Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reading to Learn

There are two reasons I read: enjoyment & learning. Reading for enjoyment is probably my greatest compulsion, but when there is learning involved too, it's a double-feature.

I enjoy reading any book, on any subject (especially on matters of ignorance) and have always tried to read widely in disciplines ranging from history, science, sociology, psychology, biography, health, business, and leadership . . . among others. I find as I get older, I read less theology and church-related books. I think I had my fill in seminary and besides, the more I read in these areas the more I am inclined to agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes: There is nothing new under the sun and of the making of many books there is no end.

I read very little church-related material that is thought-provoking, edgy, or stirring. (There are, and continue to be exceptions . . . but I find these are rare.) This may be my bias or lack of reading deeply enough into the mix, but I'd rather read a book about the creation of the periodic table than I would a book about Understanding Galatians for Today. Hopefully I understand Galatians enough to read it,but I don't know much about the periodic table. My mind is open and I'm eager to learn new things in new disciplines.

Nevertheless, I'd challenge anyone to read more in those areas that are lacking in their knowledge base. Certainly, if you don't know the books of the Bible, or haven't read it lately, better get crackin' on the Good Book. Read more theology and study guides. Attend a study. Talk about what you've learned.

And if you don't know know much about James K. Polk, or the discovery of helium, or the invention of ice cream, or the composition of fertile farm land . . . I'm sure there are plenty of titles that could elucidate on these matters and a million more.

Excuse me now while I read a bit about John Milton, followed by a few pages of a physics book about momentum, mass, and the employment of safety features in automobiles. I need to learn something new.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Wave

I'm reading Susan Casey's fascinating book: The Wave. This book was published before the Japan Tsunami, but brings some fascinating science and human interest stories (surfers looking for the "big one" etc.) to bear upon the growing threat of the rising ocean tides. People can continue to debate global warming and the reasons pro/con, but the scientific community and the surfer dudes have known for some time now that the ocean waves are getting larger and more powerful. There are some big waves out there!

Science doesn't understand all of this, but as Casey's book enlightens, the oceans could never be controlled and even with our best technology and ingenuity, we are at a loss (humanly speaking) to stem the tide of these waves that can, and will continue, to wipe out entire coastal towns and maybe even smaller countries. Scientists are doing their best to understand why two ocean liners per week (per week) disappear into the depths without a trace, and what tidal forces beyond on comprehension are taking them under. Last year there were more tropical storms, worldwide, than at any other time in recorded history, and the numbers continue to grow.

I like this book, but it's a frightening read . . . makes me think twice about going on a cruise again, though I'll never have a hankering for surfing after reading about the massive waves of Oahu or the Australian pipeline. This book might do for the beach what JAWS did for ocean resorts . . . make people scared to go back into the water.

From now on, I'm only going to soak in the Jacuzzi tub in our master bedroom. This is enough wave for me. And if my wife wants to join me in the bubbles, I'll inflate a raft. Can't be too careful these days!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I don't know why I had forgotten about this book. Perhaps it was because I wrote it so many years ago, or because it's not the kind of book I wanted to remember. Or then, it could be because my mind just doesn't work like it used to and I actually didn't remember.

But back in 1993 (or was it 1994?) I wrote a small book of crossword puzzles for a game company. It was one of those game books you can find at the supermarket checkout line . . . one of those books your droop-stockin grandmama buys to pass the time while she's watching The Young and the Restless or screamin' at grandpa.

A friend of mine had given me a floppy disk for Christmas that contained software for a crossword puzzle -creating-program. I found it fascinating and, for a couple of months it seemed, I became obsessed with creating crossword puzzles. I eventually gathered together a stack of these things and sent them in to a crossword book publisher. They took the lot (as memory serves) and paid me something like $5 per crossword puzzle (with no by-line). I thought I was rich and would end up making my living as a pastor/crossword puzzler.

Hell's bells. What was I thinking?

Anyway, the book was published, I saw it at the checkout line in the supermarket for some weeks while I was in Evansville. I'd be shopping at the Piggly Wiggly and would sidle up next to an older version of my wife and say, "Hey, lady . . . you wouldn't happen to be lookin' for a little fun tonight would you?"

After being hit in the head with a purse, I would go on to point out that I was actually trying to seduce her into purchasing my book. I'd pick it up off the little rack, the book poised there next to the candy bars and the National Inquirers. "Yeah," I'd say, "I wrote all of those crosswords. Sexy, huh?"

Once I explained myself and my creative gifts, the women always flipped. They shelled out $2.95 for the little book and often asked me to sign their copies, and I liked to imagine them taking me home, them sitting in their squalid little living rooms smoking a cigarello, sipping Jim Beam, and dreaming of the guy who created all of those incredible puzzles.

Well, a writer has to imagine. Otherwise, creating crossword puzzles is much too nerdy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

4 Hours & 100 Pages

On Sunday night I spent four hours navigating 100 pages of writing. My wife was completing her portfolio for her administrative licensing and asked that I read, edit, and comment on 50 pages of material . . . some of the most boring and disinterested material I've read in months. I did my duty and line-edited the entire manuscript, then sent my congratulations to my wife in the other office by yelling, "Great job! When you gonna knock off for the night?"

But I wasn't finished.

I topped off the evening by completing a new book proposal that I'm entitling, Legends to Live By. It's a great work, if I do say so myself, and at fifty pages, it's a rather hefty book proposal as far as proposals go. Surely there's an editor out there who will be impressed by the sheer weight of this proposal. The editors may not like what I've written, but they'll have to be impressed by the quality of the book I hope to write. By the time my wife screamed back, "When you gonna knock off for the night?!" I was already nodding off, long past the residuals of the coffee and black licorice afterburn that had carried me for some hours.

Another Sunday night. 4 hours. 100 pages. 1 60-watt bulb. The sound of computer keys and dripping faucet.

Anyone want to trade places with me and experience a really boring life?

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Over the weekend, while watching some of the exciting NCAA men's BB games, I began making a comprehensive list of my editorial contacts at magazines and publishers. I was astounded. I know more editors "inside" the publishing industry than I first believed.

It was like finding a little black "date" book full of names, addresses and phone numbers of the women I used to date.

(Actually, I never had a little black "date" book full of names. Becky was the only woman for me and the only one I ever actually dated. My "date" book would have been blank, except for some doodles of Becky that I would have drawn on the inside cover. Becky can confirm this in case you have questions about my imaginary "date" book.)

Of course, after I had completed my list of editorial contacts, I had to contact some of them. I did. And lo and behold, I actually received an email yesterday from an editor who immediately accepted one of my satirical pieces for publication. "I love your stuff," he wrote. "Wish you would contact me more often. Call me."

This is exactly what all of those women would have told me before I was married. If had dated them.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Poetry of Dr. Williams

Last night, during the NCAA men's basketball games, I perused The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams until 1 a.m.. Williams was a medical doctor his entire career, but became known as one of the premier poets in America soon after the turn of the century. His spare poems on daily observations and household items were, for better or worse, his signature, and his poem on the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain, a classic that most people have read.

A few weeks back I received word from the editor of The Red Wheelbarrow magazine (named after Williams's poem) that they would be publishing some of my work, such as it is. I'm no William Carlos, but I write a fair amount of poetry on domestic life. Here's one I wrote a couple of years ago about refrigerator magnets . . . you probably have these, too, and can identify with my observations.

Refrigerator Magnets

Clinging to the stainless steel
Sides of my refrigerator
The magnets congregate, congeal
In herds of calendars, or

Friends who love their photos taken.
And here my wife sticks odd reminders
Of recipes that I'm to bake in
The oven. My children paste rejoinders

To questions I had posed so long ago
My memory has faded, and all
We share are pizza hotlines and so
Many numbers we don't call.

The coupons hang like flat bananas
In bunches long ago expired,
And concert tickets that my son has
Purchased clutch the steel like tired

Chaperons on boring dates.
And on the tiny blackboard, see:
My wife sends love and contemplates
The strength of our polarity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Travelin' Man

Some weeks ago I began reading The Best American Travel Writing (2009) edited by Simon Winchester. I enjoy both travel and reading travel, and have written a fair amount of travel writing myself for such magazines as AAA Midwest Travel and Kayaker. Often, I write while I travel, and frequently find myself taking notes in restaurants. I write on the back of napkins or save my receipt and use it as a notepad. I've got enough receipts with notes on the back to write a book.

The travel writing in Best American, however, is another breed. There are great pieces in here about such esoteric experiences as looking for a missing penis in Sudan or observing a corn harvest. (Don't ask me about the missing penis piece, you just have to read it to believe it.)

My travel writing is much tamer by comparison to most of these high-brow artsy-fartsy Winchester selections. I enjoy writing about sunsets and sunrises, trying to describe the beauty of mountains, or offering opinions about the various wines I taste. Obviously, I don't know what I'm doing, but as long as someone out there values my opinion, I'll offer it.

This summer my wife and I plan to travel to the northwest and hike Mt. Saint Helen and Mt. Rainier, as well as drive an extensive wine trail. I'll be writing as I go, carrying notepads and ball point pens in my backpack.

Naturally, we have to be in shape for a trip like this. One of the trails we plan to hike has a high rating for Grizzly Bear sitings, and a few people have actually been eaten while walking this trail in the past decade. I don't plan to get eaten, but I'm sure I could sell a travel article to Outdoor Magazine if I could witness someone else being eaten. I'll keep my eyes peeled for this and other unexpected opportunities for turning out a great travel piece with some gore. I'll be in slightly better shape than my wife so I can outdistance her . . . just in case.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get to the gym. If I'm going to be writing all of these travel pieces and running from Grizzly Bears this summer, I'd better do a couple hundred calf raises, five hundred crunches, some squats, and twenty minutes on the elliptical. I'll take notes and make my travel outline while I sweat. I'm also going to buy some pepper spray.

It's a long way from here to Portland.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tin Man

A few days ago I began an online conversation with my literary agent (thanks for all you do, Cynthia!) and informed her that I had written another book that she had not yet seen. I told her about a book proposal I wrote nearly ten years ago that is still stored inside one of my floppy disks (just gotta find it among the hundreds!) and as soon as I told her about that one, I thought of two others that are also growing mold on the hard drive of my 1995 Compaq . . . this computer that often belches fire through the monitor.

Bless her. Last night she wrote back informing me that, heck yes, she'd love to see this ten-year-old book about Ancient and Medieval Legends. Perhaps she can find a home for it. And then she wrote, "I'm amazed that you are still finding books that you've written. You are a writing machine."

Me? A writing machine? Aw, shucks! If I only had a heart.

I'm not sure about being machine washable . . . I rarely wash my clothes. Things have to get awfully ripe around the house for me to notice. But I do approach writing much the same way an accountant might work with tax returns or a taxidermist might look at a dozen dead gophers. I'm mathematical in my approach, and I consider each day an opportunity to stuff another page full of words . . . hopefully good words. If I'm writing humor, I aim for the funniest or wryest wit I can muster. If it's a historical essay, I aim to write my research well. If it's an article on, oh, say "Dealing with Difficult Parishioners and Where A Pastor Can Send 'Em" . . . well, I make sure there's a magazine out there who would appreciate my suggestion of Siberia or Kentucky.

Anyway, you get the picture. Mechanical.

My wife's been complaining about me for years, of course. She claims I'm mechanical in my romance, too. But I take exception to this. All she has to do is oil me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Low Maintenance Writer

I enjoy my limited conversations inside the publishing industry, and recently I was privy to a rant offered up by a literary agent (not mine!) who was lamenting the "high maintenance" writers she works with. Well, I'm not one of them. In fact, I'm so "low maintenance" most people wouldn't even know I exist, and I've got a lot of loose wingnuts.

High maintenance writers are those who, typically, call their agents several times a week to "check in" or who make demands upon publishers and editors that are unrealistic. Many regard themselves as "artists" of the pen and regard their work as superior to the pig-Latin works that others compose.

Me? I can go for weeks (even months) without a single conversation with my agent. No one has to tighten me down or keep me on an even keel. I don't expect caviar. In fact, while I'm waiting for word on a book proposal or a story or an essay, I'm usually creating two more. No sense waiting and wasting time in expectation. Better get jiggy with it.

My wife knows I'm low maintenance also. And I'm married to a low maintenance woman. Our children are low maintenance, too (for the most part). I can go days, weeks even, without speaking their names.

My wife understands that, if the laundry doesn't get done on the weekend, that's okay. I can go months wearing the same T-shirt and sweat pants for my workouts (and frequently do). What's the point of doing a wash if I'm gonna sweat in these clothes anyway? I still write on a 15 year old computer with floppy disks. And I haven't demanded a meal in months since my wife has been in night school after teaching a full day. She doesn't complain about my cooking either, and we've now cycled through the entire corpus of Hamburger Helpers. And listen, if I don't have hamburger, I cook the box anyway. She doesn't notice. She's too tired. So am I. My son opens cans and lives on the same protein supplement I consume by the pounds. He's learned to love it. He stopped complaining when he was twelve years old and realized I wasn't listening.

No, I'm not high-maintenance. And as for the editors out there, most of them have a difficult time understanding why I keep sending them work even though they've been rejecting me for decades. But the way I figure it, one of these days they'll get tired of working with the prima donnas, the caviar-eaters, the Lexus-drivers, the delicate artists . . . and they will want to work with a sweaty, can-eating, socket-wrench like me.

I won't demand a thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Halftime Reading

I've been reading my first Kindle book during halftimes of the NCAA basketball games: The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson. I'm rather spellbound, and the Kindle can even read the book to me (aloud) in the event my eyes grow tired.

I'm no Gene Peterson, but I have been especially taken with Peterson's seminary experience at New York vs. mine at Duke. Like Peterson, I went to Duke with the expectation that I would continue studying for a Ph.D. in Biblical studies, but like Peterson, ended up a parish pastor instead. Peterson, like me, was immediately taken in by Semitic languages, and he spent much of his seminary classwork engaged in reading Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Arabic, and Syriac texts. That was me, too. I studied small, squiggly lines for some six years, including my undergraduate years, and ended up doing quite well with Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac especially. But it was not to be.

I can still read the Semitic and Greek languages aloud, but I can't do a lick of translation work. I haven't used the languages in decades, and all of that hard work in the seminary has gone to pot under a tsunami of sermons, weddings, funerals, counseling sessions, teaching, and meetings, meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Oh, and did I mention I've had a lot of meetings over the past thirty years? Sometimes, I feel I've spent my lifetime in meetings.

This, unfortunately (or fortunately?) is so much a part of the pastoral life. Table talk. Conversations. Pencil pushing. People pushing. It's all part of the equation.

Still, when my daughter Chelsey was in first grade, we fathers were invited to come to the classroom so our children could introduce us and talk about their father's jobs. That morning I met lawyers, doctors, and salesmen who were introduced by their children with clarity and aplomb. "My daddy makes people well," one little girl said of her doctor father. "My daddy sells lots of cars," another child gloated.

When my daughter introduced me she said, "This is my daddy, and he is never home. He goes to lots of meetings."

As Eugene Peterson makes clear in his excellent book on the pastoral life, it's a tough gig. Long hours, low pay, and the many stresses associated with the human condition are part of the daily grind of pastoral experience.

But as Eugene says, he's glad he answered the call to do God's work. So am I. Even though the work might eventually kill me and I won't live long enough to write a book about it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor . . .

Advertising continues to change the face of publishing, as there is an ever-increasing array of ads in the back of books; and in digital formats, one usually has to slog through banners, videos and pop-ups designed to grab attention before one can read the blog, article or story. I've even seen advertisements asking the question: "Who will sponsor YOUR blog?"

Hey, who is going to sponsor this blog? How come no big-name advertisers have offered to paste their name across my photo? I need some help here!

That's why I would like to formally announce that I'm open to advertising. Not just my blog, but every piece of my life.

I've got a 1991 Caprice wagon that could be painted with a banner ad. Heck, I wouldn't even want any money for the ad, I'd just let some dork paint it by hand to improve the appearance.

I've got two shoulders that don't have tattoos. Surely there's a business somewhere that would like to inject some permanent ink into me. I'd charge for this, but the advertiser would know the ad was going to be there for a long time. Of course, the ad would be rather seasonal and would only appear when I wore a wife-beater T-shirt or when I was mowing the yard, but still, we're talking major market share, and this would get me outside more often.

And as for this blog, I'm surprised by the lack of advertising. The only thing I ever push on this blog is my wife (Benny Youngman: "Take my wife, please!"). But she's not going anywhere. Maybe I should paste her photo more often if I want to snag a sponsor. After all, she's a lot more attractive than I am and she doesn't complain.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Let the Games Begin

For all intents and purposes, the NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today (St. Patrick's Day to boot!). The games are beginning.

And speaking of games, I started another game of my own yesterday when I sent two new book proposals to two separate publishers under the moniker: "For Your Consideration." This first step of the connection always requires courage and conviction. Who would want to read a book like this? I ask myself. (Particularly in light of the fact that no one has read my previous 20 books.) Why would I want to write a book like this? Am I going mad? I must be out of my mind!

These interior conversations are, indeed, nightmarish . . . but at least I have the courage to undress myself in front of an editor and say, "Here I am . . . tell me what you think, but be gentle."

It's a game. Really. That's what this enterprise is in its essence. It's about rolling dice, and plucking cards from a pile, and moving around the board hoping that someone will land on my property and want to buy it. Or at least they will owe me some rent.

But listen, just once in my life, when it comes to writing books . . . I'd love to roll doubles. It's always fun to have a go again, and I feel like I'm always in jail.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Check is in the Mail

This past week I made a phone call to check on the sales-report-status of one of my books. This report was long past due, as were any royalties I would be owed by the publisher.

Upon finally reaching Nirvana at the publishing house, I was informed that, based upon the total sales figures for my book the past 18 months, I would soon be receiving a check for $9.50. The woman at the publishing firm informed me of my royalty windfall with such bravado and excitement, for a moment I thought she was telling me I'd won Power Ball. "And the check is in the mail!" she exclaimed.

$9.50. This total gives me pause, and is one of the reasons I'll never tell my wife . . . it's best I keep secrets such as this. Such a life-shattering windfall of profits is one of the reasons my wife continues to ask: "Why do you waste your time writing all these books?"

I see her point. But the way I look at it, all fifteen people (and the one Labrador) may have benefited in some way from purchasing the book, and I'm expecting any day for my book to catch wind and begin to sell like hotcakes. Next year, I'm expecting a check for $15.00. I've already made plans to buy a package of undershirts. Mine currently have yellow armpit stains from worrying about royalties.

This is the story of my writing life, and it bears telling . . . especially to warn other would-be-writers of how lucrative writing truly is (NOT!), and how investing a hundred hours of one's life into writing a book can result in being able to purchase a Happy Meal at McDonalds. It usually doesn't get any better than this . . . but it can get a whole lot worse. Sometimes, the result can be $0. Been there and done that, too.

And I expect to do it again tonight. Just call me a glutton for punishment. That, or I'm one of the stupidest and most gullible men on earth.

You can ask my wife for her opinion after I bring her the Happy Meal.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Madness

Indeed, this is March Madness . . . and the insane humor of this blog is heavy with the world's suffering. Earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, radiation, starvation . . . these very real madnesses are ever-present, basketball or not.

I've found myself writing some reflections on these horrendous experiences, but even so I often turn to humor to compensate for the insanity of the world in which we live. In fact, people through the years have asked me why I write so much humor when I could be writing otherwise drab, depressing, and serious fodder. My answer: I laugh to cope and to hope. So . . . I trust that this blog won't make light of the world so much as it will lighten the world we often carry on our shoulders. I need to write this blog for my own sanity, and I hope to bring a smile to others. I'm inviting you into my warped world of reading and writing. But I also invite you to find healing in laughter and the hope that your life is much better than mine!

Yes, I'm praying for the people of Japan (and many others) and my heart is heavy, but I'm still trying to smile and make some good happen where I can, trying to remind people that God is good, and is our rescue, strength and provision.

I'm also trying to wrest a basketball away from Michelle Knight, who claimed the victory in the NCAA Calvary office competition last year (and I didn't even pick Duke to win, and they DID!). This year, I'm picking Duke (and they likely WON'T). Still, I've got the RIGHT brackets this year and I know that deflated Wilson basketball will soon grace my office bookshelves.

I'd better win. If I don't, I'm gonna throw one heck of a fit. That, or I'm gonna buy myself a basketball.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back to High School

Today I noticed my son's high school literature book on the kitchen table (my son's favorite place, where he eats upwards of fifty pounds of food per day and some $300 a week in groceries and still growing!!!!). The book brought back memories of my own adolescent forays, many of which also combined food and literature.

When I was seventeen, I wasn't in love, but Becky was one of my best friends. Well, she was alright. She was the only girl who was nice to me. We took all of our English classes together and during my junior year I gave her a ring which, by the end of our junior year, she had returned to me because she couldn't stand the sight of me and wanted to date some other loser. I was reading American literature at the time and may have been influenced by Mark Twain, so I wasn't in my right mind. If I'd been reading Dostoevsky at the time, I may have done something unthinkable like asking ______ for a date.

Many of the books I read in my high school literature courses impacted my life deeply. Many of the English teachers in my high school helped to transform my life. I'm not kidding. If not for them, I may never have started writing poetry to Becky and capturing her heart. If not for those high school literature courses, Becky might still regard me as a zit-faced jock who only enjoyed making love to a basketball. Of course, this is impossible, as is making love to a 50 year old woman, but that's beside the point.

I'm just glad my son's literature book is in the house. It's awakened all kinds of memories. And I can't wait to have some literature discussions with my son. He won't value my deep knowledge, of course, but at least we can discuss questions like: Why did the teacher assign this junk? and Do they still make Cliff Notes?

They do . . . and I've got tons of 'em. I've been taking Cliff Notes on my wife for years and I still haven't figured her out. And now I'm waiting for the movie.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Losing My Marbles

It's been some weeks since I've written anything worthy of publication. Most of my writing has been sloppy, half-witted, slovenly in effort. I've been thinking about the reasons for this downturn in my output and have come to the following conclusions:

I haven't been writing much these days
I've been lifting a lot more barbells
And during this time when basketball plays
I feel like I'm losing my marbles.

I don't concentrate on the word or phrase
I get very sloppy you see
And during this very depressing malaise
I've become mediocrity.

I need an editor, I need a friend,
To shake me and casually say:
"Get back to the keyboard, bring this to an end,
Quit watching the NCAA."

Friday, March 11, 2011


A few months ago, when I was reading the preface to Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome, I noted that this was a book that King had started years earlier and then set aside. Essentially he had scrapped it. Somehow, he redeemed it from the trash and rewrote it.

There is an important lesson here. Many writing projects hit a dead end or don't materialize. Some books get sidelined when more powerful ideas emerge or when other deadlines loom.

Like most writers, I have mountains of material in various stages of dress and undress. I have projects that I started years ago that still interest me. I have new pieces of writing that start off like gangbusters but then peter out. The wisdom a writer needs is knowing when to sit a project aside, when to keep at it, and when the scrap others or even burn them (press the delete key!). It's a dicey game, but one worth learning.

Not long ago my wife asked me about a story that I had written years ago. I couldn't remember the story at all. I asked her to describe it. The title, even, eluded me. It was a lost cause. Somewhere among the boxes of floppy disks and stacks of manuscripts, the story had become scrap.

Could it be redeemed? Possibly. But I'd have to find it first.

I'm at that stage of life where I can no longer remember my own name. I often call out to my son using the dog's name. My daughter is "that girl at Ball State." My wife is a woman I sleep with (on a good day). And come to think of it, we might even have a cat. I don't think my son is the one using the litter box.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Person

The voice of a story is a key consideration, especially for fiction. But when it comes to writing biography, I've always found it difficult to write in the first person.

Last night I received word from an editor that some of my work was going to press, but that he lacked a suitable bio for me. "Please write your bio in the first person," he said. "And tell our readers who you are."

Well, I wrote two sentences about myself, but felt like a dork. He loved it, though. "Perfect," he wrote in an email reply. "This suits our magazine wonderfully."

Really. I wish I could take back what I wrote. I hate telling lies, especially about myself, especially in Lent. I should have written the following:

I really don't have much to say about myself, although there are words that might describe me: mediocre, odd and bumbling come to mind. My wife might add odious. I'd like to be able to say that my work is on the bestseller list, but no. Most of my writing moulders in a closet and is currently being used by rats to nest. Few read what I write, and even fewer buy it, and I can't imagine why anyone outside of the relatives who love me would find any redeeming value in it. I would like to point out, however, that most of my work can be found in Half Price Books on the remaindered tables and an even greater percentage is currently out of print entirely. My wife doesn't understand why I continue to write, and sometimes she pistol-whips me. My writing will never be in the Smithsonian and I doubt my kids will want it. In fact, I'm amazed you, the reader, are actually reading this bio right now. Haven't you got better things to do?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Lately I've been lethargic in my writing . . . and that can only mean one thing: I'm out of shape. And so, this past Monday, I made sure I was the first person in the gym. I was there when the doors opened at 5 a.m. I busted my gut. Sweated. Then treated myself to a donut.

It's a life you have to lead to appreciate . . . coming home to write in the aftermath of a strenuous workout, along with the daily reminders that I ain't what I used to be and, at any moment, I could throw out my back, pull a hammie, or otherwise dislocate some important piece of anatomy.

Still, a writer does have to stay in condition. The mind works better when the body and spirit are in harmony and have been nourished on warm dough and hot coffee. I'll drink water after I die.

My winter doldrums have also seen my weight shooting back up toward 220 pounds. I'm much stronger, but with spring approaching I plan to slim up again when the sun starts shining. I may make this my Lenten goal, to give up these pounds while adding pounds on the barbell.

I've also gathered a sizable stack of writing goals on my desk: plans for books, essays, stories, poems, articles, blogs, clips, and quips. I'll get to them . . . one by one.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


A few weeks ago I wrote to an editor at Duke University Press. The subject: a biographical/historical project I've had in the works for over two years. Writing to this editor, I felt a renewed kinship to the University in Durham and could picture myself exiting out of the Divinity School doors onto the lawn immediately in front of the towering chapel, sunlight on my shoulders, hair half way down my back, bearded, looking quite like Jesus.

My letter to the editor pointed out that, in addition to being a Duke graduate, I'm also rooting for the Blue Devils in the upcoming NCAA (though it will be an equal opportunity to root for Indiana State, Purdue and Butler). I tried to write a cover letter that would elicit some interest in my book, but have yet to receive a response. Perhaps I should add:

Dear Editor,
Please accept this work into the Duke Press mix as, the winter here in Indiana has been ****. You can't believing how depressing it is to live in a state where 90% of the days are overcast and gray. Yes, I remember the blue North Carolina skies (and yes, I know all the jokes about God being a tarheel!). Still, even a little thing like having this work accepted by Duke University Press would keep me from jumping into the White Lick creek near my house. I wouldn't drown, but I'd probably break a leg . . . so as you can see, I'm serious about this.

So, let's get down to business. What'll it take, buckaroo? I've got a piece of the 1991 NCAA championship floor that I'd be willing to donate in exchange for book publication. (Yes, Bobby Hurley or Christian Laettner may have actually pivoted on this chunk during the championship game.)

I've also got Duke mugs, place mats, hoodies, T-shirts, photos, books, doormats, mouse pads, and photographs that I would be willing to trade for same.

Let's make a deal. You've got my contacts . . . I've got what you WANT.

All the Best,
A Guy Who Once Owned Season Tickets to Cameron Indoor

Monday, March 7, 2011

Editing Ozzie

It's a little known fact (except to our old high school classmates who want to claim friendship with us) that my wife's nickname in high school was "Ozzie". Becky's maiden name was Osburn . . . and hence the reference. When she married me, she didn't have to change her monogrammed sweaters or signature cheerleader outfits. (By the way, honey, where is that cheerleader uniform? See if it still fits some evening!! Can you still wave those pom-pons?)

Becky probably got the nickname because, it was during our high school years when Ozzie bit the head off a bat on stage during one of his concerts. This might also explain, in part, what has happened to him. Doesn't rabies reduce the brain to hazel-nut size?

Recently I've been editing my wife's papers or, "working with Ozzie". It's a dizzying undertaking. There is the first reading, followed by a series of questions, where my wife quizzes me on what I just read and wonders if my editing skills are lackluster. "Does this paper make sense?" she'll ask. "Aren't you going to make any changes?"

Of course, I tell her the papers are already perfecto . . . no need to change anything. This makes for a happier marriage and if I want to criticize, I'll yell at the dog. That's what pets are for. God created these creatures to cower and hide under the couch while term papers are being read. They can sense the tension in the atmosphere.

As for Ozzie . . . I'd much rather spend a day biting the head off of bats than I would making my wife upset. I'd take rabies any day.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Kindling a Fire

I've now had two lengthy discussions about the Amazon Kindle (thanks Jennifer and George). Yesterday, I ordered one.

My hopes for the Kindle go beyond portability and reading. I am planning to use the Kindle for sermon notes (and delivery?) as well as notations and filing. I'm also hoping to flaunt the Kindle in social settings, pulling it out of my pocket with a flourish while standing next to the caviar table and announcing that I'm halfway through The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and good Lord, I'm loving it!

I may also use the Kindle to appear more intelligent than I really am. Any electronic device, I think, lends an air of sophistication to my trailer-park mentality and I hope to carry the Kindle with me when I shop at Wal-Mart. I'll use it to double-check my grocery receipts while others stand in line and whisper, "What's up with this guy, ma and what is that he's holding? It ain't a bomb is it?"

My friends will be impressed, too. Their jaws will drop. And I expect beautiful women to make a pass at me. I can pretend to take their phone numbers and program them into the Kindle while they stare in utter disbelief at my technical savvy.

I'm mostly looking forward to impressing my wife. She's easily impressed, and more easily distracted, and I could see myself bringing the Kindle to bed and opening up the little night light while I read Madam Bovary or D.H. Lawrence. I could also read selected portions aloud from the Song of Songs in a James Earl Jones voice.

No doubt, my wife will want a Kindle, too. But I'm not certain about this. Frankly, I picture us as a one-Kindle home. We don't want to get too advanced, and we still want to feel that we can talk to the clientele in Dollar General.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wanted . . . A Few Facebook Friends

Every writer hopes for readers, and Facebook now seems to be a prime source for this blog. Still, I'm 25 "Friends" shy of the 300 mark, and so I thought I'd elicit this ad seeking two-bit friendships. Here are the type of friends I'm looking for:

Anyone Named "Al"
I'm short on "Als" and I know few people by this name. If you're Al, please befriend me. I'd love to have an Al as a friend. I've got plenty of Bobs and Marys and Jims. Some of these Jims are also Slim. I like Al.

Additional Gorgeous Women
All of the women who are my Facebook friends are gorgeous, including my wife. But I do enjoy showing my wife various photos of my gorgeous Facebook friends. I sit by my wife at night and say, "See, here are the type of women who want to be my friend. Ain't they pretty?" If you are a man who thinks you are gorgeous, please don't reply. Although, if you have other redeeming qualities such as "industriousness", "mental acumen", "a keen sense of humor" or a "fully stocked wine cellar" go ahead and apply. I don't have to know you to love you, but guys please don't send a photo. Women . . . befriend with your best photo.

I'd love to have a billionaire friend. We don't have to hang out together that much, but I would be open to sailing, jetting to Cancun for the weekend, or working behind the scenes at your next Fortune 500 convention (I make a great lime punch). We won't talk about money that often, but if you would like to endow a poor writer like myself, I won't be offended. Oh, and if you know Oprah personally and can get me some tickets to her next "Favorite Things" show, we could make a weekend of it. I'll take some vacation days.

Secret Shoppers
I don't think I've ever met a secret shopper. But I'd love to have one as a friend. Might answer some of my questions: Who are these people? Where do they come from? What do they look like? Could I be standing next to a secret shopper right now? Could this friend get me a great deal on a used Volvo?

Someone Who Has an Umbrella
I never carry an umbrella and am always getting soaked. It would be nice to have a friend who is prepared.

I don't understand why my mother doesn't want to be my friend. I thought we had things patched up. Mom, I love you. Befriend me. The ball's in your court.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Martin & Marty

I'm reading Martin Marty's biography of Martin Luther (part of the Viking biography series) and learning a great deal about the 16th Century Reformer, not all of it savory. As the be speckled Marty (a famed Lutheran scholar himself) points out, Luther was a man of his time, and we have tendency to judge people through the lenses of our modern sensibilities.

But Marty does a decent job of holding up Luther's strengths and weaknesses to the light, examining these from all angles, and doesn't hold back from offering his own biographer's insights along the way. Luther, in many ways, was an enigma, and like John Wesley's thought and movement in England two centuries later, Luther was neither a systematic theologian or a man without his own weirdnesses and hangups, particularly with the ladies.

It has been many a year since I'd studied or read Luther with any depth, but this thin biography has served to resurrect some latent memories from my church history seminary courses which were led by none other than Dr. David Steinmetz, himself a famed Lutheran and good German to boot. Being a Methodist, I have always found the early Methodist leaders too rigorous and humorless for my sensibilities, but Luther puts these persimmon-sucking circuit riders to shame. Talk about a depressing figure, and constipated in more ways than one.

Luther's theological reformation, however, did reshape the church . . . and his insistence upon salvation by grace alone cannot be overstressed in its categorical shift away from the practices and beliefs of the church in his era. We might say that Luther saved the church . . . including the catholic church, but that's another story and opinion perhaps.

Considering Luther and how he worked out his own salvation and theology, it is difficult to shake the figure of this priest sitting on a latrine for hours, struggling against hemorrhoids and constipation, railing against God and the pope, and hoping against hope that he might some day bed a nun and write erotic poetry. His dreams came true.

God help me . . . I live a boring life, and the black licorice keeps me regular.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Mileage Deductions

One of the "perks" of being able to claim writing income on my tax return is the ability to deduct my business mileage associated with writing. I don't have much to claim in 2010, as I didn't travel all that much for writing purposes. However, I did keep my writer's mileage log up-to-date last year and could legitimately claim the following on my 2010 return. These deductions could save me all of $5.95 on my taxes . . . just enough to buy a vanilla latte at Starbucks (the only indulgence I give myself through a long year of losing money in this writing game).

Sorry federal budget and Washington politicians, I know I'm not pulling my weight to reduce the monster deficit and debt, but if you ask me nicely (heck, I wanna hear you BEG for it), I might not claim these mileage deductions and you can deduct my $5.95 tax savings from the deficit. I'll make my own vanilla latte and you can vote yourselves another pay increase.

February 2010
Two round trips to The Harrison House in Indianapolis (Deleware Avenue) to meet with archivists and historians who kindly gave me full and unencumbered access to the Presidential library. I'm still writing articles from these research forays and hope to return again this year.

June 2010
Three book signings in various bookstores, the longest journey a round-tripper to Terre Haute, Borders, Honey Creek Square Mall.

July 2010
Round trip to Avon, IN to purchase printer toner and writing supplies. On the way home I stopped at Dairy Queen and bought a medium-sized hot fudge sundae (which I won't write off!). No additional mileage was accrued on the odometer for this ice cream pit stop, but I sure did enjoy getting a "free" taste. This year, I hope to write an article about Dairy Queen and write off all of my various treats, including a Peanut Buster parfait and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard. Hopefully, I'll be paying taxes on my magnificent royalty check from a major magazine and can write off all of this cholesterol so I can pay my health insurance premiums.

September 2010
Various treks to libraries, bookstores, and interview sites. I also met a few people to talk about writing some grants and picked up a few lunch tabs. If it were possible to write off this food, I would have ordered filet mignon, but as tax regulations have it, I ordered a measly side salad and ate the free basket crackers loaded up with a ketsup garnish. I did pocket two Equal packets on the way out, however, and felt guilty afterwards. I don't even use Equal. Why did I take 'em, Lord?

Possible travel "write-offs" in 2011: Europe would be nice, especially Greece, where I could write an article about the deficits there. I'd also like to do more with licorice. Anything beach-related. And, of course, sex. But as my wife reminds me . . . that ain't free.