Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Alternative Christmases

In the past twelve months I have taken on various weekly and monthly deadlines while also anchoring down some portion of my time as a book reviewer.  This latter task is something akin to Christmas, as packages periodically arrive fresh from the publisher's workshop.  I get to open these packages, play with them, and then write about them.  It's the best of both worlds:  I get to be the child and play Santa's helper at the same time. 

Sometimes these book packages arrive on cue:  when I am eager to get at the new toys (some still in stage of development).  And at other times the packages are dumped on my front porch when I am snowed under, or I am creating other toys of my own, and I don't have as much inclination to open a package marked "For Reviewer Only".

There is, however, something secretive--much like the location of the North Pole workshop--about being a book reviewer.  As such, I get to see the products before others get to play with them.  Sometimes my comments might even influence the final product, as a publisher might go back to the elves and say, "Okay, people, let's get back to work here!"

Reviewing books also helps me write my own.  I get to see what the other toys look like and compare my own little workshop to the big fella's.  Sometimes I go back to work on my toys and add more nails, or pull out the screws, or I add a shiny coat of veneer to the finished product so eyes will be drawn to it.  Sometimes my toys get reviewed by other nincompoops like me.

This week I expect another shipment.  I'll be looking for a large package wrapped in brown paper, rather heavy, that will contain some wonderful mixture of pages for my eyes only.  I might even be the first person, other than the writer and editor, to handle the finished product.  That's kind of exciting.  Like Christmas.  And I might ask my wife to fix me a glass of hot chocolate to set the mood.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What My Momma Never Told Me About Marriage

In recent months I've made a deal with myself (and a publisher) to write several articles about marriage.  I'm now in process of developing these essays while  hearkening back to the days when I wrote a regular column at For the Bride magazine and also contributed to the larger Bride's and Bridal Guide rolling stock which were often featured at grocery checkout lines.

Long story about these new essays, but I now have to develop some snappy themes--and probably more than a few that will feature phrases like "Hot Sex" or "Eighty-seven Positions Your Father Never Knew Existed and If You Tried 'Em They'd Put You in Traction".

So, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

My wife, in particular, always wants to know, "What can you possibly contribute to the vast trove of marital information that has already been proffered by Dr. Ruth and that guy who wrote the Love Languages book?"

She has a point.  Nevertheless, I'm a writer (purportedly) and it is my duty to dispense my marital expertise to the less-learned and the bored.  Toward that end, here are a few of the essay titles and themes that I've been considering.  Love to hear what you think of 'em.

Five Honeymoon Hotspots Located Less than Five Miles from Where You Work:  How to Find Overnight Lodging at a Denny's Near You

Your First Night Alone:  What to Expect, What to Do, and When to Tweet Your Mother for Instructions

How to Cash in On Your Wife's Diamond:  Pawning it Quickly for Cash and How to Replace it with a Perfect Cut-Glass Replica

Mountain Dew Honeymoon: How Many 2-Liters You're Gonna Need . . . and Why

Why Reading All of My Articles on Hot Sex Isn't Gonna Help You: One Man's Amazing Sexual Odyssey and How He Tricked His Wife into Two Conceptions Over the Course of Thirty Years.

Boiling Hot:  Why You'll Prefer Tea to Sex by the Time You're My Age

Simmering Hot:  Why a Hot Tub is Preferred Over Sex . . . and Three Ways to Cook a Rotisserie Chicken While You're Bubbling

Too Hot To Handle: Seven Marital Recipes that Involve Food So Spicy You'll Think You've Died and Gone to Mexico

Scorching Hot:  Sexual Exploits I Can't Even Mention in a Magazine that Sells Women's Thongs and How to Ask Your Wife if She's Ever Heard of 'Em (and if She'd Try 'Em)  


Friday, April 26, 2013

I Was a Teenage Weirdo

The more I talk to people my age, the more I realize that I was a teenage weirdo.  For example, I began preaching when I was nineteen.  I spoke occasionally in worship, consistently as a front man for a church garage band, and also offered a few talks at church camps and such. Weird, man, weird. 

I was also writing like a house-afire during my teen years (and actually publishing material for some pay).  This foray into writing, however, actually started when I was eleven or twelve.  Certainly, pre-teen years, I was already creating my own magazines and paper-sewn chapbooks and novellas.  One summer, when I was twelve or thirteen years old, I recall creating a full blown sports magazine.  I wrote all the articles, created the illustrations, even drew some mock advertisements.  Weird, man, weird.

When I attended Indiana State University as an English and Creative Writing major, I already had piles of writing stacked in my bedroom. I'm talking entire chest-of-drawers full of it.  And I was full of it, too.  I had already worn out one manual typewriter and graduated to a new Smith-Corona selectric with correction ribbon.  Weird, man, weird.

It's taken me nearly four decades to come to grips with my own prolific tendencies.  I've come to realize that I'm not a great writer, probably not even a good one, but in the two to three hours that I write each day, I write circles around most other full-time writers (those turkeys who make money from their writing and have the luxury of sitting in front of their computers all day stewing over a single sentence).  I may not be producing anything that others want to read, but by God I'm producing it.  Weird, man, weird.

I think that's why I like to read Isaac Asimov's accounting of the writing life.  The guy just wrote.  That's why he could sign a 32-book contract and fulfill it in a year-and-a-half.  Asimov wrote ten to twenty hours a day--EVERY DAY--rain or shine.  He never traveled by air.  He rarely ventured outside his sparsely furnished New York city apartment.  When editors called, Isaac delivered.  If one book didn't sell well, the publisher and the writer didn't care.  There would be another book along in two weeks. 

Currently, I have more deadlines to meet than at any other time in my life.  But I'm always eager to take on more.  Weird as it seems, I am always asking editors to send me additional work (hopefully with paychecks attached).  

One editor asked me recently, "I'm giving you a quick-turnaround deadline, how can you possibly get this done?"

"No problem," I said.  "I've been doing it for years.  In fact, if you like, you can move the deadline up a couple of months.  That will give me time to write something else for you after I finish this piece."

He didn't say anything, but I know what he was thinking.  Weird, man, weird.     

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Games People Play

I'm not certain when I began . . . but I've been playing games with myself for decades.  Let me explain.

Time was, years ago, when I would play basketball by myself for hours.  The only way to make this "practice" tolerable was to play self-competitive games.  I'd shoot a hundred free throws as player "A", for example, and then try to see if player "B" could better it.  Same with hook shots, or three-pointers, or even trick shots from behind the backboard.  Later, when I could jump, I'd have dunk competitions against myself.  Could I dunk off the bounce?  Or from a toss off the backboard?  Or 360-spin (no, never could!)?

Now that I'm old and gray I'm still playing games.  Usually it involves writing.  Some of my games go like this:
How many pages can I write today?  Can I better myself tomorrow?
How many editors can I contact this month?  Can I set a record next month?

Earlier this morning I also played a game.  I came to the end of my writing time, but still had ten minutes in which to write two brief columns--150 words each.  I set the clock and began.  Type.  Type.  Revise.  Type.  Type.  Revise.  Type.  Revise.  Type.  Type.  DONE!

Listen, if you need motivation, make a game of it.  The way I figure it, I just made $40 in ten minutes . . . not huge money, but when you multiply it by-the-hour, it ain't bad.

I only wish I had more games to play.  I can't dunk anymore, and Lord knows I can only dribble in the bathroom. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Back to the Algonquin

Recently I've taken to reading Dorothy Parker, one of the premier American women of letters from the 1920's-1950's who wrote short stories, poems and book reviews, most notably for The New Yorker.  Parker was also one of 2-3 women who helped comprise the Algonquin Round Table--a loose-knit group of high-brow literary luminaries and wise-crackers who met in the Rose room at the Algonquin hotel each week for lunch and hi jinx.  Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, was also part of the crowd. 

However, Parker fell out of favor in the literary world in the late 1940's after she began writing pointed and revelatory stories about some others in the group (under the guise of fiction).  Truman Capote fell down the same rat hole later in his career and was ostracised by many of his Hollywood friends.

Writing is tricky business this way, especially when one tries to adapt or adopt real-life situations and conversations into essays and stories.  Too much information can be a dangerous thing.

Thankfully, I've never had to worry about offending people when I attempt these trysts.  Why would my wife, for example, be offended if I wrote a short story detailing the life of a middle-aged and somewhat-fattening woman who meted out discipline in a small town middle school?   What if I wrote another piece of fiction about this same woman, let's call her "Becky", who was married to a man of such incredible character and charm that birds wouldn't even poop on his shoulders?  And what if I wrote yet a third story about this woman, still plumping through menopause, who began riding a motorcycle and had nothing but good things to say about a husband who cooks dinners and provides delicious romance, let's even say of superb quality, and who occasionally spoons chocolate ice cream right out of the carton without telling her?

My hunch is that many people would believe this is fiction of the highest order and that these things didn't really happen, and could never happen, to people who still possessed all of their marbles and had all of their joints greased.  No one would be offended by these references to real people, living or dead, and they would think that that story about the little plumping woman was just a figment of imagination and bore no actual resemblance to anyone they knew.  

All they would know is that this is great writing.  They would have no idea that the writer could be in mortal danger if certain people actually read his blog.  

Just sayin'.    

Thursday, April 18, 2013

All My Pals

The most recent development in author royalties seems to be forthcoming through Paypal.  At least that's how most editors of late have offered to unload the loot.  Fortunately, I had set up a Paypal account some time back, but I have no idea how it works, or even how to get at my gigantic backlog of cash that is, even as I speak, backing up like piles of gold stacked at Fort Knox.

Some of this lucre comes courtesy of my fiction, which, at last, seems to be of both publishable and payable quality, and God knows I always enjoy getting paid for an essay on "How to Pick Pasta from a Cauldron of Boiling Water Without Burning Your Hands:  Five Easy Steps to Preserving Your Fingertips So You Can be Traced by the FBI and Still Play a Game of Catch With Ralphie after Performing Delicate Feats like Threading a Needle".

I'm not complaining about any of this.  I love Paypal.  As the name implies, it is a helpful tool.  I just don't know how it works.  But then, I'm still trying to figure out how the postal system works, too . . . as these new-fangled peel off stamps are tricky.  I still want to lick 'em.

One of these days, when my Paypal account reaches peak-performance level and begins out-earning my 1.5% a year CD, I'll call the powers-that-be and inquire about having the balance transferred to my off-shore account in the Cayman Islands.  That's where I hope to retire, but will probably have to wait until my wife expires before I can afford to build the grass hut on the beach.

Until then, keep those checks coming.  I'll keep writing.  I'll build my Paypal nest egg under the premise that the government doesn't know that such things exist.  Perhaps my Paypal account is taxed at a much lower level, or cannot be traced back to me, as I have my account listed under my pen name:  Wanda J. Wampeter.

In the meantime, I'll live on bread and water like writers are supposed to do and will continue to work toward improvement until I can write something truly spectacular.  I already have the title in mind:  Gone With the Wind.

I just have to check and make sure it's not been taken.  

Monday, April 15, 2013


This past week of vacation was intended to be devoted to writing . . . and lots of it.  I had, for example, intended on writing an additional 25,000 words to complete a book, and produce several essays and columns for my weekly and monthly deadlines.  But, alas, I had to endure what turned out to be the longest illness of my life.  Whether salmonella, food poisoning, or some quaint version of the Hoosier flu, most of my time was spent battling nausea, diarrhea, and chronic acutethenia and headaches.  I may have even become dehydrated at one point.  I had to drink gallons to regain the balance of my water table.

But enough about sickness . . .

Let it be known that I wrote nonetheless.  Maybe not my best prose, but I wrote.  Through pain, through Pepto-Bismol, with one eye closed and brains pounding out of my skull, I wrote.  I didn't reach my goal of 25,000 words, but I wrote.  I also exchanged a fair amount of correspondence with publishers and editors and some of them even urged me on.  I sometimes felt pistol-whipped, but I couldn't let them down, could I? 

Actually, I can't remember the last time I had a five-day illness.  Ever.  Not even as a kid.  I never did get the perfect attendance pin at school, but I never missed a deadline, either.  

Nevertheless, it's difficult to acknowledge that this bug decreased my productivity by a good margin.  The only good to come of it was:

* Lots of sympathy from my darling, who was incredibly patient and kind when she came home from work each day and asked . . . Have you done anything worthwhile and can I make you some chicken soup? (Answer was always "no" and "no".)
* Artwork arrived for a new book cover
* I didn't have to shave for a week

But now that I'm back to normal I'll get those 25,000 words in soon.  I just have to cram them, mathematically, into my daily output.  There's room in there somewhere, and maybe an additional hour every morning.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Writing Fever

Looking forward to leading the upcoming writer's class on May 9 at the Indiana Conference offices (Writing with a Purpose, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.).  The class will be a mixture of information, encouragement and, hopefully, inspiration.

This past week, in reading tidbits from Isaac Asimov's autobiography, I picked up the following.

Asimov is generally regarded as the most prolific author in history (more than 450 published titles) but he did not land a book on the New York Times bestseller list until he was in his 50's (his fourth Foundation title: Foundation's Edge).  Up until that time some of his books sold well, but none were bestsellers.

This bestseller status did not attend Asimov's way until after he had published more than 240 books!

At one point, Asimov signed a contract to write 32 books (and wrote most of them in the coming 12 months).

Asimov's yearly published output (in book form) during his writing years was an average of 13 books a year . . . more than 1 book per month.

Asimov was a college professor early in his career (Chemistry) and never wrote on "company time".  He wrote before work, after work, and on weekends only and yet managed to produce a prodigious number of books.  He had written more than a hundred books before he was able to earn enough to work as a full-time writer . . . and he taught for 17 years until he could support himself and his family from his writing alone.

So . . . for anyone looking to write, take a lesson from Isaac.  Write every day.  Don't quit your "day job".  Write before and after "work".  Remember: bestsellers may never come, but that doesn't mean you can't write for fun, pleasure, or even some profit. 

Hope to see some friends on May 9!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do You Know Your Saints?

Just in case I have some readers who have forgotten about my humor, let me offer my latest piece, "The Guide to All Saints Day (Minor Edition)", recently published in The Newer York (http://theneweryork.com).  You can find my piece inside the Encyclopedia (listed under READ) . . . but beware.

This is the kind of stuff I write during sleep deprivation . . . in those long hours when life is little more than a stream of consciousness and laughter is the only remedy.  So, enjoy these saints.  One of them might be based on YOU.

Next up:  a book review . . . and then later in the week more insights that aren't really insights, just bothersome material that makes you wonder why you don't spend more time on Twitter. 


Monday, April 8, 2013

In Bill's House

Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life, is a fun--though be it wide-ranging--read.  At the onset I deemed the book to be about the developmental-history of the house (and the various rooms), but quickly realized that Bryson was taking me on a tour-de-force through everything from the invention of silverware to the telephone.  For this historical and wide-sweeping range of facts Bryson offers his own house in England as a prop, a house built by an Anglican priest during the Victorian era of self-indulgence.

Other than this . . . like most of Bryson's books (A Walk in the Woods; In a Sunburned Country; I'm a Stranger Here Myself, et al.) the author walks a fine line between history and tongue-in-cheek.  There's ample humor here, but one discovers it under a thick layer of information about bedbugs and surgical procedures as performed in the age before anaesthesia.

There's a great deal of clothing to be worn from reading this book, but no place to hang the hat . . . the subject matter is, indeed, so diverse and incredibly dense that one can easily be reading about life in the 1750's in one paragraph and then, suddenly, leap to the late 1800's and across continents without so much as a lead-in.  

I liked the book . . . but unlike classic Bryson titles (I think I've read his entire corpus) this one doesn't deal with a specific time, place, or people.  It's not so much travel as it is travel through the ages.  Time is the centerpiece here--not geography.

Okay, but thanks, Bill.  I feel like I've lived in your house. I feel like I know you.  Now I'll shelve this book alongside your others, a space I've carved out specifically for your books in my personal library--which is one of the rooms you explore so ably--and I'll make myself a ham sandwich in the kitchen (another of your favorite rooms).  

But then I'll get back to writing my own books.  Enjoyed reading your title in the meantime.  But my head still hurts from exploring your architecture.   

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Writer's Block

There has never been a period in my life when I have suffered from "writer's block" . . . but this week, I have been experiencing "writer's rest".

It's been years.  But I took a full five days off.

This week in Chicago for my wife's birthday, I agreed that I would leave all writing assignments and deadlines behind.  (My one and only writing-related concession being that I stowed away a daily supply of love poems that I doled out to Becky like prescription pills.  These were real doozies that ought to be published under the title: Romance Poetry for Old Ladies Who Love to Shop.)

Those five days in the Windy City have now placed me in a pen, however (note the pun!).  Taking five days off from meeting deadlines has totally messed up my mathematically-calculated annual writing output (MCAWO) and created a new scenario where, in order to meet demand, I'm going to have to rise even earlier, and write faster-smarter-and-crisper in the months ahead.

In fact, in the days leading up to this break, I fielded so many calls from editors that my plate is beyond brimming and I may have to write on two keyboards simultaneously in order to fulfill the demand.

But hey, I'm not complaining.  In fact, I returned from Chicago with a wallet full of napkin notations, hotel stationery outlines, and toilet paper quotations that I now must translate into actual essays, chapters and reviews.  Let the fun begin.

And I did get to introduce myself once in Chicago to a gentleman who, like me, was standing in the foyer of some fancy-pants women's clothier waiting on his wife to pick out a one-size-fits-all girdle.  He wanted to know, "So . . . what do you do, pal?"

"I'm a writer," I told him.  (Reactions, believe me, vary from New York to Chicago to small town Indiana.)

This guy didn't flinch.  "Interesting work," he said dryly with no follow-up.