Friday, June 28, 2013


Writing is a craft (even an art) that most-often requires an absurd degree of self-motivation and self-promotion.  In fact, a writer can grow weary--sickened even--by the constant burnishing of his own portfolio.  Personally, I find it increasingly difficult to promote anything other than my writing itself:  let the words, or the quality of the writing, speak for itself I often tell editors.  Please don't ask to me justify why one of my essays, or an article or a book, should be offered to the public based on who I am, or upon what I have produced in the past.  

This type of self-absorption--just described--does not serve writers well. 

Self-awareness, individuality, soul, spirit:  a writer needs these to plumb the depths of emotion, especially when writing memoir, ficton or poetry.  But it doesn't sit well at the keyboard otherwise.

That is why writers always feel a sense of elation when they are pursued by editors instead of having to purse these elusive creatures.  Such is the wonder of being asked to write an essay or a book review.  It's like being drafted.  Coming off the bench.  Being the 6th man. 

I've had a rare number of such drafts this year.  But I've loved them all.  I like it when editors offer me the job without my having to do the hard work of submission. 

I am always glad to be in the game.  Makes me feel good to come out of the bullpen from time to time.  But I'm still working on my repertoire.  So far my only pitch is the fastball. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Still Life

Some months back I set out to write a series of essays for pastors about pastors. It is a fascinating enterprise, given the ever-changing face of ministry, but now some of these essays are finding their way to publications.

I hate to admit it, but the years are piling up.  If I begin calculating my ministry odyssey at the point where I began preaching and leading youth ministry (19), then I'll be encroaching on 34 years of ministry this summer.  If I begin my calculations as a student pastor (21), then I'll say it's 32.  And if I begin at ordination (23), then I'm talking about 30 years.  But any way I want to slice it or dice it, I've been in ministry a long time.

I was also thinking today about my first published works, and most of these were at lease marginally associated with ministry.  There was a poem, for example, that found it's way into a youth ministry magazine--I was 19 at the time--and a series of poems later published in a tiny California journal called Wellspring (back in 1980-81).  I even recall that the editor's name was Tim Chown, and we struck up a friendship via old-school postal correspondence.  And as memory serves . . . these were some of my first paychecks.  Not large ones, mind you, but gas money nonetheless--when gasoline was 79 cents a gallon!

In college (at I.S.U.) I also began writing stories (lots of them).  In those days I wrote in longhand on sheets of unlined yellow paper, and for my final grade in one writing course, I recall handing in what must have been a full ream of this stuff, a veritable mountain of blue ink that, with wide-eyed amusement, the professor accepted with a smirk and said, "You know I'm not going to read all of this ****, so why don't you just give me your three best stories.  Obviously you can write volumes.  We'll see if you can write well."

But now, as I take assessment of my writing progress since those days, I'm amazed at how long I've been doing this, too . . . and how quickly some work appears.  Come July 1, for example, I will have written about 40 published essays for pastors thus far in 2013.  Probably nothing worth reading, but I did write these essays and there were editors who accepted them.

I'm no longer writing on sheets of unlined yellow paper.  But since I began my obsessive writing odyssey when I was twelve (12), I'll go ahead and say that I've been 40 years now in the writing business.  That's a long time, regardless.

Not too bad, I hope, for a kid who once wrote on scraps of paper.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Losing My Marbles

As a kid, my desire to write corresponds very closely with the year I lost my marbles.  This was circa 1972, when we used to play marbles in the yard--not the kind of traditional marbles with the circle and the aggies and the shooters--but mumbly-peg marbles where we tossed our "cat's eyes" and "beanies" and "milk glass" from a standing position.  We played for "keeps", and over one summer I amassed a veritable pot of decorative glass and steel marbles which I collected in a pottery urn.

All of my prizes I kept in a small leather pouch that was cinched at the top with a shoestring.

Later that summer, when the pouch disappeared, I began writing to pass the time.  Summers were long then (with school letting out around Memorial Day and not beginning until after Labor Day).  A kid could get lost in those three months if he didn't have a plan for baseball, or bicycles, or fighting in the alley between the drugstore and the five-n-dime. 

Me?  I began writing my own magazines after I lost my marbles, and I learned that being a writer requires an even tougher disposition--especially since writing is a solitary pursuit and feedback, even from one's parents, is sporadic and fleeting. 

Me:  Mom, look at this book I wrote! 
Mom:  That's nice, honey.  Now why don't you go outside and push mow our five-and-a-half acre yard or weed the poison ivy that's growing up the gutters?

Me:  Okay.  And after that, can I show you some of the stories I've written?
Dad:  Be glad to read 'em, pal . . . but first, take these trimmers and get to work on the hedges.  Just don't cut off your pecker.  Don't want any accidents out there!

Me:  Sure.  And how about I also show you some of these poems which bear a remarkable resemblance to the work of Robert Frost or Edna St. Vincent Milay?
Mom:  No problem.  But first I need you to hop on your bicycle and peddle down to the IGA and buy a quart of ice cream.  Hurry back.  If I see any melting it's gonna be your hide, mister.

Me:  Then will you read my four-thousand word essay about the greatest horror movies of all-time?
Dad:  Horror?  There's nothing more horrible than losing your pecker.  Have you scythed that acre of sticker bushes yet? 

It's no wonder I kept writing.  Words have saved me from a life of manual labor, but I'm still looking for that leather pouch.    

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sweatin' to the Oldies

It happens every month when the box of books arrives on my doorstep.  I am forced to multi-task:  reading, outlining, and then writing the book reviews.  I have to rise early in order to read in the morning; I read while I'm eating, read while I'm walking, and then write in every available nook and crannie of time available to me.

This week, I know what I have to do.  Each evening, while I'm at the gym on the stairmaster for 90-minutes, I am also reading a book or two.  For the past two weeks, I've frequently been the first one to arrive at the gym at 5 a.m., and the last one to leave the gym at 10 p.m. (Two gym sessions a day.)  Last Thursday night the manager had to turn out the lights when I was still going at 10 p.m.

Still, it's difficult to turn the pages and/or read while keeping my balance on the stair machine, especially since I'm also sweating on the book I am reading.  But it must be done.  The books must be read, and the reviews must be written.  That's what I signed up for.  It's why the publishers send the books to my door.

On Monday night I managed to read two books on the stairmaster, about 260 pages total, but all of that reading helped to pass the time.  I even managed to outline my reviews before I was finished and I know I dropped at least a couple of pounds in the process. So who says reading isn't an aerobic activity?

The only thing that could make this experience more ironic would be if I was asked to review a biography of Richard Simmons.  Surely there is one out there.  And if there is . . . would that publisher please step forward and send me a copy?  I've got a lot of sweatin' to do.  And Richard can help me. An old guy like me needs a book to sweat to.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Advice for Wordsmiths

Sometimes I write for other writers, which is, perhaps, the most audacious undertaking.  I have written a number of essays and "how to" pieces for writing journals and magazines over the years, and from time to time I also manage to place a poem or a bit of humor, too.

A couple of years back one writing magazine purchased a longer poem that I had written about punctuation marks, and I note in my poetic journal that I have recently penned poems about Hadith--which are Islamic teachings, parables or traditional stories--and other poetic blessings and benedictions for writers.

I also try to collect insights, histories, reflections and advice that I have received from other writers--and here is one that I completed a couple of weeks ago.


To write well, he said:
One needs to be alone
With oneself in a tiny room
Framed by a single window
Looking out on a brick wall
And seeing nothing at all
One must look inside
Or stare at the carpet
Or at the tall
Fixtures that hang
From the ceiling
And after much time
Time like this
A writer learns to listen
For the words
That are not there
But appear from time-to-time
Like butterflies
That one must snatch
From the brink of death
And revive out of thin air

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gigalo of the Buckaroo

It's an odd juxtaposition.  But when most people think of "writers"--they usually think of money.  Commonly, the first question a person asks about a book is:  "How much does a writer make from a book?"

Short answer:  The majority of books don't make a dime.

Most people would be surprised to learn, for example, that I made more from writing essays, poems and articles in 2012 than I did from all of my book royalties combined.  (Which believe me, Nelson, ain't sayin' a whole lot.)

Last week I did make money from selling a short story.  But I did sell one.  For $3.00.  Note where the decimal falls and how many zeroes are after the decimal.  But listen, I don't write for the money.  It's the same with everything I do.  Not about the money.  One has to want to write, and then one has to write, in order to be a writer.  No other way.

This past week, as I've come home late from the gym (and I do mean LATE good-golly-Miss-Molly, post 10 p.m.), I've sat down to write short essays of five hundred words that I'm weaving into chapters.  This has not been easy--having burned nearly 1000 calories an evening with 1.5 hours of Stairmaster work each night . . . but the deadlines don't wait.  The editors want their cookies.  I have to keep cooking them.

Looking back on these first six months of 2013 I noted that I have written (and published) nearly 50 essays . . . which is to say that in twenty-five weeks I've produced nearly two published essays a week, mostly for pay, and with the promise of another 50 more by years end.  (But again, note the pay rate.)

As weird as it sounds to my wife, I've created a goal to publish 200 short pieces in 2013.  Magazine articles, devotions, essays, book reviews, you name it.  She thinks I'm nuts.  Probably am.  But I'm well on my way.  

I may be one of the last writers in America who will write for a few bucks a pop.  I'm like a gigolo.  An editor wants it.  She's gonna get something from me.  Especially if she is willing to pay.

Writing.  It's the oldest occupation.  And the most humbling. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lawn Care

For some years now I have attempted to keep a daily poetic journal.  I rarely find the time to write a poem a day, but some do emerge out of the experiences and urgencies of life.  Here's one I wrote earlier in May that probably won't find its way to any journal, so I thought I'd post it here.

For all of you lawn care gurus . . . you might identify.

Here's to spring . . . and summer!

Lawn Care

I'm going out to whiff the fumes of spring
Emanating from the can of gasoline
Stored through the winter in the backyard shed.

The riding mower--rife with oil and grit--
Is younger than I am, I must admit,
And all the rites of spring hang overhead.

A redbud scent blows through the open door
And fertilizer stirs upon the floor
Like tiny funnels captured on a breeze.

Each tool is cold and slick with winter wet
But underneath each arm I note my sweat
Anticipating spring come by degrees.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sweet Ride

While my wife was attending an Abate Motorcycle class this weekend I was at home attempting to write.  I say "attempt" because I did not get too much accomplished.  Not even the threat of deadlines and the enticement of cold, hard cash could compel me to eschew the sunshine in exchange for a dimly lit office.

But later this week my wife will be taking to the open road on the motorcycle I gave her at Christmas.  Me?  I'll be staying at home reviewing our insurance policies.

Being married to a motorcycle momma, though, has opened new avenues for writing.  I see several adventure stories brewing and can feel as essay or two floating around in the back of my head like loose washers.  I'm sure my wife will return from time to time with stories about potholes, beautiful sunsets, and other men with tattoos and flowing beards. 

Okay, but for now I will have to live vicariously through a wife who has now purchased leathers, helmet, and gloves . . . and who can't wait to get out there lookin' for adventure. 

I'll be at home writing motorcycle stories . . . where it's safe.  (And yes, that's exactly what her motorcycle looks like:  a Honda 250 Rebel.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

More Limericks for Annual Conference

Enjoy . . .

A conference (unnamed) and inspired
Stripped insurance from those soon retired
And with covenant dead
Clergy took to their bed
And a few of them soon were expired.

An idiot poet quite dense
Wrote poems of form and pretense
But some--not amused--
Felt ashamed or abused
And the rest of the crowd took offense.

Some clergy gathered to check
On their health drawing blood by the speck
But a few became faint
When a nurse found there ain't
Any cure for a pain in the neck.

Some clergy who read this man's blog
Reported him to the top dog
But the more they implored
He was simply ignored
And they said, "He's just slipped his cog."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Limericks For Annual Conference

I hope you enjoy this first installment of limericks for Annual Conference.

Lots to consider this year . . . and as we worship and deliberate and learn, I do hope we can all find some time to laugh.  Or, if you don't laugh at Annual Conference and have not since 1989, head over to the health screening and get yourself jabbed with a long needle.  You'll enjoy it.  Or, how about visiting the line for the pictorial directory?  Put on your best scowl and preserve yourself for posterity.

Happy Conferencing!

There once was a Conference in Kent
Who sang hymns wherever they went
But the rest were immune
To their message and tune
And could not figure out what they meant.

Some pastors once rewrote the Book
Of Discipline hoping they'd shook
Some outdated word
From the message they heard
But the court put them back on the hook.

A few pastors gathered to pray
At a conference one fine June day
But most were soon off
To drink coffee and golf
And the others drank beer in cafe.

Monday, June 3, 2013


I'm not sure what it means, but this blog recently reached the 80,000 "views" milestone . . . meaning, I suppose, that I should change my underwear, replace the ten-cent washer in my 13-year old computer, and rotate my tires.  Obviously, many of these views are from the same eight people--each of whom have visited this blog 10,000 times--but 80,000 is nothing to sneeze at.

Over the years folks have asked, "What, exactly, is your blog about?"

So, here at the 80,000-hit mark, let me review:

Shameless Self-Promotion
     This blog is meant to advertise all of my writing endeavors, including past book titles, works-in-progress, and my new upcoming book projects.  In essence, this is where people come first to decide that I haven't yet written anything worthy of reading and that, even in Kindle format, there's no way they would shell out $2.99 for any book with my name on the cover.
     But that's the reason I continue to write this blog:  I need the $8.45 I earn each month from book royalties and magazine payment so that I can purchase expensive black licorice and buy my wife fake diamonds.  First and foremost this blog allows me to survive in the screen-saver jungle of publishers and editors.  Without this blog, and the revenue it produces for me, I would not be able to send my son to a junior college or purchase a subscription to Blog Writers magazine. You see my dilemma . . . and that's why I thank you for reading and for purchasing my products, such as my Wham-O Letter-Opener.

Writing Updates
     Many people read this blog for the humor it provides, especially when I am working on a very serious book project about a very serious subject and people want to see how deeply I am floundering.  People read this blog to watch me drown--which in certain countries, such as Kentucky, is a spectator sport.
     I do attempt to give my eight readers regular updates about the hundreds of magazine articles, essays, poems, and book proposals I am sending out each month . . . and hope that they will weep with me when these are returned with an editorial note which reads:  Is this for real?

Deep Thoughts About Other Writing
     I also review books here, sharing my deepest thoughts about other titles. Some of these deep thoughts have included:

     If a book falls from a library shelf in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, should it be removed from the Dewey Decimal System?

     If I were the last reader on earth, and the world was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, would I purchase this book at full price from Barnes & Noble or wait for it to come out in paperback?

     When people dog-ear a page in a book, do they realize what they are doing or should we just shoot them on sight?

     If a worm begins eating through a 1001-page book from page one, and the worm eats two pages a second, how long will it take for the worm to eat through the dust jacket and the Dr. Phil blurb on the back cover?

     If a politician can't read or write, but still gets elected, how long would it take for a ghostwriter to write that politician's biography and could it be completed before the next election?

     If two writers meet in a dark alley, and one writes steamy romances with titles like Lilly-White Thighs and Heaving Breasts and the other writes Kung-Fu novels, who would likely win a steel-cage death match if they were pitted against each other in a winner-take-all prize for the hand of Brad Pitt? 

Even Stranger Thoughts
     Why am I writing this blog when I could be writing a book about Needle-point Art Created by Sailors on Air Craft Carriers or Ten Steps You Need to Take for Pre-Planning Your Own Funeral:  Including the Homily, Which You Can Record On YouTube Before You Die.