Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing a Will

Last week our lawyer hand delivered the Last Will and Testament that my wife and I plan to sign, giving direction to our vast estate and land holdings as well as our twenty-five year old Tupperware set (burp less). We've now had a chance to read over the Will and we only have one question:

Who was the idiot who created this "legal language" and why, in the name of Crab-apple Cove (M*A*S*H*) do we continue to use this god-forsaken method of writing incoherent legal babble?

Believe me, I could write more coherent sentences in my sleep . . . and this after I have quaffed two quarts of Johnny Walker red (if I were so inclined to drink hard liquor). I don't know law, and I certainly don't have any designs on being a lawyer, but I have to wonder . . . do they teach English in law school?

After reading our Will, and picking up on words like "Executrix", my wife thought our will sounded too sexy. I, on the other hand, kept looking for any pick up lines I could use. I've tried talking in a baritone and asking my wife if she wanted to be a "party of the first part" and "execute" certain moves upstairs, but she told me that I needed two unrelated signatories and a Notary Public if she was going to go that far with me. I'm checking with my lawyer now to see what my next course of action might be. He's suggesting I sue for "breach of promise", but actually, my wife has never promised me anything, not even on our wedding night, and I brought my lawyer along to the hotel for that gig, too.

I don't understand legal language. I'm a straight talker . . . or I try to be. I just tell my wife what I want (licorice, donuts, nookie twice a year) and she usually fills a cart at Wal-Mart or tells me she has a headache. I'm not built for communicating with my children and (someday?) grand-children about my demise. Our Will is set up so that, in the event that my wife and I die simultaneously in a buffalo stampede or are hit by a meteorite, our children inherit everything and split the junk cars 50-50. If I go first (which I won't), my wife gets everything, including my underwear and sock drawer. If she goes first (which she will), I get it all, including my wife's jewelry, which I purchased on birthdays and anniversaries, and which I will sell quickly at a Pawn Shop in Speedway for the down-payment on my second wife's engagement ring.

All of this is in the Will somewhere . . . I'm sure of it. I just have to figure out how to interpret it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Used Books

I like used books. I would rather buy a used book than a new book. Reasons? A used book has a history. Other hands have handled it, read it, dog-eared the pages, marked it, abandoned it. I like to imagine where a used book has been, who the previous owner was, and the path it has taken to get to my hands.

Among my many used books, I have found copies from many states. I've got books that were originally in libraries in California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and many points north and south. I've got paperbacks and hardbacks. Many are inscribed.

I like used books. When I buy a new book, I feel that I'm buying a piece of the publisher (not a bad feeling in itself), but a used book offers a unique affinity with a reader and the author. There is an exchange of ideas and history.

This week I read that Louis L'Amour had a 17,000 volume personal library at the time of his death. I've got a library of some 3,000 books, and a long way to go to match Louis. I doubt my wife will allow me to collect many more without selling a few. I don't want to be absolutely buried in books.

But then . . . being buried in books wouldn't be a bad way to go. Cheap burial. And that way I wouldn't be at a loss for words.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reading Chekhov

Earlier in the week I noted a small volume at home that I had neglected: The Stories of Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was a Russian writer of short stories, widely considered one of the masters of the form, and I decided to read his stories afresh this week.

I have.

But I prefer Mr. Chekov. Mr. Chekov is far more entertaining. He sits on the bridge of the Enterprise and says, "Warp factor one, Captain" or "I cannot reach Mr. Spock's landing party, Captain, I'm picking up interference from 101 FM!" Chekhov, on the other hand, says things like, "Mr. Maronavick died of dysentery and his body was thrown into a Siberian garbage heap."

Mr. Chekov is fun-loving and lovable--he's a Russian chipmunk. Chekhov is dark and foreboding, and even as a Christian, for the love of Mary, the guy actually lived in Russia and survived on Vodka.

Mr. Chekov has known pain. In The Wrath of Khan, an insidious earwig-type creature ate a path through his brain stem. But did he complain? Heck, no! He knew McCoy would drop by with his little blue box, would wave it over his head and he'd be fresh as a daisy in spring. Chekhov writes about pain. He revels in stories about TB, genocide, and the gulag. His characters all die horrendous deaths, their extremities frozen, their faces frostbitten into sneers. This is the way Russia should be. We've come to expect it.

Mr. Chekov smiles and lives happily in some future century where good always triumphs and Captain Kirk dyes his hair. He's a happy Russian with less brains, but he's a genius when it comes to pressing buttons. We fancy he's a hot lover. Chekhov is dour. His author photos, as they exist, betray his nationality. "Good God, he's a suffering Russian," we say when we see his portraits. Chekhov is frozen in a Stalingrad-expression of hopelessness and that's the way he writes.

Mr. Chekov is your pal. He never dates but that's all right with him. He is okay working alongside Mr. Sulu, who is gay. Relationships are much different light years from now. Chekhov is an anti-Semite. We fancy he hates gays. Heck, he hates everybody. It's what his Christian faith tells him to do. He drinks more Vodka to survive.

Mr. Chekov or Chekhov? I've known them both. What was Gene Roddenberry thinking? Had he actually read Chekhov? If he had, he would have probably changed his character's name. We might know him today as Mr. Dostoevsky.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Signing Contracts

Publishing is rife with contracts. From books, to essays, to articles--even poems and meditations--publishers large and small want to insure their rights and make the author sign on the dotted line.

I've signed quite a few of these documents of late. Most are one page contracts, easily readable, and are simply meant to insure that I've written original material and that I'm not plagiarizing or submitting previously published material. The contract also outlines the author's rights (usually assigning rights back to the author once the material is published first run in the magazine). Pay is mentioned, too. Although, in most cases, there is no money exchanging hands. At least, I rarely get any.

Yesterday I received payment for a poem that an editor in Ventura, California accepted for a Fall literary journal: a year's subscription to the journal itself. My first issue just arrived. I shelved it immediately and went back to writing. I now have a small library of these complimentary subscriptions. It seems one arrives about every week. But I'm not complaining. I get nice handwritten notes from the editors who tell me things like, "Loved this one!" or "You're the man!" or "Next time I read something this well written I'm sending you cool million."

But I'm not a legal eagle and contracts are not my bag. That's why I have an agent who handles my larger-mainstream book material. She reads all of this gobbledy-gook and tells me, "We won't sign this!" or "I'll ask the editor to make another offer" or "Let's hold out for a bucket of chicken gizzards and a pint of mashed potatoes." I love her for this. If not for her, I'd sign anything. Publishers would have my liver and one of my kidneys by now if not for her dedicated oversight of these contractual matters.

As for the small contracts for essays, articles, devotions, poems, columns, and humor--all of which I continue to write in great swelling masses--I'll sign at will. Essentially, I write for free. And the editors know it.

Next time I sign, however, I might make one concession. I wonder if I could work in a letter to my wife? The editor would be required to write her a personal letter on my behalf, telling her what a swell guy I am to work with, and how I have personally saved the magazine from extinction, and would she consider making love to her writer before he burns out?

Hey, it's worth a try.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Best Wishes

For the past year I've been working hard at collecting first editions of books. I think I can say that this endeavor, in some respects, has become a bit more than a hobby with me. I've not fallen into the obsessive form of bibliophilia yet (I don't steal books from libraries or bookstores, for example) but there is a kind of fever that can overwhelm a person who is in the collecting mode.

But used books are very cheap. And since most people no longer read books and few people want them in their homes anymore, I'm finding first editions everywhere . . . and most for a buck or two.

One of the reasons I've resisted purchasing a Kindle (though I'm sure I'll buy one this year) is because digital books don't have editions. Odd as it may sound, I have always read the flyleaf or copyright page of a book first. I study it closely. I enjoy finding out when the author was born, for example, and many times the dedication of a book reveals subtle nuances of relationship and form. And the numbers on the copyright page also reveal the edition . . . which in turn offers insights into how many "copies" of the book have been printed or perhaps will be printed. A low edition means that this reader is, indeed, holding something very special and "limited" in his hands.

With digital books, "print" is on demand, and there's no limit to the "first" edition. In fact, one could say that editions are all "first" since the "print" can be downloaded in a flash and there's no need to keep track of copies. Naturally, someone in the publishing firm is keeping track of copies, and the respective authors do, in fact, get paid a royalty on the download. (I know, as I receive a few pennies each month from the various Kindle copies of my books . . . but compared to print, the author's take is even less. One wonders why, in the future, authors will continue to write books at all if there's no money to be made and if all writing is created equal . . . the good, the bad, and the unreadable?)

I also enjoy first editions because, from time to time, I find the author's handwriting on the flyleaf or copyright page of the book. "Best Wishes" he might write, or she might scribble "All Best". Try finding that on a digital book! In fact, how can an author sign a digital book? Publishers are probably working on this, and maybe no one cares, but I still enjoy the unexpected discovery of finding handwritten connection with the author of the book. It's personal. There might even be some author DNA on the page. And if I go to a signing, I can meet the author and shake her hand.

Yeah, I'll get a Kindle soon. But I'm going to continue to stuff my house with volumes before there are no more "bookstores". The days are coming . . . and quickly. But until then, I know there's another first edition out there waiting for me to find it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing With the Missus

PHOTO: Todd (with some woman he picked up in Napa Valley, CA) circa. October 2009

In my latest blog series I put my writing life up for auction, but since no one placed a bid on any piece of my life, I can assume my life is worth nothing. Now I can get on, as they say, to more important matters.

A few months ago my wife received an invitation to submit a personal essay for publication in a book. She wrote back, asking the general editor if she could write the essay in conjunction with her husband (ME) and submit the work under the collaborative moniker. He agreed. And I did, too . . . but reluctantly.

Last week, while I was trying to auction away bits and pieces of my life, Becky and I finished our project. It was hell.

"Why don't you write another paragraph?" my wife would suggest. "I think you can do a better job of weaving our thoughts together if you can change the tone of the piece."

Yeah, well, kiss my grits.

Actually, Becky is a good writer. She's produced mega-papers over the past two years and my editorial hand has been very light. She's blogged with the best of 'em. And when the essay does finally go to press and we get our contributors copies of the book and receive our massive paycheck in the mail . . . we might go to dinner and celebrate.

I hear Wendy's has an affordable menu, and we can plot our next book project together while we split a burger. After all, marriage is 50-50.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Auction Lot #7

Lot #7 Description: Black licorice strips (4).

History: These pieces of licorice were discovered only last Tuesday underneath the author's computer. No visible mice nibbles or other defamation make these whips a remarkable treat. By the time this blog entry goes to cyberspace, the author will have probably eaten all of them, although they were discovered board stiff. Good example of the black licorice which comprises the bulk of this author's diet. He's made entire meals (even breakfasts) on fare such as this. And now you can own a piece of this history.

Background: red licorice is NOT licorice. Sorry. The red junk is pure candy and cannot be compared to old-school black licorice, with its distinct taste and odor. Black licorice never goes bad. Sure, it'll get hard and might even sit in a candy dish for two and half years . . . but the author says he'll get around to chomping on it sooner or later. His wife forgets to pick up groceries, he'll make a repast on the four year old whips from the attic. No problem. This author also attributes his prolific abilities and his iron-clad digestive structure to black licorice. Put these pieces under glass and you'll have a remarkable art deco piece.

Quote from the Author's wife: "You're not going to eat those, are you?"


Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Auction: Lot # 6

Lot # 6 Description: Big Ol' Box of Floppies. There are blanks in this lot as well as untold essays, stories, stalled novels, journal entries, observations and material that the author has forgotten about.

History: This author still saves most of his material on standard floppy disks. He has hundreds of 'em. He's got piles of 'em. Boxes of 'em. This is only one of many. Many people have pressed the author, over the past decade, to get with the times and get off the floppies, but he likes floppies, and he still wears boxer shorts, too. He just won't change. He continues to write massive piles of material on his sixteen-year-old Compaq (who the heck owns a Compaq now?). Everything goes to floppy. He labels 'em. Stacks 'em. Forgets about 'em.

Background: This author is cheap. Do you know you can buy a box of floppy disks from eBay for something like, oh, 1000 floppies for $5 with shipping? Sure, the author could purchase a 4 gig zip drive for $20, but that would require conversation with his local Radio Shack rep, and the author just can't stomach the thought of revealing his idiocy to a fifteen year old named "Frankie." He continues to write on his sixteen-year-old Compaq and considers it a badge of honor. He wants to see how many books he can write on one computer. So far he's written eighteen on the old Compaq (and it often ignites) and he's also written at least thirty unpublished collections on this same sucky machine. Evidence is stored on the hundreds of floppies stored throughout his house. Wanna own one?

Quote from Author's Wife: "You imbecile! You'll sell your floppies and give away a million-dollar-book. Do you even know what you have stored on all of those things?"


Friday, January 21, 2011

My Auction: Lot # 5

Lot # 5 Description: Envelope containing galley proofs of one of the author's books (this is the "final and last version" of the book before printing).

History: For some reason the author has kept most of the galley proofs of his books. We don't know why. These galleys are not worth anything. Still . . . the author found this galley and is hoping to locate a suitable buyer: perhaps some unsuspecting nut who collects these sorts of things. Historically, the author has made few to no changes in his galley proofs over the years since, by the time he receives the galleys of his books, he is already deep in the throes of writing another book and can't remember what he wrote the year before. Some of his books, when published, have even surprised him. He is shocked whenever he receives his author copies and thinks to himself: "Self . . . why is your name on the cover of this book? When did you write it?" This little envelope contains one such history, a pre-pub copy of a book. Don't know which. The author has not opened the envelope to look.

Background: The author is certain that this is a book his wife has not read. She's funny that way. Why would she read his books, after all? She has to listen to his warped ideas and eat his cooking. Why go to all the trouble of pretending the guy has any suitable ideas? This is only one of hundreds of envelopes. Only God knows what can be found in the others. The author just pulled this one out of a stack and photographed it. It's pot luck. Sort of like his dinners.

Quote from Author's Wife: "I'm saving your books to read in retirement. I'll have more time to read then, and you will probably be an invalid. It will be fun watching you try to eat some of your own dinners."


Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Auction: Lot # 4

Lot # 4 Description: The author's Master's degree hood and "Happy Father's Day" cap painted with genuine daughter's handprint (age 10), the last Father's Day gift the author received.

History: This is the author's master's hood that he received upon graduation from Duke Divinity School. The way he figures it, he won't need this weird-looking piece of fabric any longer and he is tired of using it as a hand towel in the garage. The cap contains his daughter's handprint and, while some might find this insulting that he would sell such a precious item of high sentimental value, his daughter is twenty-one now, a junior at Ball State University, and the author needs every dime to pay for her education. This cap could be just the ticket to insure that she can continue to eat fresh sushi in the dining hall and has an adequate supply of movie passes. Meanwhile, back home, the author and his wife are eating leftover three-week-old Christmas ham stripped from the bone and can afford nothing more than a third-run B movie rental video (VHS or BETA). So, as you can see, he needs to sell the whole kit-n-kaboodle if he has a shot at eating red meat any time soon.

Background: This master's hood is a real humdinger. It's been doing double-duty as a grease towel in the garage and, on cold days, the author has probably also blown his nose in it. It has the Duke colors, though these are somewhat compromised now with the chain-saw grease and the author's DNA samples. Great conversation piece for your den. The painter's cap still has some life in it and has been gathering dust in the closet next to other "Father's Day" gifts such as the Father's Day ash tray, the Father's Day T-shirt, the Father's Day necktie (with colors that defy categorization), and the RONCO gravy maker.

Quote from author's wife: "If you sell that adorable Father's Day cap, I'll skin you alive! How could you sell something your own daughter gave you? Where's your sentiment? And by the way, what did you do with all those anniversary cards I gave you?"


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Auction: Lot # 3

Lot #3 Description: Five (5) Hawaiian ink pens purchased on various Hawaiian islands, circa. 2001. Genuine transparent plastic carrying case (not shown).

History: These ink pens were purchased by the author during his extensive Hawaiian tour in 2001. Some of these pens were used to write journal entries and travel articles for Midwest Magazine. These gorgeous pens are now ten years old and are quickly drying up, so the author hopes to unload 'em while they still have some income potential. That, and he would really like to buy a new ball for the downstairs toilet in his home. Income from the sale of these pens will go toward this new ball.

Background: Who wouldn't love this set of Hawaiian ink pens? Not only are they useful writing utensils, they can also be mounted under glass as a decorative wall hanging along with a plaque that reads: Outcalt's Old Pens. Great conversation starter. These would also look great in a man cave. Not too effeminate. Well, maybe a bit. But the floral patterns are not too wild and, besides, men wear floral shirts in Hawaii. The author has been to Hawaii. He's seen the men there. Actually interacted with them. Most of these men are comfortable in their own skins and don't have a problem wearing floral shirts. The author wouldn't be caught dead in a floral shirt, but that's just him. These pens, on the other hand, drip with testosterone and would make a great gift for Father's Day. The author has handled 'em. Wrote with 'em. Why not make a sizable bid?

Quote from Author's Wife: "You're not selling those pens, are you? I love those pens! If no one buys those, I'd like to take them to school."


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Auction: Lot # 2

Lot # 2 Description: The author's used copy of Harbrace College Handbook, his first textbook purchase at Indiana State University, circa. summer 1979. Good condition with some dog-eared pages and a few booger marks from previous weirdo students (likely in the business school).

History: The author purchased this used copy of the Handbook for use in his Composition 101 Class with Dr. Gates. This was his first college course, which he began 2 weeks after his high school graduation. He was the only student in class to receive an A, and the Handbook has been his faithful guide and friend for over 30 years, but he's ready to part with it.

Background: The Harbrace College Handbook has been on the author's shelf for over 30 years and has often accompanied him on his all-night writing forays and to bed. He has cherished it. This may be the most personal book the idiot owns. But look, he's ready to part with it for just a few bucks. This book was also purchased before the author was married to his first wife, and as such, it holds a special place in his heart. It's like an illegitimate child to him. He paid $1.95 for it and would love to get at least that much for it. But he will also trade it for a box of Apple Jacks.

Quote from the author's wife: "Okay, decide. It's either that book or me! Make up your mind. One of us has to go!"


Monday, January 17, 2011

My Auction: Lot #1

Lot #1 Description: Padlock (with combination) and wing bolts from computer.

History: Padlock purchased by author in 1969 for gym class basket locker in which he stored T-shirt, shorts, socks and jock strap, none of which were laundered the entire school year. Wing bolts are part of a computer desk owned by the author since 1990 and may account for the fact that the computer desk is rickety and/or the fact that his computer monitor frequently flares up and ignites with visible flame.

Background: This padlock has definitely been handled by the author and is deeply personal. I mean, the guy fastened the padlock after he touched his noogie. He has several grade school friends who can attest to the padlock's authenticity and the fact that it is still operational. Wing nuts and bolts were left over from the computer desk after the author decided not to follow the instructional manual that was written in China. There are thousands of collectors who would love to get their mitts on these highly-collectible items and the author knows several girls who will probably bid on the padlock. All of these girls are now 50+ years of age, but do remember the author as a young man when he had full-blown acne and drove a 1969 Toranado, the first car manufactured with front-wheel drive. Bad ass, and so was the author back then.

Quote from author's wife: "I told you to follow the Chinese instruction manual, but would you listen to me? No! And now you write on a desk that could fall apart any minute! Why don't you put the bolts in?!"

Bid on this item via Facebook or on the blog comment. Author accepts cash or personal check.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Auction

From time to time auction houses try to sell items from famous writers: newly-discovered manuscripts, personal items, awards, galley proofs, letters. I suppose some family member sees this as an opportunity to make money from the deceased.

However, since I am neither famous, nor do I have family who would try to make money from my artifacts (since my estate is not worth anything, either), I have decided to put my writing life up for auction now. I'm going to shed myself of some of my writing artifacts. And you can help. Just make a bid on any of the items you'll see on the forthcoming blogs and you could be the proud owner of a small piece of my history.

Tell all your friends. Auction begins Monday night (January 17), with photographs and description of items taken from my great treasure trove of writer memorabilia. These are actual items I have used. And you can OWN 'EM.

I hope you'll enjoy this journey down memory lane as we dig into my closets, filing cabinets, and who knows--maybe even into the wild and wacky world of the bedroom! You won't want to miss these "for sale" items that could become a permant part of your household. Many of my items are suitable for framing, while others will only get me framed . . . but I thank you for helping a poor unknown earn a living.

God bless you. See you at the auction house late Monday night. Dollar-dollar-dollar-dollar-dollar---do I hear two-two-two-two!!!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Paddle to the Sea

Some years ago, when the television show Northern Exposure was airing first-run, I recall that the character Chris Stevens read a portion of a classic children's book on his radio program. The book was Paddle to the Sea, written by a fellow with the illustrious name of Holling Clancy Holling. (Who the heck uses the same name twice?)

It's been years since that episode of Northern Exposure jostled my mind (and that TV show's demise is the only lost show I have ever grieved). But recently I went in search of this classic children's book, written back in 1951. It was a book I remember reading as a child, and I picked up an old hardback copy in recent days and took a new journey with Paddle. Amazing.

Reading Paddle to the Sea also reawakened my desire to get back on the water in my kayak. Last year Becky and I made the whitelick creek run to our house several times, and Eagle Creek Reservoir is always a great romantic sunset paddle (if one is into that sort of thing, kissing in the middle of a lake without tipping over . . . we don't do it, of course, but it's just an idea).

Now that I've read Paddle to the Sea, I also want some more adventuresome water challenges. The Great Lakes come to mind, or perhaps White River, closer to home. But people have died kayaking these waters, so I feel I should send Becky out to scout the territory before I actually attempt it.

But it's still winter, and so I'll shelf Paddle for another time. Until Spring. I'm already dreaming of water.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

British Invasion

From time to time I find myself pursuing particular writers, reading one work after another, until I have exhausted their literary output. Such is the case with V.S. Pritchett, perhaps the premier English writer of the past century. I mean, the guy was even "knighted" by the queen, and we all know what that means!

A few days back I found a first-edition copy of V.S. Pritchett: The Collected Stories. I grabbed it and have designs to finish it before I die. It's a massive book, with a near-lifetime of output between the covers, so this book is not for the faint of heart.

Although Pritchett was an old-world writer with the proper English charm and fancies, for some reason I can't shake the image of him walking around the streets of London saying, "Yeah, Baby, Yeah!" or "Shagadelick, Baby!" or "Oh, Behave!" I picture him with a profusion of chest hair, like an Eagle's nest, and very bad teeth, but I'm sure his wife loved him, nonetheless.

Last night I asked my daughter if she had met anyone in England (during her stay last summer) who reminded her of Austin Powers. I was the only one who came to mind.

And I don't even have a British accent. Yeah, Baby, Yeah!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Giant Hairball

Last year I read several great books on leadership development and organizational dynamics, one of the most fascinating and creative being Gordon MacKenzie's Orbiting the Giant Hairball. A quick glance through this book reminds the reader that one "isn't in Kansas anymore." This is fresh ground he's covering, at least in presentation, and Orbiting the Giant Hairball is certainly one of the most eye-popping leadership books one could read.

But don't make too much of the hairball imagery . . . it's the orbiting that MacKenzie is striving for.

Of course, we are all familiar with hairballs, especially if one has a cat. I continue to find these little bundles of joy around the house, courtesy of our fourteen-year-old cat that, God-willing, will die soon. I'm trying to train my son to produce hairballs. But he's obstinate and will not groom himself . . . he's especially averse to licking his forearms. So . . . I've been saving a few of the cat hairballs, pressing them between sheets of wax paper and storing them inside the covers of the family Bible. Others need to know that we once lived and cherished these treasures.

I'm not sure MacKenzie had this in mind when he wrote his marvelous leadership book on hairballs, but it's a start. One can really use an object when offering a lesson to staff. By this time next year, my hairball should, indeed, be giant. I can't wait to orbit it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And the Award Goes To . . .

Not too long ago someone asked me if I'd ever had a piece of writing nominated for an award. Short answer: Yes. And, I've actually had a couple of winners, too.

But back in 2005 I had a short story entitled, "Bag of Tricks", that was nominated by the editor, P. Britt, for The Best American Short Stories anthology. The story didn't get picked as a top 100 story, but I at least felt affirmed by the editor, knowing that she had selected my work as her top pick for that year.

Writing and awards don't go well together. There is so much subjectivity and individual taste applied to the judgment, most writers feel ashamed, and certainly awkward, whenever they accept an award.

My "Bag of Tricks" story is certainly one of my best. As I recall, after I wrote it (probably wrote it in 2001), my wife wouldn't read it. It's about a man traveling to South America in a desperate attempt to locate a cancer cure for his wife. Becky sometimes accuses me of writing about "depressing" subjects, but when I remind her that I also write great heaping piles of humor and even books, she refuses to read these warped pieces, too. In fact, she doesn't read much of anything I write, which is just fine. No one else reads my stories either.

Somewhere in my closet I still have the certificate from the editor who nominated "Bag of Tricks" for the honor, but it's long since been covered over with other discarded essays, stories, humor, and ream after ream of piled paper. Years from now, perhaps one of my ancestors will want to start a fire. They'll find my life's work stuffed in the closet and say, "Hey, this would make good kindling." And who knows, they might even stop to read some of the millions of words I've spun over the past three decades and say, "Let's not burn this one, let's use it to wallpaper the bathroom."

That will be affirmation enough. And I accept the honor with gratitude.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Red Wheelbarrow

Entering 2011 I've found a plethora of publications in my mailbox that have published my work in 2010. In fact, there was more of this stuff than I realized, and some of the work I'd had accepted for publication, I simply forgot about. (I'm getting worse as the years go by and can now scarcely remember my name.)

I was pleasantly surprised on Friday to receive a copy of The Red Wheelbarrow, a university literary journal (California? Can't recall...) that published one of my stories entitled, "Dead Languages". I wrote this story some years back, had forgotten about it, but reading it again over the weekend, I thought I did a decent job writing this mystery story.

My story was also published alongside some other better-known writers (but any hack is better-known than I am). And at the end of the publication, among the other author bios, I found that I had written a single sentence while the other writers in the publication wrote entire treatises on their backgrounds, upcoming work, and the many awards they had received. I said simply, "Todd Outcalt writes books and magazine articles."

I'm not adept at these things. What should I say?

Next time I get an acceptance, I'm going to submit the following for my bio. If any editor publishes this, I'll eat a donut in his/her honor.

Todd Outcalt writes daily hunched over a dim 40-watt bulb, which corresponds to the wattage of his ageing brain. Soon he will have no recollection that he ever wrote the story in this publication and the editor should send his $30 check to his next-of-kin. He is working on many other projects but can't recall the titles.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Darn Tootin'

I enjoyed reading Pops, a recent biography of Louis Armstrong written by Terry Teachout. I've always enjoyed Armstrong's music and reading this biography I discovered a man who certainly broke down many racial barriers in his time and in his own unique way. This biography also opened up a new world with regard to Armstrong's music and his contributions beyond the trumpet.

Of course, not playing an instrument myself, reading about such a gifted musician left me wanting and wishing. Why did I give up the trombone when I was thirteen? Had I stayed with the music program, I could be sitting around the living room even now playing my own rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" or "Hello, Dolly!" Too bad I only play cards now.

I'm always jealous when I encounter gifted musicians. They seem so blessed and full of the spirit. Me? I'm fortunate if I get positive feedback from the dog. I don't make much music and it's difficult to look inspired while lounging on the couch typing this blog and eating nacho chips and chocolate covered donuts.

Nevertheless, I'll keep listening to Louis Armstrong and his gravely voice. He makes me feel so good.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Writer's Block

More than thirty years ago, while taking writing courses at Indiana State University, I recall a session with a visiting writer who discussed the phenomenon of "writer's block." As I recall, there was a question regarding a student's inability to get started on a book, and the visiting writer made the point that writing is mathematical. "Write every day," she said, "and your consistency will produce."

I've never forgotten the advice and have, for the past thirty+ years, approached writing in this same vein. If a writer writes, then there's no such thing as writer's block. If a writer writes every day, as a writer should, then the circulation of words, thoughts, ideas, outlines, and vision never clogs . . . the output is consistent and unrelenting. Witness John Updike in his humble office space over a New York restaurant, smoking endless cigarettes (which I would not advise for creativity), and writing hour after hour with no end in sight. Picture Tolstoy in a Russian park, watching the peasants, notepad in hand, writing away or making notations on his novels and characters.

There will be challenges to this consistency, of course. Some writers have wives who want to know, "When are you knocking off for the evening so we can make whoopie?" (It never actually happens but it's a great thought.) Other writers have sons or daughters who ask, "Why do you waste you time writing books no one is going to buy?"

There will be challenges.

But writer's block? Can't happen. Won't. Not as long as the writer writes . . . every day. And in no time flat, a writer, taking this lesson to heart, will turn out a book every year, two books a year, four, eight, or even twelve (a book a month).

Just do the math.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 6000 Hits

Yesterday I noted that this blog has now had 6000 visitors or "hits". Is that significant? Does it matter? What the heck is a "hit" anyway? My brother used to hit me. People takes "hits" of Tequila. Boxers hit each other. Why all this "hitting"?

Six thousand. 6000!?

I feel like I've been punched in the gut. Where have they come from? Who are they? Where do they go after they "hit" me? Can I hit back? How hard can I hit? Can I take a hit of Jim Beam while others are hitting me here?

6000 hits? Pete Rose didn't have 6000 hits. Mark McGuire didn't take 6000 hits of testosterone. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson didn't take $6000 to throw a game.

6000 hits? I'm gonna tell my momma: "Somebody hit me!" My dad will tell me not to take a hit. "Hit 'em back," he'll say. "Protect yourself."

6000 hits? Should I be satisfied with these hits? Should I hire someone to get me more hits? Should I find a hit expert? Is there a hit agent?

Does 6000 mean this blog is a "hit"?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Writer's House

A couple of weeks ago my wife and daughter toured the James Whitcomb Riley house in Indianapolis. They returned, offering me insights as to what a "real" writers house should look like. But evidently, Riley didn't own the house people tour today . . . he stayed in the place rent free.

Okay, but as for me and my house . . . I'll offer the following as staples of a writer's residence.

A Good Writing Desk
I don't have one, but that's beside the point. A writer needs a space to call home. Mahogany looks prestigious by the way. I, on the other hand, write at a pressed-particleboard desk, a kit that I put together out of a box twenty odd years ago.

A Great Writing Chair
I don't have one of these either, but a comfortable chair is essential. Otherwise, a writer ends up looking like me: slumped over and poor-posture. I gave my wife a message-chair for Christmas, so she could write in comfort in her office. Me? I'm still hunched over trying to concentrate with a 25-watt bulb hanging from a string.

Shelves With Lots of Awards
I have lots of shelves. I have no awards. Well . . . I do have the basketball net from the 1969 8th grade county tournament and my "Most Improved" varsity basketball trophy from my sophomore year of HS, but I can't display these. They are in a box in the closet next to my stuffed chipmunk collection. But a writer needs awards so that others will enter the home and say, "You won a Pulitzer?"

A Coffee Pot
I've got one, it does double-duty. Someday I hope to exchange it for a dictionary.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My "New" Author Profile

Recently I've noted that many authors have been padding their profiles with information about "works in progress." For example, last month I read one magazine essay that included an author profile that included the phrase, "He is currently working on a novel." And another profile read, "She hopes to publish a short story collection and is working on a biography."

This is news to me. Or perhaps call me Old-Fashioned. But do I really care about the potential writing that an author might produce, or what an author could write if he gets lucky and bags a contract? Such coulda-woulda-shoulda profiling strikes me as presumptuous and day-dreamish. Naturally, for an author under contract . . . yes, I do like to know that David Sedaris is finishing a book that will be published in March of 2012. That's actual news, real stuff. It's going to happen. But writers who feel obligated to tell me about what they hope to write? It's not real. Tell me about it after you've succeeded and the check is in the mail.

Nevertheless, I do feel obligated to let people know that if this new trend is catching, I fully intend to play it to the hilt. So . . . here's what people ought to know about me:

Todd Outcalt is currently working on projects that make his wife very excited. In 2011 he intends to write something she will actually read. Mr. Outcalt has written many books, sure, but who reads 'em? I mean, really? That's why he is excited to formally announce that he intends to write a new novel in 2011. He will write this novel a) if he has nothing better to do b) if he can drink enough coffee c) if enough people write to him requesting this novel. Basically, you can expect to see the same old crap from this guy in 2011, but watch for some really amazing s*** in 2012. It will take him a year to wrap his head around the concepts, and to prepare his office for the heavy workload of writing 50 pages a day, but he intends to do this. Really, he's going to do it. He means it this time! And don't forget to buy copies of this authors backlist. He's got several books that make fantastic shems for those shorter table legs and one or two of his books burn like sagebrush if you need kindling for your fireplace. Anway, he's going to write some new stuff in 2011 and he just wanted you to know about it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Year of Yes

I've decided: 2011 is going to be the "Year of Yes." I'm expecting publishers to push forward through their fears and publish more books. I'm expecting magazines to open their pages to idiots like me who send in material "over the transom." I'm hopeful that I'll hear from many editors who will say "yes" to my proposals, essays, and various submissions.

Already, I'm seeing the signs. I just received a "yes" from an editor who wants to publish one of my essays, and my agent is anticipating having a big year with my material.

I'm also going to say "yes" more often at home. When my wife is bored and needs something to do at home, I'm going to suggest several activities that involve her. I also plan to say "yes" to some new Hamburger Helper recipes and "yes" to some new ventures that might press me outside of my comfort zone.

And, of course, I'll still be saying "yes" to Ball State and Indiana University for another year. "Yes", I will send Ball State massive amounts of money. "Yes", I will continue to feed the coffers of Indiana University so they can hire another football coach (Lord knows those guys need to eat). And "Yes", I will take my Tylenol PM at 1 a.m. each morning so I can forget what I did during the day.

It's going to be a great "YES YEAR".