Thursday, June 30, 2011


Last week I brought Gail Sheehy's book, Menopause: The Silent Passage, home to my wife.  I also took the liberty of reading the book before she did.  "Did you learn anything?" she wanted to know.

"More than I bargained for," I said. 

Naturally, many people may want to know why a young, virile guy like me would be reading a book about an old woman's passage, but Gail Sheehy herself answers this question in the book.  She writes:  "Most women are frustrated because the men they love are not informed about menopause.  Most women, if they are honest, admit that they wish their men were more supportive and informed about the silent passage."

Hence, the reason I read this book.  As I told Becky:  "I'm breaking the silence on your passage!  I'm all about support and understanding, sugar.  I'm knowledgeable, informed, and empathetic to the ways of women and what you must endure.  And, by the way, when are you gonna get off your duff and cook dinner?"

Gail Sheehy understands.  She gets me.  After all, I'm going through manopause . . . that male stage of life when a guy has to act his age, when he begins to sag in all the same places his wife is sagging (and more) and when a man looks into the mirror and sees the end of days and realizes that his life has been built on nothing but Snickers bars and a few leftover pieces of drywall he purchased on sale at Lowe's.  Manopause is that stage of life when a guy can smile and tell his wife, "I understand what you are feeling, honey, and I'm right there with you.  And by the way, can I turn up the thermostat just a smidge?"

Gail Sheehy writes an informative book.  I recommend it to all my old man friends.  This one is a classic.  Once a man reads about menopause, he's set free.  He understands that his life will now become a series of reservations at restaurants and weekly trips to the pharmacy to pick up Ben-Gay and various lubricants.  He mows the yard more frequently and takes cold showers.  He begins to study photographs of his great-grandfather in order to ascertain how bald he will become and how sedentary his life will be once he has 24-hour access to Netflicks.

That's the very heart of manopause.

He understands his woman.  But she just doesn't get him at all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


It is a rare thing, but now and again I do receive personal invitations from editors.  Usually these are invitations to submit to an anthology or collection of some type.

Such was the case yesterday when I sent an essay for consideration in an upcoming anthology about writing, which is ironic, since I happened to have an essay about the many changes that writers have had to endure over the past five years.  I hope the editor likes my thoughts on the matter.

As a general rule, I don't receive many invitations.  I have few friends (even fewer who want to admit they know me) and when most people have parties, bashes, and festivities they rarely think of me as being the life of the party.  I'd just bring a 2-liter of Pepsi and a bag of Ring-Dings and most people could not endure the embarrassment . . . especially my wife.

"We have to bring something nice to the party," is what my wife usually says.  "Pepsi doesn't cut it."

"I bought a bag of chips, too," I point out.

"The expiration date was two weeks ago," she says.

"They probably won't open the bag anyway," I tell her.  "That's why we should have brought the Ring-Dings. Everybody likes Ring-Dings, or Pork-Rinds, and they never go bad.  A year old Ring-Ding is no different than a fresh one."

Editors are like party hosts.  They invite writers to a party and later they decide which submissions they are going to open and enjoy.  But I'm not sending these people caviar in silver tins.  I'm sending them half-eaten bags of stale Ring-Dings.

Hopefully, this editor is the type who doesn't have an aversion to eating an M & M off a hotel room floor.  It's a high traffic area, but chocolate is still chocolate.  What doesn't kill you just makes you stronger. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I now have my Kindle loaded with three new books . . . all in waiting to be read during my vacation next week.  One of the freebies I have it Moby Dick, a book I read twenty years ago, but could stand to read again.  I hear it is a classic.

It is amazing how much the Kindle can hold.  I have not yet begun to load it.  It will probably break long before I reach its storage limit.

When I was a teenager, I was a master at getting loaded . . . mostly at loading hay wagons. I was frequently the guy everyone chose to stack the bales on the wagon in Tetris-like arrangement.  The bales had to be tight, and they had to stay in place until they could be unloaded in the barn.

This summer work, loading hay wagons, you just don't see any more.  I wish my son could have this experience of working in long-sleeved shirts (so the forearms don't get scratched to the point of bleeding) in the blistering sun until the hands, arms, shoulders and back scream for relief.  Putting up a thousand bales of hay in one day would also toughen the spirit, bring kids together in a common goal, and often send them home with plans to play football later.  Instead of stopping off for beers, we'd stop off at the market and each drink two 32-ounce RC colas fresh out of the ice chest.  We were skinny as rails, but we'd still lose ten pounds of water weight working in the sun all day.  We had farmer tans.  We talked about girls.  Some of us had one.

I don't see teenagers working these jobs today because they don't exist . . . but I'd put a group of teens to work any day if I had a farm.  I wouldn't let them call their mommas, and I'd bust their butts in the sun, and afterwards, I'd give them lemonade to drink.

Might even be reading my Kindle while I watched all of this.  I hear the Kindle can be read in bright sunlight.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Self Discovery

This morning, at the mailbox, I opened a small package that contained a literary journal.  On the cover I noted my name.  And inside I found a poem that I had submitted to the magazine months ago and which, I suppose, had been accepted for publication.  Too bad I don't remember sending it to the editor or receiving the word about its inclusion.  It was like discovering myself.

I'm getting too old, too fast.  The only saving grace is, the poem, a sonnet, wasn't half bad.  If I had not written it, I would say it was a great sonnet, a fantastic sonnet.  It's average.  And it's in print.

I did revisit my card file (my ancient record-keeping system of 3 X 5 index cards in a handy-dandy rusted metal box) to check on this poem . . . but, alas, I didn't remember to write down the title of this one, nor where or when I had submitted it.  But then, I have hundreds of poems out there, and I'm bound to miss a few . . . it's just percentages and the rate of attrition.  I might have even learned about this in physics or statistics, but I don't remember this lesson.

Now, my next concern is . . . where do I put this journal in case I want to do a tear sheet on it later or include this poem in some collection at a future date?  How can I assure myself that I won't misplace it?

I'll just put this journal in the great pile with my other published material.  I'll do this as soon as I find the pile. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What's the Big Idea?

Every few months it is important to plan the big ideas.  I've spent the bulk of the weekend writing, among other things:

Sermon plans through January 2012
A Stewardship brochure
An outline for yet another book proposal

Ideas, of course, don't actually come in light bulbs.  I find they usually arrive from reading, from song lyrics, from conversations, from silence.  In short, they just show up unannounced.  Some of them are like unexpected guests.  You let some of them in the door.  Others you turn away.  A few of them you send down the road to the neighbors or you put them up in a hotel.

Being one week away from a vacation, I'm trying to put aside the big ideas for a few days.  Take a rest.

Don't want that light bulb to pop!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shopping for My Wife

There is a Goodwill store a block from our house, and I often take items for donation to the center. I also shop at Goodwill.

Last week I stopped by for a glance through the books and found some treasures . . . all first editions, no less, and mostly hardbacks.

I picked up John Grisham's, A Painted House and The Broker, and also slipped out of the store carrying three books for my wife, including one of Gail Sheehy's books on menopause.  The woman at the register gave me a funny look, as if to ask, "Are you going through the change, buddy?"  But I cut off this thought and made some comment about the weather.  "It's a hot one, ain't it?" I said.

This, of course, only served to convince her that I might be having a hot flash.  I dabbed at my brow, handed her a soggy twenty, and then added, "I've got an old wife at home."

This seemed to satisfy, but did raise the question that every man has asked at one time or another:  How does a husband buy personal items for his wife?

Answer: Very carefully . . . and with great humility

I'm not sure when I'll be returning to Goodwill to purchase more books.  I think the cashier took my photo and placed it on the "Most Wanted" bulletin board.  I think the workers who receive the donations are laughing at me.  I see the way their eyes light up and the corners of their mouths crinkle.  I may shop at Kohl's next month.  I have, after all, plenty of underwear.

When I go back to Goodwill to peruse the book section, I'll be sure to purchase the kind of titles that will restore my reputation.  Titles like:

Images of WWII
The Guide to Home Repair (for Men Only!)
Using Power Tools: Heavy Ones That Can Reduce Limbs to Pulp If You Are Not Careful
How to Reset a Toilet By Yourself (From the Macho Man Series of Time Life Books)
Lifting Extremely Heavy Objects Clean Up Over Your Head
Writing Love Poetry to Your Woman

Come to think of it . . . I may leave that last title off my list.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Clarke Bar

One of the largest books I have tackled in recent weeks has been the 1000 page, The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.  Clarke, along with Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, were long considered the holy trinity of science fiction/fantasy writers in the 20th century, and Clarke's most famous book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, became something of a cult classic once Stanley Kubrick put it on the screen.  Clarke was also the Brit among the Yankees, and taken as a whole, Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke were truly exploring new territories of the mind.

I began reading Clarke in grade school, but I'm glad to be able to pick him up again now in my later years and peruse his entire corpus of short work.  The book should be considered a lifetime achievement award.

Early in his writing career, when many critics considered science fiction and fantasy to be a form of escapism, the young Clarke was able to secure an audience with the ageing C.S. Lewis, who had by then made a name for himself, more for his fantasy and science fiction writing than his books on Christianity, and ask, "Why are so many Christians bothered by fantasy, magic, and science fiction?"

To which C.S. Lewis replied, "The only people who should be opposed to escapism are jailors!"

Clarke certainly sets the bar high, as he is perhaps the most "scientific" of the old triumvirate.  He writes hard science, better even than Isaac Asimov, and his shorter work spans the range of physics, astronomy, mechanization, energy, and chemistry.  But he is not beyond a bit of sword and sorcery either, if he wants to make a point.

I'll not get through this book in one reading, but I'm glad to have it now in my science fiction section, and the spine of the book looks mighty nice, being so thick.  One of the few books where presentation and cover art really shine.

I don't want to drop this one, however.  Might break my toes.  The book has some weight to it . . . in more ways than one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


A recent call for manuscripts in a literary journal revealed my reality.  I'm now old.  Over the hill.  No longer part of that "young writers" chorus that ever more frequently gets the nod to submit material for special editions and anthologies.  Everyone wants that undiscovered talent.  The fresh voice.  The young gun.

Well, I ain't young any more.  Based on the growing popularity of the young writers competitions that are floating over the pages, a young writer is anyone who is forty or below.

I did happen to see one call for manuscripts recently (in the New Yorker nonetheless) that was a clear invitation for the older set, but I felt too depressed to write anything, knowing that I would be submitting under the moniker: "that old hick guy from Indiana".  It's tough to write when an editor is reminding you that you could, at any moment, keel over with a heart attack or suddenly develop a severe case of liver spots that could render you unphotogenic.  And this while writing.  Only God knows what can happen to us old folks if we exert energy from hiking or falling down the stairs.  What if we try to get out of bed too quickly?  Could bust a hip.

I'm glad that writers don't have to reveal their ages.  Outside of my wife and family, my agent, and a few select editors, few people in the publishing world actually know my situation.  I am, for the most part, an unknown.  I stand or fall on the quality of my writing alone.  Age be damned.  But I like this about writing.  It's the quality of the work that counts, not one's station of life.  As long as I can move my fingers and my brain can string words together, I can write.

Back in college, I did win a "young poets" competition once . . . but that's water under the bridge, as they say.  I got to read my poems on stage in a smoky bar, and much of the smoke back in that early 1980s environment wasn't tobacco . . . if you know what I'm saying.  That night, I was transported via second-hand smoke into another realm.  I saved damsels, slayed dragons, and received applause.  In the morning I didn't remember anything.

But those younger days of second-hand smoke (I'm telling you, I never inhaled!) are far behind me.  Now I'm healthy as a prize pig.  I work out.  I eat right.  And as for winning competitions, I'm satisfied that I have a woman who loves me four days out of seven, and my chief aim is doing the best I can with what God gave me . . . which probably isn't saying a lot.  I just write.  And when the call comes for manuscripts from "old guys who still have a mortgage and eat licorice", I'll be ready with my essay entitled:  "I'm Not Interesting, but I Can Still Lift a Hundred Pounds and I Don't Yet Have a New Ball-N-Socket."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making the List

A couple of years ago I received a nice letter from a writer at Esquire magazine informing me that my book, Before You Say "I Do", was being included in a list of the top 20 pre-marital counseling books of the decade.  I thought this was great stuff, until I realized that there were probably only 20 pre-marital books published in the decade.  But it was great to make the list and to be included alongside some of the classic volumes like The 5 Love Languages.

Every now and again my wife likes to remind me that, although I've written a lot of material (books and magazine articles) about marriage, I'm no expert.  She tells me I don't know what I'm doing . . . so how can I presume to help others find lasting joy and happiness?  Isn't that why people use instead of buying my book?

"You're no expert," my wife reminds me.

"Hey," I tell her, "I'm an expert, baby!  I know what I'm doing in this marriage gig.  I made a list.  You want lasting joy and happiness based on the nine principles of compatibility . . . you go with  You want hot lovin' every night, you go with me!"

Of course, she laughs.  What else can she do in the face of such extravagant lies?  And how can a man like me convince others that marriage isn't 90% boredom, 9% restaurant selection, and 1% poetry?  That's why I wrote the book . . . to explore these dark places others won't talk about and expose the myths that,, and won't touch.

I'm wondering if those old European nations didn't have it right centuries ago.  Some dad bribes another dad in a neighboring village to take his daughter off his hands . . . and a marriage is born.  The two people move into a mud hut together, are showered with gifts of dull cutlery, cheap towels, and espresso makers and, in time, learn to love each other.  That's because there is no one else to love, and because the nearest Sam's Club is over five hundred miles away.  They make a go of it, have fourteen children, two dogs, and a pony and live into their eighties without the benefit of social security or AAA motorclub.

When their great-grandchildren ask them, "How did you stay married so long," the old couple just shrugs and says, "That's what marriage is.  What else is it supposed to be?"

That's the book I'm writing now.  But it won't make anyone's list.  And my wife will never go for it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

North by Northwest

In a couple of weeks, Becky and I (no kids!) will be heading out to the Pacific Northwest for a vacation filled with hiking, kayaking, and sightseeing.  We will hike both Mt. Rainer and Mt. Saint Helens and hope, also, to visit the original Starbucks in Seattle.  Of course, we hope to have coffee there.  With my visit to Oregon and Washington states, I will have also visited every state in my lifetime (except for Alaska).

In preparation for this trip, I've been reading travel guides to the Northwest, but have found most of these guides to be heavily slanted to the accommodation and restaurant aspects of vacationing.  Perhaps I need a hikers or kayakers guide.

This is my problem with travel books.  I tend to slide past the food and accommodations sections.  After all, the way I figure it, we can always sleep in the rental car if there is no vacancy.  Jesus would understand.  And as for food . . . when have Americans EVER gone without stuffing their faces?  There are more places to eat than ever before, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone has opened a wiener stand on the top of Mt. Rainer.  Heck, I wouldn't be surprised to see Anthony Wiener up there! 

Being alone with my wife for two weeks, I also have other plans for the evenings together.  I won't get into it here, but I'm just hoping we find accommodations with ample room so I can try out some of the nifty old-folks moves I've been reading about in Woman's Day and Old Guys Like Us magazines.  And I hear that volcanic locations like Mt. Saint Helen's can be quite romantic, especially if there is enough free-floating ash in the air.

Volcanic mountains are also legendary for sacrificing virgins.  But that's why my wife wants to hike there first.  She doesn't have a thing to worry about.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fan Mail

I enjoy receiving fan mail.  In fact, I crave it.  When I don't get fan mail, I get cranky, break out in hives, and eventually slip back into my black licorice habit.  Obviously, I eat a lot of black licorice, since I don't get much fan mail.

However, last night I did open a fan "email" letter . . . how she got my email address I'll never know.  It came all the way from Germany and basically confirmed what a swell guy I am and how much my work means to people overseas (as opposed to the States, where my books are ground into pulp and used as cattle feed).  She wanted to know what I was working on and if I had any other books she could purchase at a steep discount.  If I had not mentioned my wife in my response email, she probably would have asked me for a date.  I also made mention of my two children, so she would get the idea that I was happily married, or at least had a job and a home with a large septic tank.  She seemed pleased enough and said she would write me back.  I think she will.  Elga!  Beautiful name.

Fan mail is essential to the successful writer, of course.  Without fan mail we wither and die.  Or at least develop varicose veins.  Some writers get the croup.  I, on the other hand, develop an insatiable thirst for Vanilla Protein shakes and can't live with 'em.

Naturally, a successful writer like me always responds to fan mail.  I don't have my agent do this, and I certainly am not going to hire an outside PR firm or a secretary named Veronica to write my faithful fans.  I respond immediately, almost desperately, and my cheeks flush with excitement.  My wife thinks I want to make love.  But it is just the fan mail talking. 

I write back something like:

My Dearest Faithful Reader:
How honored I am that you wrote to me expressing such deep sentiments and admiration for my work.  I admire you, too . . . more than words can say . . . and I write a lot of 'em.  Yes, if I ever get to Germany I'll look you up.  I will, of course, be accompanied by my wife of twenty-seven years.  You'll recognize us immediately.  I'll be the pretty one shackled to a rather overbearing-looking woman of some advancing age who keeps yelling, "Keep up!"  She will be dragging me along and my knees will be bleeding.  I hope you will understand if I don't stop to talk, as we have some wienershnitzel and sauerkraut to buy. By now you've heard of Anthony Wiener, I'm sure.  As for my books, I do hope you will keep reading (and buying at retail price).  I am, most blessed . . . your faithful favorite author, Toddy-O.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad's Brain

I've seen my Dad's brain.  Well, a cat-scan of his brain, anyway.  It ain't pretty.  My brain, I suppose, is very much like my father's.  As I age, my brain will probably slowly fill with spinal fluid also.  That's one of the mark of us Outcalts.  Our brains fill up.  Just when we are hitting our stride, filling our brains with useful knowledge and coming into our own, our brains betray us. 

I've been filling my brain with knowledge for years.  Most of this knowledge involves words, phrases, memorization.  But the older I get, the less of it I can remember.

Recently I couldn't remember where I had tucked a short story I had written some years back.  I knew I had written it (surely wasn't my imagination . . . well, actually it was my imagination).  I'm still looking for the file, but I have three computers that I have to search and a TON of floppy disks.  A filing system won't help me, either.  I would just forget where I filed it.

Now that my Dad's brain is getting full, I'm eager to see how full I can get mine--how much can I pack in there?  The way I figure it, if I can empty out some of my useless information (wife's birthday, our anniversary date and such . . . ) I'll have more room for useful info.

I'm still trying to figure this out.  But I gotta have a brain to do it . . . and a cooperative wife.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yet Another Questionnaire

The word has not yet travelled widely, but in August, Michelle Knight and I will see Chalice Press publishing our book: He Said, She Said:  Male & Female Perspectives on Great Bible Stories.  It's a fun book, and features alternating perspectives (as the title suggests) on twelve Bible narratives. The book can be used in classes, small groups, Bible studies, youth groups, and for personal reflection, too.  Lots of great discussion questions in this one.

I also received my questionnaire from the publisher today, asking me some questions about who I am and how we anticipate marketing the book.  Ah, yes . . . if only I could answer the questions correctly!

I only wish that a publisher would ask me the REAL questions . . . the ones I would love to answer.

Q: So, does the name "Outcalt" have any significance or meaning?  Or is this just another weird name no one can pronounce?
A:  Actually, the name "Outcalt" derives from the German, and was originally, "Alt Gelt."  The "Gelt" means "Gold" . . . as in English derivatives "Gilded" and "Gold."  And the "Alt" means "None".  So my name literally means, "I have no gold", or, in modern terms, "I have no money."  It's true.  My ancestors were incredibly poor and most of them were mud ugly.  Have a look at us!  I drive a 1991 Caprice wagon with balding tires.

Q: So, who do you see buying this book?
A: Primarily drug addicts and alcoholics . . . or those who are too impaired to read.  I hope people will actually purchase this book in great quantities and will find it insightful and stimulating.  But then, I think Matlock reruns are fun, too, and nearly faint with excitement when I hear the Gomer Pyle theme song.  In short, I hope women will go ape . . . my photo will be one the back cover.

Q: Are you for real?
A: No.

QSo, what in the Bible actually inspires you?
A:  Talking asses, harlots, descriptions on how to slaughter a kosher cow.  I'm also a sucker for those passages in the epistles where Paul uses curse words . . . but you gotta know Greek to find 'em.

Q: What are your hopes for this book?
A: Royalties!  Actually, I hope somebody, somewhere, somehow can find something useful in it.  And beyond that, I hope to develop a large and faithful fan base (primarily older women) who will write adoring letters and enclose pictures of their grandchildren.  Or if someone calls asking me to speak at a bar mitzvah, I'll consider it.   

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Magazine Subscriptions

There was a day when I was magazine poor.  I had so many subscriptions coming to the door I couldn't read them all.

But these days tastes and budgets are a bit more discriminating in our household.  My son gets Sports Illustrated (does he take it only for the swimsuit issue?), my wife takes Better Homes & Gardens (although we don't have a better home to show for it, and we sure as heck don't have any gardens) . . . and my daughter takes no magazines.  Zip!  As for me, I recently secured a free subscription to Indianapolis Monthly, I also take The New Yorker, and today I received my first issue of Poetry.  It's been over twenty years since I last subscribed, and the #1 Poetry magazine in America, published out of Chicago, has since seen a change of editors, a large gift from Ruth Lilly (wasn't it an eight-digit gift?), and a slightly new format.

Although I have not read a word of the new mag yet, I did thumb through the copious advertisements and "calls" for manuscripts in the back of the issue and noted that a west coast magazine called Rattle had a full-page ad.  I'm familiar with Rattle.  A nice journal, slick, highly-fashionable, and decidedly great writing in its pages.  The editor there has recently accepted some of my poems and I also received a free subscription to this magazine because I'm one of their authors.

Okay, so Rattle makes four magazines now.

Although I read many more books than magazines, I still get a kick out of walking out to the mailbox every day (120 yards one way!) for my morning exercise.  Opening the mailbox can be like opening a Christmas gift, or a box of chocolates.  You never know what you're gonna get!

But I'm ever more excited when I send my work to these, and other, magazines.  Getting an acceptance (and maybe a paycheck?) is even better than a chocolate buzz.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dead Poets

I ordered a DVD yesterday that I hope to watch with my kids:  Dead Poets Society. It's a movie I had forgotten about, but one well-worth a rental if one is inclined toward the value of education, friendship, and the deep relationships that can be forged between teacher and student.  I've had many influential teachers in my life, and I'm grateful for them all.

Some months back I also began writing a series of poems about great American writers and poets, and here's one I wrote about Wallace Stevens . . . the man considered by many to be the quintessential poet of the 20th century.

Wallace Stevens

What was it like--to sit behind a desk by day--
Conjuring actuarial formulas as prelude to poetry,
And after hours, waltzing the streets of Hartford
In search of inspiration?

You were the epitome
Of one who worked a beat,
Nightstick twirling at the flick of your wrist,

Most persistent and brave with perspiration.

Now, we look back on your Auroras,
Your Blue Guitar, your Quince, your Key,
And feel transported beyond Connecticut
To Your Final Soliloquy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Treat This!

No, I don't have hemorrhoids.  Well, maybe I do, but that's beside the point here.  And even if I did have hemorrhoids, who would know?

What I do know is that I had a request yesterday to provide a "treatment" for a book  idea.  Now, in case you don't know what a treatment is, let me explain.  Treatment is a term generally batted around in script-writing and movie-tv-production circles to describe a brief summary, description, or overview of a visual idea.  It's a way for a script writer to describe his/her vision for the project and how it would actually go from script to screen.

But this is the first time I've had anyone use the word "treatment" in book conversation.  So I'm not sure what to do . . . .

I plan to sit down tonight and ponder these deep mysteries.  I'll probably end up writing an "overview" or book jacket description of what I hope to produce.  I'll slap "treatment" on the top of the page, smear a little butter on it, and mail it in.  I like my treatments spicy, so I might add clove.

Overall, though, I've been a healthy writer.  I work out.  Eat well.  Bath twice a week.  My doctor is amazed at how well I'm doing.  I've never had a broken bone.  Never had a surgery.  And I've never been treated for typhoid.  I once stepped on a rusty nail but didn't get lockjaw.  I've been bitten by dogs and did not foam at the mouth.  I've been bitten by snakes, but that's just what lawyers do . . . .

Anyway, I hope my treatment is a winner.  I might even start collecting these in my medicine cabinet.  My varied and sundry treatments would look great next to my licorice prescription and my extra-strength candy corn.

A writer, after all, has to have some vices.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cajun Compositions

Becky called from New Orleans last night to inform me, not only that she had safely arrived at the teachers' conference, but that she was enjoying some of the best shrimp she'd ever eaten.  Back at the homestead, our fare was scrambled eggs and toast.

My only consolation in receiving these nightly updates will be the fact that, in lieu of having any evening church meetings this week, I will be able to write away for seven consecutive nights without any interruptions.  (When the wife is home she can't keep her hands off me! And if you believe this . . . well, let me just say I'd have a better chance of being grabbed by the Maytag Repairman.)

I'm working hard at present to complete a very massive book (how does nearly 600 double-spaced pages grab ya'?) and first thing this morning my agent wrote (love saying that) to inform me that she was getting close to submitting another book for editorial rounders in New York.  I also had emails from editors at The Louisville Review and a British Methodist periodical inviting me to submit post-query . . . which is a nice, shrimpy touch. 

As for dinner tonight, I'm planning on driving through Taco Bell (if only I could figure out what their primary cuisine is!) and then I'm hitting the keyboard hard for hours on end. 

Call me if you like . . . I'll be up late . . . just like those folks who fix the tacos.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Submitting Down Under

We truly live in a small world (after all).  On Sunday night I submitted one of my science fiction stories to a magazine in Australia.  A few years ago, such a thing would have been unthinkable . . . or would have taken weeks/months to orchestrate via airmail & response.

Some day I hope to get to the land down under:  land of the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, the kangaroo, and that biggest rock in the world thing.  The flight would be a bear, but with my new Kindle, I could manage by reading a few books in route.

Well, but I'm always stoked when I submit a story.  I feel like a proud father, and I always think somebody out there is going to appreciate what I've birthed.  Perhaps the story looks just like me. 

The only problem with foreign magazines is . . . finding one on the newsstand.  Something tells me an Australian magazine would not be as prevalent as O (Oprah's spread).  I might have to order a copy online.

That, or I might have to save enough money for airfare.  A trip down under to buy a magazine.  There are worse reasons to travel.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Love Affair

There are few things in life I despise worse than meetings . . . and I've already had my fill of them this week.  I prefer, rather, to get my kicks through a morning walk in the woods, or lifting weights to the point of exhaustion, or a quiet evening of laughter with friends and family.  And I have also been known to enjoy a quiet morning or long evening of writing, too.

This past week, while I've been preparing for meetings or actually sitting in them, I've also been receiving other quiet reminders of my "real life."  In the past three days I've had two poems accepted for publication, have two new books making the rounds in New York through my agent, and have been silently writing a sermon, a devotion, and VBS "game" plan for next week . . . .

Toward that end, I thought I'd give my readers a respite from their own hum-drum or the drudgery of meetings and offer up this poem.  (Well, I like it anyway.)  Hope it might reflect where some of us actually find our solace, our aims, and our "re-creation."

Natural Selection

On this spring morning I awake
And drape the sunlight across my shoulders
As I drift toward the coffee pot.

The air, it seems, is charged with energy
And I am eager to ignore the tasks
My wife has given me to accomplish.

Soon I will be sleeping in the hammock,
A newspaper for a blanket, and a birdsong
Rocking me in the sweet arms of sloth.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lost in Translation

For the past week my late night efforts have consisted of attempting to regain some basic knowledge of Syriac.  Why?  I'm wanting to use this old Semitic tongue in a story I'm writing.

But the Syriac is tough going.  It was tough enough when I was sitting in a class with Dr. Orville Wintermute (also studied Aramaic and Talmudic Hebrew with Orville), but now with the passing of years the language has all but passed from my synapses.

I have enough problems with English (I'm still masterin' the Hoosier dialect).  But it has been fun trying to write Syriac again.  I love the alphabet.

As I head back to annual conference today after a short night, I'll be eager to hear other dialects in play.  People from southern Indiana who say, "Ya'll."  Good old boys from Sullivan County (where I grew up) who suck on toadstools and ask, "Where the hell ya' been lately?"  Folks from up north who have just a tinge of Wisconsin drawl who say, "Oh, but it's a hot one today ain't it?"

That's why I like to sit in the back row and observe all of this.  It's fun watching people as they try to figure each other out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Will Power

I'm not a huge fan of printed sermons, especially sermon collections, but here on the cusp of another annual conference I spent some time perusing The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon.  As one might expect, this is a large book, and Willimon seems to have a lot to say.  He also says it well.

Willimon is now bishop of the Alabama Conference (UM Church) but our paths crossed when I was a student at Duke Divinity (1982-1985).  Willimon ended up spending 20 years as Dean of the Chapel, while also teaching courses in the Div School and serving as chaplain to the university.  He also seemed to enjoy hanging out with Stanley Hauerwas, and I recall reading some years back that their collaborative effort, Resident Aliens, was the all-time best-selling book that Abingdon ever published.  Back then, that was 50,000 copies--which just goes to show that a "best-seller" in the religion market is nothing like a best-seller at a major New York firm, which could be in the millions of copies.

Ah, but Bishop Will . . . I want to thank him for agreeing to write an essay for my book, The Ultimate Christian Living, which was published last year.  This small collaborative effort was completed via online and phone conversation, and Willimon seems to be accessible in his episcopal role.  At least he's always eager to write something.  And as one of his relatives once said, "He's never had an unpublished thought."

There are enough sermons here from Willimon's two congregational appointments (yes, only two!), his years at Duke, and his episcopal addresses to keep a pastor ensconced in words for weeks.  But it's not a bad read as far as books of sermons are concerned.  Too bad there's not a CD.  A sermon is really an auditory affair.  If I had to collect my sermons, I couldn't do it.  I never write them down.  Willimon, on the other hand, seems to write in his sleep.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Skeletons From My Closet

I have a "writer's closet" in my office at home.  It is a dark, dank, and very frightening place.  This past week I took to rummaging around in there, digging up old bones.  I made some interesting finds.  (See my two previous blogs.)

This closet contains pieces of my life that I have all but forgotten about.  For example, I also dug up two old novels--fully completed--some 700 pages of material.  I wrote both of these more than twenty years ago and I haven't got the guts to read them.  As far as I'm concerned I buried these years ago and sealed them in cement.

I also discovered a stack of old stories--dozens and dozens of them.  I pulled a few of these that might hold some promise with revision.  Most of these stories were written on a Tandy 1000, dual 4 1/2 floppy computer and a daisy wheel printer with Pika font # 12.

I also found two guitars: an electric Ovation with dual humbuckers (a classic worth money now) and an Alvarez, thin-body acoustic with electrical hookup.  I haven't played guitar for five years now, but took it up last night and by, golly, I could still rock (well, sort of).  If I got my calluses back and limbered up my fingers a bit more, I'd be decent.

And finally I discovered my trove of 26,000 baseball cards, including several entire sets from the early 1990's and one unopened box of 1987 Topps (rookie year of Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire) complete with bubble gum sticks still intact inside the unopened packs.  I had hoped to pass all of these along to my son, but he has no interest in baseball at all (and I have very little).  These will continue to moulder in the closet for another generation.  Only God knows how many Mickey Mantles and Willie Mays cards are parked inside those massive boxes.

My closet is cleaned now.  No skeletons.  And I even created a new niche for some of my current bones.  I'm still filling those spaces with new writing.  Twenty years from now, one of my descendants may find me there . . . .laid to rest.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Digging Up My Past

I've made some interesting discoveries this week "digging" around in my bookshelves.  I also "unearthed" another satirical piece I had written for Archae magazine back in the early 1990's, soon after I returned from an archaeological dig in Israel.  I had participated in a dig at the ancient site of Beth Shemesh ("House of the Sun"), working alongside Israeli and American archaeologists and a volunteer team consisting of Americans, Germans, Canadians, Israelis, Australians and a religious smorgasbord as diverse as Jew, Christian, Muslim, and Agnostic.  On the flight home, I knew I had to write something that would poke fun at the archaeological in-fighting and arguments and posturing I witnessed over small bits of pottery and fertility goddess artifacts, no less.

Although I was able to bring home a few pieces of pottery from the Israelite/Philistine era--when Beth Shemesh was a "border town" and had been at various times either Israelite or Philistine--the experience in the "Holy Land" was quite humorous, in retrospect (Sorry, I just think that way).  

I sat down and wrote a piece for an archaeological magazine entitled: Biblical Archaeology in Retrospect: A Decade's Worth of Unique Finds.  I provided illustrations for this piece, and the editor was so taken with my drawings, I remember he published it virtually unchanged.

My favorite section consists of a drawing of a human skeleton depicted as being discovered beside two dumbbells and clay jar containing a parchment.  I wrote:

Chamber 43 at Wadi-Mudu has proved to be an enigma to the archaeologist, but most scholars have simply refused to admit the obvious.  Here we find the remains of a man in his mid-forties who was a fitness fanatic, had receding gums, and had been gored by a goat in the left testicle.  At the time of his death he was buried alongside his primitive dumbbells and a well-preserved parchment containing fragments from a fitness and cardiovascular manual.  This important discovery has shattered our perceptions of the ancient Israelites as being a people who were out-of-shape, rotund individuals with a proclivity toward the pot belly. Evidently the fellow in Chamber 43 was a fitness buff who enjoyed working out with weights and spent the greater part of his adult life eating a low cholesterol, low sodium diet and working out to Shalom Ale chem.

I enjoy finding these published remnants from my past.  I'm still looking for some love letters from my wife (these gotta be old, since she don't write them no more), and a few early stories, poems, essays, and pieces of satire.

I'm also looking for that box of Philistine pottery.  If only I could remember where I buried it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Funny Bone

Last week, while rummaging through a pile of books, I happened upon a copy of The Rockford Review, a northern Chicago literary magazine that made its appointed rounds back in the 1990s.  I had forgotten about this little humor magazine and the fact that the Review had published one of my satirical pieces on the Carl Sagan phenomenon back in the summer of 1991 (a full twenty years ago). 

A quick review of the author section revealed that, at the time of the publication, I had no book credits, and my author bio consisted of various magazine credits including a newspaper column I used to write for the Noblesville Ledger entitled, "That's Life."  Funny how I had forgotten these tidbits.

Although I had not yet had a book accepted for publication, I recall that I was writing ferociously when I lived in Noblesville.  I also recall that many of these years were B.C. (Before Children) and that I worked horribly long hours pastorally.  For a time I had a dedicated office in the parsonage, but after children, my office was relegated to a makeshift desk near the television set and I wrote books--entire books, mind you--while also wrestling screaming children on my lap and fighting off the piercing emanations of the TV set, which was just inches away from my computer (back then, a Tandy 1000 with duel 4 1/2 inch floppies and a green, monochrome monitor).

I know I wrote at least a dozen books during my six years in Noblesville, none of which were published, but I certainly learned how to navigate the writing process with a myopic concentration, closing off all distractions and sounds.  At one point, I do remember mailing a gigantic stack of short stories to The New Yorker in one fell swoop (at least thirty of them) and then receiving, one afternoon, a surprise phone call from a fiction editor at the TNY offices kindly suggesting that I "send one at a time."  "We can't read this many stories," she said, "but I admire your ability to whip them out.  Just send us your very best work and let's see where that takes us."

I was thirty years old at the time and, looking back, I don't remember much that happened that fall other than the birth of my daughter (what a blessing!).  I'm sure I don't remember I was married, but I guess I was. My wife and I must have coupled at least once during those years.  (I have no idea how my son got here!)

The rest, I suppose, I have simply forgotten.  That's what writing a dozen unpublished books in six years will do a human brain.  (This is your brain . . . this is your brain on writing!)

Funny . . . haven't thought about these things in years.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Donut a Day

Q: What does the well-rounded writer eat?
A: Donuts.

Today is, in fact, National Donut Day.  Dunkin' Donuts will be giving away a free donut with a beverage purchase (I'll be there with bells on) and I do plan to be writing profusely here on Friday, my usual "day off".  I'll enjoy my donut while I'm churning out an expected five thousand words today.

The Donut is a curious food.  It is generally recognized to have been invented for the soldiers on the front lines of WWI, and hence the term "dough boys."  Donuts were quick, easy, tasty, and could be served up to the troops.  And if mustard gas didn't kill our boys, the donut eventually would.   That's the trouble with things that taste good.  They are usually not good for you.

That's why I combine donuts and aerobics.  I'm getting ready, even as I write this, to hit the gym.  I'll burn roughly enough calories to offset the donut I'll be eating immediately afterwards.  It's a ritual.  And eaten like this, the donut is, indeed, the breakfast of champions.  (NOT Wheaties!)

And finally, every writer needs to know the proper spelling.  Is it "Donut" or "Doughnut"?

I prefer the former . . . but most dictionaries list the latter.  My dictionary doesn't have a donut entry, however.  I ate that page some time ago.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Small Potatoes

Generally, writers (of books) get paid twice a year.  Most publishers cut royalty checks to cover sales over a six month period . . . and can usually, by contract, keep said royalties for three months or so before actually transferring from the publisher's account to the writer's.  Naturally, any writer who is expecting to live a well-rounded life, or to have financial security, or maintain a hope in eating had better have a "long-range" plan AND learn to how to gum a celery stick.

Because of this semi-annual paycheck, writers tend to huddle in pathetic little masses.  You can recognize them because of their droopy-eyes (no sleep) and their penchant for sympathy.  You'll find them standing in a line at Wendy's asking questions like:  "What have you got to eat for under a dollar?"  Book writers also wear the same underwear day after day and usually have wretched sex lives.  Their spouses are typically even more pathetic.  They drive old cars.  They drink water in restaurants.  They bite their nails down to the quick and vacation by setting up a tent in the front yard.  Some writers stick their heads into ovens.  Others threaten to leave book writing behind and go into marketing or advertising.  The real losers move to Indiana and write on seventeen year old Compaq computers and store their work on floppy disks.  They eat licorice.

Last month, when publishers were finally sending out royalty checks for the half year, I found myself talking to two other authors.  One of these pathetic souls (even more pathetic than ME) lamented his royalty check with a half chuckle and a joke.

"If you don't mind my asking," I said, "How much did you earn in royalties these past six months?"

"I got a check for $20," he said.

"Buy yourself a milkshake," I told him.  "You deserve it."  I meant it. 

"That's some reward for writing a book, huh?" he lamented.

Indeed.  Small potatoes.  Little nuts.  Which always leads me back to the question my wife has been asking me for the past twenty-seven years . . . "Why do you even bother?"

Hey, it's a dirty, lonely, freakin' job that somebody has to do.  I figure, one of these days I'll find something larger than a potato in my mailbox.  Those publishers have to pay out some day.  And the last time I checked, potatoes can multiply.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dear Sweetheart:

Last month a friend of mine admitted shock and awe when she received my handwritten letter.  When I asked why she was surprised she said, "No one writes handwritten letters anymore.  Everything is email, Facebook, or cardboard sentiment these days."

I had not considered this, but she's right.  I receive few handwritten letters anymore.  But still, I write them.  I write to editors and to others who work in the publishing industry also.  I've learned that a writer can actually stand out from the crowd a bit by writing a handwritten note.  After all, most correspondence these days is electronic, and the Tweet has become such a standard expression for many people, editors are shocked when they receive something longer and personal.  Any twit can tweet, and most can't spell.

I learned how to write letters when I was in North Carolina.  My week was framed by writing lengthy love letters to Becky, who was still at Purdue, and for some reason, she's saved a lot of these letters and says she cherishes them.  Why I'll never know.

My love letters now aren't quite so passionate . . . it's more difficult to write about the treats after you know all the tricks.  But when Becky finishes her evening classes next week, I'll probably drop her a handwritten line praising her resiliency, her hard work, and her ability to get by on four hours of sleep each day.  I'll also buy her a rose or two and will personally hand-select her favorite variety of Hamburger Helper for dinner that evening.  But by God she'd better cook it.  I'll write a letter to this effect and describe the renewed passion I have for discovering her in a new frame of mind, and how I am just itching to go away with her for a day so we can read some books.  I'll take a photo of myself in posing trunks and try to get a tan so I won't look like a pasty poodle.  I'll describe my idea of a perfect day, focusing primarily on the weather, with a few other ideas thrown into the mix that might involve canola oil and licorice whips. 

Handwritten letters are important when a couple wants to understand each other and renew their passion.

And if this doesn't work . . . I'll just send her a text message.