Friday, September 30, 2011

My New Job

Perhaps it's this blog, or it may just be that time of the year, but I've got a new job.  Or, I should say, another job:  Book Reviewer.

Any day now I'll be receiving the first of several books that I will be reviewing for a magazine/web site.  Should be fun.  I get to read the galleys of books before they are published and offer my thumbs up or thumbs down. I love the power.  Makes me feel like Little Caesar at the Colosseum when he ordered his first pizza and condemned the gladiators to death by breadstick.  Caesar also forced the women gladiators to carry signs through the red light district in Rome that read:  $5 Hot-n Ready.  I can't wait to dig into these pages . . . .

Of course, I've been reviewing books on this blog for years. My own reading, anyway.  Now I get to review books that I may not otherwise want to read.

Toward that end, it might be a good thing to practice my reviewing skills.  I'd like to create some phrases that only I will use.  These, I hope, can become a signature or trademark for this Book Reviewer.

My Patented Phrases:

The author is a "nut job".

Woooaaaa, Momma!

This is one humdinger of a book!

The reader would be "nuts" to shell out $19.95 for this in hardback when she could buy it on Kindle format for $9.95.

This book is "nuts".

Am I "nuts" or does this book read like it was written by a drunk?

This book is a "mixed bag" of nuts.

This reviewer's wife has read the book first and she is of the opinion that I would be wasting my time reading it at all, so, although this month's review column was to be about the title--The Old Folks Home, by Jerry Attrick--I'll be reviewing Peering Under the Bleachers, by Seymor Butts. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Perhaps it is that time of the year, but I seem to receive a plethora of speaking invitations in September.  Although I respectfully decline most of them, there are a few opportunities that always peak my interest . . . at least for a time.  I just have to figure out how I can be in two places at once and, through it all, keep a woman happy.

Although there are many "high profile" people out there (even pastors) who seem to enjoy the open road, the accolades, the applause, the screaming girls . . . I find that peace, quiet, and a writing desk are far and away more compelling to me than standing up in front of people and pretending to be an expert.  Of course, I am an expert on many subjects.  The Andy Griffith Show is one (go ahead, ask me anything about Goober!).  I also know a great deal about Gomer Pyle and Hogan's Heroes.  And I can hold my own in the world of literature, some sports, and I know a fair amount about coffee.  Oh, and women.  I know everything there is to know about women!

But I'm not taking this knowledge on the road.  My wife needs me too much.  In fact, she tells me this every night.  "I need you!" she says.  "I gotta have you!  Now!"

Expertise must stay close to home!  I can't be sharing my secrets willy-nilly with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who can pay a cover charge to hear me speak.  My son needs my advice on women, too.  And I give it for free!

Sure, I'll be accepting a few of these speaking engagements.  I've rejected enough of these invitations over the years to build a tidy little nest of people who hate me.  Time now to make a few friends.  But I'm hopeful that I can speak on subjects I know about.  I also hope to build quite a reputation out there on the road.  I'd love to start a fan club.  Dues would be $19.95 a year.  A real bargain!  I'd live in an RV while I tour.  And naturally there would be thousands of people who would flock to hear me speak.  Most of them women.

My wife, of course, would be with me.  She's the one who would be writing all my speeches. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Yule Rule

Sounds odd, but I'm deep in the throes of writing and creating Christmas lore.  Got to think ahead.

Yesterday I completed studio recording for my third Christmas CD--this time a collection of fiction, some of which has been published elsewhere the past two years.  And I also submitted final proofs for my Christmas Eve story that I'll be giving out the congregation on December 24.  Ordered 1000 copies just to be sure I wouldn't run out.  Now, all we need are people on Christmas Eve . . . going on faith.

Odd thing about many of these stories . . . I wrote a fair number of them in the middle of summer, two in one day, sweating on the back deck in my underwear in 90+ degree heat.

Becky asked me what I was doing.  "Writing Christmas stories," I told her.

"Better get some clothes on," she said.  "You're starting to look like Santa Claus with a sunburn."

I'm not ready for Christmas yet.  Far from it.  I look back and wonder where 2011 has gone . . . and so quickly.  And with all of the life changes coming my way in the summer of 2012 (two graduations, a wedding, and hopefully another college placement) I don't even want to think about the heat.  I'll be in it.

Now that I've completed my Christmas works, I guess I can move on to other holidays.  Isn't there a National Nap Day coming up?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Mr.

I didn't learn anything startling from reading Joe Weider's Mr. Olympia: The History of Bodybuilding's Greatest Contest, but this old title did contain a few "behind the scenes" episodes and conversations I didn't know about.  I've followed the Mr. Olympia since the 1970s, when a young Australian bodybuilder named Arnold burst onto the scene and brought bodybuilding out of the dark dungeons and into the mainstream.  Now there are gyms everywhere.

For those who don't know (or who might want to know) the Mr. Olympia has been, since the mid 1960s, the pinnacle of bodybuilding competitions . . . though the sport at the top levels is now so saturated with steroids, growth hormones, and diuretics that one has to wonder what the point of the training, diet, and sport is really about.

I competed in a "drug-free" competition almost exactly ten years ago where, over the span of four months of twice-a-day training, dieting, and aerobics, did achieve the best shape of my life.  I was forty, and in the months prior to my competition dieting I was doing 350 pound bench presses, 1200 pound leg presses, and 450 pound deadlifts.  I was my own trainer, dietitian, instructor, and motivator and I was nearly always the first person at the gym in the morning and the last one to leave at night.  But Becky said I would never have a "six pack".  I proved her wrong.  Might have to dig out some of those old photos to prove it. After the competition, she really seemed to like me.  Couldn't keep her hands off me.  And my kids looked up to me, too, and didn't think I was a loser.  Those were the days.

I also wrote a few essays about my "competition" experiences . . . which I found hilarious (what's not to laugh at when you see a bunch of oily men and women prancing around in G-strings?).

I didn't end up being Mr. Anything . . . I'm just Mister Boring.  But I have never stopped pursuing strength, persistence, consistency, and, as Mr. John Wesley would have said . . . the pursuit of perfection.  Gotta keep moving.  I've actually never stopped training since I was twelve years old and started in my parents' basement (nearly forty years of non-stop training).

Oh . . . and a thousand extra points to anyone who can name the Lebanese bodybuilder, and one-time Mr. Olympia, on the cover of Weider's book.  I'd know that back anywhere.  (Hint: it ain't Arnold.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Occassional Poet

Over the years I've had a habit of writing poems for occassions and people.  When I was a high school sophomore I wrote a poem about every business in town (Shelburn), published my verses, and was promptly either ostracised by the proprieters or given a welcoming pat on the back for my satirical edge.  I've written so many poems now for church occassions, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and graduations . . . I've just lost count.  And most of these verses have ended up in the trash, or lost forever.

In more recent years, however, I've taken to writing poems to people who might need encouragement or a chuckle.  Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are still fodder, but I've also mailed poems to friends and family in grief, or during times of loss.  Not everyone appreciates my gifts . . . but, nevertheless, I try to do what I can with words.

Last year I wrote a poem to a friend on the occassion of the first anniversary of his wife's death.  I thought this poem might help him in his grief, or articulate what he was feeling, but could not express.  Over lunch, he told me how much the poem meant to him . . . and later I submitted it to a west coast literary magazine, Rattle, and it was accepted for publication in the summer 2011 editon (thanks, Tim).  In the bio section of the magazine, I wrote about the poem's background and genesis.

This is not a humorous poem . . . but I offer it as a kind of understudy to the breadth of poetry I write, including the wild and wacky stuff that no one will touch, and some of the deeply personal romantic verse that only my wife sees.  I do continue to be grateful to all of the editors out there who, in spite of my insanity, do take me seriously from time to time and say "yes' to my submissions.  And I'm grateful to the readers who do, occassionally, discover one of my poems in a magazine.

On the First Anniversary of His Wife's Death

He thinks that time will heal.  But this is fable.
He tries to call her friends.  But is not able.
He wants to venture out.  But is not stable.
Her photograph remains upon the table.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Laughing At Cancer

In the past month, I've had the opportunity to give away a fair number of my cancer-related CDs:  Caring Through Cancer.  It's an audio collection of essays and articles I wrote about cancer following my wife's breast cancer diagnosis . . . now a full ten years ago.  (No more cancer for my gal, thank God!)

The CD touches on caregiving predominantly, but also includes tracts on faith, medical treatment, and attitude as part of the healing equation.  And, as many have discovered, humor can play a large role in healing.  I've experienced it, and seen it, many times.  I wrote some of these essays during my Lilly Renewal some years ago, and a couple of the essays on this CD actually won writing awards . . . including a cash award from the Franciscan order in the Catholic church (given to me, a Methodist, go figure!) and another award from Bell South Corporation, as the company used one of my essays in a corporate newsletter related to employee care and treatment.

I've always been hopeful that this crazy blog could add some laughter or zip to people's experiences (offered through my weird perspective, of course).  Laughter can make a writer's life tolerable, and I know humor can help folks overcome a great many dark places in life.  My family has always been one to find humor in marriage, sex, work, and leisure . . . and I wish you this kind of laughter, too.

Recently, another writer asked the question on Facebook:  What place does humor have in a healthy society?

I wrote back immediately, stating that humor saves me daily from pessimism and nihilism, and, while I couldn't speak for the whole of society, I think that any people devoid of laughter don't stand a chance in hell of being whole, complete, or spirited in a way of life that leads to health and healing and helpfulness.  (Cue laugh track here.)

As for faith, I don't want to be a Christian who looks like he's been sucking on a green persimmon.  Hate that look.  And another writer recently penned a book entitled, Grumpy Old Christians.  Don't want to fall into that category either.

Laugher is essential to life . . . that's why I keep writing this man's blog.  Have to begin my day with something light.  It's at the center of my approach to God (and pastoring and writing).  And maybe your's too!

And so I leave you with this joke:  What is the definition of a Fundamentalist?

Answer:  A Fundamentalist is a person who is deeply troubled by the very idea that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time.

Laugh on!  Even through cancer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Fan Mail

My latest piece of fan (e)mail arrived from New Zealand.  New Zealand?  Aren't these the guys who go ape and make all the scary faces at the Rugby tournaments?  But this correspondence was from a lady.  Wonder if she has a tattoo?

I get very little fan mail, though, so a letter from New Zealand doesn't bother me.  I'm more intrigued by the question of how one of my books ended up in New Zealand.  Carrier pigeon?  Long slow boat to China?  Inside a bottle?  And I'm all the more intrigued when foreign women write to me or show me the kind of attention I don't get at home.

I'd like to visit New Zealand some day.  I might even take my wife.  I hear it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And, since I have a connection there, I could walk up to women on the street and ask, "Are you the hottie who read my book?"  Perhaps I'd get a free dessert.

Naturally, whenever I make connections with women in other countries, I tell my wife about it.  She just yawns and says, "Go for it."  She knows I don't know how to book a flight through and that I rarely travel further than a tank of gas will carry me.  Sometimes she hides my car keys.  I walk a lot.

My wife does say nice things to me, occassionally.  Just last night she said, "One of these days I'm going to get up enough nerve to take you some place.  Where would you like to go?"

I shared with her my dream of eating at Denny's.  She thought we could swing it.  We're now trying to locate one of these restaurants in the yellow pages.  I hope to enjoy the salad bar.  I've heard so much about them.

Of course, I continue to hold out the fantasy that my wife would like to have me for dessert.  Heck, I'm that sweet.  And she won't even have to fly to New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Million Dollars

Here's a wonder:  I'm a million dollar baby.

How so?

After glancing at my most recent royalty statements, I went back through the years and totalled up the gross earnings on all of my books (the amount my books have made for the publishers).  I was astounded to discover that my books have earned more than a million dollars for these publishing firms . . . and probably closer to two million.

Of course, I've only seen a small fraction of these dollars over the past fourteen years, since my books have never sold enough copies to earn me the upper-echelon of royalty percentages, but I have to feel good about what my creativity and work have provided.  I've helped to employ editors, printers, publicists, accountants, and even loggers.  And when I think about what my books have provided for just one of these publishers in particular, my books have most certainly paid the editor's salary . . . just my work alone.

I don't feel badly about this.  I feel blessed to be able to create in this way, and to help make publishers successful.  I love the work of writing, and meeting editors, and trying to work out deals and contracts.

Although publishing has changed dramatically in the past five years, and most publishers don't want to work with mid-list authors like me (everyone wants a best-seller and a million dollar baby!) I am still proud of the work I've produced . . . work that has most certainly "turned a profit" for every single publisher who has worked with me.

I'm not a million dollar earner.  But I am a writer who has produced a million dollars in revenue for others . . . which gives me some satisfaction as I cash my $40 royalty checks twice a year.  And come to think of it, I've written most of my books for free.

Anyone else out there want to publish one of my books?  I've got lots of them now.  They are stacked up like wood in my closet and saved on a hundred floppy disks.  

And who knows, one of them might be the next million dollar book! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mixed Nuts

Some random thoughts on a very early Tuesday morning . . . .

Books on my "To Read" shelf now include a biography of Stan Musial, Mornings on Horseback (a biography of Teddy Roosevelt), and Mr. Olympia: A History (history of the top "professional" bodybuilding competition).

If I read Mr. Olympia, will I be inspired to be the first in the gym this morning (although I have never taken steroids)?

I began a new book proposal last night and plan to finish it by week's end.  Should top out at 40+ pages . . . not bad for a proposal.

A recent article about publishing informed me that the book publishing industry--quite to the contrary of naysayers--actually grew in the last quarter.  Both print books and digital books outsold from the previous quarter.  Do people read more when the economy is bad?  Might be an interesting study on its own right.

My daughter is receiving the top dean's list award from the Ball State School of Education on Saturday.

My son was one of five seniors chosen to "compete" in the annual Mr. Bulldog competition at Brownsburg High School.

My wife is assuming new responsibilities at her school in October.

I am assuming nothing.

Yesterday I was talking to another writer who informed me that his publisher recently declared bankruptcy.  He received a letter informing him that he would not receive royalties due on his book sales.  Might the publisher at least have the courtesy to send him the remaining inventory of his books?

I eat a lot of nuts.

Love sunflower seeds.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Secret of My Success

Early next month I am slated for another Skype/radio interview, this time to discuss with the host the meaning of "success."  Success?  I've been giving this some thought lately.  What will I say?  And what do I know about success, anyway?

The host seems to think I know a great deal about it.

He's convinced I should reveal my secrets to others.  When I tried to beg off, explaining that I had a funeral in two weeks, and that his suggested interview time was smack-in-the-middle of the Gomer Pyle rerun festival on TV Land, he wouldn't back down.  And when I told him point-blank that I didn't think I had anything to offer on the subject of success, he didn't acquiesce one bit, but pressed on with other possible dates, times, and calendaring options.  "Actually," I said at one point, "I really don't want to do this."

"Ahhh," he shot back, "you'll do great.  Talk to you in October!"

And so it goes . . . .

But I'm still confused.  Should I go on the air and tell the truth:  that my wife is the secret to my success and that, since nobody else is married to her, they'll never be able to drive a 1991 Caprice station wagon (like me)?  Should I reveal that I saved 15% on my car insurance by switching to Geiko?  Would I be telling a lie if I said that (like Thomas Edison discovered) success is just 10% of life, and the rest is experiment and failure?

I'm still working these things out in my mind.  Still making notes.  But if I don't have anything to add to the discussion on success by October 1, I'm calling this producer back and telling him that I just can't miss this upcoming Gomer Pyle marathon.  It's too important for my mental health.  

Now . . . what did I do with the producer's phone number?  I'm so successful, I can't be bothered to remember the little things.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Johnny Be Good

Since John Updike's death I've been on an insatiable mission to collect as many first-editions of his work as I can reasonably afford.  Earlier in the week I shelved three new titles (actually all old ones!) including his third collection of poetry, Tossing and Turning, which was published in 1977.  This collection ranges wide and includes some of Updike's signature light verse and his takes on experiences such as sailing, traveling, and cuisine.  Of course, he writes on love and sex, too.  Other longer poems take us back to his childhood, including a lengthy poem about "Leaving Church Early".

But I wouldn't know about that, John.

About the only thing I can give my expert opinion on is the donut.  (Actually and officially spelled "Doughnut".)  But here's a donut poem I wrote some years back.  Makes me hungry just reading it.


Among the sweetest treats of heaven
Are those residing in the leaven
And sweetened in a deep-fried haze
Of starches and syrupy glaze.

The soldiers in the German trenches
First ate these rings served up by wenches
Who donned their aprons at the vats
And served them doughnuts full of fats.

And now we eat them by the score--
And after eating, eat some more.
A holey great American treat
That's found on nearly every street.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Un-Impending Divorce

From time to time I have magazine editors who send me complimentary copies of their wares.  And in one recent issue of a women's magazine, I perused an article entitled, "The Top Ten Signs that Your Marriage Might be Headed for Divorce".  Scary headlines, so I had to read on.  Did my marriage exhibit any of these tell-tale signs of impending trouble?

I can't address all ten signs here, so I'll just address the three that offered me a sigh of relief.  I've since talked to my wife about my concerns, and she has agreed that our marriage is rock solid.  Or, as she noted, "You're deluded if you think another woman would have you!"

Right, but let's get on with the analysis of these signs.  (These are the real deal, I'm not making this stuff up.)

Sign #1:  Your spouse has a new-found interest in connecting with old high school flames on facebook.

Okay, let me admit from the outset that I love all of my old high school flames.  And if you are one of those flames and reading this blog, I still love you . . . always have.  That's just the way I am.  And if you and I have been swapping facebook entries or re-connecting on some emotional level, it's only natural that, after thirty-plus years, we would want to swap photos to see who has the most gray hairs or who has gained the most weight.  But the fact is, my wife was an old high school flame, too (old being the operative word here now) and I get to see her every day.  It ain't a pretty sight, believe me, but then that's what my marriage is . . . a series of ugly snapshots taken over the span of three decades.  True, I'm on facebook.  I banter.  But if anyone out there is looking for hot love, try finding your soul mate on or eHarmony.  I hear those services are dynamite and as my wife knows:  you can do a lot better than me.  Find yourself a plumber or an electrical engineer.  They are much handier around the house, and all I know how to do is write love poetry and smooch.

Sign # 2: Your spouse has recently purchased sexy new underwear.

I take offense to this sign. When my mother gave me that new 3-pack of BVDs for Christmas, I was just being nice.  And actually, I haven't even opened the pack yet.  I'm saving myself for Lent.  When I do open the pack and wear one of these new, steam-pressed 100% cotton briefs, my wife will know something is up.  She'll have a headache then, and we'll compromise passion and go down to Wendy's for a value sandwich.  Afterwards, of course, I will offer to wear the new underwear as a bandanna. 

Sign # 3: Your spouse has saved another woman's phone number and stored it on speed dial.

My marriage is secure because, I don't even know how to save a number on my cell phone.  How do you operate these things?  I'm still listening to voice mail recordings from 2004 and I can't seem to erase them.  Yes, I do have a few women's numbers, but a couple of them happen to be my mother and my mechanic.  And I don't have affairs with grease monkeys.  Although . . . grease . . .  But listen, my wife just laughs when she sees me trying to make a call.  It's hand-to-hand combat with technology, and I can't press those tiny buttons to send a text message.  I want to tell another woman I love her and my text would come out hycm x?eellmtw5 3wmzx.  YSWIM?  (You see what I mean?)  Not very romantic.  And I'm sure most women would think I was dyslexic.  I'd just end up trying to have an affair, but doing everything backwards.  I'd tell my wife I was seeing another woman, and then go looking for one. 

So, according to these marriage experts, my marriage is secure.  Thank God.  If not for this article, I might have assumed the worst. 

Then again . . . maybe I'd better check my wife's underwear drawer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Launch

Last night I mailed the final copy-edited files to the editor . . . and He Said, She Said: Biblical Stories from a Male and Female Perspective is now slated for press in November.  Will people know it exists? Will anyone want to read it?  Will Congress vote themselves a pay decrease to help balance the budget?  

These are the questions.

Naturally, I think this is a unique book.  I mean, holy nosebleed, look at the cover art!  (In case you don't know, I am, in actuality, Batman . . . and my cohort is Wonder Woman. See the resemblance?)

But listen, you want something different from the Bible . . . not some namby-pamby Bible study that's been strip-mined by seminary professors in California . . . you gotta read this one!  Not a sane thought in the whole shebang.  Weird stuff here.  It will give you a whole new appreciation for the Bible as a work of dialogue.  And as for perspective, it all depends on how you read it.

No one's going to miss this book cover. It's bright, folks!  It will blind you!  You'll see people, like trees, walking . . . .  You won't be able to find your way out of the bookstore (if there are any bookstores remaining in November). 

And watch for our other upcoming title, too:  He Said It First, But She Always Gets the Last Word.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Last week I finished reading Todd Burpo's mega-selling book about his son's three-minute trip to heaven, and wished I could have died, too.  Heaven is for Real had that kind of effect on me. But not for the reasons one might think.  (Keep reading.)

It's a good enough read, as far as reads go, but the bulk of this book (more than 95% of it) is about events leading up to the heavenly vision, or conversations, or family history rather than heaven itself.  And the book is well written (thanks to Lynn Vincent, this veritable ghostwriter of best-sellerdom who seems to be ghostwriting everything on the New York Times best seller list these days).  Reading this book may do a lot of things, but it will probably leave you with more questions than answers.  Or, if you need a fuller read on the phenomenon of "near-death" experiences, go back forty years and re-read a used copy of Dr. Moody's Life After Life, a book that contains hundreds of "case studies" of people who saw tunnels, bright lights, long-lost loved ones, and felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calm as they floated above the operating table.  I have several copies of this book, too, and this week found one copy stuffed next to an old photo of my wife (Freudian wish?).

Ah, but what does it all mean?  That's the rub, Jimmy.

My journey actually began when I read the acknowledgments to Heaven is For Real.  (Weird, I admit, but I always read the acknowledgments first to see who the writer knows and who the writer needs to thank.)

Here I discovered that in addition to securing Lynn Vincent's significant talents, the Burpos also found the help of a top literary agency in Colorado Springs (which used to represent me) and they thanked their literary agent (yes, a really great fellow who was, up until a few years ago, my agent as well).  Reading the acknowledgements was like going home again, hearing the familiar names, seeing those names listed, and being surrounded by the indescribable light of "three million copies in print."

I wonder if that is what heaven is like?  Could be.

But I wouldn't know about thatReally.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My 9/11 Book

The book I consider to be my best, Candles in the Dark: A Treasury of the World's Most Inspiring Parables, was a 9/11 book.  Or was.  It was originally scheduled to be published in September of 2001. 

Of course, it wasn't. 

Just a few days after the attack, an editor at John Wiley & Sons, the New York publishing firm that was working with me on this project, called to inform me that the publication of the book had been postponed indefinitely.  It would, in fact, be weeks before a new publication release date could be determined.

I understood.

The book had taken nearly two years to research and write, and I had an indescribable amount of time and money wrapped up in it . . . including securing last-minute permissions from publishers in Germany, Spain, and England.  I don't now recall what my final tally was for long-distance phone calls (often protracted due to huge language barriers on my part), faxes, letters, forms, and legal fees . . . but I know I went bust before the book was finally published a year later.

Though Candles in the Dark is by far and away my best book (my opinion), it sold only modestly in the U.S., and is now out of print . . . though the Kindle version still sells.  John Wiley & Sons also sold the book to publishers in China and Korea, but I have no idea how many copies sold in those versions in those countries.  As far as I know, the book could have sold a dozen copies, or could have sold millions . . . either way, I had nothing to show for it other than my name on the cover among the Chinese and Korean letters.

The one takeaway from Candles . . . and it's my one contribution to the 9/11 aftermath . . . is that I was able to have conversations with several editors at Wiley who had lost friends and/or family in the tragedy, and my sacrifices involved in the book felt very meager in relation to those burdened by the uncertainties of job, health, or future.

I still like Candles, and the blend of parables I included from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, and Sufi sources (just to name a few).  My prelude to the book . . . eventually published a year later . . . gives testimony 9/11.

Even though the book is out of print, the testimony is still there.  The book is still there.  And I hope some people are reading it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Watch for the book in November.  Michelle Knight and I are currently proofreading the editor's manuscript for our upcoming book: He Said, She Said: Biblical Stories from a Male and Female Perspective.

I've always found this proofreading phase of a book manuscript both tedious and enlightening.  Tedious because by this time, I'm sick of the book I've written and I want to write something else.  Enlightening because enough time has elapsed since I wrote the book, I don't recall writing it, and I'm always surprised to read a book that (purportedly) will have my name on the cover.

Many times, when I'm proofreading one of my books, I find myself asking: "Who is this guy masquerading as the writer?"  Couldn't have been me.  Wasn't I vacationing in California during the time this book was being written?

Could be . . . but then I don't recall where or when I wrote most of the material I have written.  This weekend I've also spent bits and pieces of time sending out manuscripts from my vast backlog of poems, stories, and essays.  Most of the university journals and literary mags are now open to submissions, and September is the month to make a first impression.  I've just about covered the country in my submissions, and there will be magazines from California to the New York highway to the Gulf Stream waters perusing my material.  But I've still got a long way to go, and hundreds more to submit before I sleep.  I expect to get many new acceptances, and will have to tell the editors: "Thanks for selecting my work for publication. I'm assuming I wrote it.  But, frankly, I don't recall."

In proofreading some of my old files, I discovered material I didn't even know I had.  But when I wrote it, and why I wrote it . . . it's all a deep and hazy mystery to me.  Some of these pieces actually astound me, and I think: "By golly, I was a pretty good writer back then.  This is superb."  But the mystery remains.

I guess that's why I need glasses.  I can't even read myself without them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Reviews

Headline Note:  If any publisher or author out there wants me to review a book on this blog, send me a copy!  I'd be glad to read and comment.

Recently I discovered some new(er) book reviews for some of my titles and was confronted by the realization that most of these are now via social network over the internet rather than through print media.  It is rare to read a traditional book review, as many have now sifted to various home pages and blogs (like this one).

No doubt some folks might even regard this blog as a book review site (when I do review the books I'm reading) . . . but I hope that publishers and writers would take my comments with a grain of laughter and not get their panties in a bunch.  Reading, if anything, should be a pleasure.  And I'm one of those rare birds who would rather read a book than watch TV or scour the internet.  In fact, I'd rather spend my time looking at books on a shelf instead of looking at a screen!  So . . . send me your tired, your poor, your hungry . . . .

Most of the time, when I discover a review of one of my titles, the reviewer has found something of value in what I've written and seems glad to have a copy in hand.  I'm grateful for these small acts of generosity and comment, and would love to return the favor.

And, of course, if there are others out there who would like to read and review what I've written . . . drop me a line.  I'll buy a copy and send it your way.  It may be the only sale I'll make this month.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

$40 Royalty

I received my first semi-annual royalty check yesterday, which represents six months of book sales.  Total check received: $40.42.  And this from a book that actually sold some significant copies.

The publisher has done quite well by me, but I've been considering my options for my new-found windfall.  At less than a quarter a day earnings, I could save up for a couple of days and buy a gumball from one of those arcade dispensers . . . I think those are still a quarter.  (I'd hope for a blue one!)  Or I could buy my wife a nice bouquet of flowers.  Or I could do what I always do with such filthy lucre and just give it away.  The latter always seems to be the best option to me.

My wife, of course, considers that 22 cents per day and always asks, "Why do you continue to write so many books when this is the reward you get?"

Always a good question . . . so let me elucidate here.

I will continue to write for 22 cents per day (or for less than 10 cents per hour) in the hope that I might earn a dollar an hour some day.  A dollar an hour is a good round number and would allow me to buy a Wendy's sandwich (value menu) each afternoon.  I'd enjoy a bacon cheeseburger, actually, and if I had change left over, I'd be happy to return the change to the publisher so they could re-up or give me a new contract for another book and, hence, send me even still smaller royalty checks.

Or . . . I'd write for nothing (as I do in most cases now).  The publishers would know they could put me on a list of "wimps" and could call me up whenever they needed free labor.  I'm their man.  No one does free better than me.

Or . . . and this is my real motivation . . . I will continue to write because there are editors out there who have not met me yet.  They seem to like what I write, and they will believe that this time, they've struck gold.  There will be no lack of books for them to choose from . . . I've got dozens on the block.  I'll be glad to sign a contract that will earn the publisher millions.

As for this $40 check . . . I'm going to help someone today.  I'll give someone my $40 worth one way or another.  And then, afterwards, I'm going to write some more.

Down at the bowling alley, there's a gumball with my name on it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

From Rome, With Love

Yesterday morning I received a most unusual email (via blackberry) from an editor who wrote to inform me that she was interested in publishing one of my poems (thanks, Nancy!).  I wrote back immediately thanking her for this interest.

Seconds later, I received yet another email from her (via blackberry) that read:

"I'm writing this from Rome, Italy.  It's lunch time here.  But it must be incredibly early where you are. What are you doing up at this hour?"

Ah, yes . . . the old "what are you doing up so early" question.  Since we were obviously having a conversation via the internet, I wrote back, and in succinct wording told this editor that I am up most mornings before dawn, writing my guts out, and that is why she could trust me to produce high-quality work and to display the high-minded persistence necessary to succeed for her magazine.

She responded by telling me that, with lines like these, she would be honored to publish one of my poems.

This "conversation" on Tuesday morning, however, made me feel old.  I'm still getting used to e-mail and only last week learned how to press the "SEND" button.  I have no idea what this "blackberry" thing is (is it the device with the teensie-weensie buttons that my big, thick fingertips can't navigate?).  I have no concept of how the internet works or why I'm even using the crazy thing.  It was fun "talking" to an editor . . . she sitting in Rome and me in Brownsburg . . . but I would have been just as much at home trading handwritten letters with her or talking on the phone.

Blackberry?  Raspberry?  Gooseberry?  Huckleberry?

What does it all mean? Can't I just write?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


This past Labor Day weekend I spent some pleasant evenings outside by the fire pit, sweating (and then shivering), alone and holding hands, silent and, at times, reading.  One of the older books I plucked from the shelf was Isaac Asimov's autobiography, a book I seem to return to time and again for some delightful insights into the writing life (the guy wrote more than 500 books in his lifetime!).

On page 208, I found these words:

The writer's life in inherently an insecure one.  Each project is a new start and may be a failure.  The fact that a previous item has been successful is no guard against failure this time.

What's more . . . writing is a very lonely occupation.  You can talk about what you write, and discuss it with family, friends, and editors, but when you sit down (to write) you are alone and no on can possibly help.  You must extract every word from your own suffering mind.

Couldn't have said it better myself.  Asimov uses some strong language here: "insecure", "failure", "lonely", and "suffering".  None of these terms and/or realities are experiences that most people would readily embrace, much less enjoy.

But when one is truly a writer, these are the daily experiences of the writer's life.  Considering my own suffering, I realize that it has been nearly two years since I was last working under contract.  I feel lost in an ocean of words.  I need a rudder. A star.  A fixed point in space.  I'm writing every day, but my direction is uncertain, as is my destination.  An essay, a poem, another short story, a piece of genre fiction, a chapter to yet another book, yet one more proposal . . . I'm working on all of these simultaneously (and much, much more).  But I need an editor.

Quick! Somebody throw me a line.  Preferably a long one, with several pages, and a place to sign my name. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Greek to Me

It was an odd turn for a Labor Day weekend, but I received a confirmation e-mail on Sunday afternoon from an editor who enjoyed reading a series of poems I wrote on ancient Greek myths and themes.  She's going to publish one of the longer poems . . . and I'm grateful.

Not everyone out there in the literary journal world appreciates the world of the Greek myth . . . themes which still speak to our time and place and station of life.  Having studied Greek for years, and reading widely as an undergraduate in Aristophanes, Homer, and Euripides . . . I found the world of the ancient Greek far more insightful than most.  I enjoyed parsing verbs, memorizing vocabulary, and discussing the significance of the ancient myths about Titans and travels and mythical journeys to the netherworld.

Knowing these Greek myths has helped me immensely in marriage, as I can point out that my wife is often like Medusa (she with the frightening snake hair) or that my kids often suffer from the Oedipal complex (where they would prefer to kill their father . . . among other things).  The Greeks did not suffer a lack of truthfulness in their literature or suffer a lack of deep psychological and social insights.

So, I thank the editors out there who still know the myths and find something of value in my weird Greek verses about Helen of Troy, or Bacchus (god of wine), or Poseidon (god of the sea).

Writing about these makes me realize how much I have forgotten and how my Greek, like most things ancient, has suffered from neglect and lack of use.  I can still recite verb declensions, can recognize the aorist tense vs. the active voice, but for the most part, when I pick up Homer, it's all Greek to me.

I just keep writing these poems and submitting them in the hope I won't forget too soon.

Friday, September 2, 2011

4 Hours a Week

The most recent issue of The New Yorker featured an article about self-help guru Timothy Ferriss and his two mega-selling books:  The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman and The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.

Here on the cusp of a Labor Day weekend I suppose the editors were apt to publish something about labor and the "new" and shifting attitudes about the place that work and employment has in our lives and in society.  According to Ferriss, our work can be intense, short bursts of engagement that produces spectacular results, giving us all the ability to earn millions and travel anywhere in the world. Same with fitness and sex (4-Hour Body).

Naturally, the more people buy Ferriss's books, the richer he becomes and the less he has to do, giving him the impression that anyone can piggy-back on his philosophies and achieve the same results.  Ahhh, the sweet smell of success . . . according to Ferriss.

I'm going to read Ferriss's books (when I find them on the remaindered table), but obviously Ferriss is not a married man (and he has no children).  4-Hours a week obviously wouldn't cut it for most people . . . and as for getting a 4-Hour body or enjoying 4-hour sex . . . well, this guy is 4-hour nuts.  But people like to read nuts.  They'll buy nuts.  People crave nuts.  Salted or otherwise.

One of the nuttiest components of Ferriss's philosophy is his insistence that everyone who wants a 4-hour life can hire a personal assistant in some other country to keep the calendar, answer e-mails, and otherwise keep another person's life on track.  According to Ferriss, if I hire an assistant in, say, Cairo, Egypt to keep my calendar, answer and write emails, and organize my life, this frees me up to actually live my life.  I don't have to know my personal assistant, we never have to meet, and the world is my oyster.

Yeah, give me a break!

I doubt anyone would want to be my personal assistant anyway.  What would he/she do?  "Here, answer these fifty emails for me and write a few facebook entries so people will think I'm alive."

No, the kind of things that would make my life easier would include someone to mow my lawn, or take out the trash, or scrub cat puke out of the carpeting.  Anyone in Uruguay want to fly in once a week to do laundry and wash the dishes?  How about someone in Canada who would drive down once a month to coordinate my calendar with my wife's so we could figure out when to have this 4-hour tantric sex session that Ferriss touts?  This 4-hour stuff intrigues me.

But I can't even find 4-hours a year for this kind of activity!  Does Ferriss know how busy I am?   

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Early Bird

As the daylight hours wane into fall, it's tough being an early bird.  Time was, I used to enjoy getting up before dawn, making a pot of coffee, and cracking open a fresh pack of floppy disks to write yet another chapter on a book.  I'd have to wait a couple of hours for the morning newspaper to arrive, and then I'd read the news over a plate of eggs, perhaps, or a bowl of oatmeal.  Later, I might even meet someone else for breakfast at seven or eight, and still have a good day's work completed before the rest of the house was up-and-at-'em.

Last week I did manage one productive morning in which I was first at the gym (when it opened at 5!), then returned home to drink protein, write for two hours, and then read the paper . . . long before the school buses started to roll.  I wrote a bit more later, and by the time 9:30 rolled around, I felt I'd already put in a good day's work.

One thing I've noticed, there are fewer people at Wal-Mart at 5 a.m.!  I'm not kidding.  A person can actually buy a week's supply of groceries without having to stumble over inebriated shoppers or making idle chit-chat with old high school friends. (These folks always want to know:  "Holy Nosebleed! When did you shave off your mustache?!")

And, since I do most of the grocery-shopping in our house (yes, I do the marketing once Becky begins teaching) I tend to shop fast.  In fact, once school begins, I do everything quickly.  I talk fast.  Walk fast.  Even love fast.  My wife isn't sure, in fact, if anything ever happens between us.  Sometimes she thinks it was all a dream,  and it certainly was a blur.  Kind of like streaking . . . she thinks she sees skin, but then it could just be the camera angle or her worst nightmare.

Today was an early day.  Before my wife steps out the door to begin her very early teacher-induced drive to Lebanon, she will wonder: "How long have you been up?"

I won't have the heart to tell her that I've already written an essay before brewing her morning coffee and cooking her breakfast.  I could serve it to her in bed (and sometimes do).  And I certainly am not going to tell her that I am planning on going to the gym and cooking breakfast for my son . . . and perhaps writing another page or two before getting ready for my real job. 

I'll save all of that for later, for tonight, when we are sitting around the campfire smooching after sunset.  Which reminds me:  I've got to buy wieners, and I've got another essay to write this evening . . . perhaps a piece about the perfect kiss.