Sunday, July 31, 2011

Funny Thing About a Blog

Now that I've surpassed the 1000 blog entry mark for "Between Pages", I thought a retrospective might be in order. As quirky as this blog is (you do think it's quirky, don't you?) the audience I've built through the years and the oddities of the readership is even quirkier.

For example, of all of the blog entries I've written, the one that has generated the most unique "hits" or "visits" is one dated November 13, 2007  . . . one of my earliest.  It's a brief blog posting about writing a sick note for my son.  You can read it in the archives here.  Nearly 300 people have read this unique blog.  Why, I don't know.  Are other folks out there as sick as I am?

Another quirky feature is tracking the readership.  Naturally, most of my audience comes from the U.S.  Well over 90%.  But I actually have a rather well-established readership in the Netherlands, too.  (Why, I'll never know . . . but thanks, people of the Netherlands, for reading this man's humor.)

Other nations that seem hell-bent on reading "Between Pages" are, in descending order:  Russia, South Korea, Great Britain and France.  It's a small world after all . . . and I can't get this song out of my head.

Anyone who reads "Between Pages" with any regularity will, I hope, also figure out that this is meant to be a HUMOROUS blog about my reading and writing habits, with much personal narrative and family fun thrown in, particularly as I relate to my wife.  She, of course, doesn't read this blog (what wife would?).  Folks looking for inspiration or insights or sanity best visit another blog.  That's why my wife leaves me at home and reads other books.  She doesn't read what I create.  She already knows I'm a loser.

No, this blog doesn't contain the secret of life or offer up guru-like advice on literature or writing, but it might provide a chuckle.  And that's enough for me.

So . . . keep reading "Between Pages".  I'll keep writing.  And until we read again . . . .

Friday, July 29, 2011

Big & Bigger

Writer's can always be Dumb & Dumber.  Sometimes they have to go Big & Bigger.

Some time back I began working on a massive project that, once started, would consume many of my evenings and mornings.  I knew it would require almost total and myopic concentration of effort . . . not a sprint, but a marathon.  I would have to hydrate while I wrote this book, and there would be nights when I wouldn't sleep and mornings when I'd be working for a few hours before seeing the sun. I would be required to write 7-days a week and hours each day.

But eventually I'd reach the finish line.  And I have.  I am now the proud owner of more than 600 pages of manuscript.  (But that's another blog entry.)

I don't know what's going to happen with this book.  Thus far no publisher will touch it, and those editors who have heard my pitch usually walk away somber and downcast.  They give me a Dr. Phil look and shake their heads.  "What were you thinkin'?"

Time was, I used to write a 600 page manuscript just to practice writing books.  I'd hole up for hours at a time, whip out fifty pages a day, and see if I could at least write a first draft of a book in a week.  It was like a steel cage death match with paper.

But now that I'm older and wiser (or perhaps Dumb & Dumber), I at least try to temper my writing with a contract or a commitment from some unsuspecting editor.  It's been a long time since I wrote anything this BIG without a contract, but I'll see what happens to the 600 pages.

At least it's done.  Now I can move on to some shorter projects I've got on tap.  Essays, stories, poems, love letters in the sand.

It will be some time, I think, before I tackle anything this BIG again.  I just pray I find a home for it.  Lord knows, this monster can't live with me.    

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reading Chick Lit

Some weeks back I made my wife a present of Nora Ephron's latest book: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.  Naturally, I had to read this book first before I unloaded it.

And naturally, there are many men out there who want to know . . . why would a big, macho, chain-saw toting guy like you be reading a book about a woman's perspective on the monthly cycle, menopause, beauty products, gynecology, and divorce?

Answer:  because I've got two women in my household who often feel bad about their necks and because I'm still trying to figure out what I can say (or not say), do (or not do), depending upon that dark and mysterious mood-altering phenomenon of the moon and what, if anything, I can do about it.  Do I live outdoors for a few days?  Should I join a convent and take vows of celibacy?  What can I do to keep my wife from screaming at me just because I suggest having beans and wieners for dinner?

Nora Ephron's book, and other books like it, help me to answer these and other wild and woolly questions that have perplexed men for centuries.  I read chick lit to understand women, and to better navigate the dark jungle of the home.  I read chick lit to be a better father and husband . . . though Lord knows, I've not read a chick lit book yet that has offered me any sure-fire help.  Just when I think I'm making progress (purchasing perfume, jewelry, flowers, and writing incredible poems that I feel should make my wife's knees buckle), I experience a set-back . . . a hastily hand-scribbled note detailing the fifty ways I messed up the grocery list, or, perhaps, a passionate kiss in public where, given the parameters of a decent society and the plethora of watchful eyes, I can't take further advantage of the situation . . . all tease and no sleaze.  What is she trying to do to me?

Yes, that's the reason I read chick lit after I've fired up the chain saw and cut off two fingers.  It is the reason I look to writers like Ms. Ephron: to express succinctly and effectively what women really want and why they want it and how I can give it to 'em.  And now that I'm sandwiched in the home between the young love of my engaged daughter and the old-battle-worn routines of an arthritic wife, I've got to find answers.  NOW!

I have to thank Nora Ephron for opening my eyes and helping me to see that she wrote her book to express how she feels.  She didn't know I would be reading her essays.  After perusing this book, I felt like I'd been beaten with a bag of oranges.  I'm such a failure.  I have no manswers.  Probably no manners, either.  I'm just an old guy trapped in 2-milligrams of testosterone (and falling) and a vocabulary that must be expanded through the use of a thesaurus.

Tomorrow, I'm going back to the old game plan:  Rise before dawn, take two hours to formulate an opening comment while my wife and daughter are applying makeup, fix them coffee and breakfast, and then run like hell.

It's worked for me all these years.  What does Nora know?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Striking Out

I can strike out with the best of them.  Sometimes, I get called out before the third strike.  Sometimes I don't even get off the bench. 

Take bookstores, for example.  Whenever I visit other cities (such as Denver, Portland, and Seattle last week), I walk into bookstores from time to time and ask if they have any books by Todd Outcalt.  Most of the time the proprietor or manager will fumble around in a computer database for a few minutes and then say, "No, we have no titles by this idiot on our shelves, but we can order these lousy books for you."

Of course, I don't want to order one of my own books.  I point out that no one ever orders any of these books.  Sometimes I tell the manager, "Oh, I was just curious.  I would have signed the books if you had copies."

They always try to figure out what I mean by this:  a guy walking off the street wanting to scribble willy-nilly in books.  Frequently they call security or press a button that sets off a screaming alarm.  I run and somersault over the turnstile into the street.  It's hell trying to sign books, believe me.  One of these days, I might go to jail after asking a manager to locate my titles.  I no longer carry an ink pen with me into these stores, as I get dirty looks from the personnel. 

Soon, there will be no more bookstores.  I won't have to worry about signing copies of books that no longer exist.  Believe me, it is extremely difficult to sign a Kindle copy of a book, or a digital database.  I once offered to leave my fingerprint on the glass face of someone's Nook.  The offer was not received well and the woman nearly beat me unconscious with a purse that seemed to contain several rocks.

I'm striking out on book signings these days.  And the time is surely coming when memory of book signings will fade from human consciousness.  Authors like me will be signing people's arms in tattoo ink, or performing body-piercings in intimate locations to leave our marks.  I've been practicing on the cat.  The feline is old and doesn't seem to care.

In the event that anyone out there still wants to read a book . . . I do have several I could sign.  I can sign my own name or any name of your choosing.  But if not, don't worry.  I'm used to striking out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ketching Up

I returned from vacation to more than three hundred emails (mostly junk), dozens of voicemail messages, and a sizable stack of mail.  I missed none of it.  I could easily live without these "modern" connections and "conveniences" and would much prefer sitting on the porch talking face-to-face or reading a good book instead of scrolling through "facebook".  Someday (in retirement?) I'm going to chuck it all in the river and live in a secluded cabin surrounded by barbed wire.  It's not Becky's cup-of-tea, but she can move to Florida and bake.

In spite of these Luddite tendencies, however, I did return to find a number of writing opportunities and correspondences waiting for me.  I was only gone, actually, for ten days, but I had at least that many editorial responses in my "in box".  Most were rejections ("Sorry, Mr. Alleycat, but you are still a loser and we're surprised you have the audacity to submit this tripe!" or "Sorry . . . and I wish I could remember your name . . . but writers like you give me the willies and I really wish you'd stop sending me material so I have to pretend I care.").

In spite of these downturns, however, I did have a few uppers.  For example, Upper Room accepted a few of my devotions (and listen, I'll actually get paid for these and can some day buy a milkshake) and I had several messages from producers and hosts inviting me to talk on radio, AND I got another nod on a poem which will likely be published in 2012.

Okay, it's not much, but it's always fun to hear a "yes" instead of a "no."  I hear "no" from my wife all the time, and that's why I turn to writing . . . to find affirmation and a reason for living.  Writing offers me the ability to dream of romance, and write about it, and pretend that such things could actually happen to an old man like me.  Through writing, I can dress up my wife, take her out on a date, romance her . . . all without her participation.  

That's why I write a poem to Becky every week.  I continue to hold out the hope that she might read one of these poems some day and say, "Yes."

Until then, I'm still catching up on the workload. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two Women & A Text Message

Two weeks ago, while we were travelling through the Cascades, we frequently dipped out of cell phone reception and/or other modern connections.  It was great. All I needed was a covered wagon. 

At one juncture, however, while were were driving out of Mt. Rainer National Park toward Gig Harbor (Seattle), Becky suddenly received a backlog of text messages . . one of which was from our daughter informing us that she was engaged.

For the next few miles, I seemed to drive in a fog . . . wondering how such a thing was possible, given the fact that I am still a man in possession of most of my faculties and do not yet have to wear a diaper.  Where did my daughter go?  When did I become an old man?

At this juncture of my life, all I have left now is a half jar of cocktail peanuts and, at best, a shelf life of fifteen years.  In another decade I will be on the cusp of collecting whatever vestiges of social security and medicare remain once the smoke clears from the national bankruptcy.  My teeth will be gone.  I'll be gumming my licorice or eating pureed prunes.  I will, however, continue to walk around the house in my underwear and mumble to myself as I do now.  The pantry will be full of laxatives.

This is the vision, the dark mirror that a man stares into when he receives word that his daughter is getting married.  It is the beginning of the end of his life and he continues to look for any signs of beauty remaining in his old wife.  He talks more to animals and dreams of feeding pigeons.  He often pats himself on the head and says, "Good boy!"

I don't know what to do with these two women.  But I'll take any suggestions from experienced navigators. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Seattle's Last Slew

Photos: Me outside the original Starbucks @ Pike Place, where we enjoyed standing in a long line to buy a cup of java. (Bottom photo): Becky standing outside the Pike Place Market with the other 100,000 losers.

When the smoke had cleared last Sunday (along with the usual northwestern fog and rain) Becky and I had completed a long trek across the continent and had seen some incredible sights . . . along with our usual fare of hand-holding and smooching like newlyweds (you oughta try it after twenty-seven years of marriage!).

I had also picked up the writing bug again, having taken a week-long break from scribbling words, and began writing down story ideas, essay themes, and lines of poetry on napkins, scrap paper, and hotel stationery.  I've got a sizable pile of ideas, along with my travel notes, sitting at home right now . . . more than I can ever accomplish.  But I've got to get crackin'.

Several folks had warned me about the horrendous Seattle traffic (and yes, it was BAD), but I didn't find it excruciatingly maddening (like Chicago and New York can be).  Somehow we managed to drive off the ferry at Pier 54, into the city, take the correct turns, and locate our hotel. And last Sunday night we drove from hotel to the airport with only one wrong turn, and that because there were construction detours everywhere.  And I thought Indianapolis was the only city where road construction projects lasted three years.

By this time I'd laundered all of my poems, and they had done their job . . . testing my old lady's emotional limits and bringing the occasional tear (the last of which was in the airport during our five hour wait pre-flight).  I don't think I'll share most of these on this blog, though this batch contained some of my best verse ever . . . but I can offer this one, not romance exactly, but one that is thoughtful in its own right.  Not sure why I wrote it or where it came from.  Just a sonnet for another stage of life, I suppose.

The Salutatorian

Here on the threshold of tomorrow
We greet life's possibilities with hope,
Eager to fulfill our horoscope
And embrace the paths our lives may follow.
We graduate into cliche,
Our aspirations high while deep in debt,
Feeling, somehow, that we shall not forget
Each sordid tryst or meaningless essay.

And should we find these years worthwhile,
Or lessons learned while in a state of grace,
Perhaps we shall redeem the time and smile
Through jobless prospects and the protocol
That turns the world and reveals face-to-face
The truths we do not know, but might learn, after all.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Trail of the Tiger

Photo: Hiking Mt. Rainier at misty cloud level.

By the time we had arrived in Mt. Rainier National Park, I had finished two books on the Kindle and was now delving into The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vailiant.  Among the true-life science-adventure-male-bonding style books I've read over the past decade, I'd rank The Tiger up there with John Krakauer's IntoThin Air and Preston's, The Hot Zone--two other books that gave me the heebie-jeebies for their sheer terror of nature and a respect for forces that are beyond human control.

The Tiger is a compelling story (though plodding at the start) of a hunt for a man-eating Tiger in the Russian Siberian wilderness.  Along the way John Vailiant provides some Russian history, culture, and a fair-amount of biology regarding the Amur Tiger (the largest species and the one most commonly found in American zoos).  Unlike lions and other big cats, tigers are solitary creatures that can, from time to time, reek terror on the human population.  One frightening stat: in India alone, tigers have eaten an estimated 100,000 people over the past two decades.  These are large, ferocious animals in the wild, and cannot be tamed, and as their natural habitat is being destroyed they are moving now into villages for food. And there are few left in the wild.  All endangered species.

Okay, so I was thinking about some of this while hiking on the face of Mt. Rainier, jumping at the sound of every snapping twig.  Fortunately, Becky and I were essentially alone on these trails which were, by the way, the roughest and toughest mothers we hiked the whole trip.  One trail, which was supposed to end at a lookout point above the clouds, took us hours to climb, and this after great effort, many stops, and our entire water supply.  We did eventually arrive--above the clouds as the brochure promised--but we were too pooped to appreciate the vista.  We nearly rolled back down (going down was TOUGH on the my knees) and treated ourselves to hot coffee and a nice dinner some hours later when we arrived at the lodge.

"You call this a vacation?" I asked Becky as I hammered down my third cup of java and chewed a handful of peanut M & M's. (Yes, she planned this one!  It was here idea!!)

"You can relax on the rest of the trip," she told me.  "That's what Gig Harbor and Seattle is for."

Oh yeah, Gig Harbor.  Puget Sound.  Seattle.  Pike's Place Market.  The Original Starbucks store.  The Space Needle.  Traffic.  People.  Crowded Sidewalks.  Noise.

I could have stayed on Mt. Rainier myself.  Just looking.  Listening to NOTHING.  Seeing no one!  Staring up at five hundred year old trees.  Reading The Tiger in peace and quiet.

Next vacation . . . I make the plans.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On Top of Old Smokey

Photo: Mt. Saint Helens--where, soon after this photo, we hiked a mile closer to the summit where I offered to sacrifice a virgin to the gods . . . but there were none to be found.

Funny thing about a volcano . . . science teachers love 'em.  Hence, as we drove into the cascade mountain range and hiked miles along the smoking back of Mt. Saint Helens, Becky snapped copious photos and picked up igneous rocks for her science displays. Me? I just wanted to get back to the hotel and read another love poem to the old lady.  There was smoke, but I preferred fire.

I can see why the region has that romantic quality.  It has its own stark beauty, and with temperatures in the forties and fifties, it's helpful to have a warm body nearby when one is hiking up into cloud cover.  We rarely saw the whole peaks of the mountains, but it was fun trying to locate a vista above the cloud line where we could glimpse the sun.  And a good pair of hiking boots didn't hurt either.

By this time in our trip, I was becoming adept at reading hiking maps and had also started reading various histories and science brochures about the region.  Hiking through the lava tubes on this mountain was also an adventure, as we used kerosene-burning Coleman lanterns.  Afterwards, both of us discovered burn marks on our clothing where the red hot lamps had brushed up against us and singed the fabric.

Nice the thing about these mountains, too . . . there was no cell phone coverage.  We were isolated.  Little connection to the outside world.  Nothing but raw animal instinct to keep us alive.  I began communicating with grunts and gestures, as my ancestors had done millennia ago.  I whittled a spear.  Becky ordered a pizza.  We were back to basics.

I don't think we read anything that night.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hood Winked

Photo: Overlooking the Columbia river valley at Maryhill Winery where we met our third Hoosier in as many days.

Before departing for Portland and the Columbia river valley, I read several travel guides to the area. But few were helpful.  That's the trouble with books.  One can't always depend on the opinions of another when it comes to cuisine, lodging, and entertainment.

Take Portland, for example.  (And here I offer my apologies to those who live there or otherwise love the place.)  During our brief visit downtown, where Becky and I did have an excellent meal (but I was too sick to enjoy it), we witnessed public fornication and urination along the Columbia river canal walk.  Sure, I wanted to stick around, but once the large hand-rolled cigars began appearing, I realized these folks weren't toking on tobacco and we decided to cross over the river and begin our wine tour along the valley.

Visiting these wineries was the most relaxing part of the journey, and along the way I began reading Eugene Peterson's lectio devina (a free Kindle download nonetheless).  Each of his brief devotional guides (primarily on Matthew's gospel) gave me some new thoughts to ponder and seemed to bring me joy in the midst of scenic beauty.  I especially enjoyed those portions of the gospels where Jesus manufactured great wine, or was condemned by the hyper-religious for his enjoyment of wine, or where Jesus told parables about wine to demonstrate the joy and party-atmosphere of the kingdom.

I was ready to taste wine and spit it into those little urns and say things like, "ahhh, hints of clove and apricot, with a touch of saffron and great tannins, too. Very dry. Excellent finish!"  These kinds of comments placed me in good stead with the cute barristas and often landed us free tastings.  "Are you a wine critic?" one cutie asked me.

"Sugar," I told her, "I'm a travel writer, and I'm giving you a great write-up."

I wasn't lying.  I've propositioned three editors to write travel articles on the Columbia river valley, but was especially surprised to find so many Hoosiers running or owning wineries in this area. In the little town of Hood River, Oregon alone I met a young lady from Zionsville and the owner, a Butler grad, seemed surprised to find an old couple like us so far from home.  And on the other side of the river gorge, in Washington, a talked to a lady from Shelbyville who had matriculated to Maryhill winery and ran the whole shebang.

I guess we Hoosiers know how to do some things, after all.  I seemed to meet them at every turn.  And as for Hood River, what a town.  Who knows, I might be back.  Seems to be plenty of retired Hoosiers making a life there.  And if Becky goes first, I already know some cute women who can pour me a glass.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Up Yours

Photo: July 9, Boulder, Colorado at 8,000 feet where I offered to leap from the precipice so Becky could collect life insurance money and marry a young pharmacist. Thankfully, she refused.

Before hiking several miles in the Denver-Boulder environs, Becky and I paused to read our trail maps.  Reading a trail map is tricky business, especially out west, where distance of trail is not nearly as telling as difficulty or time.  Usually, Becky would pick a trail, as would I, and then she would acquiese in the iron-clad logic of my explanation and say, "Okay, then let's go up yours."

This was our usual procedure on this vacation.  And today I'm helping my wife prep for her first colonoscopy.  So, it's payback. 

I actually didn't get much reading done in Denver-Boulder, and I didn't have time or place to present Becky with any of the dozen romantic poems I wrote for this trip.  We just visited family (they live in the historic Eisenhower "summer White House").  We slept in Ike's bed, used Ike's bathroom, ate at Ike's table, and hiked.  All in all, Denver-Boulder was a great first stop and offered the very best weather of the entire trip.

I was itching, however, to give Becky some of my poems . . . which I had stashed inside the underwear pocket of my luggage, as I knew this new batch of verse would be too hot to handle in Denver.  Cooler climate was needed.  Enter Portland, the Columbia river valley, and eventually Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Seattle.

Too bad I can't offer any of these poems on my blog.  You'll have to watch for them in my obituary.  But if I keep climbing like I did last week in those high altitudes, you might see these verses sooner than you think.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No Smoking

More than twelve days ago our vacation travels began with a Big Mac eaten in the Indianapolis airport and ended yesterday eating a bag or Ritz crackers in Chicago International over an empty wallet.  I also began the ordeal with a full Kindle reading Oscar Hijuelos's memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes . . . a rather humble, and at times self-deprecating history of his own Cuban roots and the life which led him to write The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love, which won the Pulitzer prize for fiction some twenty years ago.  And Hijuelos's Mr. Ives' Christmas is one of the most theological and emotionally moving Yuletide tales one will encounter.

Interestingly enough, as I turned off my Kindle in Indy, and as Becky and I were preparing to board our flight to Denver, I heard a familiar voice and I spent all of five minutes talking to an old singer-songwriter friend who informed me, as he scurried away with his guitar to catch his own flight to Phoenix, that he had written one of his songs using my poem-lyrics.

"Do you remember the poem?" he asked. "I hope you don't mind."

"I'm sure I don't remember," I admitted.  "And no, I don't mind."

"I'll send you a CD," he promised (thanks, Jim).

Some time today I'll be listening to the song and trying to recall what, exactly, I wrote for these lyrics (twelve years ago?).  I doubt Tim Rice or Bernie Taupin have anything to worry about.

And so began our vacation . . . poems, a loaded Kindle, and Thoughts Without Cigarettes.  Hijuelos kept me company most of the way to Denver, but I kept trying to delve into my own past to remember this song writing incident.

"Does altitude effect memory?" I asked Becky as we passed over Limp Biscuit, Iowa. 

"Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason," I said.  "And who are you, lady?"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My 1000th Blog!

Doesn't seem possible, but this is the 1000th blog for Between Pages . . . this little experiment in humor centered on my reading and writing habits.  Through the years people have asked about Between Pages, wondering if it is intended to be devotional (it's not!), or insightful (no!), or helpful (not unless you need a laugh!).  No . . . this blog is  about my weird and wacky side. Or, for the people who REALLY know me . . . it's just me writing humor about my reading and writing.

This is also my last blog for a few days (but read on, and I'll explain).

I do have a few insights, however, about writing 1000 blog entries.  Here they are:

If I wrote an average of 250 words per blog, I've written 250,000 words just on this blog alone.  That's a quarter of a million words, folks!  For anyone wondering how you write a book . . . this is the way.  One day at a time.  I've written what could be three to four BIG books through this blog alone.  Write every day (yes, 7 days a week, 365 days a year!) and you'll produce at least one book a year guaranteed!  Write 2 pages a day, you have two books . . . three pages, three books, etc.  Do the math.  I probably write 8-10 books a year, and this is how I do it.

I'm amazed by who reads this weird blog.  In a couple of weeks I'll be doing a podcast interview because a producer read one of my wild entries about my marriage and wants to find out how much of my marriage is true.  (Answer:  all of it, but who would want to live it?)

No, my wife doesn't read this blog.  No one in my family does.  They live this blog, and they don't want to be reminded that I read and write every day and that, even on my good days, I press the boundaries of sickness and sanity.  My wife seems to appreciate my romantic poetry, however . . . and this is usually how I entice her to go to bed with me.  It works twice a year.  My kids walk away in disgust whenever I tell them, "Daddy can't play right now, I have to write."  Actually . . . both of my kids write, too . . . and some day I hope we can write something together.  They have suggested working on my Last Will & Testament.

Finally, I'm glad I reached this 1000th blog today. I leave this afternoon for 10 days of R & R in the great Northwest.  Look for my next blog entry by, or around, July 19th!  I think I've earned a break from this blog for a few days and my wife really needs my advances and my attention.  I hope you'll understand.  She says she can't wait . . . to read my poems.

Oh, and sincerely . . . THANKS FOR READING!!!!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

After Vacation

After vacation (Lord willin' and the creek don't rise) . . . I've promised to clean my office at home.  Becky has given me an ultimatum.  "Either you put things in order or I will!"

I don't know what all the fuss is about.  I know where everything is located among the piles:  two-year old manuscripts, cover letters, pre-addressed envelopes, postage stamps, essays, stories, poems, rejection letters, and more.  I can reach into any of the piles, just like little Jack Horner, and pull out the plum I'm looking for.

"Your office looks like it was hit by a tornado."  I take exception to this.  In fact, I think my office is rather orderly . . . especially compared to other writer's spaces I've seen.  My books are neatly stacked two and three deep in the bookshelves, I have my dictionary, thesaurus, Bible, concordance, and file for editorial addresses and phone numbers neatly assigned to a shelf above my old, gray Compaq computer.  I have a lateral filing cabinet neatly organized, labeled and choked full of manuscripts, contracts, and royalty statements.  I have my royalty stubs of the past fifteen years totalling $165.95 cents.  And yes, I do have several piles of paper on the window sill and on the floor, but these are "working" piles, and I dare not disturb them, lest I let air into the interior, expose the "hot spot", and start a fire.

Later this week, while I'm hiking Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helen's, I'll have a chance to explain these things to my wife.  I'll woo her.  Court her.  Sweet talk her to the point where she will relent and say, "You know, I love your office just the way it is.  Don't change a thing.  Leave those piles strewn around the floor and I'll just vacuum around them, sweetheart.  You're such a wonderful man, what was I thinking asking you to clean anything?  I should be doing YOU favors . . . and starting as soon as we get back to Brownsburg, God help me, I WILL."

I'm going for this effect.  I think I can do it.  I have my romantic poems packed--one for each day of our trip--and I also have an ample supply of Rolaids, Ben-Gay, and Extra-Strength Tylenol.  I have Motrin, too.  And clean underwear. 

It's no wonder the woman loves me.  She knows I won't change.  And if she gives me a headache, I'll just fight it off.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Making the Short LIst

Every now and again and editor will inform me that my work has made "the short list."  What this means is that the editor has taken my work out of the "slush" pile and placed it into a narrower pile of work for future consideration to be published. In other words, the short list is work that is being considered for publication.

Naturally, I like making the short list.  I used to be a full six-foot two-inches in height, but as I've aged, my body has settled like a cake and I can barely stretch myself to this stature today.  When I go in for my yearly physical, I do manage to crack a few vertebrae and stretch up to this height.  The nurse always tells me, "Great job."  She smiles at me, as if I am an old man who has achieved something spectacular just from being alive.  She pats me on the back and says, "Follow me into the examination room down the hall."  She takes my blood pressure and is astounded to discover that I have the sitting heart rate of a poodle.  When the doctor comes into the room, he always looks as me and says,  "Oh, it's you again."

Short lists are wonderful because it means that some of my work might see print before my death (which will likely be from rickets or scurvy).  I can also inform my wife that my life has not been in vain, and that, someday soon, an editor might affirm that my existence was productive and might even slap a biographical profile in the back of the magazine.  My photo might also be included, giving me the opportunity to use a snapshot that is twenty years old.

I'm hoping that more editors will call me this week before vacation and tell me that they are putting me on their "short list."  

"Better hurry," I'll tell them.  "My cholesterol could go haywire at any time and I might not be here in a few weeks.  If you want me to do any revisions, these should be accomplished before I have a stroke."

Editors never take my advice, however.  They just keep shortening their lists, and usually I get short-changed off the list entirely.  

By then, I'm long gone.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Arm Chair Reader

I spent the better part of the morning of the 4th reading . . . and by afternoon in the Lazy-Boy, I had fallen asleep.  That's what happens when one stays up until 1 a.m. playing the board game: Clue.  I won the last game: it was Miss Scarlet, with the Knife, in the Lounge.

It's tough going these days in the reading department. I tend to fall asleep very easily now.  I even fall asleep when I am home alone with Becky.  I look at her and nod off.  Perhaps I need Geritol.

During these final days before vacation, I do have my Kindle loaded and I'm looking forward to taking it along on the long flight west.  But if the flight attendant hands me a bag of pretzels or some type of complex carb, I may not be able to read past the first chapter before I fall asleep.

One thing for sure, I'm not carting around any works by Washington Irving.  Especially not "Rip Van Winkle."

I'll need a lot of coffee to get a book read on this vacation. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Vacation

It happens every summer.  Just as I am making plans to get away on vacation, the phone starts ringing and the offers start coming in.  And, although most publishers and magazines "take a break" from submissions during the mid-summer slump, it always feels like my writing load heats up during July.

In the past week I've had three phone calls from folks asking if I would 1) schedule a drive-time radio show to talk about my, now, nearly two year-old wedding planning book 2) schedule a couple of speaking engagements for marketing purposes.

I've already said "no" to the speaking engagements and turned down these high-paying gigs, but I will try to work out the drive-time radio interview, even if I have to do the talk show from my cell phone near the top of Mt. Rainier, where Becky and I are headed next week.  It's possible.  For the past two years I've done radio interviews from my hotel room while on vacation. 

Most of the interviewers want to know, "Where are now, Mr. Alleycat?  Do I hear the sound of surf in the background?"

"Oh, that's just the cabana boy bringing me another drink.  There's a party going on over here.  They just brought in another load of caviar."

I'm ready to do my interview while walking a trail or riding a ferry across the Columbia river.  That's the wonder of cell phones.  As long as I can get good reception, I'm available.  The only thing I'll have to work out is the time difference.  But I hate the thought of getting up in the middle of the night.  Not for an interview.  And certainly not while on vacation.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Carved in Stone

As the writer of Ecclesiastes observed centuries ago: "for everything there is a season." Indeed . . . and when it comes to the flow of writing, there are high tides and eddies.  This week was an interesting one in that I had six poems accepted for publication--all to see the light of page at some future date, but I don't know when.

Oscillating between so many different forms--short story, essay, poetry, non-fiction and novel--I've been on an eclectic and hasty journey of late, setting aside one chapter for another, or returning to half-completed work while brushing the finishing coat of lacquer on the old.  As soon as I complete one book, two more rear their ugly heads.

I'm not sure why so much of my poetry received the nod this week . . . but luck has as much to do with it as anything, and I'm grateful to the gods of chance.

I'm beginning to feel like Raymond Carver--the guy who wrote in so many forms and genres--his work not easily defined.  Carver become principally known as a short story writer after his untimely death, but he wrote much, much more.

I've been working on dozens of poems about American writers, and here's one on Carver himself.  Having read the bulk of Carver's short story collections, he is certainly one of the short form masters.  Short . . . just like his life.

Raymond Carver

Reading your words, precise as they are,
I taste each syllable on the tip of my tongue.
You arrived too old to have travelled so far
And departed too late to be so young.