Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reviewing My Reviews

Last week, while writing yet another book review, I realized that I had read a small pile of books this summer.  Most of these books could be categorized as theological, sociological, or pastoral.  A few were niche books related to some aspect of ministry.

Not all of these book reviews came easily.  Some of them had to be dredged up from some deep and creative space.  But I'm still learning how to write good reviews.  There's an art to it.  And responsibility.  And a deadline.

As strange as it may sound, I have always felt that I write much better when I am overloaded with work. Time, ease, and adequate space make for low-production.  I do better with encroaching deadlines, tight schedules, harried days and nights when there is no time for TV, conversation, fun or relaxation.  I do much better with a tight back, cramped fingers and red eyes.  I aspire for the frantic pace and the early mornings and the late nights and the all-day, 18-hour-straight marathons that test the mettle and the mind.  I love the butt-binding work of being saddled to an office swivel-chair in front of a glowing screen, draining pots of coffee for hours, eating nothing, losing weight, and stopping only to pee . . . and then back to the keyboard.

Not long ago my editor wrote asking:  "Can you read and review five books in a week?  Would this overload you?"

Currently, no.  I wish she would send me fifty books, in fact.  I'd like to try and write fifty reviews in a week.  Might be a record. 

I've got the coffee to swing it. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lost in Translation

Over the years a few of my books have been translated/published in other languages, and last week I noted the following book cover listed under my name.  The cover, supposedly, is yet another translation of my (best?) book:  Candles in the Dark.  But here's the problem.  According to my own research, this book title does not read Candles in the Dark.  It reads:

Life is S***

Quite a difference, I think.  If there is a foreign publisher with a sense of humor I can dig it.  No problem.  I can take a joke just as good as the next feller.

But if the book cover is, in actuality, a horrible translation, I'd hate to read the full text of my book.  God only knows what this publisher has done with my text.  I spent more time writing this book than I did planning any of my wife's birthdays or an anniversary (both of which I usually forget).  This book consumed a large portion of my life, including large chunks of my virility.  I could easily have expired while writing it.  I could have been buried in the back yard.

No, translations are not always reliable.  Anyone who has ever read an instruction manual written in China or Japan gets the picture.  Sometimes the English is mangled.  

Life is S***?  Sometimes the translation is S***.  

I have a queasy feeling about this translation.  Something tells me this foreign entity intentionally mangled my book for the fun of it.  But that's okay.  I'm not proud.  I can take a punch. But this could hurt.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Killing the Stranger Within

I often buy used books . . . and therein lie certain discoveries, as I often find marginalia, bookmarks, notes and whatnot inside these pages. In fact, I would rather read a used book, knowing that it has been in the hands of a previous owner and has some wear to it.

Most recently The Best American Essays 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat offered its clandestine history to me.  As I opened the book, I noted that it had been purchased at a gift shop in a National Park--and for $19.60 to boot (a price well beyond the retail markup).  Clerk # 17 was the person who rang up the purchase, and the buyer's VISA card was used, of which I have the receipt and the last four digits.

Inside, between pages 112 & 113, I also discovered a business card for a behavioral health manager, a non-profit firm located in an Eastern state.  And stuffed next this card for health management is a prescription for the person whom, I presume, was the owner of this book before me.  I won't note the name here, as I have probably killed this person, seeing as how "he" doesn't have "his" behavioral modification drugs--as "he" never did purchase the medication prescribed.

I can't read the prescription . . . what mortal can read a doctor's handwriting (and really, can pharmacists, or do they just fill random drugs into those little plastic bottles and let the chips fall where they may, and would we really know the difference anyway if all medications were placebo)?

I can't reveal more about this used book, as it is now in my possession and has obviously travelled around the country.  But listen, if anyone out there is having behavioral issues and is saying to "himself":  Holy Toledo, I don't remember being in that National Park but I do remember thinking I was a pelican and trying to fly across Route-66 and screaming like a wild boar all the way back home because I didn't have my meds . . ."  Well, I might have your prescription.

There's an essay in there somewhere.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Story Book

Yet another title in the "Best American series" is The Best American Short Stories 2011, series editor: Heidi Pitlor.  I could wax on about some of my favorite stories of 2011--and I'm still reading this book--but Geraldine Brooks's wonderful introduction produced a dozen "amens".

In essence, what Ms. Geraldine rightly points out is that so much of American fiction (mainstream or literary especially) continues to revisit common themes:  among them the horrible childhood, the horrible marriage, and the horrible existence . . . almost always couched in the seemingly inexhaustible extrapolation of American dissatisfaction and apathy.  In short, few stories elicit any laughter, and there seem to be few writers who can write humor anymore, so deep is their pain and frustration.

Toward that end, I hope some editors out there will be watching for my insanity when it arrives in their slush piles.  I may not write in pain, but I hope to elicit a laugh once in a while and produce a side-splitting discomfort.  Where's the fun in reading a story if you can't stand the characters who inhabit them?

In truth, about half of the stories I read these days in literary magazines are of the Oprah Book Club variety. (Oprah always selects books dealing with painful domestic issues, horrible situations, or monstrous people who are as unhappy and psychologically disturbed as mud pies.  Don't think this is true?  See the full Oprah list!)

So . . . writers.  Ms. Brooks does have a point.  Let's bring back some humor.  It's time to laugh a little (especially at ourselves). 

I'm not sure how many newly published stories I will have stuffed into my quiver by year's end, but I hope that many of the stories I place (whether science fiction, mystery or mainstream) will have a touch of humor at their centers.  I like writing in this vein anyway, and whenever I tuck myself into bed in the wee hours of the morning after a long foray at the keyboard, it's always easier to fall asleep with a smile.    

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Before my departure for New York a few weeks back, I received word from an editor that he was accepting several of my poems for publication.  This is the first time I've had a "batch" of poems snatched up, but I was elated to know that this editor found all of the poems to be of such quality that he gave his official okie-dokie to the entire recipe.  Furthermore, I was told that I would be one of the "featured poets" in that winter edition.

I don't think of myself as a poet, especially since my mother would never allow me to help mix a batch of cookies, but in this instance I guess I'll have to go along with this editor's good graces and thank him for his willingness to bake this batch of poems and keep me in print.

This batch was an interesting mix.

One of the poems is entitled "Breast Implants".  It's one of the few poems my wife has read in the past year and when I showed it to her she described it in phrases like "very good" or "stimulating" or "completely wacky".  I have no idea what my wife's opinion means, but since she reads so little of my work, I'll accept her opinion as more than just nepotism.  (After all, she believes I only write poems about Goober or Andy Griffith.)

This editor also liked several other poems, including a longer, rollicking poem about life's cadences and changes, written from the vantage point of looking out a kitchen window.

Later, when the editor wrote back asking me to send in a description of where my poems originate or where I found the inspiration for them, I discovered I had nothing to say.  Where did these poems come from?  I have no idea.  None. 

I had to tell the truth:  I wrote back telling him that most of these poems were written in the boredom of moonlight, written in the cracks and interstices while I was working on longer projects--books, stories and memoirs--and I had likely whipped these poems up before falling asleep, or I may have composed some of them in my head while driving, or written them, originally, on mustard-stained napkins at a restaurant or on scraps of toilet paper that I removed from men's room stalls when inspiration hit.

It's safe to say I don't remember when or where I wrote many of my poems (accept the ones I write in my daily journal and record by date).  And I certainly don't know where they come from.  I just write them and send them in, heaping batches at a time, sometimes by the boxes, hoping that someone might want to lick the poetic batter off the spoon.     


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It's a Mystery

At the beach, I also enjoyed The Best American Mystery Stories 2011, edited by Harlan Coben.  This anthology, also a part of the "Best American series", is another fine volume, though I thought the offerings this year were not as strong as some past collections.  Among the crew, I found Ed Gorman's "Flying Solo" to be one of the most enjoyable reads:  a story about two widowers, both time-worn and weary cops who are, at the tail end of the lives and their losses, still trying to make a difference.

I'm most familiar with this yearly anthology as a writer, as I've had two stories selected by magazine editors who graciously offered my stories to represent their magazines and stand in for consideration (neither of which made the cut into the anthology, not even as honorable-mentions).  Oh well, but back to the drawing board to write more mystery and suspense!

I am also grateful and elated to have had another mystery story published in 2012, just a few weeks ago, and I always hold out the hope that one of my little pieces of mayhem will be recognized some day by dear Mr. Penzler, the series editor.

In the meantime, I have a long list of story titles and themes that I'm still working through, stories in various stages of dress and undress.  Some are science fiction, others mainstream, and more than a few would be categorized as crime, mystery or suspense.

A writer could do worse.  The most important factor, or course, is to keep striking the keys.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Scientific Wonders

One of my favorite beach books this year was The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011, edited by Mary Roach.  This book, a part of the "Best American series" published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt each year, has been a staple for me now for over fifteen years.  These volumes provide a wonderful overview of the past-year's "best" work published in several genres:  essays, short stories, mysteries, etc.

And as for Mary Roach, editor of this most current science volume, I have read all of her quirky science and can't wait for her next arrival.  Any plans, Mary?

In this anthology, Roach has selected a wide-range of scientific essays and profiles, both hard and soft, and among my favorites were essays written by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, in which these two scientists recite the reasons they believe a "theory of everything" will never be discovered.  Although scientific, this brief essay, less than 2000 words I believe, reads equally well as theology or science and has many implications for belief in the unseen and the unknowable.

I also enjoyed George Musser's "Could Time End?", first published in the Scientific American, and Tim Zimmermann's excellent reportage piece, "The Killer in the Pool", in which he dissects the growing trend among "captive" and "performing" killer whales to . . . well, kill.  His piece makes a strong case supporting evidence that killer whales cannot be domesticed nor "trained" to perform with human handlers. But if someone wants to stick his head inside an orca's mouth and roll the dice . . . more power to him.  And prayer.

I always enjoy these scientific pieces, even though I don't understand most of the science.  But great science writing should be celebrated, and these pieces at least take academia out of the classroom of boring lectures and give them some readable voice and some wings.

Good read.  And now I shelve another volume in this series . . . which, at my last count, was over 55 spines hunkered down on the top floor of my home library.  Keep 'em coming . . . . 

Friday, July 20, 2012


There may be no task more daunting for a writer than auto-biography.  Producing memoir and recording bits-and-pieces of one's history is a formidable task, fraught with many pitfalls, not the least of which is accuracy and honesty.  Self-consciousness is one thing, but being adept at discovering and writing the truth about one's experiences (as well as family, friendships and the significance and chronology of events) is daunting and risky.

Over the past year I've attempted to get as some of my own history--dredging up photos and conversations and timelines) in an attempt to record at least a thumbnail sketch of life as I've known it.  But great memoirs are not chiefly concerned with the self.  Or, as some of the best auto-biographers have noted:  A writer has to keep himself out of it.

I am inspired, of late, by some editors who will soon be publishing bits of pieces of my memoirs.  But I'm not sure how to describe these pages.  Sometimes I categorize these pieces as comedy (I have always found life humorous) and at other times honest--though one's honesty is always colored by certain trends in recollection or long-held beliefs about the "true" history.

In short, I'm trying to relate bits and pieces of truth that in one form or another may involve me, but are not principally about me.

Once some of these pieces find their way into print I'll tell others about them.  Writing these memoirs, I felt like a character in a dime-novel.  But I've tried to keep myself out of it.

Writing history, I am still attempting to get at the truth.  And in the writing itself, I may have found a piece of me I have forgotten.   

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Still Going

One of my summer reads, completed last night, was Lauren F. Winner's latest, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.  Winner, a Duke Divinity School Professor, soon-to-be Episcopal priest, and author of several other recent best-selling biographical/devotional works including Girl Meets God, has a talent for weaving personal insights and experiences into modern-day theology with a twist of lime.

In this instance (and, to be fair, the only Winner book I have read) I came away with a mixture of understanding and disconnect.  In many ways Still is a women's book.  In other respects it speaks to the themes and faith experiences of the many who are in the "middle" portions of their lives and faith--which is essentially what this book is about.

Winner's book is at once saturated with her personal spiritual quest for Christ that can be found in going to church, teaching others, and the work of the writer.  And she speaks equally well of the spiritual life centered on baking pounds of zucchini bread on Sunday afternoons, or reading chick lit, or navigating the questions born in the aftermath of her divorce and her mother's death.

The former set I can identify with personally.  The latter set, no.

I'd recommend Still, however, as a woman's read.  Any woman who has (or is) experiencing the dry season of mid-life and the long-haul of creating a meaningful relationship with God will find the book compelling and insightful.

After reading Winner's book, however, I found myself drawing back to the "masculine" endeavors of hard work, reading and writing from a man's perspective, and spirit born of interstices of solitude and community involvement (as leader and friend).  Winner's book did affirm what I already know: that mid-life is difficult, perhaps the most difficult of all, and most of faith is, indeed, carried forward in the long slough of boredom, tedium, and the dry seasons of questioning, yearning, and seeking.

Now I can get back to walking like a man.  I can listen to that Frankie Vallie album.  I'm going to watch The Shawshank Redemption.      

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dumb and Dunking

A few weeks back I finished an article entitled, "How to Dunk a Doughnut".  This might sound like an elementary subject, nothing one could build an article around, but anyone who has studied the fine-art of doughnut-dunking knows otherwise.

Consider, for example, the PopTart.  Did you know that a box of PopTarts contains "instructions for toasting"?  Did you know that some people have the intelligence of chipmunks and place these PopTarts in microwave ovens, or bake them over open fires, or try to toast them in the box and then ask:  "Why don't these taste good?"  And did you know that PopTarts account for more than one-million toaster-related deaths in the U.S. every year?

(Well, okay, this last statement is not accurate, but you get my drift about dumb people . . . .)

Hence, an article on doughnut-dunking is in order.  This article can be of help to many.  It can save lives.

(Well, okay, maybe it can't save lives, but you get the drift about doughnuts and coffee . . . . )

Doughnut-dunking is an art.  It takes practice.  The stars must align properly, along with the temperature of the coffee, the cream, the sugar, and the consistency of the doughnut selection,for a dunk to be successful.

I'm always glad when I can contribute articles like this to help ease the dumbing-down of America.  It makes me realize that some people really do need help, and that's where I can come in.

And for those who need further assistance in this area . . . you can sign up for my doughnut-dunking workshop.  $9.95 for the full course.  Well worth the price of admission.  And this includes a cup of coffee and one doughnut. 

Please . . . don't get any dumber.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Speaking of Writing . . .

Last week I spoke before a group of historians and archivists at the University of Indianapolis for an annual Jurisdictional dinner.  Afterwards, one gentleman began talking to me about his writing, but was equally perplexed by the question:  "How can you write so much while also spending 50+ hours a week pastoring a church?"  This is a question I get all the time--and surprisingly, it was a conversation that I had with three other people the very same week.

"Where do you find the time?"

Answer (s):

My wife makes it possible.
     Sure, I joke about my wife, and she's a good sport to take my good-natured ribbing and Henny Youngman-esqe marital in stride.  (Youngman's signature line was:  "Take my wife, for instance.  Please, somebody take her!")
     But the fact is, for nearly thirty years my wife has been the better sport about leaving me alone when I'm in my writing zone.  She doesn't get up at 4 a.m. most mornings and she doesn't stay up until midnight because she wants to be by my side or she can't get enough of me.  (Well, she can't get enough of me, but that's another story!)  When she sees I'm working at my station, reclining on the couch in my underwear, nacho chips strewn in my chest hair and coffee dribbling down my chin, she just sighs and walks away.  (Can you blame her?)
     She does get frustrated, however, when she talks for thirty minutes, face-to-face, and I claim the next morning that the conversation never happened.  But really, I was working . . . .
Time is what we make of it.
     I could wax on here about the choices each of us make in life regarding our time.  But the fact is, I have time to write so much because I make time to write so much.  I enjoy the physical endeavor of writing (not just thinking about the finished product, or the article, or the poem, or the book).  I write FAR MORE material than I ever get into print. 
     The point being . . . writing takes time.  But so does watching TV, doing a crossword puzzle, or painting or sewing or working with wood.  (I'm not knocking any of these pursuits, mind you . . . I'm just saying I spend time writing every day.  I enjoy it.  But I work hard at it . . . every day.  (And I've been doing it for nearly 40 years now.)

I like to talk about writing, too.  (And authors and editors and publishing.)
     I do.  I love helping others with their books, their ideas, and discussing what I know about getting into print, or enjoying writing, or creating, or "how to" do it.  I don't know everything (in fact, I know very little). But I like to help, and I like admitting that I don't know much about writing. After 40 years, it's still a mystery.
     The gentleman wanted to know if I'd read his book or give him some pointers.  Check.  Check.
     And if there are any others out there who would love to take a writing class with me (not by me, but with me!) let me know.  I'd love to see what we could create and learn together.

Your friendly neighborhood nerd,

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sweatin' to the Oldies

Sunday was a marvelous day for writing.  And after encountering dead-ends in many of my newest writing projects, I decided to dance to the oldies.

I broke out some of my ancient floppy disks, located a half dozen good (but promising and redeemable) pieces, and began revising them.  Over the course of several hours, I had rounded out five science fiction stories--each now highly-marketable and compelling--and also completed several poems-in-progress, an essay for a Preaching magazine, and a few proposals (which I sent along to their respective editors-in-waiting).

In short, Sunday was oldies day.

But dancing to one's oldies is often the most difficult dance of all. Time is a cruel mistress and after months, or even years, in the distillery of the mind a piece of writing can either sing or croon.  Whenever I locate those pieces that still have a voice, I am elated . . . though for the life of me I now have hundreds that I cannot recall with any accuracy of time or place.  I may have written them in the shower for all I know--yet here they are, still waiting for me on those floppies.

A writer should be grateful for the home slush pile.  The larger it is, the more the evidence mounts that the writer has made a life out of words and that these words could matter to someone . . . informing, entertaining, challenging.

But writing is work.  Hard work.  Demanding work.  And yes, there are times when I literally sweat from the toil and the strain of completing a better sentence or crafting the perfect paragraph.  May it never change.

I was glad to lose a few pounds on Sunday.  I actually sweated over my oldies.  And my hope is that someone out there will experience them as new. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Greek Journey

Last week, before leaving for New York, I was revising a long poem about Odysseus.  The editor couldn't bring herself to reject the poem, but thought I could improve upon it with some work.  So . . . I worked on it and I appreciated her editorial comments for coaxing the poem toward publication.

Sometimes, these conversations with editors are journeys in themselves.  There is give-and-take, suggestion-and-comment, and trial-and-error.  In the end, one hopes to have a decent poem in print.

I'm always grateful for editors who have an opinion, who make suggestions for improvement.  They are like Tiresias, the blind prophet of Hades who guided Odysseus through the underworld.

I often feel I'm in the dark, too.  And it helps to have a companion to guide the way.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Be Our Guest

Recently I was invited to be a "guest blogger" on a magazine's website.  I've been blogging for some years now, mainly using my various blogs as writing and humor practice, but the idea of guest-blogging intrigued me.

Come January 2013, I'll be listed as one of the guest bloggers on the magazine's masthead.

But I really don't know how to be a blogger. I didn't have the heart to explain this to the editor.  She was so kind, and seemed to want me very badly.  And, well, my wife knows I can't say "no" to women . . . especially the ones who beg me over the telephone.

And so, come January . . . I'll be a guest-blogger.

I'm not used to being a "guest" of course.  Very few people have the gumption to invite me into their homes, as I generally spill things on the carpet or make a mess in the bathroom.  My wife doesn't like to go out with me either, as she always asks, "You're not going to wear that are you?" when we get to the car. She never likes my color-combinations or style selection, and she is always reminding me that my lack of fashion is one of the reasons people don't invite us into their homes.  That, and I tend to talk too much about esoteric subjects such as rotisserie chickens, how to trim a candle wick, or how the lemming got its stripes.  I can also wax on about such interesting topics as SP-70 sunscreen protection, the subtle shade differences between the colors maroon and burnt sienna, and how to cook one-minute oatmeal.

Most people ask me to leave their homes around 7 p.m., pointing out that they have an early meeting with an IRS-auditor or are slated for a gall-bladder operation the next morning.  And they usually mention that the former are preferred to my company.

I'm not used to being a "guest".  Even my parents refuse to see me at times, and I am their executor and power-of-attorney. 

Naturally, I'm going to bring all of this out on my first guest blog.  I've got an ax to grind and a great deal of vitriol to spew. Anyone who reads my blog is going to get an eye full.

But after that, my second guest-blog is wide open.

Perhaps a piece about how to take a shower with a piece of soap the size of a Tic-Tac.  I've got to stick to what I know.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A New York State of Mind # 3

While walking along 57th Street near Central Park, I happened upon a book kiosk--one of many that seem to crop up like mushrooms along the streets in New York.  Lots of used books here--like new--and more than an ample selection of novels, top-class non-fiction, and titles of such esoteric nature that they naturally draw the eye to their titles.

I stopped for a few minutes to browse, but spent more time watching the other patrons going through their paces.  As a rule, I'd say that New Yorkers know how to look for books, and at books.  They have the eye for cover art, binding, and paper quality like no other city.

But the Central Park Zoo was calling, and so was a much-needed bottle of water to offset the 97-degree heat.  I had to step away from the kiosk to go see the white leopard, the red panda, and a wild assortment of tropical birds--each vibrant with color.

Later that night, while exiting the subway for a final time, I did my good deed for the day and handed off my Metro card to a Bronx-accented gentleman who was attempting to purchase a ride uptown.  He accepted my gift, but looked quizzically at me and asked, "Is there any money left on it?"

I quickly explained that I was from out of town:  "Way out of town."  And I added, "There should be three-days-worth of rides remaining on the card."

He thanked me, still suspicious of my intentions, but I walked away before he could deduce that I was a Jehovah's Witness or a lunatic.  (Well . . . maybe the latter.)

But I was tired from fighting shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face crowds for five days and eager to get back to Hoosier-land, where life is so boring and the lawns are so dry.  And I had books to read back at the hotel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A New York State of Mind # 2

Joey Chestut, 5-time world hot dog-eating champ and his iron stomach.

Prior to our brief trip to New York, I had loaded my Kindle with several free books, including the entire corpus of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, Moby Dick, and War and Peace.  I began reading War and Peace on the flight east, went thirty chapters deep into the text, and then grew despondent when I realized I had not even read 5% of this massive tome.  What was Tolstoy thinking?  Well, it was another era.  But he should have titled this one:  War and Reading.

One of the highlights of this New York trip was witnessing the International Hot Dog eating contest in Queens (Coney Island). We rose early that morning, rode the subway for forty-five minutes, and arrived 3 hours prior to "eat-off".  We secured our place among a massive throng, stage right, and waited it out, shoulder-to-shoulder with seven thousand strong in a blazing 95 degree heat.  Why we'll never know!  After standing for nearly 4 hours in the sun, we were burned and thirsty.

What we witnessed was history:  at least hot dog eating history.  Among the women, the "black widow" won her second consecutive contest, eating her age in hot dogs and buns--45 in ten minutes.  A world record.  And Joey Chestnut tied his world record of 68 dogs and buns in ten minutes for his fifth consecutive championship and a $20,000 prize.  (You can watch what we witnessed live by checking out the ESPN coverage on YouTube of the 2012 Nathan's competition.)

Naturally, we had to eat a Nathan's hot dog later that day (a Queens eating landmark) and I'm sure we drank our weight in water.

Later that night I began writing an essay on eating . . . and I'm still working on it.  But as I think about witnessing that kind of gluttony, it's difficult to write.  I seem to lose my appetite for words very easily.  And I'm not sure I will ever eat more than two dogs for a meal.  Anything more just seems . . . well . . . wrong.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A New York State of Mind # 1

The hotel Pennsylvania (across the street from Madison Square Garden): our New York home away from home.

New York always brings me to my senses and last week, with more than 3-million visitors descending on the Big Apple for the annual 4th of July fireworks on the Hudson, the sidewalks and the subways were teeming with humanity.  The occasion was a graduation gift to my son, in the hope that he might appreciate the slower-pace of his Midwestern roots and realize that New York is a fine place to visit, but isn't suited for his plodding mentality and more sedentary pursuits.

As far as my sentiments go, I always experience New York as one of the few remaining holdouts--and perhaps the finest vestige--of a literate culture.  There is no other city where one can still buy books or practically every street corner, encounter old women on park benches who are reading Voltaire or James Joyce, or overhear discussions about novels, playwrights, or the latest biography of Walter Cronkite.

There is no other place where one can daily encounter a person reading a book--usually on the subway--and during the five days I was in New York I smiled at, and took note of:  an Italian woman reading a yellowed, tattered copy of a prayer book of Saints; an Orthodox Jewish gentleman reading a large, ornate copy of Talmudic literature; a group of women heavily engrossed in their individual ruminations of various pop novels.

My favorite was a young woman on the subway who was reading a used copy of a Woody Allen humor collection--a book that I recognized right off as one that was resting on my bookshelf back home, and one that I had read several times myself.  But I didn't have the nerve to rouse this woman from her interior pursuit to ask, "What do you think of Woody's copious references to herring in that old New Yorker piece?"

As I walked the sidewalks (or "pressed" myself through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds), I also took note of those publishing firms that occupied the higher spaces of office buildings, the familiar names rising above me like a siren call.  At one point I passed in front of a publisher's office--a firm that has continued to keep my oldest book in print--and I felt a deep desire to ascend to those offices and introduce myself to the staff there, announcing that I was "one of their own", and to thank them for holding out the hope that my book might one day sell enough copies to provide for one of their salaries.  But after realizing I was hot and sweaty, and clad in shorts and sandals, I came to my senses and struggled on toward Times Square, certain that no publisher would want to entertain a loser like me.

But the thought of those offices were enough to inspire, those offices retained on floors high above Manhattan, where editors and agents often meet and where, yes, some have even met over the years to discuss my work . . . a guy living in a small, out-of-the-way borough in Indiana who still writes his guts out most days and who will, God-willing, get back to New York another day, perhaps to sign a contract, or meet the editor who has such high hopes for a book written by a Hoosier.