Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All the Words

Simon Winchester's follow-up book to his bestselling, The Professor and the Madman, gives us the deep background information inside the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  The Meaning of Everything is as much a story about the creation of shelving (designed to hold the millions of words and their definitions) as it is the editing itself.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was certainly the most comprehensive publishing endeavor ever attempted up to that point, and the years of its creation also took years off the lives of those who worked on it.

Here's a bit of light verse I wrote some years ago about the OED . . . .

The Oxford English Dictionary

Among the many books I've read
While at the beach or propped in bed
The dictionary stands alone
As the quintessential tome.
All other pages pale in scope
Or in importance in their hope
That one might find a perfect word
Or learn to spell it--though I've heard
That some rely on speller-checks
(Or say that Webster's hurts their necks).
And though the surfers disagree
I'll take the massive OED.
While surely not a breviary
At least it is a dictionary.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From the Desk Of . . .

A few months back I placed an order for some professionally-produced stationery featuring my name and contact information lithographed on fine paper.  Not that people use paper anymore, or even expect it, but I'm finding that many editors are surprised to receive a handwritten note.  I'm still one of those old-school dropouts who puts pen to paper and mails his thoughts to people in high places.  Instead of creating an e-mail trail . . . I'm still producing a paper trail.

Naturally, many people have reason to be concerned about their trail:  angry emails whipped out at work in frustration at the boss; facebook entries and scathing cell phone photos taken in seedy nightclubs; suggestive tweets that end up at work instead of disintegrating into cyberspace.

Paper, however, offers a different kind of permanence.  But the way things stand today, I'm not sure paper has as much staying power as digital information.  Most people toss paper into the trash . . . whereas emails linger forever on someone's server.

But in the interest of fair play, I thought I'd share a few of my recent letters just in case people are wondering what a guy like me writes to people out there.  If I'm not sending emails, what, exactly, am I writing? 

Take a look at these babies.  Who wouldn't slip these in their permanent files?

(To radio host and personnel)
Dear Friends,
Enclosed please find complimentary copies of my books, Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget and Before You Say "I Do".  Thanks for having me on the show.  Hope these prizes can help someone create a lasting marriage.
All the best,
Todd Outcalt

(To editor at a literary magazine)
Dear ----,
Thanks for inviting me to submit some poetry.  Hope you will find something here to appreciate. I would be honored to see my work in your pages.
Todd Outcalt

(To wife, note taped to fridge)
Tonight is made for love (or at least an ice cream sundae), and we are out of bananas.  You wanna pick some, or shall I?  Give me a call.  You got my number, sugar.

(To son, note taped to truck windshield)
Happy birthday!
Love, Dad

(To wife, note left on bed pillow beside pound of chocolate and rose petal)
Sweet cheeks,
Is it my imagination, or have you been lookin' very hot of late?  Eat the chocolate.  We'll meet later and discuss a proposition that could be mutually beneficial to us both.  Rendezvous at 0-900? 
Sugar Daddy

Monday, August 29, 2011

Going Gaga

On Saturday an editor wrote, rejecting one of my book proposals with:  Like what you've done here . . . just not gaga over it.

So, this is what the publishing industry is looking for now? Gaga?  Okay, so the next time I submit I'll make sure my manuscript is wrapped in meat.  That, or I'll wrap the package in black electrical tape and I'll send along an author photograph of myself tied up in cellophane.  I'll get to gaga one way or another.

In my cover letter to editors, I'll try to describe all of the ways my wife is gaga for me.  I'll make sure they know I can be a gaga kind of guy. For example:

My wife knows I make a great cup of coffee.  Give me a half pound of Starbucks Cafe Verona and eight cups of scummy pond water and I can turn out a decent pot.

Or, I could tell editors how my wife raves about my ability to re-arrange furniture.  Some of these pieces--like small sofas and arm chairs and coffee tables--I can lift clean up over my head! I mean, I can lift 'em way up there!!  I don't drop 'em either.  I re-arrange these furnishings per my wife's instructions and I don't bitch about it one bit.  She's gaga for that kind of strength of body and character and gives me high marks for treating our twenty-five-year-old Goodwill furnishings as if they were mint condition.  I don't scratch 'em.  I just dust off the cat puke and move the pieces around the room like they don't weigh scratch.

Or, I could inform these editors that my wife is gaga over my wardrobe . . . most of which has not changed in twenty years, including the underwear.  No one wears polyester better than I do . . . and God-a-mighty, you should see me in Dacron.  I can't even describe how gaga my wife becomes when I go 100% cotton. Can't keep her hands off me.  She's an animal.  That's why I stopped wearing white T-shirts fresh out of the package.  She couldn't handle it.  I had to take them back to Wal-Mart and exchange them for electrical tape.

Now that I know these editors are looking for gaga, I'll be ready.  I won't make the same mistake twice.

As the politicians say:  "I'll give 'em what they want."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Recording Studio

This week I spent several hours recording my sixth CD . . . a Christmas album featuring a blend of holiday stories.  I've always given 100% of my CD royalties to missions, so I hope this one will be a hot commodity come November.

Recording a CD is tedious work, however.  There are "takes" and "retakes" and, after several hours of using the voice, the vocal chords can become a bit strained.  I always begin my CD productions sounding like James Earl Jones, and end my sessions sounding like Richard Simmons in hot pants.  After a recording session, my wife wants to know if I've been drinking.  (Yes, but only lemon tea . . . great for the chords.)

Oddly enough, I also had several questions about these stories during the production.  "Did you write these?"  "How long did it take you to write them?"  "Where do you find the time to write?"

This last question is a common one:  where is the time?  Answer:  Time for writing is made, created, culled out, reserved, sacrosanct time.  I've always felt folks make time for the things that are important to them.  If watching 3-4 hours of TV a day is important, people will find the time for this.  If it's time in the gym, folks will create this time.  And if it's writing . . . well, there are enough hours in the day to find a few minutes to create an essay, a poem, a chapter, a sermon.

Looking back, I'm not sure how I have found the time to create six CD collections . . . but I did.  It also helps to drink a lot.  Lemon tea . . . that is.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Am I Really This Boring?

A few folks have wanted to know if I am really as boring as my wife says I am.  Short answer: I'm even more boring than that . . . especially when I'm writing.  To prove it, this will be the last time I blog on my boredom, but I'm mesmerized by the Dos Equis ("Two crosses" in Spanish) man.  And after beginning a writing session at 10 p.m. last night, I have certainly lived into the role and earned it.

My newest commercial would affirm:

When he writes, he uses Times New Roman typeface . . .
As a child, his father used him for hours as a remote control to toggle back-and-forth between two TV channels . . .
As a teenager, he could only dream of kissing a girl . . . and has still kissed only one (in his dreams) . . .
He has conceived two children and has had sex an equal number of times . . .
When his bishop calls, he apologizes for dialing a wrong number . . .
All of his published material contains the word "The" in the titles . . .
He is . . .  the most boring man in the world . . . 

Keep writing, my friends!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Goodie, Goodie, Gumdrop

Last night I received an affirmation from an editor who has accepted one of my essays for publication (thanks, Amy!).  But the more interesting piece of the correspondence was her final paragraph, where she wrote:

"I don't usually do this, but I wanted to thank you for this piece.  You are a very good writer.  You have made my job super easy as an editor."

Aww, shucks!  Really?!   

I'm not used to such high-handed praise.  Even though I worked hard on the essay, choosing my words carefully, polishing . . . there's always that gnawing sense of self-loathing that tells me I ain't good enough at anything.  As a child, my mother always told me I could do better, and for the past twenty-seven years my wife has taken up the mantle and reminded me daily that I do few things worthy of any accolade.  

I tried to tell my wife last night that there was another woman out there who appreciated something about me . . . but then she reminded me that this other woman hasn't met me yet, and that she only knows me through pen and paper and email correspondence.  She's correct in her assessment. Once folks get to know me, they ain't impressed. 

Today I plan to respond to this editor.  I hope to set the record straight.  I'll remind her that, actually, my essay is a sick excuse for a piece of writing and that, if she were so inclined, she could find another writer out there with twice the skill and three-times the charm.  I'm not deserving of her praise, and I'll invite her to retract her previous email and send something more pointed . . . perhaps an obscenity-laced tirade extolling the virtues of the superior writer and a flat-rate rejection of my essay on the basis that her publication would never sink so low as to print me in its pages.

That's more my style.  I'm used to it.  And I really enjoy a good thrashing.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reading My Bishops

White       Black
P-K4        P-K4
N-KB3     N-QB3
B-N5        P-QR3
B-R4        N-B3

There was a time when I played chess, read chess books by the hour, practiced.  My favorite piece on the board was the bishop.  Loved to move diagonally.  Little did I know that I would grow up to be moved around the state of Indiana by a real-live bishop (though I never moved diagonally), and little did I know, back then, that Elizabeth Bishop was such a good poet.

I've been reading her Collected Poems.  Her most famous poem, "The Fish", is one I read in college.  But I'm enjoying reading her work now.  Many of her best poems manage to exude both a dramatic flair and a bit of humor, which I appreciate.

She writes about every-day events, circumstances, and domestic issues.  I appreciate these, too. 

Here's a bit I wrote some years ago on the eve of my son's first driving experience.  Any parent who has helped a son or daughter learn how to drive can appreciate the sentiments.


My son, the driver, is sixteen . . .
The youngest I have ever seen.
He's raised my car insurance rates
To stratospheric postulates
Of actuarial malaise.
I parent strict.  I offer praise.
And odds, like dice, are rolled each trip.
Though in my firm dictatorship
I only hope he will not crash
Until I've banked a lot more cash.

PS...for all you chess freaks out there, the opening sequence of chess moves above is known as the "Ruy Lopez". 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Feeling My Oates

Just my opinion:  but I'd make the assertion that Joyce Carol Oates is the best living American writer, now that John Updike has died.  I've been reading Oates for years, and as far as volume goes, there is much Oates material to read.  Oates is not only a top writer, but incredibly prolific.  She's won just about every major literary award and achievement.

I've been slogging through her earliest short story collection:  Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?  It is amazing to think that many of these stories were written when Oates was an older teen back in the 1950s.  Much insight.  Much truth.  And she's been teaching at Princeton for decades while also churning out volume after volume of stories, essays and novels.  She lost her husband, Ray, a couple of years ago and has since written a marvelous first-person account of grief and the aftermath of loss.

Unlike me, Oates actually looks like a writer.  She has that life-hardened, intelligent appearance that I lack.  My author photos make my look like a funeral home director or an insurance salesman.  That's why I'm thinking of dying my hair coal black and growing some lamb chop sideburns.  With a little work, I could take on the appearance of Elvis and get people talking.

It has also been said that all the great writers suffered:  Tolstoy, Kafka, Berryman . . . evidently a writer has to suffer or lose two toes to frostbite in order to be taken seriously.  Perhaps. 

But the way I figure it, that's why I'm married.  This in itself is suffering.  I'm suffering, even now, just writing this when I should be cleaning the kitchen per my wife's instructions . . . and it's God-awful early in the morning, which should tell you something about how long each day is for me, and how far-reaching this suffering goes, and what I must endure to create happiness.

Of course, as soon as I get my hair dyed black and clean the toilet, I'm off to the gym.  Probably be the first one there.  I'm going to torture my body today, subdue it, bring it into submission with heavy weights packed on my shoulders and back.

And if you buy this one . . . let me tell you another story.  I tell you, I can suffer with the best of 'em.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Going To Jail

In a few hours I will be going to jail.  The patdown.  The security clearance.  The body-cavity check.  I can't wait.  It will be the first time I've been intimate in months.  I plan to bring a bouquet of roses for the occasion.

Going to the Marion County jail to lead a worship service brings back a great many memories.  When I was in college, I visited the Sullivan County jail every week (Thursday nights at 7 p.m . . . that was date night for me).  I wrote about a few of my jail-bait experiences in The Best Things in Life Are Free.

But going to jail now, I don't know what to expect.  I'm an older man.  My reaction time is slower and I don't run fast.  Anyone comes at me with a shiv, I'm probably going to get stuck. 

The only book I'll be carrying with me is the Bible.  The only protection, my prayers.  And every time I go behind the bars, I remember, "This ain't Mayberry" and "there but for the grace of God go I."

Makes me wonder if I'll have something to write about later.

PS . . . 25 points to anyone who can identify this Mayberry jail regular-offender.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cruising Through Another Anniversary

Fortunately for me, my daughter had made plans for Becky and I to attend the Maroon 5 & Train concert for our anniversary.  The show, benefiting the families of those who died in the State Fair tragedy, was superb (though I have always thought Conseco leaves much to be desired acoustically).  If Chelsey had not purchased these tickets months ago, we would have had nothing to do on our anniversary.  Our evening would have consisted of couch conversation during a Gomer Pyle rerun, with Becky asking, "Did you say something?"  "No, I didn't say anything."  "Oh, I thought you said something." 

I did manage to write a very fine love poem just moments before Becky walked in the door yesterday:  my gift.  And I also dredged this sucker out of the archives . . . a poem I wrote two years ago following our 25th anniversary Caribbean cruise.  Nothing has changed in two years.  I still love the old lady, and there's probably nothing more romantic than island hopping.

Caribbean Cruise

The sea is blue.  Our cabin spare.  The service is extraordinaire.
The sky is aqua.  Sunset red.  The buffet is a myriad
Of escargot and caviar.  We drink our wine late at the bar.

The sea is green.  The sunrise white.  The taxi driver erudite.
The sky is turquoise.  Island rust.  The beach is ancient igneous.
The band is silver.  Our faces tan.  The ship is metropolitan.

The sea is purple.  Sunset pink.  We recline on the deck and think.
The evening black.  The stars are white.  We whisper and embrace the night
In love and laughter to discuss the colors miscellaneous.

The sea is ink.  The hour late.  Love holds us as we contemplate
The day now past.  The sky is blue.  And I awaken next to you.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anniversary Poem

Today marks my 27th wedding anniversary.  At least that's what Becky told me last night.  I believe her.  It seems like 27 years.  Seems a lot longer actually.  More like 30.  But after 25, why continue counting?  You just sort of walk around in a stupor.  You begin to forget anniversaries as easily as birthdays.  You weep more easily.  There is more to weep about. 

In spite of the stupor, however, I've written this anniversary poem.  It may not be as romantic as the verse I'll share tonight, but it goes places.

Finish Line

Some might say we're crazy, or odd, or confused,
While others might say we're a pair,
But the fact still remains that our engines are used
And our parts are showing some wear.

My chassis is cracked and your wiring is frayed
And our pistons aren't firing complete
But once we get oiled and all repairs made
Our cylinders can still create heat.

We may not move fast and we bring up the rear
While others slip by for the win,
But you've not hit the wall on any lap, dear,
And I'm ready to race you again.

We'll never bask in the winners' wreaths
Or hear the cheers from the peaks
But few expect much from two antiques
Who are held together with grease.

Years from now when the names are new
And the Hall of Fame gets the glitz
I'll still be rounding the track with you
And we'll finish our race in the pits.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Talk to Me

It's weird, but I must be on someone's "list."  I'm still getting calls and emails from radio talk show hosts, bloggers, and web site hosts.  These folks must have gone through their A-list of personalities, and now they are scraping the bottom of the barrel with their D-list . . . and want to talk to me.  Of course, no one's holding a gun to my head.  I don't have to talk.  But I try to be accommodating.  Most of them are holding a BB gun.  Okay, I'll talk.

But I could save a few of these producers some time and offer the answers to some questions right here and now.  So, let's get a few things straight.

Tell me . . . why do you do what you do?
Well, it's something to do.  I'd rather be doing something than nothing.  Know what I mean?  I find that when I'm doing what I do, I'm tired at the end of the day and can sleep with a clear conscience.  What else is there to do?

So . . . you like doing it?
You'll have to ask my wife that question.  I like doing it.  I won't speak for her.  We do different things.  She likes what she does.  I like what I do.  Okay, yeah . . . she loves it.  There, I said it.  She likes her job.

What would you do if you could do anything?
Hey, no one can do anything, bub!  This isn't America!  Well . . . actually it is.  But still, I'd just keep doing what I'm doing.  I'd do it more if I had the time.  Time is a factor in what I do.  There's always more to do.  That's why I do it.

Is it our imagination, or are you circumventing the questions like a politician?
No, I'm a straight-shooter.  I can tell my wife anything.  But she doesn't want to hear any of it, so I don't tell her much.  This is part of what I do. We talked about that earlier.  Or have you forgotten?

Anything else you'd like to share while we've got you on the air?
We're on the air?  *%!*%$***, I didn't realize!  You mean there could be people listening to this?  Who are they?  I thought I was ordering a pizza.  That's also something I do.  You know? 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Diary Discovery

Last week I discovered a used book that offered some new delights.  I found a copy of All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922-1927.  Despite the fact that I have read nearly all of C.S. Lewis's books, I had no idea this one existed.  This is, of course, an early glimpse of C.S. Lewis when he was in high school and college.

After a quick perusal of this book, I realized that Lewis was concerned with academic pursuits, writing papers, discussing philosophy with friends.  When I was in high school and college I was most concerned with shooting hoops and writing weird tales.  I was working hard to keep Becky from stalking me.  Thank God we didn't have cell phones in those days, she would have called me incessantly. 

Like Lewis, I have my own journals.  But I can't imagine publishing them.  I doubt people would be interested in knowing how much licorice I ate on August 20, 1979, or if I found that Cracker Jack ring on September 4, 1980. 

I'll keep my journals stashed in the bookshelf and save the world this sneak peek.  If I want to read about a real life, I'll keep reading Lewis's diary.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Strong Medicine

For the past two weeks I've been enjoying The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz.  Kunitz, who died a few years ago, was a former U.S. poet laureate (before the title was created), and his poetry spanned the gamut from domestic to natural to personal.  He also possessed a lightness and accessibility to his verse that is not found in other poets.

Reading Kunitz also inspires me to continue writing my own verse . . . particularly as I have a pile of poems I want to give to my wife by Thursday night (our 27th wedding anniversary).  I'm working hard on those new poems and hope to have a couple I can post on this blog on Thursday and Friday. Stay tuned.

But for now, here's one I wrote some years back about the medicine cabinet.  Enjoy this sneak peek behind closed doors.

Medicine Cabinet

The remedies are racked by age:
A jar of adolescent Vicks,
My mother's castor oil, a page
From Dr. Spock, tweezers for ticks,

A vial of flaming lineament,
Tubes of Brylcreem, old prescriptions,
Pills assorted, drops of mint,
And aspirins of all descriptions.

In front of these, like sentinels,
The new drugs offer potencies
In milligrams.  Typed on the vials
Their side effects, discrepancies,

And dangers.  A history of myself
Stacked in sickness and in health.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rock N' Roll

It is a horrid development when a married couple spends a Friday night at home alone . . . reading on the front porch. But that was the case this past weekend.  A pile of magazines, a stack of textbooks, a smattering of paperbacks, a box of newspapers . . . ours for the taking while the night was young.

I'm not sure I can take much more excitement, though. I read essays about economics, the genome sequence of Neanderthal, and Bob Dylan.  I perused newspaper columns.  Read a couple of short stories.  Began a novel.  

Eventually I suggested we drive to Dairy Queen and buy a treat.  We did.  We drove back home to complete our reading in the twilight.

With Friday nights like this, is it any wonder our marriage has lasted for twenty-seven years?  

Friday, August 12, 2011

If You Take My Advice

Two weeks ago I was a guest on the new Rachel Russo show ( press "podcasts" at top for link to interview) and discussed themes and topics that engaged couples should talk about before they get married.  I don't think I mentioned on the show that I've been giving this same advice to my engaged daughter of late.  I hope my daughter will listen to her Dad.

One bride told me recently:  "I always cry at weddings."

That's understandable.  What woman wouldn't cry when she thinks about the man she's marrying?  My wife probably weeps every day in secret.  And next week, when I remind my wife that we've been married for twenty-seven years and that she could have married Harvey Wiggins, who turned out to be one hell of a plumber, she will be inconsolable.

But she's stuck with me now.  Divorce is not an option.  I have a plaque with this slogan that hangs over our bed.  We don't have mirrors on the ceiling, just slogans.

My daughter, on the other hand, can still be influenced.  I'm trying to give her marital advice.  She's read my books, my columns, my articles.  I've asked her to download the podcast.  But the thought of her mother and I loving each other after all of these years makes her gag.  After all, it's tough receiving advice from a man who walks around the house in a breezy pair of ten-year-old underwear (boxers) and occasionally kisses his wife on the lips and calls her "honey".  I can clear a room.  We haven't seen our son in years.  He's embarrassed.  And after he finishes his senior year of high school he is adamant that he's moving to a frat house so he won't have to witness my bumbling attempts at romance. He's seen too much.  He needs to move to a college campus so he can reclaim his innocence.

My daughter, on the other hand, needs advice from a person she can respect. That's why I'm sending her and her fiance to a counselor I can trust . . . a Harvard grad with many degrees hanging on his office wall and a bevy of signed photographs of Lady Gaga and Cat Stevens.  I'll just be here for her, helping her plan her wedding on a budget of $199.99.  I've already found the burlap for her dress.  I'll be providing the music, solo.  I'm cooking the wedding wieners on a Weber grill.  I will also take the photos. I will preside over the ceremony pro bono.

Marriage is tough enough without entering into it "unadvisedly" . . . as the old wedding ceremony used to subscribe.  But advice is cheap.

Or, at least mine is.  And what do Dads know?  

PS--Thanks, Rachel, for having me on the show, and I wish you all the best!  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Most Boring Man in the World . . . Again

A week from today my wife and I will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary.  We have nothing planned.  And believe me, nothing will happen.

It's not that I don't have plans.  It's just that my plans don't include high-octane activities such as dining out, traveling, or spending the night at a Red Roof Inn.  Our anniversary will consist of work, a pot of coffee, and perhaps some conversation around making out.  But it's just a rumor.

It's likely my wife shares my son's sentiment that I am "the most boring man in the world."  Could be.  But if I am, I want this commercial voice-over:

He can open a can of franks and beans with his eyes closed . . .
When his car starts in the morning, he considers it a good day . . .
When his wife kisses his cheek, he turns the other one . . .
When he takes his wife out to a high class restaurant, he orders the slider supreme . . . 
When he speaks, people wonder why . . .
His favorite hobby is cleaning up cat puke . . .

He is . . . the most boring man in the world . . .

Keep writing, my friends!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Koontz & Kounting

Dean Koontz is one of the best-selling writers of all-time.  The last sales stats I saw on Koontz ran his world-wide sales tally upwards of 300 million copies.

The thing is, I've never read a Dean Koontz novel.  Never held one in my hands.  Never looked at one, either.  To my knowledge, none of his books have been made into movies (unlike Stephen King's works, which are all made into movies) and most of Koontz's early works were published as paperback originals (this is a publisher's way of saying, "we don't want to invest any money in YOU.").

However, although I'm not familiar with Koontz's work, nor do I have any plans to become familiar, I was taken by a tidbit I read about him earlier this week.  Seems that when Koontz was a newlywed, he told his wife he wanted to write novels.  She said, "I'll earn the income and you write.  I'll give you five years to make a living at it, and if, after five years, you are not making money, you have to get a real job."

Evidently, Koontz was able to knock out one novel after another, but sales were slim to non-existent.  His publisher kept publishing in paperback, Koontz continued writing these non-selling books, but he was forced to write so quickly he couldn't concentrate on quality . . . just the quantity of words.  Get 'er done.

Surprisingly, Koontz was able to build a small but reliable readership and after five years, had a trickle of income sufficient to continue writing.  And the rest, as they say, is his 300 million copy history.

I applaud Koontz's wife, though.  What woman would tell a man, "I'll give you five years to succeed?"  My wife wouldn't give me one week to succeed.  That's why I've had to rise before the crows for thirty years.  It's why I've stayed up all night after working a sixteen hour day.  It's why my writing is crap.

I have suggested, of course, that Becky give me a week to write . . . uninterrupted, dedicated space and time.  I'd take a week's vacation for this.  But she always has other plans for me . . . yard work, cleaning the kitchen sink, etc.  Gosh, if I had a week of uninterrupted focus . . . I could write an entire book.  Maybe two.  And good ones.

Hope my wife reads this.  She could take a lesson from Koontz and his woman. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reading Dog Food

Last week I discovered a box of doggie treats . . . a leftover supply from Buster's years in the house (before he was eaten by coyotes).  For some reason I felt compelled to read the "food" label on the side of the doggie treat box and noted that there's not much difference between a doggie treat and a hot dog.  Many of the same ingredients and preservatives.  For all I know, the doggie treats might be more tasty. 

One of the more interesting ingredients in the doggie treat, however, was something called "natural expectorant" . . . or, in other words, vomit.  Seems this is what gives the doggie treat its great taste, and why dogs gobble 'em up like week-old road kill.

Do we really want to know what's in our food these days?  I have a feeling some of these "natural" flavorings and "natural" colorings might be far more natural than we realize.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the hot dogs in my fridge.  I ate a ton on the 4th of July and they are still there.  A hot dog never goes bad.  They just linger.

I'll probably eat a hot dog again this fall.  But I'm not reading the label.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Daughter's Wedding Budget

Naturally, as soon as my daughter announced that she was engaged, I gave her copy of my book:  Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget.  Like my wife and son, my daughter was surprised to hear the news that I had actually written a book, and she was further shocked to discover that I had written a book about creating a debt-free wedding. (Debt free for Mom and Dad being the operative concept here!)

We've been talking about the wedding budget of late.  I'm suggesting she and her fiance elope,  that they don't bug me with the details, and I'll give them a sizable sum of cash in exchange for a hassle-free summer of 2012.  She's not biting on this carrot, naturally. 

Still, I have to hand it to the young-un . . . she's got simple taste, and so far none of her ideas are going to force me to sell a kidney or donate bodily fluids in exchange for cash. Becky can continue teaching and she won't have to be like Roxanne and sell her body to the night.  (Believe me, I've tried for twenty-seven years and can't even get a freebie!)

I've also reminded my daughter that the remainder of my salary for this year will be transferred to Ball State very soon in the form of cashiers checks and gold bullion, and her mother and I will be subsisting on Kraft dinner for several months while we bank roll enough money to fix my 1991 Caprice wagon and save for a wedding dress.  She understands.

I'm grateful that I wrote Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget.  I'm grateful to Sourcebooks (Chicago) for publishing it.  Now my daughter knows that I write books and have plenty of unsold copies to hand out.  I have suggested giving out the remaindered supply at the wedding itself, or using the books as table decor.

I'm not sure my daughter will learn anything from reading this book, but it is chocked full of hundreds of money-saving ideas that some brides (the three or four brides who bought copies) seem to covet.  I also saved a couple of glowing book reviews so my daughter will know that somebody out there likes me, and that Dad does occasionally hit upon a good idea. I want her to know that I have attempted to impact the lives of thousands of women everywhere, and that I can find encouragement and strength from feminine sources.  I also want her to know that I am in touch with my feminine side, and that I'm all right with that, and I'm not threatened by cooking or cleaning a toilet.  I don't see myself as any less of a man because I love to bake pies and eat them in a single sitting with a quart of chocolate ice cream.  And If God had seen fit, I  would have been perfectly content with an ovary.

I'm just this kind of man and father.

I hope my daughter enjoys reading Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget.  I hope she tells her friends about my book.  I hope another half dozen brides will find a used copy at Costco!  I hope she doesn't think I'm blatantly trying to sell copies of my book so I can make enough money to pay for her wedding.

But in the event others do want to know about my book, again, the title is:  Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget.  That's, Your Beautiful  Wedding on Any Budget.  Again, that's Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget.

Wanna buy a copy?  My daughter sure would appreciate it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Last December I created a Christmas story on a scroll.  Since then, I've had many comments about the story . . . particularly the format.  "What a unique concept," one person told me.  "I loved the scroll."

Yes, the scroll was fun to create.  Glad I did it.  (And if YOU want a copy of this story, write me and I'll be glad to send it along.  No joking!  And yes, that applies to my growing readership in the Netherlands and Russia!)

But since the scroll was fun to create, and so many people have loved it, I actually hate to admit that I got the idea in the bathroom.  The idea for the scroll was sitting around in front of me all of these years, but I'd not given the scroll its due attention.  The scroll is always there (and doesn't it make you mad when it's NOT there!?  Why do women always blame men for not replacing it?).

I frequently write down my thoughts on the scroll.  I don't often have scrap paper handy when I get the next big idea, but the bathroom is a great place to sit and think.  That famous sculpture of "The Thinker" was taken right out of the pages of the Bed, Bath & Beyond catalogue and many of the most world-changing ideas have been wrought in the bathroom and first conceived on the scroll.  Gotta be true.

I don't know if I'll be creating another scroll story any time soon . . . I have another unique idea for this Christmas and have already written my Christmas Eve tale.  But I do value the scroll.

However, if or when you read it, please overlook the fact that my scroll is not perforated.  It's one continuous sheet.  And I do hope you'll read the story in some location other than the bathroom.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Learning from Mr. Grisham

In the Prelude to his one and only short story collection, John Grisham mentions purchasing all 1000 copies of his first book, A Time to Kill, and trying to sell these copies out of the trunk of his car.  He quickly, learned, as he states: "the difference between writing books and selling books."  The latter, of course, proved to be far more difficult.

Indeed, many writers have their own stories related to the naive posture that most folks have toward writing books.  The American public continues to believe that writing books is the same as selling books, and that all writers make lots of money.  In fact, most writers make little to no money, and only the selling of books makes income possible.

Much like Dr. Seuss, who used to grow tired of hearing people tell him, "Some day I'm going to write a children's book!", every published author has heard the nonsense and would like to offer certain advice to others.  Here are my nuggets:

This is the easiest aspect of being a writer.  Which is, of course, the action of writing.  I write volumes of material every year.  Writing is the first and the easiest step in the ladder of authorship.  Writers write.  But the writing of books and the publishing of books are two very different things.  I have, for example, written more than a hundred books in my lifetime (maybe even two hundred by now).  However, only twenty of these have been published.

Very difficult step.  It's getting more difficult with each passing year, in fact.  Fewer publishers want to publish, fewer editors want to edit, and the profit margins on books, in general, is getting slimmer year by year.  Bookstores are bankrupt and closing.  Getting a book published has always been tough, but it's so tough now, a writer had better have a rich spouse or a wealthy uncle if he or she thinks a living can be earned through published material. And with fewer people turning to books and magazines and newspapers as a source of information and entertainment, publishing opportunities are slim.  The average American no longer reads even ONE book per year.  Most read zero! 

This is where the writer actually makes money.  In my case, I've been very successful as a writer, fairly successful as a published writer working with publishers and editors, and a complete loser when it comes to selling books.  I am the George Costanza of royalties.  I rarely get paid.  No one buys my commodities. 

For anyone aspiring to write, I'd recommend clipping this blog and pasting it above the computer screen.  It will remind you to keep writing (write every stinking day!) and keep submitting (submit something every stinking week!) and to keep trying to market and sell what you do get published (but learn this lesson from someone other than me . . . call John Grisham.  He knows how to do it.).

I can't imagine selling books out of the trunk of my car.  But I do know that, like Mr. Grisham, I am my own best customer.  After all, I buy most of my books myself.  And I give most of my books away.  You wanna copy? 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hot in Cleveland . . . Er, Brownsburg

Although this summer has been unseasonably dry, I've had an amply supply of radio of late.  Radio seems to come in waves . . . with various producers and talk show hosts writing and calling to set up dates for interviews.

Why they want to interview me I'll never know, but I've been hotter than Betty White this summer.  And this isn't Cleveland.  Most producers want me to talk about weddings and marriage and love . . . which are of course, three entirely different things.  I try to tell 'em.

I've got my history with weddings and marriage, of course.  Not only have I written a perennial "best-selling" book on marriage conversation (Before You Say "I Do"), but I've also written a book on debt-free wedding planning (Your Beautiful Wedding On Any Budget) and a host of articles and columns on marriage and love.  I once wrote a marriage and sex column for a bridal magazine back when I knew something about marriage and sex.  Now, when it comes to these matters, I just throw up my hands and plead ignorance like Shultz on Hogan's Heroes:  "I know nussing!"

Still, the producers call.  "How about ten minutes of drive-time interview on making your marriage last?" or "What can you tell us about the keys to a successful marriage?"

Of course, I have to keep my expert-persona intact and come across like a marital guru . . . but the fact is, my marriage works because I stay out of my wife's way.  I don't bug her, man.  She don't bug me.  We got it all goin' on.  In a couple of weeks, when we celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary, we won't even bother to acknowledge the milestone.  One of us will probably shrug at some point that evening and say, "Hey, isn't this our wedding anniversary?  Why are we sitting her watching a Gomer Pyle rerun when we could be upstairs conjugating and parsing each other?"  Of course, we'll be too tired for these shenanigans and I'll write another column on "ten ways to spice up your love life" after taking a cold shower and reading three chapters in Dante and his fifth circle of hell.

I am, of course, appreciative of these opportunities to share my marital expertise with others.  I do enjoy helping other couples . . . especially the young, the naive, the ignorant, and the unsuspecting.  (Lord knows I'm going to be having long talks with my daughter!) I'm always glad when I can talk a couple down out of their wedding-planning tree and help them see the stark realities of life.  Sure, they can get married.  It can be a beautiful institution when it's the right mixture of oil and gas . . . .

Just don't strike a match at the wrong time.  Don't want to make things too hot.  Right, Betty?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Here and There

For the third time in three years I have read Marshall Goldsmith's excellent book: What Got You Here Won't Get You There.  Every time I read this book, I gain something new from it.  It is one of those books that can help any business, any organization, or any family or individual navigate the unsettling changes that life brings.

Perhaps one of the reasons this book speaks to me so fluidly is because I've never gotten anywhere.  I wasn't anywhere yesterday, and don't feel I'm getting anywhere today.  I'm trying to find that chapter entitled: "What Got You In This Pickle Won't Get You Out of This Pickle . . . So You'd Better Bite the Pickle Now!"

I love getting advice from people who have been somewhere.  I also love getting advice from people who are going somewhere.  I've never been either place, but some day I plan to be somewhere other than here.  I used to be there, but I didn't like it, and that's why I'm reading the book about getting some place else.  Of course, as Goldsmith describes, as soon as I get there, it will be my new here, and I'll have to start thinking about getting someplace else.  God knows, no one wants to be here very long!  It's best to make plans to get there.

That's why I like Goldsmith's book.  Here's been everywhere.  He speaks in 200 cities a year and actually lives there far more than he lives here.  So he knows what he's talking about. I would never buy a book from someone who just knew about being here.  I'd want the sage advice on how to get there.

Naturally, you'd have to read Goldsmith's book to truly understand what I'm talking about.  Are you following any of this? 

But I guarantee . . . once you understand these principles, you'll never be here again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Poking on Facebook

In the past year I've been invited to join various Facebook groups of writers, bloggers, and social gatherings of literary types.  Many magazines and publishing groups also have Facebook groups who, supposedly, follow the various editions and get "insider" information about the magazines and writers.

I've never joined.

My reason:  I'm not sure what the Facebook "poke" is all about.

In the past year I've noticed a small icon that shows up on my Facebook screen.  It's says, "You've been poked."  I have?  I didn't feel a thing!  Last time I had a colonoscopy, they put me under.

What is this poke, anyway?  It seems ubiquitous.  I've been poked by family and friends alike.  Sometimes I'm given the option of poking back.  Should I poke back, or turn the other cheek?

Last night I was poked by an old high school flame, a real hottie back in 1979.  I didn't know if I should tell my wife about this.  "Honey, I don't know how to tell you this, but I got poked last night by an old high school flame.  Is it okay if I poke her back?"  If I respond, what could this poke lead to?

You see what I mean?

Seems like Facebook could create a better nomenclature.  How about you've been prodded, or you've been tickled?  Or, perhaps, you've been punched, pushed, or provoked?  If Facebook wants to stick with something intriguing, how about you've been felt up or you've got some idiot who's trying to get in touch with you but doesn't have your cell phone number

Seems to me all this poking is a bit like legalized stalking.  You can poke people all day and get away with it.  How many times can a person press the poke button without police intervention?

As for me, I've been poked plenty, but I've never poked back.  Until I figure this out, I'm not moving a muscle.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Most Boring Man in the World

Over the weekend my son, Logan, made the comment:  "Dad, you are the most boring man in the world. All you want to do is sit and write."

Okay.  He's got a point.  But if I'm going to be the most boring man in the world, I want a commercial contract.  Can't you see me, sitting in front of the keyboard while a voice-over narration says:

He writes on two computers simultaneously . . .
When he goes to art museums he tells his wife, "I could paint that . . . "
As a child, his mother made him sleep on the kitchen floor to keep the cockroaches at bay . . .
When he says he wants to make love, his wife thinks he's talking about baking a cake . . .
He is . . . the most boring man in the world . . .

Keep writing, my friends!