, and sermons. Another quick calculation has revealed that I have preached something like 1020 sermons in my lifetime. Good Lord of the Post-It Note, that's a lot of sermons.

Funny thing is, I don't have most of these sermons, nor is there any record of them (unless they exist on audio tape, CD, or some other digital format somewhere). When I was taught preaching by the esteemed Richard Lischer "back in my day" . . . it was drummed into my head that preaching was, among other things, an oral and auditory pursuit rather than a written or visual one. For the most part, I agree . . . and hence, I have never written my sermons. I have no manuscripts. And in most instances, I have only cursory outlines that I either used in the pulpit, or memorized and offered without notes. So, my life in preaching is, for the most part, without record or history--although I could probably dig up the sermon titles and the dates I preached over the past thirty years.

Over a thousand sermons? Okay, even I have to admit that seems like a lot of sermon prep--especially when on considers that the early Methodists moved each year, and could "re-use" their supply of sermons in their new annual appointments. In that regard, I've probably written more sermons (or a wider array) than most of these first and second generation Methodists. Not to take anything away from them. They were amazing people.

But considering the travel mileage (and the time I've spent in the car) and the sermons (and the time I've spent creating and practicing them) I'm amazed I still have anything new to say . . . or maybe I don't. Perhaps it's all been said before, just in different ways.

Still, it's good to know that the mind still works, still creates, and that the Spirit still speaks in new ways. Every week God gives me a message, and usually a whole bunch of humor, and several chapters, and essays, and blogs, and poems, and proposals and stories. I guess I should be thankful for my fingers, which can still type quickly. Only God knows what I should do with all of this material after I write it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Can We Talk?

Although I've given some interviews of late, I've decided I don't want to talk anymore. Enough talk. I'm ready to focus more energy on writing again. That's what writers do. Write. Produce.

Still, in the event that some of my interviewers want to get down to the nitty-gritty of me, or perhaps want to ask those controversial questions, here's where I stand on the big debates. I'll go ahead and ask the questions and offer the answers myself.

So, Mr. Alleycat, do you drink fair trade coffee, or do you buy sweat shop beans produced by indigenous populations who are enslaved to brewing your drug of choice?

Let me set the record straight, I do drink coffee (though I don't always savor it . . . sometimes I just get a sense of it and spit it out . . . does this count as a "taste"?). As for the trade debate, I've never traded for coffee. I usually buy it (or I send me son into the store with instructions to steal it). I would, however, be willing to trade the following for a pound of french roasted: two yellow-page directories, four socks that don't have mates, two cans of cat food that our feline won't touch (both contain free trade horse-meat, I think).

Okay, Mr. Alleycat, enough about coffee. Isn't it true you plagiarize most of your work, borrowing material from good writers to make yourself look like you can actually write?

I for one am glad to set the record straight about that bathroom material I borrowed back in 1982. Yes, I did copy material from a third floor bathroom stall at the ISU library, but I thought this was a classic and was public domain. I mean, wouldn't you assume that anything written on a bathroom wall was public? I saw no copyright. As for my other material . . . Heck, there are people stealing off of me! In fact, there are two people trying to steal my name. I'm just relieved they can't consistently spell it correctly.

You think you're so freakin' important don't you?

Absolutely not! Now way! Well . . . okay. Yes. Heck, I don't know.

What keeps you humble?

Oh, my, lots of things. Writing this blog. Attempting to have sex with my wife. Rejection. The natural ageing process. Depressing book sales. Jelly beans. Scalding my upper lip with coffee. Abject failure. Cold toilet seats.

So, what do you hope to write next?

Anything I can sell. And I've also got this idea for a book about a world where dogs rule and people are kept on leashes and fed food out of cans. The humans are ruled by the dogs and are only let out of the house twice a day to use the potty. I'm a bit fuzzy on the title . . . but I'm leaning toward Planet of the Dogs. I can see it as a series . . . you know, Beyond the Planet of the Dogs, Beneath the Planet of the Dogs . . . and finally, Going to the Dogs. I think it could be a huge seller.

Friday, July 16, 2010


It's been some time since I've offered an overview of my reading activities, but my shelves have become littered with summer books I have purchased and intend to read, and even more books that I have purchased and hope that, someday, I'll be able to discover them again after they get buried.

A great many of these are humor volumes.

For example, in the past month I've knocked out Humor Me, by Ian Frazier, Disquiet Please!: A Collection of Humor from The New Yorker, I Love You, Miss Hudleston, by Phil Gulley, The Seinfeld Scripts (from Season 1 & 2), and Best Thought, Worst Thought, by Paterson.

Among the humor books, though, George Carlin's, When When Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? is the raunchiest, bawdiest, weirdest, foulest, and most off-the-wall book of stand-up humor I've read in a long time. That's why I read it all.

And now, as I make my plans for further reading, I'm hoping to tackle, The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa, by R.A. Scott, American Saint: A Biography of Francis Asbury, and a massive stack of poetry books by various older and contemporary poets.

Until next time . . . keep reading and LOL.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's a Small World After All . . .

Another interesting experience this week. After talking to a gentleman from Florida, he asked for the correct pronunciation of my name. I handed him a business card. His response was: "I've only seen your name one other time, and this was in a bookstore. There's a writer who has your same name . . . unless you are him."

"I'm him," I said.

Small world.

About the only experience yet to come would be the day I encounter someone on the street, or at the beach, or on the bus . . . reading one of my books. But I doubt that would happen. After all, people make the comment that they've "seen" my books in bookstores, or they have "seen" my name on a book before. But very few people say, "I bought one of your books the other day and I'm really enjoying it . . . it's changing my life and helping me to come to terms with my own demise, really giving me food for thought, changing all of my relationships . . . and, good Lord, how do you write so freakin' well, anyway?" No, this never happens.

I mean, that would be miraculous.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's on Your Calendar?

In the event there are other radio or television shows desiring to interview me about my latest book, let me first explain that my upcoming calendar is very full. I live by my calendar, and have many very important events that I must attend. So, I'll have to squeeze my interviews into the following:

July 20--Annual weenie roast at our house featuring Oscar Mayer (my Bologna has a "first name" too) and Bush's Baked Beans and Three-bean salad. With this many beans, I need three days to recover and get my digestive tract under control.

July 22--Attending Doobie Brothers Concert @ Verizon Wireless Center, less the doobie. I will, however, be smuggling in two Oreo cookies and a can of Pringles.

July 25--Beginning of family vacation in some small Michigan town. This vacation will extend for six days and will include singing "Old MacDonald" in the van, several fast-food stops, and various forays into the wild to find a hollow-stump port-o-let. Our family will try to make $257.89 stretch into eighteen meals and four one-day passes at an amusement park. If the wife and I have a private bedroom in the rental condo, we won't need the amusement park portion of the vacation package.

July 31--Return from family vacation with $1.27 and two pounds of beach sand covering the floorboards of the van. Package sand and sell it for $2.00 to the kids next door or put it in the cat's litterbox as recyclable material.

August 4--Annual check-up with family doctor whereby he (a) checks prostate (b) makes comment on how secure I seem in my manhood while he is checking my prostate and (c) would I like to have a drink with him later?

August 5--Spend day in bed because I can't walk from having my prostate checked. Consider giving the doc a call for drinks later.

As you can see, my calendar is loaded . . . and I hope this tiny peek into the my busy and fun-filled life will give television and radio producers pause before they call me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Waiting Game

Seasoned writers have learned how to wait. But the most common questions that beginning writers ask are: "Why is it taking so long for the editor to respond to my query?" "How long will it take before I learn about the fate of my book/article, etc."

Let me offer, here, some perspective.

Here are some real-life scenarios that I am currently experiencing, and these are common as red punch in July.

There is an editor who has been looking at one of my book proposals for over a year.

Another publisher has accepted the manuscript for another book, but there is still no publication date and no word, yet, from the editor in charge of the book . . . and this is approaching a year also.

Another editor recently apologized for overlooking my "fine and carefully crafted article", but the issue of the magazine that I had suggested has come and gone. The editor again apologized and invited me to submit again . . . same subject, but different approach. (Should I do it?)

And I have been waiting anywhere from 3-6 months to receive word from dozens of other editors regarding the status of various book proposals, essays and poems.

Yes, it's a waiting game. And that's why the writer must write. A writer can't transform into a sedentary being who sits around asking, "Why hasn't she called me?"

No, that's called "the dating game." And I'm so glad I have a wife who ignores me.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Drive Time Interview

On Sunday I played hookie from our early worship hour and granted a one hour, Sunday morning drive-time interview with Sharon & "X" at a radio station in Nashville, TN. They did a great job, and I thank them. I'm not sure how much I had to offer, though, on the subject of Christian Living. Host Sharon was very humorous, though, and I appreciated her down-home and earthy approach to faith and life. No fundamentalist or religious mumbo jumbo or cliches on her show, and I appreciated that most of all.

This will likely be the last of my interviews (for awhile, at least) and I'm eager to get back to writing what I want to write.

Last night I also discovered two other rejections in my email "in-box" and then, much to my surprise, a rather effervescent response from another editor to one of my essays. Essentially, while he didn't want to publish what I'd sent him, he did open the door for me to submit another idea or two on spec with the promise to review them quickly. Well, okay then.

My final efforts before bed last night also saw me sitting on the couch, addressing a dozen or so envelopes to various literary magazines. I'm creating my new "fall line-up" and will soon be going to the post office to buy a truckload of stamps. I'm so glad I don't have to lick those things any more. Peel-n-stick are great.

Now, all I have to do is mail the suckers before the rates increase . . . again!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Some months back I made a commitment to continue my pursuit of reading John Updike's works, and yesterday I polished off his novel, Terrorist. It's the gripping story of a high school kid caught in the grip of radical Islam and his dream of dying for jihad. In true Updike style, however, there's more to the story, including some interesting relational twists and plenty of well-researched insights into the religious and human psyche.

I'm glad I read Terrorist, but it's not one of my favorite Updike novels. His works now consume an entire shelf in my home library, and I must confess I lean more heavily into his domestic novels than his social commentaries.

Placing all of these novels on the shelf now, I also have to think about dusting from time to time. I would ask my wife to do that kind of dirty work, but she gets rather miffed if I suggest it is her life's work to tidy up my library shelves. I don't want to start a holy war at home. Lord knows I don't need jihad in my living room. So . . . I think I'll just let the dusting slide. Sorry, John.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Holy Nosebleed, Batman!

A few days ago I was reading an article about nosebleeds. (What do you expect, that I'd read an article about bellybuttons?) Anyway, yesterday, while working out at the gym, I got a nosebleed. The reason? I had pushed my body to the lifting limit which, at my age, is no small feat.

It is uncanny how, sometimes I end up reading books or articles that actually impact me.

Take, for instance, a magazine article I was reading about the best used cars. A day later, I ended up with a 5th junk car sitting in my driveway . . . a gift from my parents. Uncanny.

I've already decided, I'm not reading any articles about heart attacks or tooth cavities. I'm going to read happy books about people who find millions of dollars inside pillow cases or who discover long-lost treasure in their backyard septic tanks.

Yeah, that'll do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Haiku Biography

Last week I received an email from an editor who requested my author photo and a twenty-five word biography to go with my article. Twenty-five words? How can I summarize a life as full and audacious as mine in twenty-five words? NOT!

Actually, I'm glad this editor requested such a short bio. I never know what to write in these crazy things . . . but I'm always eager for an opportunity to tell the truth about myself. So, I sat down this week and spun out these various biographical haikus. Next time an editor writes for a twenty-five word tag-line biography . . . I'll be ready.

(And for those of you who don't know, a haiku is a Japanese poetic form consisting of a total of 17 syllables, three lines, with 5-7-and 5 syllables respectively per line. Go ahead . . . count 'em . . . you know you are curious!)


Todd Outcalt is a
Warped and frustrated writer
Who is a loser.

He lost his marbles
Before he lost his virgin-
ity to Becky.

He has lost at life
And drives a fleet of crap cars.
Wanna buy one, now?

Although he has made
Many books, none have been any
good . . . so help me, God!

No one reads his books
And they sit on dusty shelves
Like dog poop on curbs.

Amazingly, though,
You want to publish this piece:
Another loser.

And for this, he says,
"Thank you!" You made his freakin'
day accepting him.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Writing My Weight Loss

Okay, now this is getting weird. Over the past two weeks I've had several people ask me questions like: "Hey, haven't you lost weight?" or "At your age, how do stay in shape?" or "Are you really going to try and lift that?" One guy at the gym last week, a complete stranger, thought I was insane for working out at 6 a.m. after hiking six miles the day before.

But here's the deal. Yes, I've lost about five pounds in a week. Yes, I am going to lift that much. And yes, I still do it despite having two bad knees and a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder. At long last I'm actually beginning to see evidence of my six-pack again. I now have a two pack, and making progress.

A couple of weeks ago, my son set up a makeshift gym in our garage complete with bench, squat rack, pull-down, dip and pullup unit, and lots of torturous-looking barbells and dumbbells. Sometimes I work out with him, kicking his scrawny little butt in the 95-degree heat that settles into the garage like a blast furnace. But hey, when you sweat, you lose weight, and as they say, "No pain, no gain."

Because I've been so inspired to keep pumping the iron of late, I've also resurrected a couple of fitness articles which I've sent out to editors in Canada and California. Writing doesn't burn many calories. But some time I'll have to do some research and figure out how many calories one could burn from writing, say, a blog like this.

Might be interesting to know how many blogs I'd have to write in order to lose a pound.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


July 4 & 5 was work for me. I spent a great deal of time both days writing cover letters, sending emails, and returning some phone calls to various editors and publishing insiders. I was amazed at how many people actually were "in the office" on Monday, July 5. They were probably there to relax, but some bozo like me had to ruin their respite by sending in material.

My various contacts trellised the world, too. I had email responses from people in New York city, Indianapolis, and Chicago, and for the first time ever, I sent writing queries to editors in Australia and Canada. This is one of the great benefits, I suppose, of the new digital age. A writer doesn't have to use the postal service to send material for publication. Indeed, the whole world is now at one's fingertips.

I don't expect to receive favorable responses from all of these editors, but it will be fun playing the waiting game.

Even though I use computers, however, I'm still very much old school when it comes to communication. I would much rather meet face-to-face. I wouldn't want to go back to the days of the old switch board operator, but if we had an operator named "Sarah", I might just make it work.

"Hello, Sarah, can you patch me through to Australia?"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Writer's Block

Many people want to know: "Do you ever suffer from writer's block?"

Well, I'm not sure what this is, exactly . . . there's never been a time when I couldn't write something. But writer's block, I suppose, could also be evidenced in those times when writers suffer from uncertainty, depression, or even a sense of lackluster. I think I may be going through one of these times. I'm writing . . . some days I'm actually writing a great deal of material . . . but right now my focus is off center, my level of concentration seems reduced, and most of my writing (with the exception of some of the humor I've written of late) doesn't have the spark that I'm looking for. I don't have to have an editor to tell me this. I can see it when I read my work, and I can "hear" the lack of pace and persuasion in the words.

Ah, but here's the thing. This too shall pass. It always does.

The secret is to keep writing. Keep pounding keys. Keep rising early and working late and don't stop believin'. (Hey, isn't that a hokey song from the 80s?) Good Lord, I must be losing my mind if I'm writing cliches.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thoughts on the 700 Club

Please allow me to share some thoughts on being a part of the 700 Club . . . and no, I'm not talking about the Pat Robertson TV show (although if I did share some thoughts about Pat it would only be to say that Pat Robertson is an even bigger 8-Ball than I am). No, I'm talking about the fact that this is my 700th blog entry for Between Pages.

Now, as a reader and writer, this little blog represents a great many things, and some of these thoughts can be helpful to other readers and writers . . . so bear with me.

First, as I do some quick calculations: with an average blog entry of 250 words (which is, probably, quite a low estimate), I have written some 175,000 words through this blog alone. Some of you may feel that this is 175,000 words too many, and I understand, but for the person who considers me witty or enjoys my borderline insanity or my thoughts on books, writers, writing, publishing, teenagers, marriage or sex . . . well, thanks for reading some of this output.

Secondly, people are always asking me: since you work long hours as a pastor, how do you have time to write? The answer to this question is found partly in this blog. Consider, for example, that the average novel or book is around 80,000 words. This means that I've written a book each year through this blog. Or, in other words, if I wanted to, I could turn out one book a year (EASY BEEZY JAPANESEE) just writing short 250 words entries every day--a work that takes me, sometimes, all of ten minutes to produce. So my answer would be, anyone who has fifteen minutes a day can write at least one book a year, if that person writes EVERY DAY WITHOUT FAIL. And since I write at least an hour a day, without fail, I should be able to at least WRITE four books a year. Are you with me, algebra brains?

Finally, this blog does represent bits and pieces of other, eventually-published work. I often find myself going back and culling out sections of my blogs for other articles, humor pieces, magazine articles that I write about marriage or sex (my favorite subject!) or works that I produce about the art of writing or thoughts on the publishing industry. My blog also has produced some sections of books that have been written or that I plan to write.

So you see . . . this blog is a tool. In many ways, it's my warm-up writing exercise for the day. I usually draft this blog in the wee hours of the morning or late at night before I turn in to bed. Any serious writer needs the daily practice of putting words to paper (or in this case, into cyberspace) and without the daily tedium and grind of fumbling and sorting words, a writer can't grow and learn. I'm still learning, still improving, I hope.

Who knows, this blog might even reach a few new readers today. And I do hope you'll keep reading as I blog toward 1000 entries.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Writing From Scraps

Yesterday Becky noticed a cluster of paper scraps that I had taped to the front of our kitchen cabinets. "What's all this stuff?" she asked. "What does 'Rearview Mirror' and 'In Case of Emergency' mean?"

"Oh," I said, "those are some articles, essays or humor ideas I am hoping to work on."

"How do you remember what your notes mean . . . and more importantly, why do you have to stick them here on the cabinets?"

"Well," I admitted, "I don't always remember what my notes mean. Some of the ideas come to me in the middle of the night and sometimes I write down an idea while I'm driving or mowing. And as to the reason why I stick the notes on the cabinets . . . it's because I want to."

End of story.

Or, perhaps the beginning.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Romance Invitation

This morning, while eating breakfast at a local restaurant, I received a verbal invitation to speak at a romance writers support group. In particular, the interest was on my sharing the "ins" and "outs" of professional writing and publishing. This intrigues me, but I wonder: what, exactly, would I say to a group of romance writers concerning professional writing and publishing?

But just in case, I've been honing my speech.

Ladies and Gentleman Romance Writers, I stand before you today because I am an expert in the art and artistry of love. My wife can attest to this. When we did the Dingo Dance two years ago, she told me I did a great job and wrote me a note of thanks some days later on very fancy stationery. Often, while other men are at a loss for words, I can whisper sweet nothings like, "Great corn on the cob tonight" or "Love the way you spread that mulch" and get sexual favors in return. I also write great love poetry, stuff that can make my wife swoon or make her want to go to bed early and get an extra hour of shut-eye. Sometimes, while I am writing, say, an article about Hungarian meatballs, or an essay about men's hair coloring, my wife will come up behind me and whisper, "Did you wrap the leftover salmon in foil, and would you like to try some Saranwrap foreplay?" Naturally, I did wrap the salmon, as I hate to waste a great piece of fish. As you can see, my expertise in the romance area is legendary, and I write romance because I have so much of it to give. When my wife and I married more than twenty-five years ago, she told me she loved the way I "did it." I considered this a compliment, and have continued waxing the kitchen floors ever since. Someday in the near future, I plan to ask her what she meant by "doing it." I have a hunch, but must wait for verification. Now, as I speak to you today about romance writing, I can only say that you must write from personal experience and from what your mother told you about sex. If your mother didn't tell you about sex . . . you're screwed. Sorry about the double-entendre. And if you don't know what double-entendre is, you'll never make it as a romance writer. I do thank you for inviting me and for your willingness to receive the benefits of my many years of romance experience. And for those of you who need more information, please see me after the meeting today. I'll give you my mother's phone number.