Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Writing Retrospective

Every new year I make a collected inventory of the old.  And as far as writing is concerned, I enjoy looking back to see what a difference a year makes and how much can be accomplished in a dozen months. 

2012 began (January) with the publication of He Said, She Said: Biblical Stories from a Male and Female Perspective (written with Michelle). And, although the book has sold as slow as molasses in Siberia, and was the only book I had published in the year past, it is, nevertheless, a highlight.

During the remaining eleven months, however, I did manage to sell a great deal of material to various publications, and also placed a higher-than-usual volume in a plethora of magazines and journals.  I have probably forgotten a few pieces that were published, and probably penned upwards of two million words during the past year--all writing considered (including sermons, letters, blogs, etc).  But here is the published tally for 2012:

Poems:             12
Essays:             6
Articles:            3
Book Reviews:  14
Columns:          21
Devotions:        12
Literary Story:   1
Science Fiction:  1
Mystery Story:   1
Book Proposals:  6
Humor:              3
Blog Posts:        350+

I see from my tally sheet that I had over 70 different pieces published in magazines as varied as Outdoors Midwest, Preaching, YouthWorker, The Newer York, Rattle, Red Wheelbarrow, Morpheus Tales, Together, and Barefoot Review.

As always, I expect the new year to be better than the last, and I am, indeed, grateful to all of the editors, publishers and agents who accepted my work, or otherwise appreciated what I was trying to accomplish through words. I am grateful to those who still like to read . . . and those who wanted to read, for whatever reasons, my writing

2012 . . . it was a pretty good year.  And now that the Mayan calendar is starting again, I guess I can start over, too.  Two million words in 2012. I already know I'm going to be working hard to surpass that in 2013.  And I shall . . . God willing.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Coming Attractions

I don't have to have a crystal ball to foresee that 2013 is going to be one busy year.  Taking stock of my various writing assignments, I have deadlines galore:  some weekly, some monthly, and a few that round out on January 1, 2014.  Having picked up yet another semi-regular assignment over the Christmas break, I will be writing columns (weekly and monthly), book reviews, and various monthly articles for a few magazines.  All the while I will also have to be inching toward book deadlines at various points in the calendar.  I've already prepared Becky . . . and she's reviewing her 2013 calendar to determine when we can next have dinner together.  

It should be an interesting year if I don't die or get mauled by wolves.  Staying fit will be a necessity, and I am even now making plans to fine tune most mornings at 5 a.m. and eat my daily apple along with my donut.

Beyond all of this writing, however, I am looking forward to the following in 2013:

January 7
Seeing the youngest off to college again, which will also provide the opportunity to clean out the fridge and stock the pantry with food I like to eat:  Twinkies and such, if I can find 'em.

January 8
Launching my new Calvary blog (www.calvarybrownsburg.blogspot.com) for the church . . . full swing under the ludicrous concept that I might have something pastoral to say each day/week.

July 4 week
A beach vacation in South Haven, Michigan.

December 31, 2013
The final frontier for several contractual obligations.  It seems like a long way off now, but the key is writing every day . . . day after day. 

Check back soon for my 2012 retrospective.  And thanks for reading.

  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Gifts from the Author

Now that I have established that at least one bookseller has valued my autograph at more than $130, I believe that I have other valuable artifacts lying around the house that would make excellent Christmas presents . . . especially for those hard-to-please relatives who enjoy weird, literary finds.  Toward that end, let me provide an inventory of some items I am willing to part with . . . for a price.

25-watt Writing Bulb
An incredible find, and one of those historical artifacts used by great literary lights (did you catch the pun?).  The author is willing to part with this bulb for $9.95, which would enable him to purchase a 6-bulb pack of those long-lasting screwy-looking things that save energy.  This classic bulb, however, has lasted several years and has contributed greatly to the author's near-sightedness and his ability to make love in the dark.  Purchase also includes two of his wife's love letters written back in 2001--which was the last year they actually did anything that produced sweat.

Post-It Note of Deadlines
This four-year-old Post-It Note contains the author's various deadlines (dates) for his columns, articles and books.  Bring it home for $1.78 and impress your friends.  Great conversation starter, and you'll spend the rest of your life wondering what happened with that unpublished book proposal from February 2010.  Still some sticky residue on the back, so you could attach it to your refrigerator next to the photo of Don Knotts.

Floppy Disc of Flops
An incredible buy at only $5.99.  This fully-functional floppy is chocked full of writing projects that went nowhere!  On it you'll find colossal flops like the essays, "How to Grow Man Boobs With Vinegar" and "Ten Things Jesus Told My Mother Last Friday".  You'll also enjoy loser classics like "How to Milk a Scorpion" and the unpublished book proposal:  How to Smelt Your Wife's Jewelry Without Her Knowing About It and Turn Her Treasure Into Cash.  This disc also contains over 500 unpublished poems . . . all of them about the family cat that is now buried in the front yard of the author's residence.  You'll enjoy this disc for hours and read it over-and-over.

Author's Coffee Mug
Bring home some author DNA with this classic hand-kilned mug, washed last in March of 2012.  Think of it:  you'll be fingering the same coffee stains used by the author himself and, if you like, you could drink Ocean Spray Cranapple juice out of it.  A Christmas Classic for only $9.99. 

As you can see, I have many wonderful gift ideas.  Please call if you have questions, or write a comment in the box below.  Writing your comments will help make this blog more successful and will give the author the mistaken idea that people are actually reading it.  Visa and Mastercard also accepted. 
    

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Value of My Autograph

A recent Google-search for a copy of my book, Candles in the Dark, yielded dozens of results, which is amazing, seeing as how the book has been out-of-print for seven years.  Although my royalty-earning days for this book are long behind me, I was nevertheless astounded that one bookseller was asking a whopping $149.76 (plus postage and handling) for a single "new" copy containing my autograph.  (I have no idea when I signed it!)

Now . . . while I am impressed by the bookseller's gusto in asking such a premium price for one of my books (and a trade paperback to boot) I am even more astounded by the idea that my autograph would increase the value of the book by more than 1000%. As far as I know, not even Pete Rose or Yogi Berra or Tonya Harding command such high prices for their respective signatures at GenCon Trade Shows.  And I doubt that I could request $100 for my signature on the street, even if I carried a Sharpie and had a large literary following of well-read Benedictine nuns. 

No . . . but I'm not saying my autograph is worthy nothing.  My name is worth something.  I just have to figure out my street value.

Toward that end, I've been asking around.

Obviously, my mother thinks my autograph is worth a fortune.  Here's her testimony:

I remember that day in 1977 when you first wrote your name . . . you were 17 years old and I knew then that you would amount to something.  You loved to practice signing your name on your underwear elastic--I suppose you hated those wedgies and this was your way of creating your own identity--but I saved a pair of those BVDs in your baby book and removed the skid mark with All Tempa-Cheer.  I wouldn't take a million dollars for your autograph.  You are worth every penny we paid the doctor, which should tell you something, as you were unexpected.

Or consider this valuable testimony from Dad:

Value?  I still can't figure out how you missed that 15-foot jumpshot against Terre Haute North as timed expired.  You got your picture in the paper and sure, the cheerleaders went nuts, but you lost the freakin' game!  I did manage to sell the game program you signed, but the guy only gave me $2 for it . . . and he was drunk.

I also checked at several local pawn shops, and as one owner told me:

Never heard of ya', Pal.  I wouldn't give you a plug nickel for your autograph even if it was hammered in sterling silver and dipped in mother's milk!

As you can see, my autograph's value is in the eyes of the beholder.  I do plan to sign several napkins tonight and introduce them on eBay.  You should be able to pick up a bargain there.  Or, if you send me $19.95 (plus postage and handling) I'll be glad to sign some underwear.  But for that price, don't expect me to wash them.



 





 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Burning the Candle

During this season, we often hear the refrains of "slow down", "enjoy the journey" or "don't forget the reason for the season."  But, in actuality, outside of prepping for Christmas eve or completing a thousand chores, I do very little in the way of thinking about Christmas as Christmas rush, Christmas hassle, or Christmas shopping . . . certainly not when it comes to gift-buying, tree decorating, light stringing, or cooking.  Anything along these lines I complete on a whim or at the very last minute (saves all that time "thinking" about them). 

But I am, nevertheless, burning the candle on both ends--which is a wonderful phrase for this time of year, seeing as how I do light a candle sometimes.

Now that I have a multitude of writing deadlines, I find that I must light my candle early every morning . . . and keep it burning well into the night.  I light the candle, get my pre-determined number of words written, and then blow out the candle.  I move on to other things (such as eating cookies that others have baked, enjoying the mad rush of others who are frantically shopping and knowing that I don't shop, and relaxing with coffee).

The candle keeps burning through the first of January, when I get to press the pause button if I reach my goal . . . and then I will probably have to light it again in February.

I'll have to buy another candle.  Eventually a candle burning on both ends meets in the middle.  I don't know what happens then.      

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Suiting Up

A few months ago my agent called to inform me that she had set up an appointment with a photographer to have some new author photos taken.  (Don't I sound like one of those boorish Hollywood imps saying it this way?  Lord, the next thing you know, I'll be telling you my agent has sold one of my scripts to MGM.)

She also asked me to send along a cell phone photo of three of my suits--so the photographer could make the selection.  (See photo above/left of three off-the-rack suits--all include pants, too.)

Now, I must say, sending this photo on my cell phone was a chore.  I would never be able to send a "sext" message or photo to anyone--not even Becky--as I don't know how it's done.  I did manage to snap the photo (see how clear and detailed this sucker is?) and, after pressing a multitude of buttons on my phone (probably resulting in two inadvertent pizza orders and purchasing a new tone ring) I somehow managed to send this photo along to the aforementioned photographer.

Naturally, this wasn't looking too good.

"What color are those suits, anyway?" was the text message that came back from the photog.

I tried to sound J. Crewish or J. Petermanish in my response:

A light gray Armani suit with tapered waist for the man about town or just some jerk who likes to drink coffee, size 46 chest, but snug fit in all the places where the author has developed excess fat. 

A charcoal suit with white pinstripe, cut vest pocket for the man who carries a hanky and blows green snot out of his nose like a weasel, pants-size 36 waist, long, but still roomy enough for his boys to breath.

Khaki Italian suit made by some manufacturer with an unpronounceable accent, size 46, indicating that this guy isn't getting any bigger in any of the places that matter and may actually be shrinking to fit this beautiful wool blend.  Perfect for his burial or a night on the town if his wife still thinks he has some life left in him.  A devil-may-care kind of suit with accents of old-school love.

I'm glad I could write crap like this about these suits.  The photos turned out great, by the way. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Joy to the World?

I had finished my sermon before last week's tragedy in Connecticut, and on Saturday morning returned to ponder a line from Philippians 4:  "Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice."

But how does one rejoice in the aftermath of such pain and tragedy, I wondered?

I'm not sure.

But here's a poem I wrote earlier this year on Good Friday.  The thoughts seemed pertinent to me . . . and I'll offer them here.

Good Friday

This is the moment Christ died:
As I write these words
In the world's misery
On a sunny afternoon.

And I feel oddly melancholy
Listening to the birds
And pondering why
We pass away so soon.

But time is vast
And love quite longer
Than the grief of the past
And the grace that is stronger.
 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Have You Seen My Hobbit?

It is less than two weeks before Christmas and we have yet to do any of the following at our house:

* Pick a tree and decorate it
* Purchase Christmas gifts
* Purchase groceries
* Locate Christmas decor in the attic
* Discuss Christmas plans
* Drink a Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks

We have also not seen any of the holiday movies, including The Hobbit, or, on DVD, It's a Wonderful Life.  I suggested we watch Charlie Brown Christmas last night, but was met with scorn and disinterest.

But I can see why . . . .

Each evening, for the past two weeks, I have been up late writing against a self-imposed deadline of January 7 (a make-believe date that I fabricated as a kind of motivator so that I can churn out 100 pages of a new book in less than a month).  And with Becky writing year-end reviews herself (sitting by the cozy fireplace at least instead of a dingy office with a 25-watt bulb) and my son home from college but disinterested in all things Christmas and tinsel, it is easy to see why the entire enterprise will be accomplished last-minute . . . or much of it, not at all.

But now, on Friday night, and with Becky attending her office staff party solo-mio, there's a good chance I might get to see The Hobbit . . . if my son can wrangle us some tickets and if I can write an additional 25 pages over the weekend. 

But a little reward never hurt anyone.  And I might even stop in for a Peppermint Mocha afterwards if my tank still holds a few more pages before lights out.  I just hope I don't end up looking like Golem.  Winters are tough, and perhaps I might upgrade to a 40-watt bulb.  Even Golem looks better with a tan.  

 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My 40th Anniversary

I was twelve years old when I made up my mind to be a writer.  That summer in 1973, in a swell of confidence, I stapled together a sheaf of paper and wrote my first "book"--a sports magazine that included essays, features, illustrations, and op-ed pieces . . . all written by me under various pseudonyms.  I shared this with several of my friends and, as memory serves, even considered asking for a monthly subscription--believing even back then that I could produce a book each month if I had to.

That was forty years ago (I am now 52 and counting) . . . and I have been writing like a banshee since that time.  In grade school and middle school I wrote humorous verses, science fiction stories, and crazy diatribes about teachers--some of which landed me in trouble.  (I often started out the school year as the kid in the corner facing the wall and who was given no privileges such as recess.)  I also recall writing one school drama/musical which I was actually allowed to produce and act out with some friends in front of the entire student body.  The students laughed . . . the teachers didn't.

I wrote in high school, producing volumes of wild and zany tales--which I often wrote during algebra class.  I wrote a full book of poems about my home town and the people in it (and some of the local merchants didn't want me in their stores afterwards).  I also began publishing some short pieces in magazines--and getting paid for them--and this set me on a path of considering myself a "professional".  One high school teacher told me I needed to "move on" and "stop wasting his time in high school".

In college I wrote even more--often producing so much material in the writing courses that the professor would shut me down mid-term or ask me to concentrate on revising what I'd already produced.  Seminary at Duke was tough--three years of writing arduous research papers on John Wesley or Saint Anselm or commentary on obscure Biblical passages.  I wilted under the weight of this heavy approach to writing and recall that, the day I graduated, I took a full ream of yellow paper, slipped out of our cockroach-infested apartment in Durham in my short-shorts, sat in the sun, and began writing a novel.  I felt like a free man.  I've been free ever since.  And thank God!

But my journey began 40 years ago when I wrote that first "book" of sports. 

Last week I pointed this out to my wife, and noted that I've had twenty-five books published in fifteen years, which means I could, conceivably, at this pace, produce 100 published books in my lifetime if I live to be 90 and still have an active mind and able hands (and if she can still make me a Bologna sandwich).  Her question was, "Why?"

My answer was:  "Why not?" 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Time Is It?

One of the most frequent questions I hear is:  "How do you find the time to write all that you write?"

There are many ways that I could answer this question, but essentially it all comes down to "making time" rather than "finding time".  Making time is proactive--it's time planned and set aside.  Finding time is pure chance.  Making time is also choice and selection--and choosing not to spend time in certain other pursuits (such as watching hour upon hour of TV or having protracted conversations with my wife about the Wendy's value menu). Finding time operates under the weight of the philosophy that if there is any time left over at the end of the day, I might write something (which never works).

But time is important.  And keeping track of how we spend our time is also a discipline, I suppose.  Here in November and December I've been keeping track of my pastoral hours--the day-by-day, week-by-week, month-to-month work that I do leading a congregation, visiting the sick, preparing sermons, counseling, calling, and meeting, etc. I'm busier than ever, I see.  And I've also noted that I typically end up working some part of a 7-day-a-week schedule.  And typically, I note that I push toward 60-hours in a given work week (some more, some less).

So when do I write?

Not always easy to give an answer here . . . but this is typical:

1. Rise between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. to work-out and/or write for some hours before heading to the office.
2. Compose shorter work (especially poems and certain brief paragraphs and links in larger works, as I am driving from place to place throughout the day and as life allows).
3. Write another hour around supper time.
4. Begin writing again some time in the evening, and press on until I am too weary to think clearly, or until my weariness leads me to odd thoughts (humor) or to science fiction (way out there!).
5. Sleep and repeat steps 1-4. 

I have never been a 9:00-5:00 writer, and typically I don't do well writing during the working day, or in sunlight . . . the working day is where I meet life and get ideas, many of which I jot down on squares of toilet paper or on the back of restaurant napkins.  I have even jotted down ideas on window frost and with sidewalk chalk.  A writer must watch and listen for ideas, and then make them a reality on paper (or screen).  Before the sun rises or after the sun goes down--that's my writing time.  I write like a vampire . . . I shrink away from writing in the sunlight. 

So . . . what time is it?  I'm never sure.  But I make the time I keep.  And I hope I keep making the most of the time I'm given.  And the rest of the time . . . . 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reading The Discipline

Last week, in a fit of desperation, I actually turned to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (our rules of religion and polity) for an answer to a question posed by a parishioner.  I did find the answer . . . but I also realized that I have a collection of these Disciplines on my shelf--some dating back to the late 1880's, when the Discipline was much thinner and pastors actually read it as devotional material.  Now, we commonly read the Discipline to rule on church matters, or to win arguments, or to find a cure when we are suffering from insomnia.

Still, I'm glad we have the Discipline . . . it's a book that rather sets us apart and gives us Methodists an identity (or sorts) that other Christians don't have (and maybe don't crave, either).  I'm always glad to poke a little fun at the Discipline, too.  Kind of reminds me of the old school marm I had in the second grade who used to rap my knuckles with a ruler . . . .

The Discipline

Years ago when Methodists
Agreed to flee from sin
The Wesley brothers wrote a tract
They called The Discipline.

It was revised and edited
Each quadrennium:
A polity and rules of faith
Expressed in Discipline.

And as this book has thickened twice
And tripled yet again
It gets more difficult each year
To read The Discipline.

Sometimes we kick it to the curb
Or bash our next-of-kin
Reciting passages to prove
We know the Discipline.

But now most read it as a guide
(Perhaps with lukewarm gin)
And sample it in sips and starts
Without the discipline

To read full passages without
The benefit of spin.
It's Methodism by the book:
Debating Discipline.
 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Cards

By now I have a small stack of Christmas cards sitting on the kitchen table.  But I am never sure what to do with them.  These cards arrive in all manner of size and shape, and some also contain annual retrospectives about the families who sent them.

I particularly enjoy the Christmas cards that are, essentially, family photographs.  And sometimes my mother sends clippings from various catalogues along with a request for me to send back my "wish list".

Naturally, since my mother doesn't read this blog, she doesn't understand that my wish list is very short, almost non-existent.  I mean, I've got the wife and kids, a library stuffed full of books--hundreds of titles, in fact, that I have yet to read--and enough work to keep me very busy.  

After Christmas, I will also sit down and take stock of my entire literary output for the year--which is going to be a difficult enterprise this time--as I have difficulty keeping track of my published work if the numbers slip past a dozen.  But I slipped past a dozen many months back and have been writing feverishly all year--and thus I have forgotten most of what I have written, or who published it, or when, or even if/how much I was paid.  I have a folder that contains all of these minuscule check stubs and writing records--and some time before April 15 I will sit down and calculate the grand total.

Still, looking at all of these Christmas cards, I feel like a piker.  I always wonder:  what more could I have accomplished?  Did I do my best?  What could I have written instead of watching that rerun of The Andy Griffith Show on Netflix?

I always try to keep the Christmas cards around until the end of January.  That way, they remind me of work I need to do . . . and the grace to live with myself when I don't get it done.      

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pumping Irony

Earlier this week I finished a rather creative essay that was spurred along by a gym conversation--or perhaps a question--a question posed by two young guys who wanted to know if I'd ever considered competing in a bodybuilding competition.  (Answer:  I did compete once, at age 40 . . . I don't plan to compete again, at any age.)

But my essay was about the ironies of the question itself:  why, for example, would they have asked me this question now that I'm twenty-five pounds lighter and don't have any muscle?  Or why would younger guys want to know the answer to this question when they could have asked me about some of life's deeper questions, such as . . . what brings you out to the gym at 5 a.m. in the first place?

The older I get, the deeper life's ironies.  I learn more, but have fewer answers.  I am wiser (or am I?), but I don't have the energies to carry through on my best and most-extravagant intentions.  I am more deeply invested in life and living for those around me, but there are more people to live for and not enough of me to go around.

Ironies of nature.  Ironies of ageing.  Ironies of life.

So now I am left with my next conundrum:  what do I do with my essay, "Pumping Irony"?  Do I box it up (like the hundreds of other essays that line my closet shelves or litter my floppy disks)?  Do it let it gather dust? Or do I send it along to some editor in the hope that she might find it excruciatingly beautiful, or honestly written, or wildly humorous?  

And wouldn't it be ironic if the editor wrote back and said, "I would have taken this essay, but as it turns out, I just happened to publish one last week that was written by an older fellow."  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's In the Mail

It's been a few days since I have received mail . . . due to the fact that someone took out my mailbox with a front bumper.  Naturally, now that I'm not receiving delivery, I'm expecting some important items.

For example:

A couple of magazine contacts should be in the mail, and a few contributors copies.  I'm expecting both.  And any day now I should be receiving a new shipment of books to review.

Oh, well.

There's still something exciting about the mail box.  Anticipation.  Expectation.  Promise.  Kind of like Advent . . . waiting for what is to come.

I also enjoy sending mail OUT . . . raising the little flag that signals to everyone:  Hey!  There are important documents in here!  Someone please stop by and pick them up

Amazing how the tiny box still thrills.  Old School.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Methodist Mom

Sometimes, when I get on a roll, I can write a batch of poems in a few minutes.  Such was the case this week when I got started on the Methodists.  Here's another one that might offer equal doses of offense and laughter.  But I like it.











The Methodist Mom

If you were a kid
Who had a warped Id
With low self-esteem and aplomb,
The percentages are
You felt under-par
And were reared by a Methodist mom.

If you started out slowly
And felt ugly or homely
And when you were sick rubbed with balm,
Or you never saw sun
Or had any fun
You were reared by a Methodist mom.

If you've ever felt guilty
Or sexually silly
And your life was an intercom,
Or you sat down to read
Every time that you peed
You were reared by a Methodist mom.

If you felt you were watched
Every time that you botched
Or you sinned when you liked a sitcom,
You were probably warped
By the love and the warmth
You received from a Methodist mom.

And now in your prime
With your limited time
You probably still have a qualm
'Cause you don't feel so good
But you wish that you could
Being reared by a Methodist mom.




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Methodists

In 2013 I will be part of a new small group studying the book Living as United Methodist Christians, by Andy & Sally Langford (Abingdon, 2011).  Every time I read books about Methodists, I learn something.  And I also have to laugh. (Our history, after all, is indeed littered with some amazing and hysterical episodes.) 

And I want to do my part.  Hence, a new poem . . . .





What is a Methodist?

If you run into a person
Who believes but does not insist,
There's a very good chance
That this person can't dance
And is likely a Methodist.

A person who speaks of Jesus
But is not enthusiast,
Is likely the type
Who doesn't like hype
And could be a Methodist.

A person who does not gamble
Or rarely makes a fist
But can take either side
Of an issue in stride
Is likely a Methodist.

Or if you happen to see
A person who likes to assist
But doesn't crave light
And can sing in the night
She might be a Methodist.

You're very likely to meet
These people 'cause they exist
Quite equal in bars
As in churches and cars
And that's why they're Methodists.

So if you have ever wondered
If differences co-exist
In varying way
Or change in a day
Just look for a Methodist. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Collected Letters

In the past few months there has been a spate of epistolary books celebrating the Collected Letters of various personalities.   Among them:  Thomas Hardy, John Lennon, Erasmus Darwin, William Styron, and Kurt Vonnegut.  A rather eclectic company . . . wouldn't you say?

Of course, with the advent of email, twitter and all manner of electronic correspondence, only God knows what a Collected Letters anthology would look like for future generations.  Emails and twitters are out there . . . they exist most certainly along with their paper and ink counterparts . . . but something tells me our current literary lights and world leaders are going to be hard pressed to contribute their letters to future generations.  

Nevertheless, I want to do my part.  I still write paper and ink letters.  And I keep files of these on hand so that, some day, my progeny will be able to sell these to a publisher for top dollar.  But in order to create some stir and demand for these letters after I'm dead, I thought I could offer these samples while I'm still alive.

September 12, 2012
Bursar's Office 
Vincennes University

To Whom It May Concern:
Please find enclosed my last two months wages as payment for my son's room/board and tuition for the fall semester, 2012.  I will begin saving now to send another two months wages for the spring semester, provided my son doesn't flunk out or overdose on Swedish meatballs in the dining hall.  I do plan on visiting the campus some time this Fall, and if you happen to have any odd jobs that I could do, or if I could pick up a few hours at minimum wage doing some lawn care while I'm visiting, perhaps we could apply my wages to the tuition or make some other arrangement for payment.  I also happen to have several boxes of junk that I was going to place in a garage sale next Saturday, but I would prefer to sell these items around campus.  Thanks for considering . . . .
Your humble servant,

October 19, 2012
Dear Becky,
It has come to my attention that we have not been amorous for some weeks now, and according to the bar graph I keep under our bed (it's the posterboard display with full-color crayola work), we are due for a tuneup.  Please schedule an appointment soon and bring any coupons at the time of service.  These will be applied to the annual tally and entered into the bar graph along with a next appointment and sticker (which you can affix to your purse).  Thank you for your consideration.  I hope to hear from you soon . . . please call me toll free.  And I thank you in advance for your business.
Kiss kiss, hug hug,

November 23, 2012
Dear Brownsburg Postmaster:
It has come to my attention that I have not received mail delivery for the past three days--due in large part to the fact that some idiot can't drive and creamed my mailbox.  I am currently in the process of fixing the mailbox, but thought you might also keep your eyes peeled for the following pieces of mail, which are essential to my well-being:
* A mail-order prescription which, if not received by tomorrow, causes me to die a horrible and painful death.
* The latest issue of Sports Illustrated
* Several inordinately large bills from a University which I must pay immediately
* Shampoo sample
Thank you for your attention to these matters of life and death.
Yours in Special Delivery,

December 1, 2012
Dear Becky,
Sorry about the confusion over dinner last night.  I thought you were going to pick up Arby's, and that's why I didn't go to Wendy's.  If I'd have known you were going to work late, I would have stopped at Hardee's and purchased one of those humongous five-dollar burgers with the three strips of bacon.  But as it turned out, that's why I went to McDonald's and asked about the Shamrock Shake (which is, of course, out of season).  I hope this explains why I brought home a sack of sliders and why we are both ill today.  Please forgive this oversight and I hope my stupidity won't in any way taint your plans to engage in amorous activity in the first quarter of 2013.  Please send me a text so I'll know you found this letter taped to the toilet seat along with the twenty dollar bill. (No need to thank me for putting the toilet seat down . . . I'm just that conscientious.)  
Yours truly,

           
 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Short Stuff

A few months back a literary journal published a 750 word story that I wrote about a mid-life couple's climb to the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  It was, as they call it in the literary world, a short-short. But I have a lot of these things.  What with the American attention span being the length of a gnat, it's no wonder that many people are eager to read something that is, essentially, little more than a Twitter.  Fewer people seem to have the focus necessary to complete a novel, or even read the front section of a newspaper.  If you can't write it in 128 characters or less, most people won't read it.

I'm okay with writing brevity.

However, as it has often been noted, shorter doesn't mean easier.  In fact, as a general rule, the fewer words one has to work with, the more difficult the writing becomes.  Every word means something in the brief.  And verbs, especially, must be chosen with precision.

I like my Mauna Kea story, though.  It's a bit personal, perhaps . . . somewhat semi-autobiographical.  But yet it's fiction.

This one is sort of like my real life:  imaginative, boring, always climbing some mountain in search of meaning.  And sometimes, when I get to the top, the view is spectacular.  I can see how far my wife has carried me. 

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing on Vitamins

Over the years I've learned the importance of taking vitamins for strong bones and body . . . and writing itself requires a certain amount of stamina and conditioning.  It is difficult to sit for hours in a chair (or reclining on the sofa) without developing back strain or becoming a pain in the butt.  Hence the importance of working out in the gym (try deadlifts) and taking plenty of vitamins.

But naturally, you have questions, and I'll do my best to provide answers.

What is your favorite vitamin and how do you take it?
My favorite vitamin is C, which is also the tastiest, and in my younger years I preferred suppositories.  However, my wife grew tired of giving these to me, so I've switched to pill form.  I prefer 4000 milligrams a day, which can cure anything from the common cold to pink eye, and I feel that Vitamin C is very manly and gives a nice ring to my voice.  My vision is also improved, which means I can see type this small, and I really enjoy chewing the head off of Fred Flintsone. 

How do vitamins improve your writing?
Actually, they don't.  Not directly.  I find that a dictionary and thesaurus do a lot more for me . . . and coffee.  Vitamins, however, do provide a colorful display on the kitchen countertop and give my wife something to complain about.  I write about her complaints and turn them into marvelous stories, essays and poems about older women.  

If you only had one day to live, which vitamin would you take . . . and why?
Let me see . . . I'd pop a very large Vitamin B-12 pill, something around One Million milligrams, which could probably revive a sperm whale.  This would give me at least another day to live, and I would plan to write an essay entitled, "Long Range Financial Planning . . . and How to Get the Most From Your 401-k".  I might also eat a steak.  

How many vitamins would you estimate you take in an average day?
There's no telling.  I never keep count.  I see a pill, I pop it.  I never ask questions, and some of these vitamins I find on the floor or under the driver's mat in my Senoma.  I never waste pills.  The way I figure it, there's nutrition in every pill, even the chocolate ones, and I especially like the vitamins marked "Hershey".  

Any closing vitamin recommendations for someone who is trying to write a book on Yugoslavian Engine Blocks?
Yes.  Take plenty of vitamin E . . . and write as quickly as possible.  Don't stop writing until someone sends you a Twitter inviting you join their LinkedIn prison-writing fellowship.        

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BLOGO

One of the fascinating features of daily blogging is tracking the number of "hits" a particular post generates.  Some blogs don't get many hits.  Others get 4X or even 10X more than average.

In January of 2012 I began writing another blog that I entitled, "Manopause.  (manopauze.blogspot.com).  Interestingly enough, more people have read my Manopause posts than have read Between Pages in this calendar year--especially when I include those same posts on the Salon.com website.  I guess this means people would rather read my humorous take on the "trials and terrors of the mid-life male" than about my "reading and writing exploits". 

I do plan on discontinuing Manopause at the end of this year, however, unless there is a great cry from the camp.  I'm thinking about some new blogs in 2013, including one that I plan to entitle, "Joking with Jesus".  I thought it could be a fun read:  a monthly-magazine format of spiritual levity (perhaps at the expense of some TV evangelists, big name church gurus, etc.  But, of course, I'll be sure to place myself at the head of the satire line along with my beloved United Methodist Church.  I never dish out satire about others unless I can dish it to myself first.  And since I ain't Jesus, I'll head the line.)

Either way, thanks for continuing to read Between Pages.  After five years and fast approaching 1500 individual blog posts, I continue to be amazed that I have anything to write about at all . . . but then, I also write weekly and monthly blogs for other magazines, too.  I guess I have diarrhea of the brain.  You want a thought . . . I've got one.  An editor wants a 1000 word essay on "Ten Creative Uses for Old Lava Lamps" . . . I'm the man.  My wife craves a hot love poem . . . I'll give her twenty (she can take her pick).

Thanks for tuning in.  See you here again tomorrow.  You know I'll be writing something to read.

 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Floppies, Cassettes, and Video Tapes

My Luddite tendencies notwithstanding, most of my life's work is stored or recorded on floppy disks, audio cassettes, and VHS videotapes.  Yes, I still have devices that can play all of these "ancient" recordings, and my old Senoma pickup and Buick Rendezvous have tape decks in their dash boards. I still listen to my Boston cassette tape (from high school!) and do, on occasion, watch certain older recordings on VHS format.

(And by the way, what is the purpose of the "tracking" button on the video player, anyway?  Is this just an engineering ruse to trick us into thinking we can actually improve the quality of a VHS tape by adjusting a knob?  And would anyone like to watch an Andy Griffith episode with me that was recorded off the TV in 1985?) 

Video tapes and audio cassettes are now, however, my claim to fame.  No.  If you want to see a true Luddite at work, drop by some time to inspect my vast trove of computer floppy disks (yes, I still use 'em!).  At last count, I had upwards of 1000 of these floating around, most of them filled to the brim with writing that, like Coors in Golden, Colorado, I have been been producing from pure mountain spring water since 1984.

I mention floppy disks because, from time to time, I do get the nod from an editor to submit a piece of work that I wrote a long time back (I'm talking a former lifetime ago, back when my wife and I were bachelors).

As of the writing of this blog, I am currently in search of a floppy disk that contains some of the most astounding work I produced circa 2002-2004.  There's a story on one of those disks, I'm not kidding, that could now make me some money.  Like, folding type.  Green stuff.  I just remembered this piece today and, Lord, I know I can sell it.  

Now . . . can I find it?  Somewhere on one of my old computers, or maybe stored on a floppy itself, I have a floppy disk "key" which contains information about the location of all of my floppy disk material by date and floppy number.  But I've been sloppy with my floppies.  Trouble is, I don't know where I put this floppy disk containing the "key", which was probably written in Dewey Decimal system or in Latin.

As soon as I find this floppy, I'll be exchanging my story for a paycheck.  But until then, I'll get back to Boston and the video-taped highlights of my wedding ceremony, August 27, 1984 (Sullivan, Indiana).  My wife will be pleased that I remember this date and know where I can find our wedding highlights.  It's on the same video tape as the 1984 Super Bowl, and the kickoff begins just as my wife was getting ready to say "I Do".  I must have pressed the "record" button the VHS recorder by mistake.      

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Search for Titles

Titles are important. A great title can vault an average essay or book out of the slush and into print.  That's why I spend considerable time on my titles:  because I'm not very good at creating them.  Sometimes the editors have to help me.

Last week, however, I did create two exceptional essay titles.  The first is now in print, and the second is lingering in my re-write pile.

My essay, "The Search for Spark", is one I'm very proud to call my own.  (If you don't get the Star Trek reference, see me after class.)  However, this essay has nothing to do with science fiction, but with the personal, social, and theological work inherent in a hard-working staff.  In short, it is an essay on leadership and being attentive to the energy or "spark" that can ignite an organization.  Hokey?  You bet.  But I love the title and so did the editor.  Hence, it's now in print.

My second essay title, "Pumping Irony", bears some explanation.  (And again, if you don't get the documentary reference or Arnold overtones, see me after class.)

Back-history:  a few weeks ago I was working out at the gym (in the middle of my best and heaviest workout in months) when two younger guys sidled up next to me and asked, "Have you ever thought about competing in a bodybuilding competition?"

I explained to them that, indeed, I had actually competed soon after I turned forty (now nearly twelve years ago) and have, from time-to-time, actually considered competing again in my fifties.  However, on those days when I am sane, I back away from these ridiculous thoughts, knowing full well the excruciating labors and disciplines required--not to mention the pain, the anguish, the enormous sacrifices. 

"We're getting ready for a competition," these guys told me.  "And if you want to train with us, we'd like to have you."


Okay, nice gesture.  Thanks, fellas.  But that evening I began writing an essay for a fitness magazine with the title, "Pumping Irony".  It's a humorous piece for old farts with arthritic joints and pulled hamstrings.  Eventually I'll finish it.  I think it will sell.  (Hey, I'd buy it . . . but then, I'd buy everything I wrote!)

But until that time, I'll just keep pumping iron, or irony . . . whatever.  I have to stay strong.  And next week I'll begin writing my second essay, "Pimping Iron".  It's a piece on being a domestic husband for hire.  But don't make me tell you about the chores I do for money.  My wife wouldn't appreciate it.    

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving

Soon we will be deep in turkey and giblet gravy, and it's always a good thing to pause in the midst of life's hectic pace to take stock of one's blessings.  I have many. Too many, in fact, to count. 

But as far as this blog is concerned, I will give thanks for the energies and pace required to produce over 200 posts this year--even through the many changes (2 graduations, wedding, etc.) that completely reorganized our lives.  I'm very grateful to a have a wife who is far more resilient, gifted, intelligent and energetic than I am . . . and who out-produces and out-works me every day.

I've been searching the archives (to the Bat Library, Robin!) to see if I could find a poem that might be decent enough to voice some of these thoughts. 

So, here's one . . . written in late October.  A love poem?  Not sure.  But it has an overtone of thanksgiving to it.  Kind of bookish, but it might be romantic if I offered it with flowers.  Or maybe cranberry sauce.

Marginalia

In the narrow columns of these pages
I have discovered you between the lines
In loops of pencil, strokes of pen, sometimes
Hidden in the paragraphs of ages.

And every jot or date of days
Is more than syllables or sighs:
But star-crossed t's and dotted i's
Where volumes speak through paraphrase.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christmas Collection

A recent foray through a used book stored yielded a nifty find when I walked out with this first edition of Christmas at The New Yorker. Quite a bit in this collection, with work dating back to the days of Harold Ross (founding editor) and including essays by luminaries such as E.B. White, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker and John Updike.

This book has joined my growing pile of other Christmas titles--books I plan to read during the season.

Now I must begin collecting my book of gifts to buy--that long list of items I'll need to find for wife, children, parents, cousins, nieces, and friends.  If my wife and I can agree, we might skip Christmas entirely this year and forgo our own gift exchange, just keep our socks naked.  (But then, I already have one gift for her and another on the way.)

As far as writing is concerned, I'm way ahead of the Christmas trends.  I already have my annual Christmas story at the printers--along with our family letter--and all of my columns and even some poems have already been mailed.  Now I can write what I enjoy for the season . . . perhaps with some hot chocolate in hand.

And I look forward to reading James Thurber, too. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Writing Ahead

Knowing full well that December is a hectic month, I've tried to write ahead and complete all of my December and January assignments.  So, over the weekend, I produced nine columns, three book reviews, and four 1,000-word essays in addition to assorted odds-and-ends, pastoral letters, and this blog.  Done and done.

All of this was helped by the fact that Becky was attending an Indiana principals conference at the Convention Center this weekend.  Hence, total peace.  Quiet.  No TV.  And room to write.

But now that I'm two months ahead, I hope to concentrate on the fun stuff:  short stories, book proposals, selling poems on the street.  I'll have a donut, drink coffee, and put a new coat of duct tape on the truck.  

All of this to say that as I ease into this Thanksgiving week, I might even be able to carve out some time to eat a turkey sandwich.  

Soon I hope to discuss these things with my wife.  Perhaps I'll see her on Thanksgiving morning and ask, "What's the plan?"

If she's not too tired, we might even read the morning paper together or watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade . . . if I can get reception on the rabbit ears.  And as for food, we can probably find something in the freezer to defrost.  Last time I looked, we still had a package of wieners. 
 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Growing Up

Now and again people ask me: "What have you been writing?"

Well, I was blessed on Tuesday night when I received word that one of my poems about breast cancer had been accepted by a literary journal, and then received a word seconds later from a west coast editor (thanks, Ken!) that his magazine would be publishing my short story, "Giraffe", in the next issue.  I say I'm blessed because, although I wrote the poem only a month ago, the story is one that I've been trying to place for 18 months . . . and one of my finer literary endeavors, I believe:  a short story about a divorced father who takes his autistic son to the zoo. 

It doesn't sound very exciting, I know, but it's a story with some emotional pull to it, and I have to believe it's one of my best fiction efforts of the past two years.  (Since most of my efforts are duds and end up on my closet shelves.)  Anyway, again I'm grateful to be included and I hope "Giraffe" might make it into a story collection I'm trying to assemble.

I'm always amazed when people I have never met like my writing.  I'm especially astounded when they accept my work for publication.  And I am flabbergasted when an editor writes me a check.  It never grows old.  And I get just as excited over receiving a "yes" for a poem, an essay, a story, or even a book.  It's just that some levels of excitement carry forward for a longer period of time.

I like "Giraffe".  It's a story that challenged me.  That's important.  Every now and again it is vital for a writer to stretch his neck out.

 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pile Up

Some weeks ago a publisher sent me a pile of books.  I'm reading through them slowly but meticulously . . . the various titles (mostly travel books) seeping in through my eyeballs and oozing out of my pores.  As I've retreated to the bottom of the pile, I find I can't recall the title of the book at the top.

That's the trouble with books.  They breed like rabbits.  Or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes noted, "Of the making of many books there is no end."

Still, I enjoy making books.  I plan to make more of them.  Or, I write them at least.  What happens to them after I write them is anybody's guess.

Here at the bottom of another year, I can look back and see the days of 2012 piled behind me like a stack of old library cards.  Some of these days stand out.  Others are simply blank.

And as I look ahead to 2013, I anticipate a better year . . . as long as God blesses me with good health, keen eyes, a strong typing hand, and the ability to carry on with coffee through hours of exhaustion.  I do know that 2012 was better than 2011 as far as my published output was concerned.  I was blessed with far more acceptances, hundreds of published pages, and now stand on the brink of other negotiations that are both exciting and equally unnerving.

It's one thing to sign a book contract(s).  But quite another thing to write the book(s). 

Or, as my wife continually asks me, "If you end up getting that many writing assignments next year, when will I ever see you?"

I keep reminding her that we don't have to have romance every day.  She can just check in every month or so to see if I'm still breathing.  If I'm sitting in a chair in front of my writing station she can assume I'm still alive.  And if she brings me a pile of balogna sandwichs, I might get romantic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sedaris X 2

It must have been four years ago, the fall of 2008, when I drove to Ball State University one evening, Emens Auditorium, to hear David Sedaris read.  Sedaris was riding the tailwind of a wildly popular book tour at the time, had a flush audience on NPR, and had just returned from Paris.  I paid my money, and for nearly two hours listened inside a shroud of raucous laughter as he stood behind a spotlit-podium and read.

I don't recall which of his published works he read that evening, but it was one of his "works-in-progress" that caught my attention.  I found this particular piece rife with sardonic wit, and after his reading, someone in the audience asked him if it was slated for publication any time soon.  He said he hoped The New Yorker would take it. 

Interestingly enough, this first-person piece, about a visit to a taxidermy shop in which the proprietor shows him a human skeleton, a human leatherized head, and the severed-and-stuffed arm of a sailor kept under glass like a pheasant . . . stood out in my mind.  Driving home, the imagery of that writing stayed with me, and it was certainly one of the weirdest memoirs Sedaris read that evening.

Imagine my surprise when, last night, I happened to pick up an older copy of The New Yorker (Oct 22) which I had not yet read. The copy had flopped open atop a giant stack of magazines on our living room table.  I picked it up.  And there it was . . . the Sedaris memoir about the taxidermy shop.

Well, I had heard it live four years ago when Sedaris was still working it up, making pencil notations at the podium at Ball State as he read it, checking the margins with notations whenever there was uproarious laughter or stifled pauses. 

And it also goes to show that the publishing business, even for superstars like Sedaris, is a L O N G and T E D I O U S process.  Four years?  It's difficult for me to imagine that the magazine has been holding on to the piece that long.  And it's even more unimaginable to me that Sedaris would have kept rewriting it for the past three years, polishing it to a fine gloss. 

But one of these is true.  And the magazine no doubt paid Sedaris and arm and a leg to write it. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

READ THIS !!!!

Is it just me, or is the exclamation point making a comeback?  Like many other writers, I've noted that the American ability to write is in sharp decline.  Perhaps email, Twitter, blogging, and even the ubiquitous availability of online commentary (YouTube, etc.) have all contributed to this mish-mash of rotting English.  And there also seems to be a insatiable desire to be heard, especially among those who write the worst. 

No language has ever survived, and no voice has ever been respected, however, simply by using the exclamation point . . . and this seems to be the pride and parlance of most who post.

A cursory glide through any online public forum or interactive web site will bear this out.  Exclamation points abound . . . and the vast majority of comments seem to be written under the assumption that type face, bold format, and other features of the letters themselves (rather than the substance and intellect behind the writing) is communication.

Most of the writing I have seen in the past month are actually feeble attempts to draw readers in through the use of exclamation points and type face . . . the idea that people should read an idea or respect a thought simply because it is there and has five exclamation points after every sentence (here, look at me!!!!!  My idea is important!!!!  You need to read what I've written!!!!!!! ).  

Some actual recent Facebook, email, and blogging posts look like this:

I am going to buy milk at the store!!!!!!
LISTEN, IDIOTS/ WHY WOULD YOU BUY FROM WALMART!!!!
My ****** car won't start!!!!
I LOVE COFFEE!!! 

Beyond pointing out the obvious misuse of the exclamation point (!), I'll just say this to all the young people out there:  Learn how to write well and you'll be light years ahead of the masses (even some in law school, medical school, divinity school and elsewhere) who can't write well.  Bad writing, rotten communication, screaming and yelling as a form of attention, is now wide-spread. Being loud and obnoxious is not the pinnacle of language.  Clear communication is the goal:  the ability to create thought and hone them into words. 

If you can write plainly, simply and to a point, you will be heard.  And people will actually respect what you think.

Otherwise, don't press the SEND button!!!!!!!