Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Death Benefit

A few days ago the United Methodist Church sent me a reminder that I have a $25,000 life insurance policy and can name my beneficiary. And, since my wife and I are in the process of rewriting our will (again), I thought I'd leave some of this insurance benefit to establish a scholarship . . . in the event of my untimely death due to lack of tourniquet or if I eat a poison toadstool.

Likewise, I thought it would be a good idea to make sure Becky knew where all of my valuables were kept (in case I die and she can't locate the key to the lockbox that I keep hidden inside a body cavity). I told her, "Don't forget all of the floppy disks loaded with books, all of the computers stored in the closet that are chocked-full of essays, the piles of manuscripts that will be, upon my death, worth millions of dollars!"

"How will I know where to look?" she asked.

"You won't!" I said. "It took me thirty years to write all of this garbage and it will take you at least thirty years to read, collate, index, prepare, and submit it for publication. If I die, you'll have to quit your job, dedicate ten to twelve hours a day to this sorting and indexing, and you'll probably have to hire a couple of college kids and perhaps, even a high school student. Oh, and you won't have time to date, either. Any time you waste on eHarmony will affect the work you'll need to do on my life's work, and I'd stay away from, too. Somewhere in all this stuff there's a box of love letters that I meant to give you, and it will take you at least ten years to locate it. But it's worth looking for. You'll enjoy the verse when you find it. And, like I say, there's big money in posthumous work. I'll leave a list of editors who will want to work with you and pay you top dollar for one of my manuscripts now that I'm dead. Got it?"

She was already asleep.

I never did get to show her where I was hiding the key to the lockbox and had to keep it on my person. I slept in fits, and when I rolled onto my right side, I could feel the teeth of the key.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Slow Ride

Writers must write, and learn to leave the waiting and the worrying to editors. But I've been waiting on one publisher, now, for nearly two years. My grandmother used to talk about being as "slow as a seven year itch." Hopefully, it won't be that long before the publisher decides to print and distribute the book, but he's off to a great start.

I tend to be a patient guy. I am, for example, still waiting for my son to clean his bedroom. I'm still waiting for my wife to cook a meal. I'm still waiting for my daughter to return from college and clean up the cat puke puddle outside of her bedroom door.

Yes, I can wait.

Still, a publisher should make a good faith effort to honor a writer's work, especially after a contract is signed. But still . . . I wait.

In the meantime, I've got lots of work to do. I've got potato chips to gather up and eat underneath the sofa cushions. I've got three-month old celery sticks to cook from the refrigerator crisper. I've got my wife's term papers to edit, laundry to wash, floors to mop, people to see, decisions to make, studies to organize, meetings to attend, prayers to pray, leaves to rake, animals to feed, weights to lift, fat to burn, and many, many other words to write.

And listen . . . I'm doing it all as fast as I can.

I wonder what the publisher is doing?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Last night, on a lark, I typed my own name into a Google search. Had more than 85,000 hits. I had no idea people cared so much!

What's interesting, however, is that, the further I dug into the search, the deeper I went into the mix, the stranger my world became. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Here are some things I discovered about me.

First, I found the photo above. This is me at annual conference working in the warehouse. Who took this photo, and why, and how did it show up on the Internet?

Among the oddest discoveries I also found:

A marriage counselor who recommended my book, Before You Say "I Do", as his #1 premarital resource. I'm hip with that, daddy. Keep on counseling!

A spin off of a parody I wrote many years ago that I had entitled, "The Prayer of Jezebel", which was poking fun at the best-selling, The Prayer of Jabez. Evidently, this dude liked my humor (though few do) and he thought I should have been given an award.

A blog, THE BUDGET SAVVY BRIDE, which was giving away free copies of my book, Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget. Ah, yes, the free giveaway. I'm intimately acquainted with this technique. I give all of my books away, since no one buys them.

And finally, I discovered an entire blog series devoted to another parody I had written on Joel Osteen. Evidently, this blogger had taken my Wittenburg Door parody and turned it into a manifesto poking fun at the happy, young reverend. I may have been the keynote writer, but this blogger took it a bit too far. Joel may be happy and successful and worth a billion, but I don't hate him. He just sells more books than I do.

This is me . . . and this is my brain on Google.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just Me and My Agent

Now and again people ask me: "Do you have a literary agent?" As a matter of fact, I do. Cynthia and I have worked together now for about a year and she has been very good to me and very good for me. In fact, I know we will meet with some success very soon.

Recently I also learned that I have some clout.

Cynthia has made it a point to take only non-fiction work, but a few days back, after some lengthy discussion, I convinced her to try her hand at representing my fiction. My novels, in particular.

But how do you tell your agent that you have written MANY novels? In fact, my novels are piled up on my computer, and in my closet, like piles of wood. I've got mounds of them. I've got stacks of novels. I've got novels written over the top of stacks mounded on piles of novels.

Still, I'm sending her my best ones . . . the ones that I think stand the best chance of success in this "crowded market" (as editors love to point out). "Take a chance on me," I told Cynthia a few days ago.

Funny thing was, when I asked her to do this, I was singing it like an ABBA tune. I doubt she noticed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Signed, Anonymous

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the anonymous letters I have received over the years. I wish I could tell you that some of these were from women inviting me to secret destinations, but, alas, none of them are quite that exciting.

I did, however, receiving quite an outpouring of letters from other pastors and readers. One came from a friend who wrote to tell me that she could recall sending me a letter years ago, but as she remembers it, the letter was positive in nature, and she did sign her name. (She's correct . . . she did sign her name, and she is, indeed, a positive person!)

Another letter came from a couple up north whom I've never met. They wrote to say that I should not take anonymous letters to heart (I don't!) and that I should remain as positive as I seem to be in my columns (okay, I'll stay positive . . . darn it).

The funniest response, however, came in the form of another letter. It read simply:

Dear Todd,
You think you are funny, don't you?

Normally I would just toss a letter like this. But I've been wrecking my brains trying to figure out who the wise-cracker is. And when I do, I'm going to call your house and leave an obscene message with heavy breathing on your voice mail!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shakin' It, Baby

I don't use The Shake Weight, but I have been a gym rat for nearly forty years. I started lifting weights in the basement when I was thirteen years old . . . and I've never quit. And, outside of a few missed workouts due to flu, cold, or fatigue, I've never missed a regular workout in as many years. Working out and writing are the two things I've done consistently since I was thirteen.

As I was approaching my fortieth birthday (ten years ago) I set a goal of competing in a bodybuilding competition. In four months I trained down from 240 pounds (I was BIG and STRONG) to 200 pounds (I was RIPPED and WEAK). My wife didn't think I could do it, but I did step on stage at the age of forty and strut around in a G-string in front of 700 people. The best shape of my life. I earned last place.

I wrote about these experiences ten years ago in an essay I entitled, "No Gut, No Glory". The piece began:
"Picture a guy just turned forty years of age, a guy who's been working out in the gym for two decades--straining under tons of black weight, force-feeding his body with creatine, vitamins, and massive containers of protein supplement--a guy who's built a respectable frame of muscle. That was me."

Now, as I approach fifty (Oct 12) I have set my sights on getting into peak condition again. I've already lost ten pounds, with at least ten more to go, and I'm still in the gym most mornings grunting and straining under weights and finishing up by burning mega calories on the stairmaster. I am tired. I am hungry. But not as tired and as hungry as I'm going to be. Not even close. In fact, it scares me thinking about how much hard work I still have to do and how little food I'm going to ingest.

In my mind, my goal is to compete again (but I'm not going to). I've got two bad knees, a bad back, and a very painful torn rotator cuff (right shoulder) that I must lift around. I often wake in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. I need surgery, but I'm not going under the knife. Not yet. I've got a goal to reach first before a doctor starts cutting. And I'm not so sure that I can't heal up if I give the shoulder more time. I'm praying for healing.

I'm doing everything as if I'm competing again: the training, the diet, the tanning, and eventually I'll shave my chest, armpits and legs and take photos. I want to see what kind of condition I can attain at the age of fifty . . . and I plan to do it again for my sixtieth year and be even better.

Now that I plan to write again about the experience . . . I have to follow through and do it. No guts, no glory. No pain, no gain.

No kidding.


A few weeks ago I read about a local "publisher" who had scammed dozens of people out of their hard-earned money. This is not difficult to do, especially since there are many people who want to "publish a book" or who desire, more than anything else, to see their names in print. For some reason, there are many people who still consider a book to be their ticket to the promised land and the majority of people regard a book as a great money-maker. (None of this is true, by the way, and I have the royalty statements from twenty books and hundreds of articles to prove it!)

But beware!

There are indeed many scam artists and so-called "publishers" out there who would love to bilk a few unsuspecting people of their cash. Don't be taken in by these CheatOs.

As a rule of thumb, here's how you can tell a real "publisher" from a fraud.

First, remember: legitimate publishers (as a general rule) are going to PAY YOU! You are the writer. You have produced a commodity: a book. Farmers produce corn and soybeans. Writers produce commodities called essays, articles, and books! Legit publishers will offer you a contract to purchase your book and PAY YOU royalties, just like a grain elevator pays a farmer for his grain.

Scam artists posing as publishers will not do this. Rather, they will ask for YOU TO PAY THEM for the honor of printing your book. (But you could print a book on your own!) If you are asked to pay to have your book "published" . . . measure twice, cut once.

Through the years I've been approached plenty by these so-called "publishers" who want me to give them some cash to print one of my books. They usually promise the moon. They make the publishing venture sound exciting, even lucrative. But the fact is, writing is just hard work. There are no short-cuts.
Legitimate publishers will be looking for writers who are good, writers who can BE PAID for their work, writers who command (and to varying degrees and amounts) compensation for their commodities! I've reached the stage in my writing life where, although I can't command huge sums of money, I can command SOME money for my work. I ask to be paid for my expertise. That's only fair. I'm not going to PAY SOMEONE to "publish" my book!

In short, I don't want to pay to see my work in print. (This has typically been called "Vanity publishing.") No, I want the publisher to PAY ME! And even if a publisher gives me $2.60 (as did last month), at least I've earned something from my writing. I haven't paid money. I've made money! Not much, but I've been paid.

So . . . don't be taken in. Don't pay! Work harder at your writing. WORK HARDER AT WRITING. WORK HARDER. HARDER! Submit to editors. And in time, your work will be accepted and you will get paid (even if it's just in contributor's copies)!

If you just have to see your name in print as a medal of honor or a badge of courage, walk down to Kinkos and print your own book and give it to friends. You'll save yourself a lot of heartaches and a lot of cash.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Audience With the Pope

In a very backward way, I've been given an audience with Pope Benedict. Recently, I received word that my book, $5 Youth Ministry, had been selected as one of the Top-40 Youth Ministry titles for Catholics. I guess this means that Catholics are experiencing a budget crunch, too.

At any rate, I found it interesting that Catholics would regard my book as one of the best of 2010. I'm delighted, actually. If Pope Benedict was in the area, I'd kiss his ring.

This little kudo also reminded me of some other brushes with fame I've had over the years . . . strange situations that have landed me in the lap of celebrity.

Among these:

Presiding at a wedding attended by Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, various Soap Opera stars, and at the reception, reading letters written by Elton John and Michael Jackson.

Presiding at a wedding for John Sloan. John is Jerry Sloan's son. And Jerry Sloan is the head basketball coach of the Utah Jazz. This was also the smallest wedding I've officiated. Just me, the bride, the groom, and the church custodian, who served as a witness.

I've had other brushes with celebrity, too . . . but I'm not one to brag. That, and I really don't care. No, I really don't!

Now, where did I put that little black book with all the phone numbers?!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The "Yes" Factors

Now that I've said "No" to these radio show hosts, I thought it might be expedient to also include a word about those factors what might win me over. How could a host, for example, get me to say "Yes" to an interview?

Any of the following would probably work:

Two pounds of black licorice
In fact, instead of participating in the interviews for free, a little licorice would make a difference, and two pounds of the Twizzler variety isn't going to break any producer's budget.

Donuts on the set
Yes, if the host would promise me that we could eat donuts while we discussed various topics, I might consider it, especially if coconut or pecans were baked into some of the pastries. I'd only do radio in this manner, however, as I wouldn't want to spit nuts into the camera.

Correct pronunciation of my name
This would be nice. I'll say yes to anyone who can offer up decent renderings of any of the following acceptable derivations of my ancestral nomenclature:


A Barnes & Noble Gift card
This might be a clincher. If a producer called me, say, tomorrow and said, "We really need a guest like you on our show and we hear you like to read. How about we send you a B&N card good at any participating store (or at any 7-11) and we'll seal the deal?" If a producer said this, I'd probably bite.

The more I think about, I'm sure there would be other deal-makers, but most of these would involve clipping my toenails or showing me how to can fresh tomatoes in a pressure-cooker. I doubt there are any shows out there that are going to go that far.

Unless, of course, we're talking about Iron Chef. But that's another story.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Said "NO"

Perhaps I'm becoming more reclusive, or maybe it's because I really don't have anything to say, but I did say "NO" to two requests for interviews last week. I'm not sure what to make of these requests. I continue to think that these radio hosts must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they want to interview me.

What would we talk about? God? Jesus? Writing? That's essentially my holy trinity, but there are others who want to wax on about God and can do a much better job than I. And I really feel strange talking about Jesus--as if he is some commodity we barter to sell ideas and goods (just watch TV if you don't think THIS IS SO . . . the politicos, the talking heads, and the televangelists have Jesus on a string). And as for writing . . . I'd much rather be doing it than talking about it. Same thing with sex with my wife. Better to stay in practice than focus on theory. I can do theory when I'm eighty and can't remember where to find my zipper.

Let this be a lesson to you boys'n girls. Just say no to radio interviews. Say yes to LOVE.

And as for writing, remember: A writer always writes!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Say Hey to Ray

I recently purchased a first edition of Ray Bradbury's final short story collection: One More for the Road. Unlike Bradbury's first two collections, this one was a little thin on memorable stories, but Ray is still one of my all-time favorite writers.

Among my personal classics are "Uncle Eanar"--the tale of a grotesque, bat-like creature who, at Halloween, would come out and pose as a kite. (Yes, odd, but believe me, it's a fantastic story.) I have also read, re-read, and re-read yet again standard tales like "The Veldte", "The Golden Apples of the Sun", and "The Lake". Bradburys' stories are great for the soul.

I've also got several Bradbury novels on my shelves and a number of books about Ray Bradbury--though nothing yet biographical in nature.

There's something ingenious about a writer who can take Laurel and Hardy, transport them to the nearest star, and make a story about their comedy tour comeback. Who but Ray B. could do it?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Radio Interview

This past week, I've had two requests for radio interviews. I don't know why. And I don't know why they bother. And yet, I can't help but wonder how these interviews would turn out if these hosts would ask me the important questions. I'm still waiting for the day.

Welcome to W-BLZ, Mr. Alleycat . . . let's get right to it: why would anyone want to listen to what you have to say, and why, quite frankly, should we care?
They shouldn't, Al. And for the love of Taco Bell, I can't understand why you wanted me on your crummy show. Why do people crave the limelight, Al? Why can't they admit, like me, that they are losers and don't have the answers to life?

Well said, Mr. Alleycat . . . but the fact is, you are on the show and you need to say something that will spike our ratings and encourage our corporate sponsors to chuck in another mil. Do you have the answers to ANYTHING?
I can still make love to my wife twice a year, with her permission (all I need is four and a half minutes!), and I can still beat anyone on Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robots. Oh . . . and if someone needs to know how a donut is made, I've got a fairly good idea.

You're a card, mister! But honestly, isn't it a bitch coming on shows like this and baring your soul to millions of Americans (and two old farts in Lithuania)?
I don't have a soul to bare, Al. I lost my soul in the Cranberry Juice Cocktail aisle at Kroger some years back and I've been trying to recover it by helping other people find God.

We've heard of HIM! But let's talk more about YOU. Any regrets?
Plenty. You might not believe this, Al, but if I'd played my cards differently as a young man, I could have been that guy who announced the groups on American Bandstand. I could have had all the chicks in the hotpants. Instead, I just settled. A wife and two kids later and look at me now.

Actually . . . this is radio. We can't see you! What do you look like?
Got any pictures of Rock Hudson? Any photos of that dude that sells the ShamWows? I'm sort of a cross between the two, only with bigger calves.

Finally . . . anything you'd like to tell our faithful listeners about your next book? We know they won't buy a copy, but it never hurts to put in a self-promoting plug like all these politicians do.
Right. Well, I'm working on a book about tourniquets. I think everyone should know how to make one, and should have five or six tourniquets lying around the house (in case you need one). Did you know that thousands of people die each year in tourniquet-related accidents and that their deaths could have been prevented if only they'd had a hankie? I carry a tourniquet in the glove compartment of my car. I keep one in my briefcase. And believe it or not, I'm wearing one on my left thigh right now, too . . . just in case. I keep it loose and only tighten it up if it's needed. My wife may poison me. She may shoot me. But I'll never bleed to death. And finally, I'll close by saying that I'm writing a book about the phrase, "The End". You'd be surprised how many people have never heard of this phrase. Kind of like this interview. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Silence of the Editor

For the past two years I've been waiting for one editor to call me. It's like waiting for a cheap date. He never calls. Never writes. And I just wait by the phone and chew my fingernails. He says he's going to call. Soon. "I'll call you," he says. "Sorry, I got busy," he tells me. "Well, I'll call you next week," he schmoozes.

Actually . . . at this point I could care less. The way I figure it, there is incompetency in every business and walk of life, and I might just be working with an editor who can't edit. Still, it is frustrating.

But I'm used to waiting. If patience is a virtue, hell's bells, my clapper is ringin'!

I've been waiting on editors my entire life: the ones who tell me they love me, but then reject my work; the ones who say they will be offering a contract, but then renege; the ones who tell me they are going to publish my work, but never get around to calling with verification or a check.

But hey, I'm a sucker. This guy is going to call me today! I just feel it. I'm going to be waiting right here by the phone (he said he's going to call!!!!) and I'll pick up on the third ring.

After all, I don't want to appear too anxious. I'm not, after all, a cheap date.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Carving Knives

I've been enjoying a Library of America Classic: The Collected Stories of Raymond Carver. Carver is, without doubt, one of the preeminent American short story writers of the 20th century, and I first became acquainted with him in college. Now that he's dead, he's an icon.

His stories always cut like a knife, although his language was tight and spare.

A couple of weeks ago I also finished a very fine story of my own that I entitled "Giraffe". I think it's one of my best. Well, I like it anyway.

I'll be putting Carver on the shelf again soon, but this is a book I'll be reading for years to come, taking it down and enjoying the great writing over and over again.

I just hope I can find the book when I want it. I have a tendency to lose things these days.

The Blog Poem

I wrote this poem some time ago (can't remember when . . . I can't remember much of anything these days . . . what day is it?). Anyway, hope you like it.
(Buster, the Wonder Pug)

Sometimes it's a cinch
To write in a pinch
And use words as a personal log.
But some think I'm nuts
(No ifs ands or buts)
When they happen on this fellow's blog.

No, I never quite know
How the words find their flow
Or why some days I slip off my cog,
And for real, who's to say
How some folks find their way
To this fellow's odd personal blog?

I might write about honey
Or big stacks of money
Or find myself mired in the bog
Of mysteries or books
Or my wife's sexy looks
While I'm writing my personal blog.

And if you're offended
By the words that I've lended
Well, please forgive me and my dog . . .
It's just how I reason
Through every odd season
And it just shows up here on my blog.

I mean no offense
When my words are not minced
As I sometimes write late in a fog.
And some days in recall
I'll know nothing at all
About what's appeared on my blog.

But if you like reading
Or writing a greeting
Or giving your journal a jog
Then I thank you for looking
In this space about booking
And writing weird thoughts in my blog.

And thanks for the time
You've spent reading this rhyme
While sitting at home like a log.
I hope when you click
On this link it will stick
And you'll often revisit my blog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Pile

Shazam! Last week I stuck so many postage stamps onto envelopes, I could have mailed my house to Wyoming. And I probably did. Inside those envelopes were hundreds of pages . . . thousands of carefully-crafted words that I hope editors will pine after and, eventually, receive with thanks, and, in return, send me a nice check (or at least some contributors copies).

This was a big pile: one of the largest I have ever manufactured. I have been spending the summer evenings addressing these envelopes, double-checking my list of editors, crafting the perfect cover letter, making stamp runs to the post office and purchasing one dollar stamps in great profusion and going without donuts so I can pay for the mailing.

My wife wonders where our bank account went.

It's in the stamps. The stamps are on the envelopes. The envelopes contain the writing. The writing contains my life. My life contains . . . well, lots of insane hopes and dreams and the notion that I might make enough from these envelopes to write large checks to Ball State and IU and that I might be able to eat again and take nourishment.

September is the month for writers. It is when university presses open their doors again, when literary journals are open to new submissions, when hope springs eternal on the keyboard.

This was a big pile.

I just hope I don't step in it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Royalty

Sometimes royalty is ugly. In fact, the royalty checks I've received of late have been of ogre quality. UGLY!

But that's what happens when books don't sell. And my books have never sold. Hence, the ugly royalty.

Still, for what it's worth, and since I've been writing books, I've given 100% of my book royalties to God's work. Not 10%. Not 50%. Not 90%. But 100%. That's everything.

It sounds like great generosity when I write it that way, but in actuality, it's not anything transformative. It's just what I do. I've given to many missions, to people in need, for special projects. I figure, since the royalties can't transform my life, perhaps they can help someone else. That's why I give.

It would be nice though . . . someday over the rainbow . . . to actually receive a royalty check that amounts to something. A check that is big, bright, and beautiful. I'd like to see what it feels like to give something BIG.

But as for now, I'm stuck with ugly here. It's a greenback. But it's a poor excuse for royalty.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our Exciting Life

As I write this blog, I am sitting on the back deck at the house, dog curled at my feet (hope he's dead), piles of papers and books on either side of my Adirondack chair, and the wife working on her computer with mounds of books and papers strewn across her lap. A great night. If only we had a life.

In case anyone is interested, here's been the extent of our past hour's conversation.

Old Lady: Would you like to make a fire on Friday night? I'm taking an evening off.

Me: (Grunting sound, missing the sexual overtones and the invitation.)

Old Lady (ten minutes later): I'm getting tired. I need some coffee. Would you drink some coffee?

Me: (Grunting as I rise on knees which emit loud popping sounds) I'll make the freakin' coffee. (The Old Lady makes a face and wonders why I have not keeled over as it sounds like my knees have come loose from their sockets.)

Old Lady (twenty minutes later): I can't believe this professor is expecting us to do this! I can't believe this syllabus!

Me: (Grunting as if to say, Ask me if I care) You'll get through it.

Old Lady: What do you mean, I'll get through it? How do you know?

Me: (Grunting because I have been interrupted in my writing . . . again!!! What's up with this woman? Why can't she do her own homework and leave me alone? I've got a masterpiece going here and need my silence! The kid is upstairs doing his homework. What's up with the old lady?) You are brilliant. You will be a success. You are going to go far. Oh, and by the way, Chelsey sold some more of her textbooks. I'm going to ship them out tomorrow!

Old Lady: I'm sorry, what did you say?

See what I mean? If you want excitement, don't come to our house. All I can offer you is a stack of greasy books or perhaps a cup of day-old coffee and a ream of writing paper. We do have a nice deck, however, and enjoy the tranquility of these fall evenings. It's just a shame we don't have a life.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Funeral Burger

There may be nothing more difficult than writing a funeral sermon for a dear relative. What does one say? What memories from the vast storehouse does one offer? Well, I've finished my course with my cousin, Ginger. And the one and only memory I wanted to share (or could share) was a recent one featuring a hamburger.

Just twelve weeks ago, we ate our final hamburger together at the Moonshine Inn (Illinois, population 2). I made note of the fact that dozens of people had driven for miles, many from many states away, just to get a taste of a Moonshine hamburger. There was excitement in the air, and it was obvious that many people had set aside an entire day just to experience the Moonshine Inn.

Although I was not excited about doing my cousin's funeral, I was excited about my memory of the hamburger and my day with her and I hoped that others would find excitement in their lives--the kind my cousin exhibited every time we were together. Small things matter.

I know I'll never eat a hamburger in quite the same way again. I might even think of Ginger whenever I bite into one.

The Free Methodist Church of Robinson offered our family a great lunch after the burial. It was wonderful. Great food. No complaints. But I would have loved to have had a hamburger. I think there was a story there. And some day I'm going to write it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


At the beginning of the year I set several goals for myself, including writing four books in 2010. I'm going to achieve the goal of writing four books . . . but unfortunately, I doubt I will have four books accepted for publication. The writing and the publishing of books are two very different things!

As I've aged, I've had to temper my expectations a bit when it comes to print. I can easily write four books a year, year after year. In fact, one year I actually had five books published, and another year, three . . . but the difficulties of carrying this out on a consistent basis have become more pronounced. Still, I do have several book proposals floating around out there, and there are still four months left in 2010. So, it could happen.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that I've missed this goal for 2010. I have failed. I am weak. I have missed the mark once again.

But let this be a lesson to all you boys and girls. I'm not lowering the bar for 2011. I'm upping it. As I look ahead, I'm going to set a goal for five books in 2011. I'll write them. Not doubt about that. But I'm also hoping for five contracts, too.

Put me in, coach. I'm ready to sign.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Laboring Day

I can't recall the last time I actually rested on Labor Day. For most people, it is probably better renamed Laboring Day. So, after an early rise, I worked out in the garage (hard work, this fat burning), completed a few odd jobs around the house, and then set to work writing. I started on a funeral message, shifted to some poems, then to some essays, and back to the funeral message throughout the afternoon.

The cogs must turn.

I also wrote some letters and emails to various editors I know, and submitted a few other pieces online in the hope that, tomorrow morning, I'll be the first one they recognize out of the chute.

All of this writing, coupled with my daughter driving back to Ball State, and my wife leaving late in the afternoon for her evening class (no break on Labor Day for her!) didn't leave much time for slow-restful activity.

However, tonight is different. A fire. A glass. Some late night conversation under the stars. Gives me something to write about.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Writer's Diet

Many years ago I attended a national writer's workshop and one of the presenters made the comment: "There are too many overweight writers out there! Perhaps we should create a writer's diet."

Well, I've yet to see this book on the shelves, but the presenter did have a point. Writing is, for the most part, a rather sedentary and low-calorie pursuit. It's easy to get planted in a chair or couch and just be there for hours. I'm not sure how many calories the fingers burn, but unless a person is writing while jogging, I'm not sure the art is going to transform my cholesterol levels.

So, let me here share a few secrets I've learned about food and drink . . . especially as I pursue my goal of getting down to 200 pounds by my 50th birthday (in five weeks). And this while lifting several tons a day on a torn rotator cuff, two bad knees, and a kink in the back.

Foods to Enjoy
Vegetables (fresh)
Fruits (fresh)

Foods to Avoid
Cakes & pastries (yes, this includes donuts, which I will not be eating for two months)
breads & pastas (complex carbs, WAY too many calories)
Brussels Sprouts (gas)

Drinks to Enjoy
Coffee (lots of it...and coffee is also a diuretic, a drying agent, and believe me, you'll pee your way to a thinner you)
Iced or hot tea (same thing as above, but lesser amount)
Water (lots of it . . . gallons of it)

Drinks to Avoid
Alcoholic beverages (caloric and blunts the writing senses...and you don't want to end up like Earnest Hemingway)
V-8 (have you tasted this junk?)

Secret ingredients
Black licorice (great natural laxative . . . you can lose pounds a day with this stuff)
Protein drinks (instead of meals)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mark My Words

This past Monday my wife began her evening classes again (to become a principal), and with that also attendant are my editing services while she is writing her many and varied papers. I was forced to read one of those papers again last night and make editorial changes (hopefully for the better). But if she receives a bad grade, don't blame me, Mandingo!

Although this next year is going to be excruciating--evening classes, papers to write, 120 hours of job shadowing, and many, many all-night vigils at the keyboard and no weekend rest--I am looking forward to calling my wife, "Principal Outcalt". It will bring a whole new light to being spanked by the principal.

Until then, I've got term papers to grade. Lots of 'em. I've got rewrites to do. I've got deadlines to meet. And most of these are for Becky. She writes all of her own material, I just try to make it better.

Some day we will look back on these odd and lonely days and laugh. Remember when I had to write five papers in one week? Remember when I read two books in one night? Yeah, I do.

And you can bet there will be some evenings when I will join her in this lunacy. While she's writing all night on the subject of school leadership, I'll be writing about anything that grabs my interests: gophers, perhaps, or trying to answer the question about how they get ink into the tubes inside a ball point pen.

How do they get the ink in there, anyway? Heck, that's at least a 2000 word paper. Better get on that one today.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


As I was checking out of my rare book foray last week, I ended up talking to the proprietor of the bookstore--a pipe-smoking gentleman of some rare breeding and impressive intellect (sort of like me, sans pipe). He noted that I had also purchased an edition of Bernard Malamud's Pictures of Fidelman.

The owner studied me and then said, as he placed the book in the bag, "I had been wondering who might buy this Malumud book. Not many people read Malumud these days."

I said, "Well, this book, I believe completes the corpus for me. I think I now own a copy of every book Malamud wrote."

"He's an important writer," he said, "but most people have never heard of him."

"Odd," I said, "particularly considering he won two Pulitzer prizes and a National Book Award. He was probably one of the best American writers of the twentieth century."

Okay, so I like Malumud. I've got all of his books now. So what?

The loveliest part of these book hunts, of course, are the finds . . . I love the detective work, the sorting through old dusty stacks to find the one gem in the rough. I'm glad Bernie could be a part of it.

And if I smoked a pipe, I'd buy myself a silk jacket and a bow tie.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Know Nusing!

It finally happened. I couldn't remember a thing.

The editor who was creating the book was interested in an essay I had written some time ago. It had been published in a magazine (ten years ago?). "I'm assuming you still retain the rights to this?" he asked.

"I don't remember,"I said. "But I assume so."

"What were the circumstances around the essay? Why did you write it?"

"I don't remember," I said. "But I assume I wrote it to make some money."

"Can't remember writing it?"

"No," I admitted.

But holy guacamole, I didn't have the heart to tell him that I write upwards of million words a year. How can I remember everything? I didn't have the heart to tell him that, at last check, I also have a wife and two kids . . . but I'll be jiggered if I can remember their names half the time. I also assume my wife and I have done the bedroom tango a few times . . . but I'll have to study up on the particulars to re-learn the various components and how all the parts work (I've got a John Deere manual that should work and I'm going to ask my wife for instructions when I see her in November).

I'm not sure if other writers have these problems with memory. But I know nothing. Don't ask me what I've written. I won't even be able to find it. Just ask me if I can write something new.