Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Little Dickens

Two weeks ago I happened upon a used bookstore that was going out of business.  I stopped, entered with a full wallet, and walked out with a giant box of books and no money for dinner.  Among the treasures I discovered, all for a mere $1 a pop, was an 1880 edition of The History of England, written by Charles Dickens.

This is a good season for Dickens, as the old master had a tradition of writing a Christmas story every year . . . most of which were published in London newspapers as serial-originals.  Dickens isn't necessarily a mentor (I find his novels too plodding, far too expansive, and mostly too depressing) but I have attempted to follow his tradition by writing my own Christmas tales every year. 

When my kids were younger, I often wrote (or created on the spot) various Christmas tales for their bedtime enjoyment and nightmares.  I enjoyed troubling my kids, striking Christmas fear into their hearts, suggesting they learn to sleep with the lights on.  To this day they can't wait for Christmas to pass so they can get some rest.  They don't worry about gifts, trees, eggnog, or gingerbread . . . they just want Dad to leave them alone and stop pestering them with tales of mayhem and madness.

Dickens knew all about ghosts and spirits.  Most of his Christmas tales were loaded with sinister undertones, warnings, voices, and visions . . . I feel I'm just following in the footsteps of the master.

One of these days I hope to write the perfect Christmas story.  But not this year.  My kids still need to sleep with the lights on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Billy's Book

I don't want to count Billy out, but Nearing Home is very likely his final book.  He seems to think so, too. But the book isn't morbid, gentrified, or maudlin in any way . . . it's rather a practical book for younger and older alike, and Billy Graham takes on everything from youthful learning experiences to building a financial future to preparing for life's final passage--whatever that may be.

It is obvious that Billy misses his wife, Ruth.  Approaching his mid-90's, Billy has been subdued by Parkinsons and other physical maladies, but he's still witty and insightful in print.  Even if a person isn't nearing home, it's a good title.  And Billy sets out to help everyone create a better home in the "here and now" also.

I like Billy.  And I wonder what the world will do without him now that we have to face the often odd and stilted opinions of his son, Franklin, and a bevy of warped and wilted televangelist preachers who seem to crave the personal attention of the camera and whose followers are more enlightened by charisma than by common sense?  I won't see another Billy in my lifetime, and God save me, I hope not to see any more of Pat Robertson or Robert Tilton, either.  The gamma rays from all of that television exposure has fried their brains.  But, as long as there's a buck from TV, there will be TV preachers, I guess.  Too bad most of them don't have actual congregations.  But they probably couldn't hold a job.

All of this talk about Billy also makes me pine for The Wittenburg Door . . . a religious satire magazine that I contributed to for nearly two decades. I miss these pages dearly, and if Joe Bob Briggs or Ole Anthony or Bob Darden ever want to revive the magazine . . . give me a call, boys!  I'm in.  I'll be the first in line for a ten year subscription and you can count on me for a curt and sassy contribution every month.  I miss bashing the wild and wacky world of the church or, as Woody Allen once wrote into the script of Hannah and Her Sisters:  "If Jesus Christ returned to earth today and saw all of the things that Christians do in his name, He would never stop throwing up!"

Amen!  Thanks, Billy, for staying above it all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Kindle

Some months back, when I purchased my Kindle, I converted several of my Christmas stories to Kindle format . . . and they are now available on Amazon (all for a whopping 99 cents).  Some good ones for the taking:  "The Peddler", "Apartment 218", "The Memory and the Dream", and "Charlie's Chip"--probably my best.  I also have a novel on Kindle, too:  A Christmas for Joey.  Anyway, loved writing these . . . a few that were originally published in magazines and a few others that should have been.

Still, I do get my seasons mixed up.

Yesterday, on the first Sunday of Advent, I found myself writing an Easter story, and I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening editing/rewriting an array of poems that I hope to send off to publishers in the new year.

It will take me some weeks yet to "get into" the Christmas spirit.  We have no plans yet for a tree, decorations, food, cookies, gifts, or shopping . . . and all of these will probably be done last minute (and some, perhaps, not at all).  One of the benefits, I suppose, of moving past the young child-rearing years into that hazy world of "baby don't care, so daddy don't either."

Any cookies I eat this year will be sponged off the goodwill and grace of others.

As for my Christmas stories, I've got notebooks filled with them . . . outlines, first chapters, dialogue.  All I have to do is get into this Christmas spirit and write a few of them before we hit Easter.

That, or I'll find myself in the Christmas spirit next summer, just as soon as the sun shines.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reading in the Car

Later today Becky and I will be making a trek to Louisville, KY.  We will be leaving our kids in charge of the Christmas shopping, while we will be in charge of taking along interesting reading material.

I don't always read in the car, but with eight hours round-trip drive time staring me in the face, I've got to have something to peruse.  I'm taking along a couple of New Yorker magazines, a history book, a newspaper, and perhaps a classic novel.  I'll also have an atlas . . . I have a GPS, too, but I've never figured out how to use it (though everybody tells me, "It's easy, just plug it in.")

Actually, my biggest worry on a trip of this distance is getting car sick.  I hope I can get some reading accomplished.

And I hope I don't toss my cookies in the ash tray.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey of a Thanksgiving

The following is a humorous piece I wrote two years ago, but which has never been published . . . so I publish it here for your enjoyment (or anguish).

Thanksgiving: A History


The American Thanksgiving hearkens back to this year, when the colonists at the Plymouth Plantation ate a feast with the Wampanoag Indians—who brought yams and diet sodas. Later that afternoon, the first “football” game was played on the lawn, with the Indians pounding the colonists by a final score of 18-0 (this was before the innovation of “extra points”).

By tradition, this first Thanksgiving meal was a whopper, and several of the colonists complained of bloating and gas, including one woman who later died of diarrhea due to eating too much corn on the cob. However, there are many traditions and ideas surrounding this first Thanksgiving that are simply old wives’ tales: including the notion that Governor William Bradford had a thing for Squanto and that turkeys were sacrificed in some sort of bizarre ritual that featured a powder horn and five musket balls.

Historians have ascertained, however, that many of our most sacred traditions are true. There was turkey at this feast and a large green bean casserole shared by all. It is also true that the women made pumpkin pies and later, the men watched the women folk clear the table and did made snide comments about the Indians.

Of course, we really don’t know where this plantation was located, exactly, nor what it looked like, and some of these colonists were no doubt very homely. But we can thank these colonists for giving us the first doggie bags, and it was Myles Standish who later coined the word “leftovers.”


Nearly 250 years later, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation that a “National Day of Thanksgiving would be observed.” However, Lincoln picked the wrong day, and set Thanksgiving on October 3, which really screwed up the football schedule. A few teams had not even practiced yet and, what with the war and all, some players never made it to training camp.

Lincoln did have good intentions, and a few people followed his advice and cooked hams. One woman in Boston sent him a cream pie.

Historians have since come to the conclusion that Lincoln was actually giving thanks that he was able to send Ulysses S. Grant to the front and be shed of his rancid cigar smoke. And William H. Seward, the Secretary of State, wrote in his diary that Lincoln had gone “off his nut” and was reducing the country to little more than a nation of “tater-lovers.”

Fortunately for us all, Lincoln stuck to his guns and didn’t listen to his cabinet, which was then staffed with southern sympathizers and several underweight advisers who couldn’t eat a chicken liver without getting sick. Mary Todd also baked a pecan pie for the occasion and word has it that Lincoln himself gained three pounds and ate his weight in cranberry sauce.

Later that night, the first lady had a premonition and pleaded with Lincoln not to have second helpings. Seward noted in his diary, however, that Lincoln frequently disregarded his wife’s visions and ate radishes. But the old lawyer from Illinois had grown up on venison and wanted a good excuse to bring meat into the White House.

Lincoln’s final prayer was that “everyone would enjoy the meal and get a little exercise the following day.”


It’s a little-known fact that the current date for our American Thanksgiving—the fourth Thursday of November—was not fixed until President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his decree on December 26th, 1941. Roosevelt, an avid football fan, understood the implications and wanted to do something with radio. He considered the fourth Thursday an optimal choice for the whole nation—given that many businesses would close down on Friday, too, thereby creating the first “four day weekend”—but a few of his political adversaries considered his mandate presumptuous and opportunistic.

Roosevelt, of course, loved to eat, and Eleanor was known for her apple pie and hot rolls—which were also the pet names that Roosevelt used in the bedroom. White House staff at the time also make mention of overhearing the terms “hot beans and rice”, “savory goose” and “sweet juicy plumbs” emanating from the walls of the Rose bedroom.

In essence, our modern day Thanksgiving traditions were established at this time, and we have FDR to thank. Without a fixed date on the calendar, Thanksgiving would have become a wild assortment of varying traditions and times, with some Americans observing the day on April 19 and others on October 3 or even December 30, when it would be too cold to cut the pie.

Likewise, our American Thanksgiving traditions might have remained back there in Plymouth, and we would have been stuck eating partridge and swan, which those first Pilgrims likely consumed by the gross. No one would be eating the right foods, and it is likely that the TV remote would never have been invented.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cutie Pie

Word selection is everything.  Paramount in shorter written works.  And especially in love.

Take the word "cute" for instance.  I hear women using this word all the time to describe an outfit, a piece of home decor, or even a hairstyle.  "That's a cute coat," they'll say.  Or, "Oh, your hair looks so cute!"  Other expressions I've heard recently are "adorable", "striking", or "becoming."

What these women are "becoming" I'm not sure.  But according to the plethora of TV shows and movies on the subject, there are plenty of people becoming zombies.

One of the reasons I write so much love poetry is because I'm still trying to convince my wife that I love her.  I tell her this every day, as in "I love you" or "can you bring me another banana!" but she doesn't always hear the love behind the words.  That's why I carry a thesaurus.  I can use other words and expressions at a moment's notice.  As in, "you look delicious this morning," or "you're more scrumptious than a big ol' bag of fresh licorice."

I've tried using the word "cute", but evidently this is a woman's word.  I used it once in a women's shoe store while my wife was trying on a pair of sandals, telling the clerk that she had cute eyelashes, but my wife didn't get the discount.  When I tell my wife that her new outfit is "cute", she seems miffed, and asks, "Can't you come up with a better word than that?"

"How does humdinger, strike you?" I'll say.  "How about jiggy? Arousing? Shakalaka-bing-bong?

Cute never cuts it.  And if I don't come up with a fresh vocabulary very soon, my marriage may be in trouble.

I'm running out of words.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Right Stuff

Sooner or later published authors run into the queasy questions about rights, and a publishing contract might be regarded as a type of prenuptial agreement.  Most publishing contracts read like:  "You get this . . . and I get that . . . if this happens."

Years ago, a seasoned writer once told me, "Never sell all your rights to a publisher."  I've tried to live by that code, but it's not always possible.  Not now.  Not with the growing and dizzying array of publishing options available to writers these days.

In more recent years, I've found myself selling all rights to my work.  Instances include writing curriculum, writing certain columns, and on occasion, even creative work like essays and poems.  I've even written several books for publishing houses--most of which do not have my name on the cover--under this type of arrangement.  Although writing these books would add to my total "book count", I don't count them among my twenty-two legit titles, as the publisher owns all the rights, and I was basically a work-for-hire writer cranking out material that could add the publisher's coffers.  No royalties. 

Not that I mind.  Not at all.  If a publisher called me today and said, "We've got a book in mind, we want you to write it, and we'll pay you a flat rate to produce it," I'd probably jump if the price was right.  And I'd be very willing to do it if I knew I could crank the book out in a week or two (as I have been known to do in the past).  A few long evenings, maybe a couple of all-nighters, and Shazam...I'd have a book done. 

In the past few months I've also sold all rights to a number of shorter essays and poems.  My reasoning (though it could be faulty) is simple:  I feel I can always write more of them, like a well that never runs dry.  A publisher wants to buy a poem or essay (instead of giving me a subscription or sample copy), I'm usually game for a paycheck instead of another magazine to add to my piles of tear sheets and closeted history.

One caveat, however.  There have been times when I've wanted to use an essay or a poem in another book.  And then I find that (sometimes) I am writing a check to the publisher to purchase my own work

Makes me understand what the work of redemption is all about.  It's buying back the very thing I created. 

Writing and pastoring are a lot alike in that way.  Both can be works of redemption.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The StarBuck Stops Here

Earlier this week I happened upon a used book store that was going "out of business."  Naturally, I had to drop in with the intention of taking a few titles off their hands, but I ended up asking for a large box. Among the titles I discovered (all for $1 each) was an 1880 edition of Charles Dickens's A History of England, several first-editions written by E.L. Doctorow, a magnificent volume of children's poetry, and a Booth Tarkington novel published at the turn of the century.

I also absconded with The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph A. Michelli.  This was a book I intended to read some years back, but didn't. Last night I drank the book in a single sitting.  Tasty stuff here.  And all pertinent to leadership of any organization, large or small.

Sips of wisdom here include:
Make it Your Own (my words:  give your all to your work/effort and demand the same of others!)
Everything Matters (attention to detail is vital, and make the good, great!)
Surprise and Delight (don't settle for average, make the organization spectacular and be excellent at what you do)
Embrace Resistance (learn from criticisms and suggestions, don't bury them)
Leave Your Mark (work long enough, hard enough, and smart enough that your life counts for something in the everyone is giving his/her life to make it count for something!)

I gained much from reading this book and I hope I can practice these principles in everything I do: pastoring, marriage, parenting, writing . . . .

The only thing missing from the book was a Starbucks gift card.  Reading 180 pages in three hours made me thirsty, and I think Starbucks missed a golden opportunity here.  Everyone who bought the book should have been given a free tall latte . . . would have sealed the deal and given every reader the true Starbucks experience.

Now that I've written this review, please excuse me.  I'm headed for the gym, and afterwards, to Starbucks.  My abs are burning, and I'm buying!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cracking Up

In the past week this blog has had nearly 1000 "hits".  And I wonder:  Are there really that many people leading such totally empty lives that they must fill up their existence on my inane blather?  Is this blog really becoming so popular that people want to read about my reading and writing habits?  Is this blog actually that good?

I guess so

I'll do my best, therefore, to keep this blog crisp and fresh . . . not like the celery in my fridge that I can tie into a knot. I'll be looking to take this blog up a notch.  

And in case there are folks out there (many, it seems, from England, the Netherlands, and Russia) who would prefer to know the coming attractions on this humorous blog, here are a few plans for upcoming posts.

The History of Thanksgiving
    I'll be sharing a humorous essay rejected by many magazines over the past two years . . . my version of Thanksgiving. Tune in here on Turkey Day for a laugh.  Lord knows I can't sell this one so I might as well give it away for free right here!

My Dirty Dozen
    At last count I had over 12 books circulating among editors. I'll tell you what these titles are and how these books could change the world as we know it. Any publishes want to buy 'em?

Secret Agent
   I'll give you news from my literary agent (thanks, Cynthia) who is desperately trying to sell me to the highest bidder and turn me into a literary prostitute.

Back to the Future
    Ten years ago I competed in a drug-free bodybuilding competition, wrote several essays about the experience, and have recently discovered new photographic evidence that I was once in tip-top shape. I'll share a photo (or two) and excerpts from my essays about the underbelly of this sport.

And "click-in" in coming weeks, as I will also share thoughts on: Reading Charles Dickens, My Favorite Bible Stories, Navigating the Seedy World of Publishing Rights, Interpreting Publishing Contracts, Writing for Subscriptions, and Much, Much More . . . 

See you tomorrow right here!  Same batty blog.  Same batty channel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lessons from Coach K

Last night I witnessed a bit of basketball history when Coach K (Duke) surpassed Bob Knight for most "wins" in Division 1 BB history.  The commentators after the game mentioned that in his early years at Duke, the administration did not give him favorable nods, and there were some voices calling for his resignation.  (One of those years, by the way (1982/83), was the year I had season tickets to Cameron Indoor . . . just walked up to the box office window and bought 'em: $60. The team had, as I recall, but 8 wins that season.)

Coach K has written many books and his leadership insights (not just on BB) are now touted by business execs and corporate big-wigs.  I've found many of his insights usable in family, church and community.  Much of his insight centers on teamwork, hard work, and a family-approach mentality to involving everyone in the success of the organization.  Amen!

About a year ago I wrote a poem that I shared as part of a sermon on being attentive to the "little things" in life.  Interestingly enough, more people asked me for a copy of this poem than any I've written, and the poem started being circulated among some sports teams in the area, and posted on web sites, and then people started writing me to request a copy. I keep a stack of copies now.

It's a poem that teaches a lesson (I hope) . . . and I thought I'd offer it here under my name so people will know that it originated from this weirdo--not Coach K!  But I don't mind if anyone uses it . . . especially Coach K.  Just keep my name on the title page . . . or say, "We can't believe a hick from Brownsburg wrote this."

The Little Things (by Todd Outcalt)

There's a lesson in life that is true to form
And it never wavers or fails:
That if we aspire to build an empire
We cannot overlook the details.

There are no shortcuts to summit the top,
So before you grab for the ring
Be certain you've given your all to the small
And to elementary things.

For success isn't built on one giant leap
Nor a quirky luck-of-the-draw,
But the big things are built on the faithfulness
Of attention to all things small.

Each person holds in his or her hands
The tiniest seeds of the great,
But before we're entrusted with magnificent trees
We must plant, and water, and wait.

There is nothing in life that is not built
On attention to the small,
But we must be faithful in tiny things
Before we are given it all.

This lesson we learn in winter years
But quickly forget in the spring:
If we want to be blessed with far more success,
First honor the smallest of things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pastor's Report Card 2011

Each year pastors provide a "state of the church" report to their various charge conferences, outlining the achievements of the year past and goals for the future.  Since this pastor seeks to be creative, we are offering this report card.  We'll let readers decide if they believe it or not.

TEACHER'S COMMENTS:  This pastor, though getting a little old for this classroom, still seems eager to learn.  Fortunately, we have placed him in a wonderful classroom filled with remarkable students who help to hide his deficiencies (which are many).  This pastor seems to play well in the sandbox and has been overheard bragging about his classmates.  If it were not for these other students, this pastor would be eating paste and digging lima beans out of his ears.  For this reason and more, we also deem it necessary for this classroom to remain intact for another year and we would be remiss to break up the dynamics of this well-oiled machine.  We hope this pastor will, however, do better work in 2012, but as his knees and shoulders give out, we can see marked improvements, though many in the classroom regard him as "a little odd."  We don't recommend remediation, however.

HISTORY                         GRADE:  B
This pastor has been in his current classroom for going on eight years, but we don't think we should move him and torture another group of students.  This group in the Calvary classroom is used to him now and we say they can have him. In the past year twenty-six new students joined this classroom by profession of faith in Jesus (along with seventeen others who just transferred in) and another seventeen were baptized.  

We've had a problem in 2011 with people wanting to leave this classroom and go to other classrooms like Tanzania, Ghana, Belize, and even to foreign countries like Tennessee.  Many other students serve in places like Metro Ministries, Sheltering Wings, Jails, Food Pantries, and Schools. This classroom also tries to clothe, feed, and assist in a variety of needs.  This pastor, however, certainly can't have anything to do with it.  It's got to be the Holy Spirit and the others who lead the classroom.

For some reason, people still want to get into this classroom.  Not only is there a waiting list for the Learning Academy and Parent's Day Out (which says something about the quality), there are new people clamoring through the doors every week.  The pastor purchased two news suits recently, and we hope this will help him to be more presentable and his wife is helping him to shave more often.   

This kid loves gym.  He would probably live in one if he could.  He is frequently the first one in the doors when they open at 5 a.m.  His classroom offers classes like Yoga and Zumba . . . and we don't even know what these are.  We should also note that his wife assists him with his physical education and this student seems to have a grasp of human anatomy.

While we're on the subject, we should note that this student has been married to his first wife for twenty-seven years and has not strayed.  But it's easy to see why.  Who else would have him?  And listen, have you seen his wife?  She's a major babe and still has her high school cheerleader outfit with pom pons. This pastor is also encouraging his children (including his engaged daughter) to wait until marriage.  (Wait for what, we're not sure.) We do, however, believe that after twenty-seven years this pastor has waited long enough.  We shall be sending a note home to his wife. 

ENGLISH            GRADE: A
This student seems to have a decent understanding of the English language, but writes way too much.  We would encourage him not to write six books a year as he can't find people who will read them.  He does enjoy writing encouraging notes to people, however, and he continues to be impressed by the ways the other students are talking about their faith.  He seems convinced, also, that Jesus has a sense of humor and that people might equate laughter and joy with the gospel.

As you can see, this pastor is a decent student and we want to encourage him in his learning.  Lord knows he's flunked out of enough endeavors in his life, so we want to keep him in this classroom where he is surrounded by so many gifted and caring students who will help him with crib notes.  He loves the people he works with and can pick himself up off the playground when he gets knocked down and scrapes his knees.  He rarely cries . . . though we've seen others crying when it was announced he was returning to the classroom for 2012. 

For a fuller summation of this student's thoughts, we would recommend people purchase his full slate of book titles (at retail price) or visit and click on the October 24 interview.  He's the student who looks like Lawrence Welk and talks like a hick from Sullivan county.

RECOMMENDATION:  PASS (but we're being extremely lenient here).

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Waiting Room

Right now I'm waiting on so many people, so many projects, and so many expectations that I will never die.  I can't.  I won't!

I have no less than six books that are being read by editors right now. (Actually, it's more than six, but I've lost count . . . so I'll just say six.  But I might have to make a count this week because now I'm intrigued.)  And there are also stacks of essays, piles of poems, and a heap of humor floating around in editorial offices around the country, too.  But in the publishing world, everything is hurry up and wait.

One editor wrote me last week informing me that I must wait until May of 2012 for a decision on a book manuscript.  Seriously?  Six months?  In another six months, I'll have written six other books.  Can't these editors keep up with their reading?

Or how about the editor who informed me that he would indeed be publishing one of my essays, but it would be a year from now before it would appear in the magazine.  More waiting . . . .

I'm used to it, though.  I wait on my wife, my kids, my slow-moving parents.  I'm waiting for the cat to die.  I'm waiting for the Colts to score a touchdown.  Thank God, they don't play next week.

I would love it if, someday, an editor would be waiting on me for a change . . . waiting on me to deliver that 500-page-manuscript or that carefully-crafted piece about my four-month Hawaiian travel excursion or what it feels like to sleep in until seven-a.m. on a weekend.

But heck, I'd settle for an article on the empty nest syndrome.  That would be worth the wait.  And my wife might go for it, too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Exclamation Points

Last night an editor of a news magazine wrote to inform me that one of my poems (a poem, really?) was receiving a lot of attention from readers and had been the number one page on the magazine web site this past month.  Awww, shucks!

I'm actually flabbergasted by this . . . and I rarely use the word "flabbergasted."  It's true, I do write a lot of poems (actually too many), but I also write a lot of essays, humor, fiction, and work that simply defies description or categorization.  So when an editor sends me word about a poem receiving attention, I have to ask, "Why?"

I'm not used to attention, of course.  My kids ignore me.  My wife has other interests . . . and most of these do not include me.  The cat takes one look in my direction and pukes.

So when an editor writes with a compliment, I'm flabbergasted.  (There's that word again!) I begin wondering how I hit upon a combination of words that others would want to read, or perhaps faun over.  I wonder if I can repeat the performance, and I try to go back in time and figure out where I was, and what I was doing, and what the circumstances were surrounding the creation of the words.  If I could duplicate the effort, I would.  But I can't even remember where I was yesterday, and I certainly don't recall writing most of the drivel I churn out.  When the editor wrote to say, "I love your poem," I asked, "What poem?"  Don't even remember writing it or sending it in.  Am I going Alzheimer's?!

But, alas, I realize I don't have any great skill at word-crafting . . . I just have an ability to turn out words like little sausages, lots of little sausages, and I send them out hoping that one of those little sausages will be good enough to catch the eye of an editor who will say, "Very tasty."

Lord knows I'll never garner any attention at home.  I've got to look for these small accolades in the wild and wacky world of word-crafting!

I'm flabbergasted!!!!   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dog Food For Thought

Books about dogs and cats have exploded onto the publishing scene in the past decade, and this despite the one-story-fits all approach that publishers seem to require when it comes to canine tales.  However, Susan Orlean has captured both a history and an iconographic image in her book, Rin Tin Tin.  It's more than a dog book, as it reads across the decades spanning the origins of the German Shepherd pre-WW1 across the pond to Hollywood and back.

I have faint memories of watching Rin Tin Tin when I was a child, but there's far more to this dog story than the TV show, and Orlean manages to write a history and biography that is at once entertaining and compelling.  In short, it's more than another dog book, but is food for thought.

Naturally, people like dog books because we extend some portion of our personalities and existence into our pets . . . which makes me wonder:  where are all of my dead dogs now, and what does this say about me?

My list of dogs reads like Grade B horror movie:

DOG         YEAR        DEATH BY

BB            1969        Hit by car
Diego        1975        Hit by car/shot by my dad
Lovey        1997        Squashed under car by my mom
Tippy         1974       Died age 16 with 3 legs, 1 ear, wounded, no teeth
Buster       2010        Eaten by coyotes

As you can see, I wasn't meant to have a dog . . . and I can't wait for our fifteen-year-old cat to die.  There's a story here somewhere.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I don't feel tired.  In fact, I feel rather energetic.  Probably as energetic as a man my age can expect to be . . . and perhaps more energetic than most younger men.  I'm usually up early.  Sometimes the first in the gym.  I work a full day; I write a full day.  I eat fewer donuts.  I usually cook dinner.  I am typically the last to go to bed.

But several friends have recently commented:  "You look tired."

Tired?  As in Geritol tired?  Tired blood?  Nahhh!

I point out that I may just be getting old. I woke up a few minutes ago with a pain in my left shoulder that nearly brought tears to my eyes.  My wife tells me it's arthritis.  But whatever it is--a torn rotator cuff, strained muscle, or uncle arthur--I keep lifting through it.  And I write through it, too.

Becky points out that I've been doing the bulk of my late-night writing from the couch.  But I'm just relaxed.  I write my best love poems from a prone position.

When I really want to get serious about writing, I go vertical.

No, I'm not tired.  All it takes is a few conversations with editors, a contract or two, and I'm up all night. 

Pass the coffee and Tylenol.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

And Here's the Pitch!

My late-night forays in recent weeks have turned me into a pitcher.  I've been throwing essays at some editors, fiction at others, and have chucked a fair number of book proposals, articles, poems, and humor toward the publisher's plate, too.  Most have landed in the dirt, but I've thrown some strikes.

Of course, there's always the chance that an editor will shake off a sign and want me to pitch something else.  But a guy like me is used to changing it up.  After being married for twenty-seven years to a woman who changes her mind every morning, I never say to an editor, "But yesterday you told me you wanted me to be more romantic and cook chicken for dinner . . . what gives?"

No, I just smile, load up another fast ball, and throw again.

Naturally, whenever an editor does give me the nod (like the two who said "Yes" some weeks back and mailed me tiny checks yesterday so I can buy a creme-filled donut) it's a good day.  And whenever Becky says "Yes" it's a good month.  Heck, it's a good year!

Writers must master the art of the pitch if they are to earn any called strikes.  One has to be able to throw an arsenal of pitches in order to get the attention of these deadbeat editors.  The curve ball, the change-up, the fast ball, even, occasionally, the spitter . . . it's important to keep chucking pitches toward the home plate.  If a writer doesn't pitch, there's no hope for a win.  Gotta throw something.  Gotta stay warmed up (write every day!).  Gotta master at least one or two pitches and keep perfecting them.  Stop tossing what doesn't work.

Pitching isn't necessarily fun. But it's necessary.

And I do hope Becky will wear that umpire uniform from time to time. I think the cleats are sexy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Record Deal

Over the weekend I had a most unusual request.  I was offered a record deal.  No, not a record deal (as in cutting an album) . . . but a re-cord deal (as in, "we want you to record yourself reading).

The case, in this instance, was an audio book being produced by a publisher who believes that the future of poetry is "hearing" poems being read rather than reading poems in a book.  OK . . . I get it.  This sounds right, smart, and absolutely correct.

But the producer lost me when he said, "Use the settings on your computer to create your audio file and submit [these selected] poems to me by the end of the month." I thank producer Tim for the opportunity to record some of my published work, but I must admit, I don't know anything about these "settings" on my computer than can produce an "audio file".  What the heck is an audio file, and how does an idiot like me learn the button sequence without setting off another Cold War?

Naturally, I turned to another expert for these answers.  I asked my wife.  "How do you create an audio file on the computer?" I wondered.

"Beats me," she said.  "Sounds like you know as much about that as you do about making love to an older woman."

"Beat it," I said.  

So . . . I'm up early today.  Pressing buttons.  But something tells me this older laptop of mine doesn't have a built-in microphone.  The only thing I've managed to do so far is start the dishwasher.  And I've not yet figured out where I can insert the blank cassette tape!

Friday, November 4, 2011


Disney taught me how to spell Encyclopedia.  Or, rather, it was Jiminy Cricket singing, "E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A!" 

Now I've written an encyclopedia of my own:  The Youth Ministry Encyclopedia. has been carrying it for a few months . . . Kindle format.  The subtitle of this book points out the obvious: that this is the biggest, baddest, most comprehensive book of youth activities, games and lessons ever assembled.  Well, it might actually be.  Anyone downloading this monster into his Kindle or iPad is going to eat up some serious hard-drive gigabytes.  This is the biggest book I've yet written.  It's a MONSTER!

So, all you youth directors, youth pastors, youth workers out there . . . better grab a copy of this one!  I started working with teenagers when I was nineteen years old and this book has over forty years of material under the sails.  I'm not kidding . . . it's a whopper!  If you download it, you might even think the book is never going to end, and you may have trouble finding the last page.  But just keep reading, jotting notes, trying some of the hundreds of ideas inside.

How's that for a commercial?

That's why I'm calling it an Encyclopedia.  And once YOU learn how to spell it, you'll discover that it's an amazing youth ministry resource. 

Ask Jiminy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grip It And Rip It

I always feel that I must read 3-4 science books each year (given that my wife is a science teacher and a real brainiac).  My most recent foray into the world of the hard sciences has been Get a Grip on Physics, by John Gribbin.  In this old-style science book, Gribbin combines basic history and formulas of physics with art to make this, perhaps the most difficult of sciences, comprehensible to the average layman (like me).  But even after reading this book, I'm still in awe of the discipline of physics and the deep science of the universe.

I'm not a science writer, but I have composed my fair share of "science" poetry.  Some of these I've attached to my science fiction tales and/or have submitted outright.

Here's a portion of one poem below, entitled "Red Shift".

(And, in case you don't know what the Red Shift is, I'll try to explain:  the Red Shift refers to the spectrum of colors from deep space that scientists use to determine the distance and age of various sources of light. As radiation (light) travels through space, it shifts in color, deepening to red the longer (older) it is, much like The Doppler Effect of sound deepens from a passing train.) 

Got that?  (It's much too simple of an explanation, but here goes.)

Red Shift

Light years from earth, a boomerang
Of radiation--violets, blues--
Glows within the rim of the Big Bang.
The giant stars, like Betelgeuse

Emit a trail of gamma rays
That shift in space and time at speed
Of light.  The Doppler Effect gravitates
The purple-violet haze and bleeds

The energy to red . . .

Well, there's much more to this poem, but you get the picture (or not).  When I get this figured out, I'll call you.  Or I'll ask my wife.  She knows everything.  And red is her favorite color.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Donut and Me

This blog entry might be considered an experiment.  For some reason my January blog posting on donuts (the breakfast of champions) continues to get many "hits" each month.  What gives?  Why the interest in my diet?

Let the record show that I'm going to monitor this posting to see if these same donut fanatics show up on the "hit" list.

As for donuts, have you tried the seasonal pumpkin spice at Dunkin' Donuts?  Or how about the Thanksgiving blend coffee at Starbucks?  Good stuff.

Donuts, of course, are a great interest of mine.  And as I think about it, it's probably time I try to pitch an article on donuts to some unsuspecting editor.  Who better to write a donut essay than me?  Who better to get free donuts for a taste testing?

As long as I'm writing, I might as well be enjoying my research.    

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Isn't It Romantic?

A nice compliment from an editor today.  Some weeks back she accepted one of my poems for publication and now she is requesting to see more of my "love poems."

Naturally, since I have no secrets, I told my wife there was another woman interested in my words of love.

Becky's response: "What do you know about love?"

What do I know?  Listen, a man doesn't live fifty years without learning something.  And if a guy writes hundreds of poems a year, he's bound to write one or two that might make a woman swoon.  These are the ones I'm looking to submit to the good graces of this other woman.

Of course, in my younger days, it was poetry that made my courtship.  There's not a woman I know who wouldn't love this gem:

Sure as the vine twines 'round the stump
You are my darlin' sugar lump.

Actually, it's easy to write romance.  A man only has to stop and think about all the things he didn't say, or wished he had said, and then write these words.  Well, that's my secret anyway.

Since I rarely say anything romantic the first time around, I'm glad to be a writer of romance.  The poems give me a second chance to get it right.