Thursday, May 30, 2013

Preparing for Annual Conference

In recent days I have been preparing for annual conference, which is convening once again at the Indianapolis Convention Center the first week of June.  Like most clergy and lay representatives, I will participate in some wonderful worship of God, celebrate what we have accomplished (and the work that is still to be done), take classes, and even have blood drawn at my annual health screening.

Generally, I enjoy annual conference . . . but primarily this is due to spending time with friends (what few I have).  I also work hard to find the humor in the proceedings, and as has been my tradition for many years now, I also write on this blog during annual conference.  I point my humor at The United Methodist Church.

I'm not "down" on the church as I do this . . . it's just a fun exercise for me, a way of detailing some of our peculiarities and our strengths and deficiencies.  

This year, I've decided to write limericks.  I hope you'll visit each day to read a few.

(Story:  Isaac Asimov relates in his autobiography about the "fever" that ensued while he was writing his two limerick books. As he noted: "Once I started writing them, I couldn't stop.")

Toward that end, just to whet your appetite, here are a few pre-conference limericks for you to ponder.  I can't stop writing them . . . so, be sure to check back here each day of annual conference:

Some pastors of Methodist name
Convened by the cross and the flame
And they all lit their hair
While worshipping there
And left thus more inspired than they'd came.

A pastor from Timbuktu
Reported her stats which were few
She baptized Siamese brothers
And buried all others
So her church was comprised of just two.

A pastor who looked like a scythe
Who was tall and lanky and lithe
Was thus reappointed
For looking disjointed
And for sending along a short tithe.

There once was a pastor from Gripe
Who preached all of her sermons on Skype.
But the server?  It crashed!
And her voice became hashed
And her sermons were not worth the hype.

When we become crass and rude
We should all be required to pray nude
And thus without clothing
Can't pretend we're all-knowing
And stripped of our masks be renewed.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Wall of Publishing

My book, Candles in the Dark, was slated for publication in September of 2001.  But, of course, like many other New York-based books, it wasn't published that year.

Candles in the Dark was published in 2002, with a Chinese edition (Traditional/Mandarin) out in 2003.  Last week I came across this Chinese edition and the transliteration of my name into Chinese, which I found rather intriguing.  My name is basically rendered "Toddy"--which is okay--I guess my mother would approve.  My name is transliterated:  TaDe AoKeTe (Todd Outcalt) Zhe (author).  Or, for all I know, this could mean:  American author who can't sell books

I have no idea how well this edition sold in China--that's one of the mysteries of the publishing industry, as this book was purchased inside my English contract by John Wiley & Sons, meaning they sold the foreign rights for a lump sum and I received a percentage of the lump.  The book could have sold a few hundred copies (likely), a few thousand copies (but achievable), or even sold into the millions (wouldn't my publisher have told me this?).   

I do like this book . . . rendered into Chinese as "Point a Lamp" instead of Candles in the Dark.  I suppose the English doesn't translate well into that culture and "point a lamp" is as near as the publishers could get to the idea/translation.

I worked hard on the book, as I recall.  I had to secure rights from other publishers in Germany, Spain, and England . . . to name a few.  Lots of phone calls overseas. Lots of time.  Lots of money.  Language barriers and time zone difficulties galore.  But I never did call China.  Which makes me wonder . . . . 

One of these days I'll travel to China.  And when I do, I'll see if I'm still in print there.  A billion-plus people--many of them potential book-buyers.  Maybe I'll sign books on top of the Great Wall, nod my head, and say, "Yes, Toddy pleased to be here.  Thanks you for buying copy of Point a Lamp!"

Friday, May 24, 2013

The World @ 3 A.M.

On Thursday morning I arose at 3 a.m. to begin writing.  My aim was to get to the heart of the matter, especially as it pertained to certain short stories slated for publication, but which I had not yet proofed for the galleys.  And besides, I couldn't sleep since I have refused to turn on the air conditioner and the bedroom was stifling.  Becky was really hot, but she was asleep.  And my son was just turning in for the night (i.e., going to bed).  There was no other alternative except to rise and attend to my writing affairs.

I did make one concession in the darkness, however:  I waited until 5 a.m. to make the coffee.  When Becky came downstairs to iron a blouse she asked, "How long have you been up?"

"Two hours," I said.  "And the coffee is ready."

But I like watching the sun rise.  And writing so early in the morning also gives me time to think about going to the gym, about being the first one in line to work my way down the rack of dumbbells . . . so I was there by 7 a.m. and already warmed up.  I don't talk in the gym, I work.  And I was finished in twenty minutes.

But at 3 a.m. the world is silent and still.  I sit on the couch in my underwear, laptop in hand, in the dark.  I read the emails that have come in overnight--my night--and as was the case on Thursday, I had one new email from an editor in London.  I wrote back, knowing I was probably reaching that editor in the heart of a London day, some twelve hours "future".  

Writing at 3 a.m. isn't pleasant.  Heck, I'd rather be sleeping.  Who wouldn't?  But there's something to be said for jolting the senses, jarring the mind with mental anguish and the eyeballs with light, writing outside of the comfort zone of full-night's sleep.  Writing like this . . . I'm never sure what I'm going to get.  Might be something truly spectacular.  Might be trash the following day.

As for that first cup of coffee at 5 a.m. . . . is there anything better?  Writing and coffee.  Goes hand-in-hand.

But one of these mornings at 5 a.m. I've gotta walk down to Dunkin' Donuts.  I hear they make a mean pastry.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My English Connection

It's true.  I was an English major.  My goal in college:  to write good prose.  What else can one do with an English degree?

As for literature, I studied copiously in both English and American literature . . . and yes, there is a difference.  A few of my favorite classes, as I recall, were:

The English Romantic Period (has nothing to do with love poetry)
Post-War English Literature
The Puritans (and Early American Literature)

I still shelve all of these text books, by the way, and my quiver is full of memorized poetry of the likes of T.S. Eliot (who actually wrote very little poetry), William Wordsworth, and Robert Frost.

Most recently, I've discovered a strong connection with some London editors, and next month I'll have yet another story published in England.  I'm grateful for the opportunity and these British editors seem to "get me".  Perhaps it is because I am a bit more formal in my fiction (?) or because I deal in themes that resonate with a British audience (?). Not sure.

My last story, however, deals wholly in American themes--and was actually something of a cartographic story about America . . . so I have to believe that the story was written well enough in its own right and wasn't just accepted for publication because it was deemed a geographical piece.

I like my English connection . . . and who knows . . . some day I might actually meet these fine people.  I might even make a phone call just to say "thank you."  Or do I say "Cheers?" 

I'll have to consult my English-to-English dictionary to find out. 


Monday, May 20, 2013


Interesting word:  "commission".  Note that the word itself indicates working in partnership with, or to be brought into a common mission with another.

In the past month I've been commissioned twice, the latest being a charge to write a poem.  I was given a month to do it, so I'm taking my time, revising often, parsing every word.  

Typically, I don't enjoy these kinds of assignments.  I always feel like I'm in an old Mission Impossible episode where the tape recorder is running and THE VOICE says, "Your assignment, should you choose to accept it . . . ."

But listen, when did the Mission Impossible team NOT accept an assignment?  When did they ever say, "To hell with this one!  This assignment really stinks and you know . . . we've got that badminton tournament this weekend.  Let's tell THE VOICE where to stuff it!"

No.  Assignments are always accepted.  And for the writer most any assignment, any commission, is going to be met with, "Sure, I'll write that for 'ya."

So, I have a commission.  I'm now working under a tight deadline, which is even more exciting, more challenging.  You know, I don't want to self-destruct or have the assignment blow up in my face.  So I'm working diligently on the task at hand.

Which brings me to my disguise.  I get up before sunrise and masquerade as an early-morning person (even though I am not).  I slip into the character of a writer who has accepted the assignment, but who would rather be under-cover with my wife, who would prefer the James Bond life-style of wine and caviar instead of coffee and black licorice (for breakfast). 

Your assignment . . . should you choose to accept it.  Well, I've accepted.  And in two weeks I've got to get to the bottom of this commission.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The 200,000 Word Question

This week I began taking stock of my word-count for 2013.  As with all of my writing, and because of my weekly, monthly, and yearly deadlines . . . I continually have to tally the total number of words I must write, divide by the days I have remaining, and this gives me the total I must write each day.  

In this manner, writing is far more of a mathematical equation than a creative one.  I already know what I'm going to write (usually) . . . I just have to calculate how I will do it, and when . . . and consequently, how early I must rise to begin or how late I must continue working in order to accomplish the goal.

Simple.  I can still add, subtract, divide and multiply.  And I thank my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Allison, for drilling all of those factors in to my thick skull through hours and hours of flash card memorization.  (Incidentally, what's 12X12 and 11X11?  If you know the answers immediately, you used flash cards and probably lost recess time if you didn't know your tables!) 

Adding all of my writing thus far in 2013, I note that I am fast approaching 200,000 words of "finished" product.

Dividing this by 135 days, I note that I am writing nearly 1,500 words a day.  (Okay, not bad.)

Dividing these words by an hourly-dollar rate based on national averages and the hours it takes me to produce the product, I see that I am earning about 1.1 cents-per-word.  

Lord, that's depressing . . . especially as I've always contended that I could make more by moonlighting at Dunkin' Donuts or tossing burgers at McDonalds on a per-hour basis.  

And that's my final message to all the writers out there . . . you can't do this for the money.  There ain't any!  

You've got to be willing to subject yourself to living in a deep depression with very little sleep, a willingness to field questions from your wife like, "Why are you wasting your time?", an ability to live on coffee for days with no other sustenance besides black licorice, and the torture of knowing, through it all, that you've still got deadlines to meet and somebody out there is depending upon you to deliver a full-fledged manuscript (free of errors) by next Friday.

What are you waiting for?  

Monday, May 13, 2013

My Science Fiction

Not much to this blog except to say that, if you want to read my latest story, you can do so at:

Genre?  This might be science fiction, though the science is negligable.  At any rate, I like this story, "Triple's Blog", a great deal.  It's one of the best science fiction stories I've written in the past four or five years. 

Don't ask me to explain the story . . . a writer is worthy of any and all interpretations or approaches from the reader.

Friday, May 10, 2013

After Class

I enjoyed "leading" a writers' class on Thursday and I hope everyone who participated learned a few things.  I know I did.

If there was one thing I would hope to relate to others it would be:  keep writing.  And as far as publishing goes:  keep submitting.

No doubt the publishing world keeps getting larger, and there are now many opportunities of an international variety (which we did not even discuss).

Upon arriving home, for example, I received an email from an editor in England who informed me that he was accepting one of my short stories for publication.  A story I had written at least five years ago entitled, "Big Country." 

So there . . . I took a dose of my own medicine.  I had forgotten about this story, about this submission, but when the affirming word arrived, there was a momentary jab of elation.  Then . . . on to other projects.

That's another thing about writing.  You can't get too high.  You can't get too low.  Best to remain a boring, mid-life, run-of-the-mill writer.  Nobody's gonna bug me.  Not even my wife. 

Just keep the light on and put on another pot of coffee.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What I Know About Publishing

This Thursday I will be leading a writer's workshop (hope to see YOU there).  It's been over twelve years since I taught one of these things, and since that time I've come a long way as a writer . . . I mean I've really grown in my knowledge. Twelve years ago I thought I had publishing figured out.  NOW I know nothingNUSSING!  That's growth!

Those who attend the workshop will find me standing up front, pretending to be a leader . . . but what they will discover is that I'm a learner.  I'm still learning this business of writing and publishing. A business, by the way, that has changed dramatically in just the past decade.  In fact, some people have described these changes, and their import and weigh, as no less dramatic than the invention of the printing press centuries ago.

So, if you do attend the workshop, don't arrive hoping to be dazzled.  What I do hope you will receive is some solid insight about writing, how to write better, or for those who are interested, how to navigate the crazy and ever-changing landscape of publishing.

Oh, and bring a work-in-progress.  This is a workshop.  So, we will work.

As zany as it sounds, there are now more opportunities for writers than ever before.  Yes, everything has changed.  But so has the number of people out there who can write well.  There are millions of people who can text . . . fewer who can write a coherent and editor-friendly paragraph.

So, if you are one who can carry a theme forward through a 1500-word essay, or who can write a decent book proposal, or who has the chutzpa to meet a deadline as a blogger, a columnist, or an op-ed expert . . . you might have a future in this lucrative lifestyle that could net you upwards of $15.97 a month.

But don't take my word for it, listen to these glowing testimonials.

I was floundering (literally, I was a flounder fisherman) before taking Outcalt's workshop.  Afterwards, I gave up my day job and decided to go-for-broke.  And that's exactly what I got.  Broke! But I'm still writing.
        Ralph W. of Boston

Outcalt doesn't know much, but he does have some delightful PowerPoint slides.  I especially liked the one with the toilet.  Made me thankful for indoor plumbing.  That's where I do my best writing.  It's a great place to sit and think and the acoustics are wonderful for whistling.
         Stew B. of Crabapple, Maryland

Before taking Outcalt's class I didn't know a gerund from a regular ol' noun and my verbs were atrocious.  Now I'm writing like that British woman who made millions on her Hogwarts books.  I've written eighteen novels in twenty-two days and haven't slept yet.
          Janice Q. of Floodbucket, Wyoming


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Mini Marathon

It's a fact: while my wife and her friends were walking in the Mini Marathon on Saturday, I was engaged in equally rabid exercise of my own (though completely sedentary and fueled by coffee).  Rising at 6:00 a.m. I did manage to complete the following in eight hours:

* A sermon outline
* Two book reviews
* A wine travel article (based on wine travel from the day before--with accompanying photos)
* Two 1000-word essays, which I am confident will be selected for anthology publication
* Follow-up correspondence with editors and consultants
* Poetry submissions to five journals
* this blog

In addition to this foray into the peace-and-quiet, I also received a rather large shipment of books (some for review, some I had ordered) which are now piled high on the coffee table--and which my wife will soon order me to remove pending legal papers.

Naturally, I won't remove them.  Let her have her lawyer.  I will write an essay about the experience and find a publisher.

Of course, my wife will return from her 13 mile trek eager to tell me how much her body aches, and how I can assist her in relaxation techniques.  And if I'm not still writing my essay, "Making Art with Earwax", I might help her out.

Otherwise, I'll just put another pot of coffee on the burner and write until my fingers turn blue.  I'm not eating right now, and all of this writing is melting the pounds. 

There's an essay here, too.  But that's for another Saturday.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mr. Romantic?

About a month back I received word that some of my poems will be finding their way to publication:  this time a small magazine and a university journal.  The latter is a poem I wrote nearly four years ago as Becky and I were returning from our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in San Juan.  As memory serves (and it doesn't serve too well these days) I wrote the unrhymed English/Spanish sonnet on the flight home.  I had also carried a stash of poems with me on the cruise--and proffered one-per-night after each port-of-call, including the last night in San Juan.

Becky seems to like my romance poetry.  It's one of the few things she can tolerate about me.  And when a three-year-old poem gets the nod from an editor--an English department chair with a Ph.D--I'll assume the poem has enough panache and spirit to carry a page.

Not all of my romance poetry is created equal, however.  Here's a light one that I will never show to Becky . . . I lifted it out of my journal (just for fun).


The laws
Of menopause
Are flaws
Of cause-
And-effect because
Even her paws
Have claws.
A man needs gauze
And iron jaws
At every pause
To endure the applause
Of menopause.