Friday, December 30, 2011

It All Ads Up

I had a bit of a surprise earlier this week when I noticed a pop-up advertisement for my book, $5 Youth Ministry, on Google.  I say "surprised" because this was the first Google ad I'd ever seen for any book, but it was nice that the publisher deemed it worthy of some year-end advertising.  The idea of the ad was that youth ministries could make 2012 a great year by purchasing a copy.


Book advertising has always been risky business for publishers.  And most publishers prefer controversy to rake in the bucks.

But what controversy can I create with my titles

About the only thing I can offer in that vein would be my humor.  People might buy my books, for example, if they knew that my mother gave me some very sexy underwear for Christmas this year and that I have already modeled them for my wife who promptly laughed me out of the bedroom.  Others might buy my books if they realized that I frequently talk to strange women at the gym and offer them advice on how they can get buns of steel ("like mine!").  Or, perhaps, I could spike book sales by confessing that, many years ago, I won a contest on a youth mission trip and was crowned, "Miss Luncheon Sack" (ask me about it!).  

Outside of these hot controversies I'm afraid my life lapses back into a vein of total boredom where, in a good year, I might have two nights of hot fun and one afternoon delight and, perhaps, retell one raunchy joke.  I also eat lots of donuts, which some people might find provocative, but when they realize I'm a dunker, they let it go.

I am, however, eternally grateful for the four people who have purchased copies of my book from the Google ad . . . and I hope to create a bigger stink in 2012 so my publishers will think I'm doing my job. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

With Every Christmas Card I Write

Christmas Eve has come and gone...and now during the 12 days of Christmas, I am discovering that I still have Christmas cards to write.  But it is tough business, this writing of Christmas cards.

Although some people are dreaming of a White Christmas, I am already dreaming of summer.

Toward that end, here's a poem I wrote last year that asks the question:  what happens to the snow man when he melts

The Snowman in Summer

He dreams deep dying of leaf to frost,

The windshields covered with hominy dew,

When the sun consumes in its holocaust

The remains of an old year not yet new.

With coal-black eyes, though apropos,

He twists his stick arms avant-garde,

Entombed in sleep until the snow

Shall resurrect him in the yard.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from Todd

What a difference a year makes.  Here in central Indiana our snowfall has been minimal compared to last year, when we had already received over 8 inches of accumulation before Christmas.

Still, many people are dreaming of a white Christmas . . . why we'll never know. 

As I wish everyone, however, a very Merry Christmas, I thought I would whip up a poem about snow.  Here's one I created just this morning on a whim . . . a bit of light verse, and not a bad one for fifteen minutes of effort.

Call it my Christmas Eve gift.  But you can keep your snowy dreams to yourself.

Snow Co.

I've heard it said that Eskimo
Have literary skills for snow:
Vast words that parse accumulation
Like earthquakes numbered to the Haitian.

However, scholars know Inuit
Assigns no more than we do to it,
Allowing us who hate our snow
To thumb noses at the Eskimo.

Friday, December 23, 2011

TV or Not TV

It happened on Tuesday, December 20.  I was in the kitchen, cooking up a new batch of Hamburger Helper for the family (no joke!) when I heard a loud CRACK! shoot from the television in the living room.  And with that retort the television died.  The second such electronic death in our house in the past three months.

But I'm not complaining. 

Now that we have no easy access to a television, we are actually talking to each other.  I'm also writing more, and reading more.  Now that I have no History Channel, ESPN, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, or Turner Classic Movies--I'm feeling very Amish.  Sure, I still have this computer and my blog, but I've always regarded the computer--as well as my junk car, my junk phone, and my heavily-penciled calendar--as tools.  Tools help me to accomplish greater ends.  Tools are what sets us apart from the apes.  Tools are not entertainment--but items that fit the mind and the hand and help to "create" other experiences and means to even greater ends.

Over the years, of course, my wife and kids have chided me for writing on a fifteen-year-old computer or for driving a car with 175,000 miles on the odometer.  "When are you going to buy something that looks good?" they ask.

"Looks aren't important when it comes to tools," I tell them.  "Tools are utilitarian.  Tools are for getting me from one location to another, or from one word to another, one paragraph to another, so that I can create or complete a greater work.  Remember this, kids!"

That's why I'm loving this TV-less home.  I don't have to worry about wasting my time watching snippets of The Bing Bang Theory or a hockey game on ESPN.  I don't have to worry about frittering away valuable pieces of my evenings with a remote, searching for Man Vs. Food or Pawn Stars.  I can sit in silence, or the family can listen to me talking to myself while I write a short story or create dialogue.  I can recite poetry aloud, or return to the old times when I used to read bed time stories to my kids or allow them to hear my novels-in-progress.  I can ask my wife how to spell "hors dourves" and listen to her complain about not having a TV and why, in God's name, I fixed Hamburger Helper for seven consecutive meals and would it hurt me, just once, to cook a lousy piece of chicken!

"So," the kids want to know, "are we getting a new TV for Christmas?"

I'm still wrestling with this one.  A husband and father has to put his foot down sometimes and exercise the authority that is rightfully given to him by Almighty God.  That, or when the family rebels and threatens to buy a fifty-foot plasma TV with Blu-Ray and Digital Surround-Sound . . . and he caves.

I tell them I'm looking for a TV.  I'm hunting.  Trying to find the best value.  This is what real men do. 

But if I don't have a new TV under the tree in two days, look for me in the local cemetery.  I'll be the one buried in the freshly dug grave.      

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Cards

As 2011 cinches toward its denouement I am trying to take stock of the writing I've accomplished over the past 12 months.  I'm still gathering the stats (will probably blog about these in January) but 2011 is shaping up to be a very prolific year for me.  Although I didn't sign contracts for any new books, I did publish quite a bit of shorter material, created some rather remarkable book proposals, and completed hundreds of pages that may yet come to fruition in the new year.

I've also had the opportunity to send out copies of my Christmas Eve story (one of my annual traditions) to other family members and friends and I've been receiving some nice feedback.

Two of the most meaningful came by way of:

1. Miss Wallace, my high school English teacher (Senior Year), who sent me a very nice card thanking me for dedicating my newest Christmas CD to her, and honoring me with her blessing of my Christmas Eve story.  Miss Wallace is now in her nineties, still has impeccable handwriting and a sharp mind, and was an enormous influence in my life.  Thank you, Miss Wallace, for pushing me toward English in college.  What else could I do with an English degree but write stories and love poems to my wife?  (You remember Becky?  She sat next to me in senior English. I copied from her papers so I could pass your class.  She smelled nice back then and was a real hottie.  When you weren't looking, I was the one passing the obscene letters to her under the desk.  But it's OK.  We're married now and she doesn't read my obscene letters any more.)

2. A Calvary family who informed me on Monday night that they read my Christmas Eve story together some minutes before their father died in Terre Haute.  Ahh...hope it was hopeful.  Hope you all will experience God's peace. Blessings for telling me this.

So, 2011 . . . as we get ready to say goodbye, I begin to look back with both celebration and dejection.  Wish I could have written better.  Glad I rose before sunrise hundreds of mornings to write, however.  It was a very good year.  And I've got a nice jump on the new one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

End Game

Of the three posthumous books published by John Updike's family, his final collection of poetry speaks most intimately of his final days.  Endpoint and Other Poems (Knopf, 2009) actually offers the reader both a collection of Updike's considerable output since the publication of his Collected Poems and a long narrative poem ("Endpoint") which consumes nearly a third of the volume and is, for all intents and purposes, a final soliloquy detailing some of Updike's final thoughts and concerns.

The signature poem, written as a series of unrhymed sonnets, features several observations on birthdays, including 2004, 2005 and 2007.  The final seven sonnets are all dated, offering glimpses of Updike's concerns from the time he entered the hospital (11/02/08) had a needle biopsy (12/22/08) and eventually wrote on 12/22/08, just days before his death, waxing poetic of his faith and quoting from the 23rd Psalm: surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Unlike Updike's other posthumous volumes, the cover photo--of Updike standing with his back to the camera in posture of retreating down an autumn lane--is suggestive of his hand in creating the book itself, and the fact that he dedicates the book to his wife, Martha ("who asked for one more book") leaves the reader with the feeling that this is the one Updike regarded as his last.

Endpoint isn't a morbid book, however. It is filled with an array of other poems ranging from travel observations to the saguaro cactus, and another section of sonnets leads to a final chapter of light verse (the genre poetry Updike may be most widely-known for).  

In the end, this book is worth the price of admission, and anyone looking for a classic volume on dying well can't go wrong with shelving it beside Joan Didion's, The Year of Magical Thinking and C.S. Lewis's, A Grief Observed

Thank you, Mr. Updike.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


A few months ago my wife and I both lost (nearly simultaneously) the complete list of our varied contacts stored in our electronic calendars.  It was as if the fates had a consultation and agreed to send forth a disturbance in the force.  We lost names, addresses and phone numbers of hundreds of people--including friends, family, and distant acquaintances.

I also lost a wealth of information in the publishing world . . . my many contacts with various editors, their phone numbers and email addresses.  I'm still trying to restore balance to the force, and toward that end I've picked up a light saber . . . just in case.

A couple of years ago, during a telephone conversation with my literary agent, she noted with surprise the number of people I know in the publishing ranks: editors in New York, publishers in Chicago, agents in Colorado, readers in Los Angeles.  She wondered how I had amassed such a wide-array of contacts.

I told her this is what comes from failure.  That, and the striving after wind.  It's not difficult to amass entire phone books littered with contact information when most of it comes in the form of rejection. 

Now, I have failed at keeping even these intact . . . and I'm trying to obtain a new heavenly host of information that I can stuff into a paper file . . . no more dependence upon electronic technology for me (or Becky).  Computers can crash. Cell phones can go bonkers.  Personal electronic devices guaranteed to last a lifetime can fail after the first month.  Entire civilizations can be wiped out.

One of these days I'll get back to New York.  I'll visit publishers, take the elevators to the top floors, and ask, "Hey, can I get your phone number?"

Should be interesting obtaining all of these contacts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kid Stuff

Here's another page from my (unpublished) children's book: One Strange World. Sorry if this one is beyond strange . . . warped, maybe.

Little Eagle

Little Eagle is an Indian Chief,
The youngest chief in the clan.
He's still a kid at heart, they say,
As he's not yet an Indian man.
Little Eagle giggles and coos,
He cries and kicks a lot,
He dirties his diapers, he pees his pants,
He sleeps and makes tons of snot.
And although Little Eagle has not earned a feather
Nor cured a buffalo hide
He's held in respect by the medicine man
And the elders of his tribe.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Suit Yourself

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine there is a cartoon featuring a men's tailor holding a tape measure and saying to a male shopper (as if the tailor is airport security):  "I'll be passing my hands across your buttocks and bringing the tape measure along the inside of your leg. Is that okay?" 

I laughed at this one, but also found myself waxing nostalgic at the demise of a men's store in my hometown--a men's shop that has provided my suits for the past eight years.  When I stopped by yesterday to ask the owner about his business closeout he confirmed that casual Fridays and the changing work environment have dampened traditional male attire (suit, dress shirt, tie).  

I drove home a bit depressed, put on a new suit, and promptly hashed out a couple of essays about men's clothing . . . some of the best stuff I've written in a long time.  And I discovered that I was passionate in my thought--quite a bit more passionate that I've been with my wife lately . . . and the writing hummed quickly through a second and third draft.

I recall reading some years ago about writers like Tom Wolfe and James Mitchner who, as they approached their deadlines, would literally dress to the nines before they sat down to write.  Their philosophy:  writing was work, hard work, and they were dressing for success.  John Updike was also well-known for his fashion sense, and writing for him required a writer's attire.

As I age, I find myself (increasingly) writing in attire that requires a sense of fashion. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a book review (a volume on parenting troubled teenagers) sitting on the couch while posed in an Armani suit, which seemed to help, and a few days back I arrived home from church on a Sunday afternoon, foregoing lunch, and quickly took to the keyboard while I was still shaved, polished, and scented in an effort to push through the final stages of yet another book proposal, hoping that some editor would be able to tell that I was wearing a navy blue suit and pink tie when I wrote it.

Still, I'm not sure which suit I'd like to be buried in.  I may let my wife make that decision.  She's always using me like a mannequin anyway . . . wanting to take my clothes off under the premise that I'm wearing the wrong attire.  She undresses me, and then dresses me again, just like she used to do with her Barbies.  Accessorizing, she calls it.  She seems to have a necktie fetish and has recently been pushing me to purchase a new brown belt.  Why I'll never know!

But me . . . I'm just glad to have her attention.  It's the only time she's worried about undressing me.  And the only other person to touch me in those certain places has been my clothier.

Thanks for 25 years of service, Steve!  You've helped me be a better writer.  Or, at least I look my best while I'm failing at it.   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ever Had a Tapeworm?

My kids remember my strange bedtime stories, and here's another warped offering from one of my (unpublished) children's books that probably gave them nightmares.  That, or they learned to always wash their fruit before eating it.  A father must defend himself, after all.

This page, taken fresh and squiggling out of One Strange World, is entitled, "Tommy Target's Tapeworm".  (Yes, that low rumbling in your stomach could be a living creature!  This was a thought that tormented my kids and is, to this day, the primary source of their insomnia! But if you look closely at the drawing, you'll see the tapeworm is smiling.  He's happy to be eating licorice whip!)

Tommy Target's Tapeworm

Tommy Target had a tapeworm
That was nearly ten feet long.
It stretched from pancreas and liver
To his duodenum.
No matter what Tommy Target ate
He couldn't get any fatter,
Because the tapeworm ate it first
Before food reached his bladder.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don's Nine Lives

Since the departure of John Updike in January of 2009, a fair number of literary critics have crowned Don Dellilo the new king of American letters. Delillo's most recent title, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (Scribner, 2011) provides the first and only collection of Delillo's short stories, nine total, spanning a thirty-two year vein that runs the gamut of genre and subject matter.

One makes the assumption that these nine stories represent the lifetime output of DeLillo in the short form, and each story demonstrates a nuance of the gifted writer and, perchance, a timeline of his literary development.  "Human Moments in World War III", one of the earliest stories published in Esquire in 1983, shows DeLillo in raw fantasy mode exploring a futuristic society where both natural disasters and human hatred have reduced the population to basic animalistic instincts. And "Baader-Meinhof", published in The New Yorker in 2002 nearly twenty years later, combines art appreciation and sexual desire into a single piece that resonates with loneliness and despair.

His signature story, "The Angel Esmeralda", I recall reading in The Best American Short Stories anthology in 1995 and represents DeLillo at his best--a social commentator of some large proportion, reminiscent even in shorter form of his comprehensive, sprawling masterpieces of novel like Libra and White Noise, where DeLillo has made a mastery and a name for himself as a chronicler of key notes in American history.

Unlike Updike, whose prodigious output of short story volumes was second to none (along with novels, poetry, book reviews, and essays of every persuasion), DeLillo's focus has remained steadfast on the longer form of the novel and the stage play--and these, squarely fiction. But one could make the case, I suppose, that he now reigns supreme in the longer forms.

I was glad to read DeLillo's short story collection (and to shelf another first edition), and his lifetime work in the short form is unique, both in brevity and in scope.  One would be hard-pressed, I think, to find another short story collection from any writer that would demonstrate, in a lifetime output of nine short tales, such a cornucopia of subject matter and (sur)realism.

But at Don's advancing age, what can we really expect to see from him--from this point on--within the pages of the American magazine?   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pick-up Game

Last week I received a nice accolade from a magazine editor informing me that one of my published poems had recently been "picked-up" by an anthology.  I'm not sure what this means (probably nothing), but I'll admit . . . it's sounds high-falutin.

Whenever an editor says I've been "picked-up", it has to be a good thing, right?

Of course, I've been part of the pick-up scene for decades, man.  I was groovin' with pick-up lines long before Hollywood made them a staple in romantic comedies.  I picked-up my wife this way and, later, when I tried to pick her up and carry her over the threshold, I banged her head on the door jam. That's why I started lifting weights, so I could carry her heft. 

Of course, my pick-up lines worked much better in the 1970s when everyone was groovin' with ZZ-Top and Boston and the Eagles.  So keep in mind, I'm not sure how these will sound to modern ears. But listen, dog, these worked way back when:

Pick-up Line # 1:  Which one of you pretty ladies has my Buick Regal double-parked outside?  I need to get home to give my mother her milk of magnesia!

Pick-up Line # 2: Your name wouldn't happen to be Becky, would it?  I know a girl with the same name. What'r the odds a that?

Pick-up Line # 3: Could I buy one of you finely-educated ladies a diet drink?  Not that you need to diet, mind you, but I noticed your human anatomy textbooks, and that just happens to be my best subject . . . that, and Greek literature.  Kind of a toss-up.  But I'll let you decide.  What do you think of me so far?

Pick-up Line # 4Whaazzup!  (I was saying this long before Snoop Dog and don't let him kid you.)

Pick-up Line # 5: I'm on my way to church and just wondered if you'd like for me to pray for you?  I happen to be on a first-name basis with God and something tells me you've never had a kiss from a real man.  Or are you a cross-dresser?

As you can see, I was a real charmer, a true Casanova.  And those of you who know me can see what I ended up with.  Obviously, my wife has great taste.  She picked me up!

Still, I was glad to hear about the poem.  I can't wait to see how that one turns out now that some editor has responded to my "pick-up" lines.

Monday, December 12, 2011

To Russia, With Love

Since mid-November I've noted that over 30% of the daily visitors to this blog live overseas.  England is a mainstay, as is India, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.  And as the elections in Russia have heated up and the mercury has taken a dive, an increasing number of readers in the former Soviet Union have been needing this blog, evidently, to make it through the winter of discontent.

I thank you for reading.  Enjoy your Vodka . . . but all things in moderation!  Don't smoke too much (or better yet, trade your Camels for carrot sticks). 

For some reason, my readership has been growing through the winter months.  Perhaps it is because people need a laugh in order to find a little sunshine.  Or maybe it's other writers.  Or perhaps it is because I talk so often about donuts . . . evidently a food staple that people all over the world can identify with.  Or, it could be because this blog translates so well through the Universal Translator operated by Lieutenant Uhura.

Regardless, I'm glad to be of service . . . which is the same thing I tell my wife each day.  Use me!

Perhaps as you begin a new day--whether in New Delhi, Moscow, London, or that little town in Indiana (U.S.A) where people still think of their 1991 Caprice wagon as a "new car"--you'll enter the fray with a smile on your face and a lucky penny in your pocket.

Eat a jelly donut, kiss your wife, tell your teenage son he's got five months left on his lease.  And on a really cold day, or when you are released from the gulag, visit again.

I plan to be here.  Writing.   

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stocking Stuffer

In this season of giving, I've been receiving a lot lately . . . which, of course, fills me with gratitude and provokes me to giving.  Or, more specifically, I've become the darling of certain editors who, for whatever reasons, have been grabbing up my writing and sending me (small sums though they be) checks here at year-end.  Now I can give some nicer gifts to others in need . . . which I plan to do.

Some years back, I recall an interview with John Updike in which he explained that, as a child of the Depression, he never felt that he could turn down a writing opportunity, even one that promised a small paycheck, and that even though he had earned enough as a writer to sign only the large contracts, he could never bring himself to stop signing the small ones.  And in Updike's last book (reviewed in my blog two days ago), he notes in one essay that early in his life the money he earned from writing poems was not insignificant to him as a husband and father.  Even the $10 payments in 1950 meant something: an oil change, a sack of groceries, a few gallons of gasoline.

Although I am not a child of the Depression, I am afraid I have inherited my parent's strong work ethic and their insistence that I never turn away any work, even jobs that paid little or nothing.  As a kid, I mowed some yards for free (since my parents told me it was my duty to help a poor neighbor or a widow), and later I worked my way through both college and seminary, holding down, at times, three to four jobs at a whack.  Sometimes, I would leave one job to go to another, writing my essays or completing homework in the cracks and crevices between these jobs--tired to the bone, but energized with the prospect of writing something that I wanted to write when I found 15-30 minutes of "free" time.

I've kept the pace . . . for forty years now.

Editors who know me know this:  I'll write nearly anything. I'll write copious amounts for small sums, and I'll write late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.  I'll take a small check.  And another.  And another.  And another.

But even these add up . . . and the small sums have also taught me another valuable lesson as a writer.  My well is never dry.  I've never experienced "writer's block."  I've got diarrhea of the pen. If there's an editor who's buying . . . I'm writing.  Heck, I'm writing even if editors are not buying! 

Thanks, editors, for making my December a little brighter with those tiny little checks that I can cash out for handfuls of dimes and quarters.  Most of these have gone into a pot dangling next to a bell-ringer.  Next year, I'll just have you cut the checks to the charities directly and by-pass the writer all-together.

I'm just a stocking stuffer.  And I'm glad to be of service. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Marriage 101

My daughter, Chelsey, will soon be coming home from Ball State . . . for good.  Or at least until her wedding day (June 16).  And as father of the bride, I've been trying to steer her toward my voluminous output of marriage material in the form of books, CDs, and articles.  I've got plenty to chew on.

Before You Say "I Do" was the first book I had published (way back in 1998) and Your Beautiful Wedding on Any Budget is one of those titles any father would love for his daughter to read.  I've also written a brief Kindle "pocket" guide for brides that I hope would be helpful in creating a debt-free wedding. (And there are brides who are actually buying it!)

Still, I'm fortunate that my daughter has good taste and good sense.  Simplicity and natural beauty are two features my girl has always treasured, and she's creating a very affordable, and incredibly simple and beautiful, wedding.

She's also had the good sense not to listen to my advice on marriage.  After all, she's seen me in action and knows that Becky is in charge.  My role in the situation is to remain boring, say "Yes, honey!", and fix the toilets.  My cooking and cleaning skills are a bonus.  But as for advice on relationships, well . . . .

Actually, when it comes to marriage, I don't have a problem quoting from Hogan's Heroes:  "I know nothing!"  My writings on marriage (now hundreds of thousands of words) is simply an exploration of all the things I would like to know, but am afraid to ask.  And, of course, I'm writing from a male perspective . . . which means I am in the dark when it comes to figuring out what a woman is thinking or wanting.  I've learned it's better to offer an array of choices in any situation.  My role in the mess is to rotate the tires, change the oil, and wax romantic every now and again.  I write love poetry so my wife will know I'm no sap and can at least pretend that I've got the ability to express what she wants to hear.  Some of these poems actually make sense.  To me.  

As the wedding day approaches I'll keep offering my advice, of course.  A dad has to pretend to know something.  Otherwise, he's just a body who mows the grass and cracks walnuts in season.  

And he occasionally weeps at weddings.  (Just don't ask him why.)     

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Donut Experiment

Now here's a wonder.  Every time I post a blog about donuts, I have an inordinate number of "hits".  Is there really such a robust donut culture out there?  Why this insatiable lust for sweet pastry?

Well, but this post is an experiment.  I'll see how many visit this blog just because I'm writing about donuts.

In 2012 I also hope to put my donut knowledge and expertise to better use.  I've started making outlines of various donut essays I'd like to write:  donut history, donut culture, donut recipes, my personal experiences with the donut.  Heck, I've even applied for a job at Dunkin' Donuts . . . .

In short, 2012 might be considered the "year of the donut".

I've already started writing one article that is perfect for me.  I can't think of anyone more qualified to write it.  I'm entitling it:  "How to Dunk a Donut".  
Believe me, there's more here than meets the palate, and there is an art to dunking that most people miss.  I've got all the steps down, and I'd love to share my knowledge with others.

Watch for this article.  It will change the future of pastry. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Last week I was pleased to pick up a new copy of John Updike's posthumous title, Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism.  This, the final collection of Updike's illuminating book reviews, poems, essays on fiction, and miscellaneous prose, represents the work he was compiling prior to his death in January of 2009.  His estate was gracious enough to provide this collection--a big book littered with Updike's typical menagerie of wide-ranging ideas and subject matter.

I've been reading this book every day since I purchased it, small bits and pieces from an author I already miss terribly.  Every time I have five or ten minutes between bites of licorice whip or jelly donut, I break open the book and read. But I'll be reading this one well past Christmas day.

Reading Updike's luminous book reviews and his glowing prose helps me to realize that my book reviews, compared to his, are mud pies.  Updike is a thoroughbred; I'm a mule.  He writes. I hack.

I can only hope that my editors don't realize this and fire me.  Maybe I can continue to disguise my inadequacies.  Perhaps they don't realize that I write my book reviews under the influence of coffee and donuts.  Take caffeine and raspberry jelly out of my chemistry equation and I couldn't type.

But until I'm laid off . . . I'll continue with my diet and write as many reviews as the editors seem fit to send my way.

Anybody out there got a book that needs reviewing?   


Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Shopping

Weird as it sounds, I went Christmas shopping last week at Barnes & Noble. For myself.  I was using a gift card that had been given to me last Christmas, a year ago, but I had stashed it inside a book.  I only discovered it last week and realized, "Holy Cow, I'd better get to Barnes & Noble before it closes!"

Glad I went.  Most of the inventory was marked way down . . . like going out of business down, which is the fate of most bookstores these days.  Waldens has bit the dust.  Barnes & Noble stores are closing by the droves.  And Amazon recently announced that people buy more Kindle versions of books via Amazon than they do paper editions.  Another few years, I'm afraid bookstores may go the way of the Do Do Bird.  Wow.  It's a changing world. 

And changing for writers, too.  Publishers are having to adapt so quickly to the new world that they are uncertain, now, of the viability of books or, more specifically, the ability of publisher/editor/writer to make even a marginal profit from a book, especially the electronic versions. On the most recent cover of The New Yorker, a cartoon depicts a gentleman in the new bookstore--a place now stocked with coffee mugs, T-shirts, and electronic readers . . . and one tiny shelf of printed material. 

But writers still write.

And, while I'm writing . . . I can read.  I walked out of Barnes & Noble last week with an armload of discounted titles, including John Updike's last title (published by his family posthumously), an ACT test book for my son (if, indeed, he has the guts to take the ACT), and a collection of essays.

This is my first Christmas shopping foray of the year.  Probably my last.  (I hate crowds.)  It's just too bad it took a year for me to use that gift card.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Greek, The Latin, and the Ugly

Last night, after completing my sermon outline and realizing that Becky would not be home until midnight, I began a five-hour writing odyssey among the Greeks and Romans, bringing out some of my heavy-artillery missals and my Latin grammars, to whip out three essays on the Greek gods, the Greek philosopher Plutarch, and the minor-Roman poet and fabulist, Avianus.

Why?  This is the same question that Becky asked me at midnight when she inquired about my stack of books and the open laptop.

I read her some portions:

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Plutarch was remarkably prolific in his own right.  He saw himself as standing at the crossroads of the waning Greek culture and the rise of Roman influence. His Parallel Lives--perhaps his greatest literary achievement--contains biographies of Greek and Roman luminaries, including Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.  Plutarch was a Renaissance man before the Renaissance--and he wrote philosophy, literary criticism, religious texts, and even compiled myths, practical handbooks for the commonwealth, and served as a priest and reformer of the classical Greek religion at Delphi.


Toward the end of the 4th century A.D., a young Roman poet named Avianus began compiling some of the older Aesop's fables into verse form--many of them rounded into rhyming hexameter couplets and shot through with the poet's wit and humor.  As such, the fables took on a new role, and became a staple for teachers of ethics and philosophy (even the Christian religion, though Avianus was a pagan) during the Middle Ages.

Naturally, when I read my evening's essays to my wife (each of which rambles on for another thousand words or so) she was not impressed.  "Who's going to buy that crap?" she wondered.  

I showed her my translation of a Latin Avianus poem (not a bad poem in its own right if I say so myself) and also the parody of a Mount Olympus meeting of the gods that I'd already written and whipped out to a certain Manhattan magazine--a piece replete with Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, Hades, and Heracles . . . humor among the gods.

"I'm going to bed," she said.

Ah, yes. The snub.  For some reason, because I was writing about the Greeks, she considered me a Geek.  I guess I'm a Greek Geek.  I tried pointing out that I'd also written two incredible love poems (in English) and I'd be happy to regale her with romance.  

But once a man turns into a Geek and the woman drops her slipper after the stroke of midnight . . . all hope is lost.

Thank you, Plutarch and Avianus . . . .  Hey, were you guys married?   

Thursday, December 1, 2011


December always brings me a few fan letters (or, in this modern age, fan emails or fan Facebook entries) . . . and so I thought I'd share a few of the more inspiring ones that I have recently received.  That's what this blog is all about, after all: inspiration.  That, and a purpose for living.  If you have neither, I'm afraid this blog won't be of help to your condition.  (See "hopeless" in the dictionary.)

But in the event you want some holiday cheer, here are a few of the testimonials that have brought cheer to me (along with my responses).

Dear Mr. Outcalt, how can I order copies of your books? Sincerely, Edna
You can't.  Most of my books are out of print, and the few that are still in print are nearly unreadable. But I don't know why you'd want to read them. Most people find me a bore.  But if you must have a copy, Edna, why don't you send me your cash and I'll scrounge around in my closet and send you a dusty copy of something I wrote a decade back.  If I can't find one of my books, I'll send you a copy of James Patterson or John Grisham.  Thanks for writing.

Dear Mr. Outcalt, just wanted you to know that I enjoy your blog.  It's a hoot. Bob
Well, Bob, thanks a heap. As you can see, I put a bunch of work into this thing every day.  I'm up most nights just thinking about it.  I rise long before dawn to gather my thoughts and make coffee. And then I write the first thing that pops into my head.  Like mothballs (just now!) or imperialism (just occurred to me) or why can't they make a good zipper for blue jeans? (I just thought of that one).  If you think my blog is a hoot, you should see me in action with my wife.  She laughs non-stop.  And I ain't even trying to be funny in the bedroom.  

Dear Between Pages Owner:  Please change the password setting on your Blogger account as we've reformatted the whole shebang.  We've been getting complaints.  Blogger.
Who is this?  Mom?  

Dear Mr. Outcalt: I really enjoy your sense of humor. It brightens my day and has kept me sane for the past year. (Anonymous)
First, I'm glad you have found sanity among my insanity.  Kind of an oxymoron isn't it?  Do you know this word: oxymoron?  I like saying it.  Try it.  It will keep you sane.  

Dear Mr. Outcalt, thanks for reviewing my book on Between Pages.  One of the more unique reviews I've run across.  Sincerely, (R.W.)
Glad you enjoyed my review of your excellent book.  I'm just appreciative of the fact that I can read English and hold a job.  I write lots of book reviews, by the way . . . some of them serious.  Really serious.  So serious that these are usually published in magazines that cater to heart attacks and various liver diseases.  Still, it's a difficult job and someone has to do it.  Next time I write a book, you can review my copy.  How's that for a trade-off?  (You'll also owe me $4.95 for postage and handling.)