Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Infinity and Beyond

Over the Memorial Day weekend I carted two books across the state . . . one of which was The Year's Best Science Fiction, eighth annual collection, edited by Gardner Dozois. I have now twenty of these volumes, representing 20 years' worth of the best science fiction, or some 12,000 pages of material that now spans a couple of bookshelves in my home office (can anyone say "Kindle"?).  

I read a few of these stories sitting on the back deck of my in-laws' house, sweltering in the heat.  But it was very enjoyable and refreshing, especially as a counter to the insane amount of rain, overcast skies, and dipsy-doodle days we have experienced of late.

My niece also gave me a demonstration of her new electronic device . . . The Nook . . . which is the Barnes & Noble counter to the Kindle craze.  It's a touch screen device, a rather futuristic application that can do quite a bit more than read books.  But the Kindle has the capability of being read in bright sunlight (or on my in-laws' back deck) while The Nook screen would simply be washed out in the bright sunlight.  Okay, that's why I brought a book with me.

I'm still making the transition to the electronic book . . . but I'll probably have to make the transition faster.  Bookstores are going the way of the Do-Do bird (Borders is bankrupt, Barnes & Noble stores may be bought out by a billionaire who wants to turn the mega-stores into digital playgrounds, and Amazon has announced they sell more digital books now that paper and ink versions).

What this will mean, of course, is that publishers will raise their prices on electronic versions of books . . . watch for this soon.  I guarantee a price hike!  The gap between paper and digital is going to shrink.

The future is now.  I'm still looking for my Spock ears. 

Say, is that guy still alive?  Wonder if he still believes in the Prime Directive?  And what is that, anyway?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ground Work

I appreciate, at long last, digging into The Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2008, edited by Jerome Groopman, M.D.  The book has been sitting on a shelf for three years. This anthology was eclecticly-blended to include hard-science essays on physics and astronomy as well as fun reads on forensics science (ala CSI), robotics, mathematics, African game preserves, malaria, Islam (conflicts with science), and genetics . . . among others.  Many of these pieces originally appeared in such magazines as National Geographic, The New Yorker (which publishes a surprising number of science features), Scientific American, Outside, and even The Los Angeles Times

But I was most surprised to read the essay, "First Churches of the Jesus Cult" by Andrew Lawler . . . a piece first-run in Archaeology and detailing the first-century church that has been uncovered at Tel Megiddo (Armeggedon) in Israel.  Archaeologists and scholars disagree as to the significance of this find, but when I read the essay, one name popped off the page.

Suddenly I was reading about Eric Meyers, one of the pre-eminent scholars and archaeologists working on the site, and my mind raced back to Duke, where I sat in Meyers's class (2 of us) one spring and studied Talmudic Hebrew.  The course was nearly an independent study, since Dr. Meyers frequently met with me one-on-one.  Our study of Talmud (in Hebrew of course) was heavily weighted toward the Pirke Avoth tractate ("the sayings of the fathers") and as I recall, the final exam counted as 100% of the grade.  Meyers met with me in a dark corner of his office among his Jewish chotzkies, handed me a tract from the Talmud, asked me to read it in Hebrew, translate it, parse certain words, and then offer my commentary and opinion (just like a real Yeshiva boy would) on the text.

I was either engaged or married at the time, but I do recall coming home from the class smelling of library books and dust, my hair long, dreaming of joining Meyers on an archaeological dig in Israel or at least getting an A in his class.  (He gave me a B+.)  Becky would also ask me, "How can you stand to read all of this Hebrew?  When, really, are you ever going to read the Talmud?"

But back then, Greek and Hebrew (along with Aramaic and Syriac and even some Arabic) was my forte.  I loved languages.  I was proficient with them.  And for a time I had designs to get a Ph.D. in Semitic languages or Hebraic studies.  But God had other plans for me (why we'll never know, folks!).

I did eventually get to Israel on an archaeological dig (ancient site of Beth Shemesh) and spent part of a summer near Jerusalem and the Golan Heights driving around on my own looking at ancient rocks and dodging minefields (really!).  But I do thank Eric Meyers for his good work in my life and for inspiring me to read the small blackened lines of another tongue (right to left). 

I can still read Hebrew (though I have no idea what I'm reading) and as for archeology, I only do it now when my wife instructs me to dig a hole.  She loves to plant flowers.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Aldersgate Poem

This past week was not only "Heritage Sunday" for United Methodists (celebrating UM history and the future), but the commemoration of John Wesley's Aldersgate experience was also in the mix mid-week.  John Wesley, of course, was not only the "founding father" of the Methodist movement in England, but he also looked funny in a wig . . . which may also account for why he had so many problems with the ladies.  Really . . . what woman would want to date a guy who smelled like horse manure and spayed white flour into his hair?

Nevertheless, one of my friends described John Wesley this week as a "bad ass".  This was a compliment.  John Wesley took on some of the most overwhelming social evils of his day (mid-1700s): including child labor, slavery (in England and the American colonies), poverty, ignorance, and "cold" religion.  One of my favorite Wesley quotes is attributed to an encounter Wesley had with a fellow was said, "Mr. Wesley, God doesn't need your knowledge of Greek, and Hebrew and all of your book-learning!"

To which Wesley responded, "How true, sir.  But God doesn't need your ignorance either!"  Nice comeback, Johnny boy!

About a year ago I wrote this poem commemorating John Wesley's Aldersgate experience (where he went to a church meeting, heard someone reading a commentary on Romans written by Martin Luther, and felt his heart strangely warmed by Christ's love and received an assurance of his salvation).  I wasn't wearing a funky wig at the time I wrote this poem, but if my wife wanted me do something different or if she wanted me to look like a younger man, I might be willing to shave my chest and dye my hair.  I'm sure Wesley would have had a better marriage if he'd done this!

John Wesley at Aldersgate

Tired and weary in the truth or
Spurred by duty's firm estate
Mr. Wesley learned from Luther
Late on night at Aldersgate.

None proclaimed the kingdom missal,
Holy sang, or set apart;
Dry the words of the Epistle
That strangely warmed the faithful heart.

And from the boredom of a reading
Heaven opened, faith returned,
And fanned a flame for Christ exceeding
Stained glass walls, and bricks . . . and burned.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not Mad Enough

I thought I was Mad.  But evidently, I'm not Mad enough.

At least that's the indication from the editors of this classic magazine to my recent submissions, five in total, that spanned the gamut from satirizing politicians to cooking shows.  "This is Mad," they told me, "but not Mad enough."  But how do I up the ante?

Writing satire is one of the things I do best (I think) . . . I sure do miss my Wittenburg Door on this count.  I miss satirizing religion and the church, in particular.  Politicians and pastors . . . it's like shooting fish in a barrel. 

I could so easily satirize Harold Camping and his "rapture" theology, but quite frankly, he's much too easy to poke fun at.  The end of the world didn't occur on May 21?  Well, he just miscalculated, and now we have to wait until October 21, when the real thing is going to happen. It's just too bad that Camping won't be around much longer to satirize.  Since he's 85 years old, I guess he's hoping he won't have to die to see the Lord. 

Not Mad enough?  There's zany, wild, incredibly ridiculous stuff that passes for Christianity every day.  And if we don't laugh at it, it's just too sad to believe.

In the meantime, I'll just keep writing satire whenever something tickles my funny bone.  Help me, Alfred!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What Time Is It?

Day, night.  Morning, evening.  It's all run together of late.  And what time is it now?  Early.  Or late. Depends on how you determine the starting point.

There are times when I get this way . . . writing at such a long and furious pace that I lose track of the hours, the days.  I've got so many books in-progress at present, it's difficult to remember which publisher is reviewing which book, or why.  I'm writing new books alongside older ones, and in between the cracks, I'm tossing in a few new stories to boot.

I'm not tired.  Yet.  But that's coming.  Eventually I'll hit that invisible wall, my energies will drop off, and I'll be a Rip Van Winkle for a day and actually sleep ten hours or so. 

Presently I'm steeling myself for a quick trip to the gym.  It's open now.  And if I can work heavy, push and pull on some weight for a few minutes, burn some calories, and then get back home, I'll have time to write for a bit longer while my heart rate is high.  Makes for a faster pace at the keyboard.

Heck, it's a hurried and fast-paced life.  Lots of people to see today.  Work to do.  Words to write.  How come I can't get that 25th hour into a day?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weird Science

From time to time I feel compelled to read science books, and my latest foray landed me smack in the lap of The Disappearing Spoon: and Other Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of World From the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean.  If the title alone isn't provocative enough, one doesn't have to read far in order to get a taste of the absurd and the quirky, courtesy of this excellent book.  Kean's stories here run the gamut from the hard science of discoveries attached to the noble gases, the base elements, and so forth . . . all the way to scientific speculation regarding the possibility of silicon-based life forms vs. carbon-based (our known forms of life here on earth).

As I recall, there was even one original Star Trek episode about some silicon-based life forms (rock-like-creatures) that Mr. Spock communicated with through his Vulcan mind-meld.  "Oh. . . . the pain . . . the agony!"  Don't always remember dialogue but I remember that one!

My own high school history with the periodic table and chemistry/physics features spit-wads thrown at the Hydrogen and Boron fields accompanied by two low "C's", followed by the great relief that I would not have to take any more hard science in college, but could concentrate my energies on writing love poems to girls.  As Robert Frost said, I chose the path less travelled . . . but one filled with a lot more fun.

Sam Kean would agree with me.  Helium (He), Oxygen (O), and Magnesium (Mg) might be fun to work  with theoretically, but they won't get you to the dance on Friday night.  You gotta have a hot momma for that, and as far as I know, she ain't on the periodic table.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dreaming of Sugar Plums

A few weeks ago I received another large shipment of used books and included in the mix was a copy of John Berryman's Dream Songs--a collection of signature poems that this troubled soul produced over his lifetime.  Berryman was a close friend to Saul Bellow, but not even Bellow could save Berryman from his alcoholism and his suicidal thoughts.  In the end, Berryman left behind this massive collection of semi-autobiographical poems, many of which contain references to "Henry", which is a personification of Berryman himself. I began reading Berryman thirty years ago in college and have continued to appreciate his many gifts as a poet eager and ready to describe the interior of the troubled mind.  Many of his Dream Songs are incredibly perceptive and emotionally charged.

Last week I had the following poem published in Satire & Commentary (thanks, Ron), though I'm not sure if this sonnet would qualify as an autobiographical work or one of satire.  I wrote it, as you will see, shortly after turning off the tube and realizing the TV was warping my mind. The older I get, the less TV I watch and the more I feel I can do without it.  Here's why.

Late Night TV

One night, restless with insomnia,
I turned the TV on and channel surfed.
For seconds at a time I sighed and cursed
And wavered between rage and paranoia.
The preachers were a frequency of greed,
The advertisements flaunting what I lacked.
The politicians, without truth or tact,
Revealed that there was no one left to lead.
And other pundits to the left or right
Tossed back their parting shots and asked for me
To trust that they knew truth and liberty
And were the path to follow through the night.
At last, in seeking sleep and mental health,
I turned the damn thing off, and found myself.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Drive

Some ten years ago I was asked to sign books for the publisher at the giant Book Expo (that year held in Denver).  The publisher agreed to pay for my hotel accommodations, though I did go broke on airfare and expenses getting there.  Still, it was an experience . . . much like having a root canal.

The day I signed copies of my book, I was paired in the booth with a celebrity whose best-seller was near the zenith of the charts, and the line at our table snaked all the way to Boulder and back.  When people got in the line they eventually received both a copy of my book and the celebrity's book.  Of course, people didn't really want my book.  They would step up, see me, and ask, "Who are you?" 

It was fun watching people react to the celebrity.  I saw men getting angry when they had to shake my hand instead of the celebrity's.  Women swooned at the thought of touching the celebrity's body.  Many acted as though they were old friends and could hardly wait to have dinner (what are you doing after the signing?).

I offered to have dinner with some of these people (since they offered to buy) but most of them just scowled and walked away to get in line again.  Just the thought of having another crack at the celebrity was enough to get most people to return to the four-hour long line.  I pointed out they didn't have to wait to get a signed copy of my book.  No one was amused.  And I actually wrote my book, while the celebrity's book was written by a ghost writer.  The celebrity, of course, had fake chutzpah, but couldn't write a coherent sentence to save his tanned little hide.

When it was all over I did have writer's cramp.  I was signing books so quickly the two hours went by in a blur.  The celebrity sidled up next to me and said, "I'm outta here!", as if he had just completed the most grueling two hours of his life and had to get back to his suite to take a bath and wash off the commoner scum.

Me?  I walked around the Expo and took mental notes on the nuances of humanity, watching and listening to people (that's how writers learn to write dialogue!!).  I breathed the thin air.  Later, realizing that the publisher was paying for my room, I checked in and ordered a drink and a can of macadamia nuts from room service.

Gotta get something out of the publisher.  They weren't paying royalties.  But I enjoyed every one of those nuts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Booked Up

A few years after my Knoxville book association experience, I travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to sit in a publishers booth at the Opryland Hotel.  It had rained profusely the week before and half of the parking lot was under water when I arrived.  At check in, I was issued a name badge and given a map that was intended to guide me over a checkerboard of catwalks to the booksellers area.

I pointed out the obvious: "It looks like I'm taking the long way around."

"Yes," the lady at the registration table informed me, "but you can't get there from here.  That part of the hotel is under water."

I see.  So instead of hellish heat I would now be contending with flood waters.

By the time I made it to the publishers booth (along with my box of books) I had lost all appetite for walking around the hotel or riding in the log flume boat that scouted guests around the lobby.  I just wanted to sign at get out.  Oh, if only there were people.

The fellow at the publisher's booth explained the dilemma.  "Slim crowd this year," he said.  "Too much rain.  People don't want to contend with the water.  You brought books to sign?"

I sat down at the booth and chewed the fat with this bad toupee for four hours while all of three booksellers, an agent, and one little old lady who kept asking, "Now, who are you again?" toured the premises in search of free books. 

In lieu of carting my books back home, I accepted a total loss and left the lot at the publisher's booth.  I did spend the night at the Opryland hotel, but the only channel I could pick up on the TV featured a looping retrospective on Conway Twitty and I ended up back down in the lobby near midnight walking around in a rented bathrobe.  I should have brought my toy boat and taken a bath.  No one would have noticed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Booked Solid

It's that time of the year.  The national booksellers conventions are beginning to bloom.  And just thinking about them gives me an allergic reaction.

I've been asked to attend a number of these over-the-top events throughout the years, and have represented publishers at conventions in Denver, St. Louis, and Knoxville . . . just to name a few.  And holy guacamole, do I have tales to tell.

Consider, for example, my trip to Knoxville. It was the summer of 1999, as I recall, and I set out in my 1991 Caprice station wagon (it was actually low-mileage and had air-conditioning then).  I had the wagon loaded with two boxes of books, which I intended to give away at the publisher's booth, and I had also been slated to speak at a workshop as an "inspirational" guru under the moniker: "Pastor, speaker, author, and humorist."

Naturally, I wasn't very good at any of these things.  People in my congregation would have scoffed at the notion of my being a pastor and especially by my audacity to actually claim the title of "Reverend."  Yes, I was on my way to writing lots of books, but "author" and "humorist"?  The only person I was able to make laugh on a consistent basis was my wife . . . and she only thought I was funny because of the way I looked or when I made suggestive comments or sexual overtures.  She still scoffs at the idea and rolls into hysterics whenever we have an evening alone.

But the problem with the Knoxville event in 1999, however, wasn't me.  It was the heat.  And I am not exaggerating one lick when I say, "It was hot as hell."  No, Knoxville was hell.  

The day I gave my talk, I had to trek from my car to an auditorium on the far side of the University of Tennessee campus.  By the time I arrived the sweat rings under my armpits had expanded to include the totality of my shirt and proceeded to expand down my pant legs toward my kneecaps.  I gave my talk in a two-toned suit, made disparaging remarks about Tennessee, and eventually had people filing out of the auditorium demanding their money back.  I was a hit.

I signed all of my books, eating all of the profits myself, but was so glad I didn't have to cart fifty pounds of books back to the car.  When I was finished, I stopped off at 7-11 and drank two of those Big Gulp four-gallon sized drinks, but I didn't stop to pee on the drive back to Indiana.  I was parched. Those purple Slurpees went directly into my blood stream.

Naturally, I don't have fond memories of my first book sellers convention or the University of Tennessee.  Every time I drive through Knoxville I tear up and tell my wife I almost died there.  "It was a hell hole," I remind her.  "You could have lost me."

And she, of course, scoffs at the very notion.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

Waiting for Gadot

From time to time my literary agent makes an appointment to talk to me (Thanks, Cynthia!).  Soon she will be traveling to New York to make the summer rounds, hopefully taking a few of my proposals in tow when she coffees and dines with publishers and editors.  And when I say it like that, it all sounds so high-falutin and upwardly mobile, don't it?

The fact is, when I talk to my agent today, we'll be discussing some specifics about a new book proposal I've been working on (and some ancient stuff, too) and she'll be asking me to rewrite the proposal with a fresh slant and aim.  Been there, done that.  It's old hat to me now.  And I'll be glad to do it.

Rewriting a proposal for publishers is not that much different than being married.  I'm always asking my wife, "What do YOU want?"  Sometimes she gives specifics.  Sometimes not. But it's always hard work trying to figure out how I can please a woman with six toes.  (I'm speaking figuratively here, but for your literalists out there, better go home and check your spouse's feet!)

Waiting for an agent to call is also difficult work.  I might be in the middle of another phone conversation, or a meeting, or even sitting on the john when the call comes in.  I've got to be ready to take the call (flush) and then pretend that, heck yes, this is a great time to talk and I was just sitting down to write another chapter, so holy cow this is uncanny!!  How the heck are, ya?! 

Naturally, because I live in Indiana, no one asks me if my agent has called recently.  If I lived in New York or L.A. this might actually be a topic of conversation in Starbucks, but around here most of the questions center on weather and appearances . . . .
What do you think of this cold snap, bub?
Did you see the size of the goiter on that woman's neck?

That's why literary agents rarely call Hoosiers.  Indiana should have it's own time zone.  Heck, we should be our own country. 

When my agent calls today, I'm going to have some fun with her.  I'm answering the phone in a Polynesian accent and saying, "Aloha!"  Maybe this will get us off to a great start talking about the possibilities for my book.  And then I'm going back to Starbucks to get another look at the goiter. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Royalty

Some years ago I read a collection of essays, each written by well-known authors, on the subject: Why I Write. Among the many reasons these authors gave for writing (including self-expression, exploration, or even fun), only one had the audacity to mention money.  "Actually," he wrote, "every writer hopes to make some money from his or her work."

Indeed.  The only problem is . . . most books (90% that are published) don't make money for the publishing firm or the author.  Only a select few actually turn a profit.

This is true of most of my titles.  I write 'em, but don't make much (or sometimes anything) from 'em.

However, a few weeks back I became suspicious of one of my book titles after noting the sales records from my editor and following the Amazon.com sales graphs.  The book should have produced some royalties, I reasoned.  And so I called the publisher to inquire.

Amazingly, I learned that the sales records for my book were a mess. Not only was the book listed under two separate titles, but the sales charts and royalty agreements were not even contractually consistent.  After much pursuance and repeated efforts, however, the publisher agreed that, by golly, they did owe me some cash.

Not much cash . . . but cash, nonetheless.  And this after months had passed from the time the check should have been cut.

Ahhh . . . such is the fine life of a mid-list writer. But it only goes to show . . . a writer must be his/her own advocate, keep detailed records, and must be ever vigilant with contracts.  The kings and queens of publishing don't watch over the subjects . . . and a writer must often be willing to joust with authority.

I've got those royalties now (and can give them away).  But first, a milkshake perhaps.  Or a hamburger.  That's about all I can afford with my windfall.

Friday, May 13, 2011


About fourteen months ago I seriously injured my right shoulder doing body weight chin-ups at the gym.  My personal physician and a sports med doc (minus x-rays) determined that I had a torn rotator cuff that would, in all likelihood, require surgery to repair the damage.  Not one to accept such terms, I continued to train around this injury . . . though a torn cuff most certainly can be felt while doing bench presses, back movements, or any arm exercises.  For the past year I could even feel the shoulder injury while writing, and for most of this time I could scarcely lift my right arm past parallel without pain.

Naturally, this injury affected nearly every aspect of my life . . . including shaving, showering, and even my fumbling attempts to put my arms around my wife (which I rarely do, but I don't like pain when I attempt it).  Last summer, while driving on Washington St. in Indianapolis near Circle Center Mall, I made the mistake of reaching for the glove compartment and immediately had a streak of pain so intense, I had to pull to the side of the road so I could catch my breath and restore balance to my senses. (I also cursed a blue streak . . . but hey, kids, you stay off drugs!)

And yet, God is good!  

Last week, when I returned to see my doctor for my annual checkup (at which time we again became intimately acquainted with each other and I was formally introduced to the doctor's long finger), the doc asked me about my rotator cuff.  "I have some minor residual pain," I said, "but the pain is more of a deep tightness now.  It's dull, not sharp and piercing like a knife."

"When did you start lifting on that shoulder again?" he asked.

"Actually," I confessed, "I never quit.  I've been in the gym 4-5 times a week for the past year and just kept lifting around the injury."

"Didn't you have pain?" 

"Excruciating," I admitted.  "Sometimes it would take my breath, but I kept going."

After some additional poking and prodding from the doc (and me fearing that our new-found intimacy would result in his asking me out to dinner and drinks following the exam) he said,"I'm amazed.  I've never heard of anyone doing what you've done with that shoulder.  But it would appear that you are healed."

Good old doc.  Good old God.  

But it just goes to show . . . God also helps those who help themselves.  I guess that's true of shoulders anyway.  But at my age, I'm also learning not to put God to the test.  You won't see me doing body weight chin-ups anymore.

I'm grateful for the doc's diagnosis and clean bill of shoulder health . . . but I don't really know how to thank him without giving the wrong impression.  I'd hate for him to show up at Starbucks wearing a rubber glove on one hand.   

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My New Schedule

I'm nothing without my routines:  coffee, early morning workouts, morning writing, fixing dinner for the family, mowing two acres by hand . . . it all adds up to a very boring life.  And now that Becky is back in school, taking her next night class that keeps her out of the house until 9 p.m. 2X per week (then coming home to grade papers and make lesson plans) . . . I've got more free time than usual in the evenings since she has a headache every night! 

Nevertheless, the first question out of her mouth each night when she greets me is: "What did you do today?"

What did I doDo?  What don't I do, lady? 

Still, whenever I tell her that her absence has offered me time to write, she never seems to consider this actual work.  She would prefer a more domestic use of my time, with mopping and sweeping and scrubbing closer to the core.  But heck, I barely give this much attention to myself, much less the house.  I'm just not that hygienic.  I use a lot of sprays and moisturizers in order to be presentable in public.  

If my wife asks about my day tonight (when I see her around 9:30 p.m.) I'm going to give it to her straight.

I rose early . . . I drank the cold dregs of the coffee she made earlier (she usually rises before I do!!), I drove to the gym to lift and grunt and sweat . . . I wrote for an hour (including this blog) . . . I then did the Lord's work, visiting in the hospital, making plans, helping out, stomping fires, contemplating scripture and saying prayers on the fly . . . I also sweated off two pounds of water in my station wagon with no air and no ability to lower windows . . . I returned phone calls and emails . . . I came home to cook peanut butter sandwiches . . . I screamed at the cat . . . cleaned puke . . . read a chapter in a book and wrote more weird tales.

"How was your day?"

Absolutely boring!  How was yours, dear?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Bunch

Many things happen in bunches.  Like bananas hanging from a tree limb, the writer tends to grab hold of more than one idea or concept at a time . . . or at least I do.  I tend to write in great sweeping forays, with intermittent periods of famine or drought.

Nearly every week someone asks me, "What are you working on?" or "What are you writing these days?" 

I don't always have an answer, as most of the time I am working on so many projects at once, it's tough to narrow the scope to a single piece of fruit.

But, in the interest of offering an answer today, here's a brief review of what I've worked on in the past two weeks:

An old book proposal on legends that I have resurrected from one of my slush piles.

Poems:  one of which was accepted for publication in a satirical journal.

A science fiction story entitled, "The Diver"

A book proposal I've entitled, Laugh at First Light . . . a humorous, devotional I hope can help people begin the day with a Biblical concept that will bring a smile.

Various essays.

Yes, I've written bunches . . . which is why I always watch the floor for banana peels.  I don't want to slip on what I've created.  I can't afford to break a hip.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nuts & Bolts

Someday I hope to attend an annual event in Hawaii.  It's called, The Maui Writer's Conference, and consists of a gathering of writers and presenters who, under the guise of education, attend workshops on the beach while eating loads of pork and pineapple.  The next time I have four thousand dollars in spending cash, I'm booking my flight and packing my thong (gotta buy one first).

Taking a writer's workshop in Maui is a bit like booking a marital workshop on a cruise ship and calling it a marriage retreat.  There's more flesh than fodder, and there's a good chance the "big name" writers who grace this event will be speaking briefly so they can hit the beaches.

Some of these workshops in Maui have titles like:  "Writing the Memoir" or "Strategies for Book Marketing" or "Approaches to the Best-selling Novel."

Naturally, if I do get invited to be a presenter at The Maui Writer's Conference, I'd have all of my expenses covered and could eat all the pork I could hold.  I might also take my wife along for an event like this, but could obviously ditch her at the hotel if there were other babes in the vicinity.  (I'd fly home solo, but that's a chance every writer takes.)

As for what type of workshop I could offer, I think my areas of expertise could be:
"Writing a Bunch of Books that Never Sell and How to Feel Good About Yourself in Spite of It"
"Ten Poetry Styles That Will Make Your Wife Swoon"
"Where to Find Remaindered Copies of Your Own Out-of-Print Titles and How to Know if You've Paid Too Much For 'Em"

Let me know if anyone else wants to attend this conference with me at the helm. We'll car pool to the airport and share parking fees.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Here's Looking at You, Kid

After a recent barrage of emails and correspondence from Ball State informing me of my daughter's status (senior), I couldn't help but reflect on her writing and leadership successes.  In addition to being university President for Free the Slaves, and organizing a very successful forum at the university on the topic of slavery and lost children (which some 165 people attended), Chelsey also submitted an essay to the planning committee for the upcoming Harry Potter Convention at Universal Studios, FL.

Her paper was accepted and she is now one of the speakers on the docket, conducting a workshop on the topic of world slavery and child traffic in particular.

As I reflect on my own college years, I can see that my daughter is far ahead of where I was as a writer (when I was 21).  Yes, by the time I was 21 I was seeing my work published and was also receiving payment for some of it, but my writing then was no where nearly as crisp, well-positioned, or articulated as her own.

At 21, I was well on my way to writing the type of warped fodder that would make others laugh.  I was reading my insanity aloud at coffee houses and stand-up comedy stages, among other places, and those experiences were invaluable.  But I learned that humor is one of the toughest forums in which to work, and, all things considered, it's best to laugh at one's self first before trying to make fun of others.  That's why I often write in the nude.  It's helpful to have a visible reminder that the emperor wears no clothes and there is no place to hide behind bad writing.

While my daughter was having her paper accepted, this past week I did have another humor essay accepted by a satirical journal . . . I seem to be able to crank out at least one loaf of insanity each week.

In the meantime, let me congratulate my daughter on her successes . . . and extend to her the hope that we might one day work on some books together.  Until then, I'll dress warmly and hope that my mother sends me some new underwear very soon.  I'm getting chaffed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Take My Advice

After reading Best Advice, edited by William J. Carl, I've come to the conclusion that good advice is hard to find.  These 30 essays, all written by "leading pastors and preachers", is an eclectic array of advice on preaching, teaching, and pastoral life in general.  However, I personally found most of the "advice" in this book to be predictable, pedantic, and so completely stereotypical that I found myself rebelling against it from the start.

In my book, only two essays made my cut:  John Buckanan's excellent essay entitled, "Why Stay in the Church?" (why would any pastor stay in the church and why do I stay?) and James Howell's "Don't Take My Advice", in which he informs pastors that all advice on ministry is essentially bogus and he has nothing new to offer.  I love him for this advice and honesty, and for not buying into the stereotypes about preaching and the pastoral life that most of the other "expert pastors" seem to buy into.  I've spent my lifetime (I hope) rebelling against pastoral stereotypes (how pastors talk, act, create, live, eat, drink, etc.). 

I read this book, but I won't read it again. 

If there is any pastoral advice I would offer to other younger clergy out there it would be some of the following:

Don't let others (not family, and especially, not the church) dictate how or why God has called you to lead, preach, or creatively represent the gospel of Jesus. 

Don't ignore yourself, your family, or your friends to the exclusion of dying for the church . . . you can die over the course of your lifetime, but you'll need your health, your family, and your friends for the good of your own soul.

Do what you do best and don't try to be someone you are not . . . nobody respects a fake.

And finally, always call your mother on Mother's Day.  I did.  She's sending underwear!

Friday, May 6, 2011

New "Author" Photos

It was strongly suggested to me recently (from authorities greater than myself) that I have a new batch of author photos taken . . . post moustache.  Point taken.  And toward that end, I've been considering where these photos will be snapped and how much I will pay for them.  (Publishers want a "standard professional author photo" . . . whatever this means.)

I've been considering something along the line of an Austin Powers portfolio, especially since it's been eight months since I shaved my body for my birthday photos and I've now got more fur on my chest than Tom Selick or Mannix.  But I've never seen an author photo with the caption, "Yeah, Baby, Yeah!" or "Oh, behave!"

I've also been considering the formal pose . . . with sport jacket and tie, maybe even a dark suit and a power color . . . but I'm afraid I would look too much like a politician and then no one would believe a word I say or would simply laugh at me behind my back.  (Well . . . people do that now, but at least I know when my wife is laughing at me.  I can hear her under the bed covers.)

No, I think I'll opt for a business-casual approach.  Jeans, perhaps, with a classic white T-shirt and a blade of grass between my teeth.  I'll look like Jed Clampitt, but then, I'm from Indiana and I'm used to being called a hick.  I've put up a lot of hay bales in my time.  I might even spool a live snake around my neck for this photo, so readers will also see my warm, but courageous and macho side.

In the end, of course, great author photos don't mean diddly . . . unless there are books published.  I can take the photos all day.  But there never seem to be enough hours to write the books.

CLICK.  (Groovy, baby!)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Are You Hip?

This will be the last of the excerpts from my unpublished children's book, One Strange World.   (At least for awhile.)  Hope you have enjoyed some of the nonsense. I'll close with a page about a hippie who doesn't smoke weed.  I've been preaching that message to my kids for decades now . . . just say "no" to drugs.  Must have worked.  My daughter won't even take an aspirin and my son is a health food junkie and workout nut (he begins lifting at midnight, and sometimes we work out together and have a pile of protein afterwards).  

All you kids out there, listen to your parents!  Don't get into illegal drugs or prescription painkillers or alcohol.  Get into the legal stuff like caffeine and black licorice and the Netti Pot.  You want to clear your head, do it over the sink or vomit in the backyard . . . old school.

My Hippie Friend

I  met a hippie
Along the road.
He carried a backpack.
He walked pigeon-toed.
He said, "Groovy, man!"
"Dig it, baby!" and "Cool!"
And I do believe
He he had dropped out of school.
His hair was long,
His clothes were bright,
His language was hip,
But he was polite.
He didn't smoke grass.
He didn't get high.
He played funky music,
Then he said, "Goodbye."
And when he left,
Away he strode,
And kept on hipping
On down the road.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Horse Sense

As a kid, I had a horse, of course.  Most children like the idea of riding a horse.  I never allowed my children to have a horse, of course, since we didn't have the space.  Naturally, I did have to include a horse poem in One Strange World (one of my many unpublished kid's books).  I like this drawing, too.  Of course.

Old Ink

Here's my horse, Old Ink.
I've led her to water
But I can't make her drink.
I guess she's not as thirsty
As I think.
She's stubborn
And set in her ways, Old Ink.
She just sits here
By the kitchen sink
And doesn't bat an eye
Or wink.
She's not as thirsty
As I think . . .
Old Ink.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sticky Business

Naturally, you are growing weary of reading excerpts from my unpublished children's book: One Strange World.  But I must press on. Some of you might need a laugh today.  Since death is in the news, here's a page about the death of a horse . . . well, the horse that died to make the glue.

What's In Glue?

What's in glue?
There are bugs
And slugs
And pieces of shoe.
Old dough
Cold butter
Swiss cheese
And snow.
Lizard lips
Old veggies
Tree sap
And chip dips.
And ketchup
Jam and jelly
Peanut Butter
Hippopotamus belly.
Maggots and mites,
Ticks and fleas,
Dollops of honey,
Stingers from bees.
It's all in there:
Old things and new.
Aren't you glad you know now
The stuff that's in glue?

Monday, May 2, 2011


Here's another one from One Strange World . . . for all the teenagers and night owls and nappers among us. My son would read this one, but doesn't rise until one p.m., and he goes to bed at five in the morning.  I'll attach it the poem to the refrigerator door and see if he remembers it. 

Sleeping Late

I ain't
In the habit
Of sleeping late,
But if I'm up 'till ten
I might just sleep
'Till nine o'clock
Before my day begins.

And If I'm up
'Till one or two
(That's a.m., not p.m.)
I might get up
At half past noon
If I should take a whim.

But if I stay up
The whole night
And never sleep a wink . . .
I'll probably need
Two days and a half
To feel really rested . . .
I think.