Friday, March 29, 2013

Write Me!

I finally said "Yes" to offering a writing class.  And YOU can sign up.  Nothing fancy here . . . just a morning and afternoon with ME (includes a lunch) and, I hope, plenty of practical tips about writing and some answers to your questions about writing, techniques, and publishing.  You can also bring along a work-in-progress for class critique.

When: May 9th.
Time: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Where: Indiana UM Conference Center office (presentation room on first floor)
Cost: A bargain at $20 (includes lunch and snack . . . and $0 going to the presenter so he can remain pure and untainted by the lure of filthy lucre).
Who:  Anyone--lay or clergy--who enjoy writing and/or want to learn more about improving their skills or knowing more about the "nuts-n-bolts" of the publishing world.

Now, since I'm going to make a fool of myself, the least you can do is attend!  Go ahead . . . I dare you!  And if you sign up before midnight tonight . . .

But wait, there's more!

At this workshop you'll also learn:

* My Seven Secrets of Success: Or How I Parlayed an Essay on T-Shirt Sweat Stains into a Lucrative Income Approaching Two-Figures.

* My Five Sure-Fire Methods for Getting the Attention of New York Publishers (Not Including Prank Phone Calls as Donald Trump)

* My Three Daily Rituals that Will Keep You So Hopped Up on Writer's Caffeine That You'll Think You've Died and Gone to Heaven.


* My Top-Secret Weapon for Writing a Book in 24-Hours (Which Happens to be My Wife But For God's-Sake Don't Tell Her!)

As you can see, this is gonna be a doozy of a seminar and I know you can't wait to join me.  Believe me, you'll get your money's worth.  You gotta.  Heck, the lunch alone is worth double the price and you can probably slip one of those over-sized candy bars into your pocket for the drive home (that's a dollar value right there, pal). 

But listen . . . just in case you're worried that I don't have anything to offer, why not learn a few things from a guy who's published 30+ books in the past 15 years, who has published hundreds of essays/articles/poems in a wide-swath of magazines and genres, and who still doesn't have a clue how he's doing it!?  I promise, if nothing else, you'll have fun.  And hey, we might learn a few things, too.  

Hope to see YOU on May 9th.     


Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Even with holy week in full swing, preparing multiple messages, and staying up late to watch NCAA basketball, I've had a decent run of writer's luck these past two weeks . . . the most recent being selected as a "featured poet" in an upcoming issue of formal poetry.  (Thanks Jim & Don for snagging several of my submissions.)

Receiving acceptance letters like this affirms that I am still capable of multi-tasking.  Namely:  watching basketball, writing, and ignoring my wife simultaneously.  It's like dribbling two basketballs at once  (which I can still do by the way). 

Naturally, it is not easy to write poetry over the top of Jay Bilas, and it is even more difficult to write romance poetry when I consider his bald head.  I have to work hard to capture images of my lovely wife while conjuring up words that rhyme with "microwave" or "soup" or "leftovers".  

And I'm always amazed when editors write back and say things like:

This essay is good . . . but it's almost as if you were writing it while watching a basketball game.  Your essay on potty-training doesn't need dribble imagery or phrases like "driving hard to the rim".  Let's lose these, shall we?  


I really liked your series of poems on dealing with menopause (from a male perspective).  But these poems have a little too much basketball in them, don't you think?  Phrases like "Getting Hot" or "Just Another Bitchy Coach" or "Camping Under the Basket to Find Some Peace and Quiet" don't really fit with your assertions of love and understanding elsewhere expressed in such excellent and adorable menopausal verse.  But listen, if you can revise these poems and make them acceptable to our readers (remember, our magazine is Pole-Dancer Digest, not Reader's Digest) we'll publish the lot.  In fact, we'd be honored to see more of your menopausal thoughts.  The ladies just love 'em around here . . . and we have a feeling your wife is something special.  

Until the NCAA tournament is over, I'm sure I'll continue to multi-task into the wee hours of the morning.  It seems to be helping my production.   

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hoop Schemes

During the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament I have discovered new ways to read and write over the top of Charles Barkley.  I've re-read Freddie Buechner's memoir, Now and Then, and started an essay entitled, "The Pastor as Theologian".  I'm also reading Raymond Carver's posthumous collection of poetry, All of Us, while writing new verse of my own.  And I've also submitted no less than a dozen other works to various editors during the basketball games, leaving me with a surprising amount of energy for these late-night basketball/writing fiascoes.

I just hope that all of the basketball commentary in the background doesn't impact my writing. I'd hate to be writing a love poem, for example, and have it come out sounding like this:

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:
I love thee as much as a point guard dribbles and makes plays,
As deeply as Marv Albert makes no sense,
As much as Charles Barkley sits the fence. 

I love thee through all of life's heights and falls,
Through the ruined brackets, all the bad calls,
In spite of Clark Kellogg squeezing his orange . . .
And everyone knows nothing rhymes with orange (it's a fact).

I love thee in the quiet hours, the distant hum,
And in spite of that kid at Harvard who beats the drum,
I love thee in the hope of hearing Dickie V
Predicting that Duke will prevail by three.

I love thee here at home while we eat our franks and beans
Through all of your complaints about the Crimsons and Creans,
Through Cinderellas and bracket-busters,
The top-seeds, the over-achievers, the lack-lusters.

And if I were to die a horrendous death (eaten by wolves, perhaps)
My heart would still beat for you, my love wouldn't lapse
One wit in spite of no one coming to my funeral or
Writing you a sympathy card during the Final Four.

I'd wait there in purgatory, or Limbo, or whatever my fate
While you sit at home and work your brackets, and contemplate
How much money you're making in the company camp.
Just hope you regard me as your National Champ.


Friday, March 22, 2013

More Science . . . More Fiction

Yesterday I received another nod from an editor at a science fiction magazine.  At long last I have a home for my short story about a futuristic society where people purchase conversation (by the word) instead of sex off the street.  I'm not sure if this story is social commentary or just my warped mind imagining the possibilities in a world where twitter is more popular than a family dinner conversation.

At any rate, the editors had some nice things to say about my speculations and will be publishing this one later in the year.  With the publication of my next two stories, I certainly have enough of these to comprise a decent science fiction collection.

Naturally, when I told my wife about this story, she wanted to know how I came up with my "weird" ideas.  (People always want to know where fiction writers get their ideas.)  Difficult to say, but I have "weird" ideas all the time  . . .

I do get some of my ideas out of boxes of Cracker Jack.  In fact, just writing about a Cracker Jack prize gives me another idea for another story. 

Sometimes I have a story title long before I have an idea for it.  I hear phrases, pieces of conversation, I write these down.

Sometimes I write a story in one genre (like a western, for example) only to realize that the story is not a western at all, but a science fiction story . . . so I have to rewrite it from a new perspective or vantage point. 

Sometimes I have a "voice" for a story long before I have a story.  But a strong voice can carry a story and I often have to hear the "voice" before I can begin writing a piece.

All of this sounds kind of squirrelly, I know.  But it is important stuff to anyone who sits in the dark for long periods of time, hours at a time, eating donuts and drinking coffee and punching at keys to form sentences and paragraphs. 

Where do I get my ideas?  I have no clue.  I just listen.  Half of writing is listening, I think.  When I hear something interesting, I write it down.  And after that, I doubt.  It takes a lot of courage (or idiocy), I think, to let someone else have a peek at your words.

But until I finish the next page . . . I'll keep listening for the voice.  I'll know it when I hear it. 


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is Basketball Sexy?

I'm not sure why Americans go ape for college basketball in March, but I'm sure it has something to do with cheerleaders and men running around in shorts.  Football is more popular by far, and baseball is the American past time.  And basketball would be a forgotten game if not for Clark Kellogg.  His running commentary on the game corresponds very closely with the ageing marital relationship, and when I am watching a game, I often feel like I am having a conversation with my wife.

Me:  Honey, do you have any plans tonight? 
Clark:  This is going to be a key matchup!
Me: Wow!  That sounds exciting!
Clark:  There's a lot to look at when you take the clothes off this game!
Me:  I know, I know.  Let me finish this burrito and I'll give you a kiss.
Clark:  You can feel the excitement in this place tonight!  But preparation will be key!
Me:  Okay, let me light a fire then.
Clark:  Here are the key matchups to the game tonight.  
Me:  What are they?
Clark:  First, gotta squeeze the orange!
Me:  I think we're out.  Would a grapefuit do?
Clark:  Second, no turnovers.
Me:  We have no turnovers, either.  But we still have a box of poptarts!  Want one of those blueberry ones?
Clark:  Third, gotta go inside to the big fella!
Me:  Sounds kinda kinky.  Anything else?
Clark:  Crunch time . . . can't be any distractions.  As far as tonight goes, this is the whole season!
Me:  Hey, that's a lot of pressure for an old guy like me.  Are you forgetting about my bad back?  
Clark:  I know there's injuries, but at this point you've gotta play through pain. 
Me:  Well said, wanna hear a new poem?
Clark:  As the late John Wooden once said, you can't manipulate motivation.  You either bring it or you don't!
Me:  Okay, but what if you fall asleep like last time?
Clark:  No sleepers in the house tonight!  Just two rivals goin' at each other.
Me:  There you go again, jumping to conclusions . . . .
Clark:  And only one will be left standing at the end of the evening.
Me:  Listen, I've got to get up early.  You sure you want to do this?
Clark:  No one's backing out now!
Me:  Who's backing out?  Don't you have an early morning meeting, too?
Clark:  Eventually, someone's gonna give in, someone's gonna cave. 
Me: Okay, just let me set the alarm then.  Four a.m. okay? 
Clark:  This one may go double-overtime, these two are so evenly matched.  But someone will prevail, and then it's lights out.
Me:  Sounds good to me.  Goodnight then.
Clark:  This is what March Madness if all about! 
Me:  So, who's mad?  I'm just sayin' . . . . 
Clark:  This one will go down in the record books!
Me:  Don't hold a grudge.  We'll take this up in the morning.  
Clark:  Tomorrow you'll look back and realize this game was decided in the first five minutes when you couldn't score.
Me:  Goodnight.
Clark:  Until the next round.          

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Around the World in 80 Days

Last week I was taking stock of my literary output thus far in 2013 and I realized that my writing--in a mere 80 days--had gone around the world.  Since January I have, for example, submitted work to magazines in Australia and Germany and Canada, procured acceptances from magazines in England, California, Oklahoma, New York, Nashville and Denver.  Quite a literary world we live in today.

My writing somewhat mirrors my personality, I suppose.  Consistently optimistic . . . with a touch of cynicism.  I've had editors tell me, "I'm surprised you could write that."  And others who have asked, "Why did you write that?"

To me, it's all in a days work . . . which begins quite early, usually.

Sometimes, when I'm up four hours before dawn, I sit in the dark and wonder:  Who might be up at this hour in England?  Would that editor in Sydney, Australia be available?  Sometimes, I drop these editors an email like:

Hello, just thought I'd send a quick line and let you know that I am awake in Indiana.  I could write something for you . . . I'm just sitting here in the dark with a cup of coffee and could easily whip out a 1000-word essay about basket weaving, perhaps, or how to make chili out of two-week-old leftovers, or perhaps an essay on how to avoid botulism.  Or rickets.  I love writing about rickets.  Do you have a need for a rickets essay?  My fingers are warmed up and my keyboard is well-lubed with donut oils.  Hey, drop me a line and I'll get back to you in fifteen minutes.

Most editors, of course, don't write back.  They must be sleeping.  Even in Australia.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Bid For Pope

Not being Catholic, I know that my name didn't come up often in the recent election for Pope, but I do want to thank all of you who voted for me.  Really, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate your faith in me and for believing that I would look good in red shoes.

I'm sure that there were many limiting factors in the various considerations on my behalf.  This blog, for example.  Had I been elected, I'm sure many would have raised eyebrows at my sense of humor and wondered:  "Can we really trust a Pope who eats black licorice?"

Other limiting factors for my papacy bid may also have included:

* A 29-year marriage to my first wife.
* Two children (which is a lengthy process that starts out small and ends in the writing of enormous college tuition checks).
* Being a Protestant pastor whose own bishop can barely tolerate him--though there have been rumors about a possible Catholic trade for some under-the-table cash for years.
* A steady diet of pinto beans.

I would point out that, although these factors were limiting, I would have brought a fresh approach to the papacy along with these pontifical strengths:

* I can deadlift, squat and bench press more than 250 pounds in each lift and this would come in handy for moving those large wooden chairs in the Sistine Chapel.
* My prayers and homilies are brief.
* I would bring fresh application to the church based on the old-world moralities evident in The Andy Griffith Show--which includes entire towns living in celibacy and getting a haircut each week.
* I would have assumed the name Pope Gomer I . . . which would have created a huge media stir and drawn new converts to the faith, including lots of celibate women named Thelma Lou and Helen.

As you can see, my negatives outweighed my positives and this is probably why I was voted "the most dangerous idiot in America" by more than half the voting Cardinals. 

Still, all-in-all, this was a great experience and if I had it to do over again I would still watch for the white smoke.  But in the end, I'm glad I won't have to leave my wife.  She still has some life left in her and we are leaving for Chicago after Easter.  What we will be doing in the Lover's Leap Motor Lodge up there is no one's business.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Laugh In

A few days back I received a tearsheet from a publication that noted me as: " . . . a husband, father and humorist."  Now, I didn't write this one--and as far as I know, "humorist" is the latest description for what I write.  But I like the sound of it.

Yeah, I write humor.  Principally, that's what I attempt to write on this blog.  But I've also published a great deal of humor over the past thirty years, styles ranging from satire (Wittenburg Door, Satire & Comment) to the wildy-raucous, to the bawdy, to the poetic, to fiction.  I also have a humorous memoir (still shopping it), hundreds of light verses, and have also written published book reviews with a humorous touch.

And, although I don't principally think of myself as a humorist, I am rather serious about laughter.  I believe it is important.  Essential, even.  Nothing bores me more than listening to a public speaker who is a serious as a triple hemorrhoid attack. And if I'm going to read a piece of writing purported to be funny, it had better be hilarious.  

I like being a humorist. And I love it when editors ask me to write more humor.  It's the one genre that editors always say they lack, and need the most.  Sometimes the ask me.

But humor is difficult to write.  As John Updike once noted, he always felt that his light verse required more skill and dexterity than his serious verse--but light verse is rarely appreciated by poetic affectionados.  Everybody wants to laugh, but few recognize the skill it takes to write a good joke.  Anyone who spends time listening to expert stand-ups like Jerry Seinfeld, for instance, will get the picture quickly.  Humor seems so effortless from the best . . . but all of the top comics will tell you it's hell getting it onto the page.  Every word counts.  Pace counts.  Delivery must be impeccable.  Timing is everything. And yes, comedians write their jokes.  On paper.  They just practice the delivery time and again until it is effortless.  

I like writing humor.  It keeps me sane.  And I'm currently working an essay entitled, "The Pastor as Divine Comedy."  When I finish the piece, it won't win any awards . . . but it might be slick enough to read if I can hold to the points and not screw it up.  

My mother always told me I was funny.  But then, I always thought she was talking about my appearance.  I like to cross my eyes . . . and Mom warned me they would freeze that way.         

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tearsheets, Copies, and Memories

The more I write, the worse my memory becomes.  Or, I should say, the less memory I have. 

Because of this lost memory, I made a decision last month to begin collecting all of my previously published work (if I can remember where/who published it).  I now have some tearsheets (published pages from magazines), manuscripts with notations and, in some instances, have ordered journal copies containing my work.  But it's slow going . . . and I'm looking back now on 30+ years of material.

Yesterday, after receiving a copy of Loch Raven Review (#6), I was surprised to discover that this issue had published not one--but two!--of my pieces.  I had ordered under the delusion that the editors had published one of my stories--a mystery entitled "The Palm Reader"--when I noticed in the table-of-contents that this issue also contained one of my non-fiction nature pieces, "The Pileated Woodpecker."

A two-fer!

But I have many lost memories now . . . and I'm glad my wife still calls me by name:  "Hey, YOU!"  One of these days, I'll remember where I dropped my car keys.

Friday, March 8, 2013

More Fan Mail

In the past month I've received several very nice letters--"fan mail" I suppose--from people in other states, like California and Akron, who write to express their appreciation for an article, a book, or a poem that I have written.  I'm always moved by "fan mail" and after reading them, frequently have to sit down to catch my breath. 

Naturally, I am surprised by fan mail, as I have so few fans, and I imagine that most of this mail is being written by my mother under various aliases.  My Dad isn't a fan, but he probably provides Mom with the stationery and Bic pens. 

Sometimes these fans want to know about my on-going projects, and they are genuinely concerned about my happiness, or whether I am eating enough fresh canteloupe, or have regular bowel movements, or if--because I am a writer--I am also an alcoholic and could benefit from AA.  I have no problem receiving deeply personal questions like these . . . as long as my fans don't care about my deeply personal responses and my brutal honesty regarding my black licorice addiction or how I feel about writing $10,000 checks for college. 

Writers like me love this honest banter with fans, and every time I meet my mother, I thank her for birthing me and for her willingness to comment favorably on my jacket blurbs.  I can always tell when I meet a fan--like at the airport or in a New York subway--as these are the ones who are screaming obscenities at me. 

I love my fans.  They complete me. I want to thank all five of them.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Most fans, of course, don't know what to make of me.  Some fans know me as a pastoral writer.  Others see me as a humorist.  A few know me as a science fiction writer.  Others mystery.  And I've had a few complements on my poetry or literarly fiction.  One lady recently thanked me for my "God-breathed" devotions.  Another guy sent me an email expressing how much he appreciated my insights on cancer support.  And yet another thanked me for my satirical work about the European debt crisis.

Which leads me to a question many editors ask:  "Who the hell are you?" 

I'm still figuring that out.  But in the meantime, keeps those cards and letters coming, gang.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Logic of Spock

A few days ago I received word from an editor in London that he was "fast-tracking" one of my science fiction stories for his next edition.  This works for me.  I like the idea of breaking into publication so I can quickly submit another story for consideration.  (Sorry, my mind just works that way . . . and I've got dozens of these science fiction stories gathering dust.)

But I know many people don't see the logic of writing science fiction.  It is, after all, a speculative breed.  Not only is it fiction--but it's fiction born of the wildest flights of imagination.  

But Mr. Spock was logical.  (He also plays the guitar, as you can see.)

And since I've been writing science fiction stories since I was eleven years old (no joking, Einstein!) I find that science fiction is, actually, the most logical of genres.  

Science fiction (and fantasy) expands my mind . . . it allows me to imagine pure fancies of what could be, while also warping into a myriad of new questions raised about human relationships and the human condition.  Questions like: How would a person react, or live, if he had foreknowledge of the day and hour of his own death? or What would a kid do with a pair of X-ray spectacles if those things really worked? or In a future world of pure isolation and individuality, would people walk the streets and pay for conversation instead of sex? or If the death of God is real . . . how would a person go about killing God?

Yes, these are just some of the stories that have kept me up nights and compel me to write.  I write a great deal in other genres, of course . . . but science fiction, I find, is where I explore some of the deeper human questions.

This all seems logical to me.  But then, I also play the guitar.    

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Seeing Myself on the Shelf

On Monday afternoon I happened to be driving by the Half-Price Books-store in Avon.  Naturally, I stopped to browse.  Didn't buy anything (should have!) but I did happen to notice myself on the shelf.  I was perusing the "Self-Help" section when, BANG!, there I was . . . or, I should say, some of my books were there. 

No doubt remaindered, the titles looked pristine and I wondered:  Who bought these books and then traded them in for a used DVD of No Time for Sergeants?  I nearly redeemed the books myself, thinking it would be fun to walk up to the front counter and ask, "What can you tell me about the idiot who wrote these books?"

I love playing with a manager's psyche, watching his eyes spin when he looks at the author photo on the back and thinks:  This guy isn't playing with a full deck.

Sometimes, it's fun to take these used copies and place them in strategic places around the store:  on top of the unisex bathroom toilet seat, near the cash register, in the "Sexuality" section.  It is fun to slip copies into someone's basket when they aren't looking, and then watch their reactions at the checkout when they realize they've been duped. 

These are the few joys that a writer has in life . . . there are no others.  Writers don't, after all, enjoy stellar cuisine, or drive posh sports cars, or have sex.  They sit in front of a keyboard and expel gas.  They eat pop tarts straight out of the box . . . for dinner.  Writers send their families away on vacation while they stay home to write another essay on "Living With Rickets" or "How to Make Money from Shining Other People's Brass."  Writers ruin their eyes staring at pages of text and then they eat more pop tarts.  Blueberry.

I think of these things every time I find one of my titles on a used-bookstore shelf.  But I'm grateful to be a part of an industry that allows me to earn upwards of ninety-seven cents a month.  That's how I buy my licorice.

All of the rest, as they say, is gravy.  And writers are the ones looking for the giblets.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Writing Grants

This past weekend was dedicated to grant-writing.  Me?  I wrote the bulk of two grants, over 20 pages of prime real estate.  And my wife?  She wrote a school grant . . . a nice piece of work that should net some money for a children's program.

Once my wife and I had time to sit down together on Sunday night (late!), we critiqued each other's grants.  You show me yours.  I'll show you mine.  What a weekend.  Ten thousand words in two days. 

Naturally, it is difficult working with one's spouse.  I don't enjoy hearing comments like:

Have you thought about indenting these paragraphs?
Did you know you have a coffee stain on page eight?
What's that smell?

Of course, I can't blame the dog anymore during these grant-writing forays and sometimes I just have to eat a burrito.  (Actually, I don't eat burritos, I eat licorice when I write . . . and I write a lot . . . which should tell you something about my licorice bill.)

Hey, even as I'm writing this, I'm eating something.  Something I found in the refrigerator crisper.  It's not crisp.  It's kind of mushy.  Not synthetic.  It was once growing, I know that.  But the taste is indescribable.  Which reminds me of an essay I'd like to write this week about celery . . . .     

Monday, March 4, 2013

Surprise Party

Imagine my surprise when, last week, I received a paycheck for some essays I had written in 2012.  Heck, I thought I had written all of them pro-bono . . . sort of like all the free stuff I give to Becky . . . free food, free romance, free attention, free love.

But evidently these essays were also published in a downloadable format--meaning that every time I got a "hit" from a reader who just couldn't live without my work, I received a royalty.  Kind of like musicians getting a kickback for every song played on the radio.  Tiny royalties, to be sure, but they can add up.

Anyway, an unexpected payday.  And I can send my windfall along to some good causes . . . with the exception of a few "self-reward bucks" that I'm putting aside to buy myself a bag of black licorice. 

Now that I know my essays are in hot demand, you can bet I'll be writing a lot more of those suckers in 2013.  The more the merrier.  I hope people buy 'em by the gross. 

And for those who did "purchase" my essays in 2012 . . . well, thanks a heap.  I'm glad to know that there are people out there who want to read what I write.  That's why I write.  For YOU. 

I remind my wife of this daily.  I cook for her.  Clean for her.  Save myself for her.  Give her my full attention after 1 a.m. every night.  She usually doesn't want it, however.  She just likes the thought of getting a freebie.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Artistic Poems

Over the past two years I've written quite a bit of ekphrastic poetry:  which is poems about art, or poetry based on works of art.  I have a few of these forthcoming in various journals now and perhaps, some day, I'll have enough of these to create a book.  Don't know who would read it, but I enjoy writing them.

Here's one of my ekphrastic poems--a sonnet--based on a 16th century painting of Elizabeth I by Nicolas Hilliard (1585).

Portrait of Elizabeth I by Nicolas Hilliard, 1585

The lighted window, glazed with leaded glass,
Secludes the realm of wealth and circumstance
In palace walls devoid of any glance
Of faint attachments to the broad expanse
Of lands and commerce where her subjects pass.

A golden sword rests on the blackened throne,
An ermine, white and eager, climbs her sleeve
As if her Highness, removed and naive,
Could stir a grateful nation to believe
That she was worthy of the world they own.

The portrait, cold and austerely serene,
Reveals the common love of pedigree
When every knee bows to pomposity
And worships rags if they be called a queen.