Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Five "W"s: Part Two

Following the publication of my third book in as many months, I've been fielding a plethora of questions about writing:  Who, What, When, Where, and Why.  In yesterday's blog we took up the question:  Who do you write for?  And in this installment, boys-n-girls, I'll answer the question:

What do you write about?

Answer: Most every writer has heard the adage:  "Write about what you know."  For me, however, this has always been only part of the what I write about. I do write about what I know . . . or what I think I know.  But I probably write a great deal more about what I'd like to know, or what intrigues me, or what I need to learn. 

For example, in the past two months I've written four articles for an outdoor magazine.  These published pieces have been about:
* Charter fishing in lake Michigan
* Collecting antique fishing lures
* Ice fishing safety
* Best methods for storing fishing equipment through the winter

But the truth is, I know nothing about any of these subjects.  I don't fish.  Heck, I don't even own a fishing pole.  So, how do I write on these subjects?  These questions intrigue me and are compelling enough for me to research, inquire about, and then compose articles on these subjects for other fishermen.  (They are great articles, if I do say so myself, but I've never actually done any of them!)

Those who deal with my writing are generally frustrated by my writing.  This is because I write about most anything.  In the past three months I've had two books published about breast cancer and one book of personal faith reflections.  But I'm also writing a book of poetry, a very big book about the historical Jesus, a book on wine, a book of manly humor, a book about legends, a book on sports, a book on the American presidency, and a book on wedding venues.  (And this is only a partial list!)  I also have several novels in tow, and by year's end I'll come very close to having 100 essays published in 2013.  This is not a bad year's work.

Now, in case you are wondering, but when do you have time to do all of this writing? . . . you'll have to read tomorrow's blog (that's another "W").

But it is the What that keeps me writing, and has kept me writing most days since I was twelve years old.  What I write about are the ideas, thoughts, or pictures that enter my dense skull.  Some of these ideas keep me up nights.  Some of these ideas compel me to rise hours before sunrise.  Other ideas compel me forward at the keyboard hour-after-hour, through pot-after-pot of coffee and pounds of black licorice (or going days without food and water like a camel).  

There are also ideas that propel me through dozens of library books, or through dialogue, or multiple revisions.  What I write about are situations and characters that inhabit my mystery stories, or science fiction tales, or even some of the romantic stories that my wife doesn't believe I write, stories with rich and heavy-breathing dialogue like:

"You are the wind beneath my wings," she whispered.

"And you fill me with a deep and aching hunger," he sighed.  "And by the way, do we have any more of those hot wings in the fridge?" 

This is only a part of what I write, however.  Most of what I have written will never be read.  A part of what I write is what I hope one of my six readers will want to read.  What I write about is like that.  It is like this.  Or it is about nothing at all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Five "W"s

This past week, with the publication of my third book in as many months, people have been asking a lot of questions.  Most of these are, in one form or another, articulated in the form of one of the following five questions:

Who do you write your books for?
What do you write about?
When do you have time to write?
Where do you do all of this writing?
Why do you write?

So, in the interest of writing a bit more--and keeping all six of my readers satisfied--my next five blogs will address these questions.  Here goes:

Question:  Who do I write my books for?

Answer:  For the people who want to read my books.  Well, this may sound like a simple, or even flippant answer, but in reality, the six people who purchase my books simply want to read my books.  Last year only five people purchased my books, so I'm making progress toward the best-seller list, and that makes my head swell.

It should also be said that I write for varied readerships.  (This is, perhaps, the biggest frustration for my agent, my various publishers, and for my family, too.  I'm nearly impossible to classify or pigeonhole.  I don't have a genre.)

I write for those six faithful readers who have $14.95 to blow on superfluous expenditures like bound paper products, but who might enjoy reading a book (or find help from a book) about breast cancer, or collected essays, or poetry, or even wines.  I write books for people who want to read what my mind, in its myriad expressions, can concoct.  

I also write books for publishers who want to publish what I can write. This may seem like a paradox, but it has always been the case in the publishing industry.  I have hundreds of book ideas--far too many for me to publish in my lifetime--but will write the ones that publishers give me the green light to write.  I write books for those publishers who tell me, "We'd like for you to write the book you are proposing . . . this next one that is unlike the book you wrote last week, but seems to be a book that one of your six readers might purchase."

I write books for myself.  In fact, most of the books I have written (hundreds of them by now) will never be published.  They sit on my shelves in my office, stacked to the ceiling, or stored away on hundreds of dusty floppy disks . . . but I wrote these books, in part, to satisfy some curiosity in myself, or to practice writing, or just because I wanted to write another book in order to say, "I have written another book."  I write for the audience of one--which is me--and there is a part of me that doesn't give a **** if anyone (publisher or reader) wants to read that book.  

I write for my wife.  People may be surprised to hear this.  My wife has only read a few of my books (most of what I write she has never read, and never will, and I've come to grips with that reality by taking cold showers).  But I write all of my books, in part, out of love.  I write books so she will not think that I am a complete failure, or so that she will be impressed by my words and, perhaps, in some weak moment, want to make love for three and half minutes.  I have dedicated nearly all of my books to my wife, even the ones she has never read, and it gives me a thrill to show her a new book and the dedication page, and watch her stuff the book in her library while announcing, "That's nice, sweetheart . . . I'll get to it some day."

I write for YOU.  Are you still reading this?  I write for that person I'll never meet.  The one reader of my imagination, who has lost his bearings and his financial compass, and who just has to buy the book I've written.  I write for anyone who likes to read.  I write for the white Protestant in America and the black Jew in Egypt.  I write for that kid in Mexico and that old lady in Poland (yes, I have one Polish edition).

I write for people.

Isn't that enough?         

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

World Series of Writing

I began watching the World Series in Guatemala (listening to Spanish announcers), but have taken up the cause again here in the States.  I do, however, turn the sound off so I don't have to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.  Not that I can't stand these guys or don't think they do an excellent job, it's just that I have other work to do.

During the past three games, for example, I've completed a great deal of writing, met some deadlines, even written into the post-game show.  Game three I wrote some two thousand words and still followed the outcome (who can't . . . seeing as the game of baseball moves at a snail's pace and replays throughout the game are abundant)?  Game four: same result.  And last night, during game five, I wrote another two thousand words, went to bed at 12:30 a.m., and am back at it this morning.

All in all, I've been more productive than the St. Louis bullpen . . . which leads me to thinking . . . why can't those guys sitting around in the dugout and the bullpen do other chores instead of lounging?  Don't the stadiums have restrooms that need to be cleaned, don't those Gatorade cups needs to be swept up off the floor?  How about some Ajax on those brown tobacco stains on the bleachers?  Can't these guys multi-task?

Oh, well. 

I'm not complaining.  Six thousand words in three nights is work I'll have to live with.  That's a decent wage.  And if this thing goes to seven games it looks like I'll end up with ten thousand words or more during the World Series . . . without hearing a word of Joe Buck. 

It's amazing what can be accomplished between innings.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reading in Panajachel

Photo: Lake Attitlan (and two volcanoes).

During my Guatemala mission I did have some free time to walk the streets of Panajachel.  Near one "internet cafe" I also located a bookstore--an establishment that, as the sign on the door touted, was "the largest bookstore in Pana!"

I visited twice, didn't buy anything, but was fascinated by the fact that all of the books were English editions--with not a single volume in French, German, or Spanish.  Evidently this Mayan market catered heavily to the American visitor, and all books were shelved alphabetically by author name.

I checked the "O" section, to see if there were any of my titles in stock.  There were not, but I did locate at least one Joel Osteen book. (I had to smirk, thinking that some tourist had to dump Joel's book in Panajachel, or didn't regard it as weighty enough to deserve return in the luggage.)

At Tom's residence, where I stayed for four nights, I also found used books left behind by the former owner, including a Philip Roth novel and a massive collection of "Facts" anthology edited by Isaac Asimov . . . one of the hundreds of books he produced and yet another I had never read.

Mostly, my reading in Panajachel consisted of attempting to translate the Spanish storefronts and menues.  As most tourists promise--I made it a point to say that the next time I come to Guatemala, I'm brushing up on my Spanish first, so that I can be more conversant.   

Eventually, however, one settles into the delusion that he or she is part of the social fabric.  I was one of dozens of Gringos I encountered along the way, but quickly came to realize that I was not all that conspicuous, nor did I want to be.  Just as I was beginning to "fit in" . . . finding my way through town, learning the streets and the shortcuts, locating favorite eateries . . . it was time to go.

I did bring back a Spanish Bible.  Muy Bien.

One of these days, I'm going to attempt to read it. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Writing from Guatemala

No doubt we've all heard the expression:  "It's a small world."  And when it comes to communication, that is certainly the case.

For the last 11 days I've been in Guatemala:  serving through Mission Guatemala (building chicken coops, helping children, meeting locals, building friendships).  But I also was able to check my emails from any of dozens of "internet cafes" in Panajachel, a town of 10,000.  And I also wrote two magazine articles while in Guatemala.

Some of my more exotic experiences during my free days included getting my hair cut from a Guatemalan barber, working out two days in a top-floor gym, and trying to talk to people I met on the street as I interacted with locals. 

All in all, a beautiful experience and an astounding land filled with warm and gracious people.  I hope to return.

Many thanks to Tom and David and the entire Mission Guatemala staff for their expertise and good work.
~Todd Outcalt


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Foreign Correspondent

Next week, while in Central America, I have a writing and photography assignment.  My goal: to uncover the truth behind the adage that 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed prefer Trident gum.  Dangerous, yes . . . but someone on this trip is going to have to go without brushing and flossing for ten days, and I guess that's me. 

To secure my place in journalistic history, I'll be carting along my handy-dandy 300 dpi snap-n-shoot Nikon and, from time to time, whipping out my pocket notebook in which I will scribble indecipherable citations that, later, will require the aid of an English translator.  I'll be writing down questions like:

Why did that taco make me puke and should I be concerned about the worms?
Will I meet Juan Valdez if I visit a coffee plantation?
Can I really save 40% by switching to Geico?
Should I have puked on my only pair of boots?

As you can see, my research will require deep thoughtfulness and an itchy camera-finger.  I may actually use up my entire supply of film.  I mean, I'll be shooting that many pictures in an attempt to capture that one elusive image of diphtheria. 

I do hope to return to the states a happier and wiser person, however.  I expect to lose weight while I am abroad . . . most of it in my hips and bust.  I may also purchase a Volvo.

I also expect that, upon my return to the airport in Indianapolis, my wife will be overjoyed to see me again.  I expect her to send me a text upon my arrival informing me that she will be forty minutes late and that, if I am hungry, I could purchase a taco at Q'boda.  Later, at home, after forcing me to shower and shave, she will suggest that we make love some time in mid-February after the ice melts. 

Of course, these correspondent fantasies never play out as well in reality as in the mind, so I hope the World Series will be in full swing the night of my return.  That's the only way I will hit a home run.  And afterwards, I shall retire to the dark room in the basement to develop my film. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Working Up a Storm

Storms always present an interesting challenge.  Does one work at the computer when lightening is striking nearby trees?  Is it safe to take the computer into the shower?  What are the odds, really, of death by electrocution?

These were the things I was thinking about the past three days as I wrote during the storms.  Every time I flinched under the bolt of lightening or jumped at the crack of thunder I wondered:  Should I be writing while tree limbs are falling around me?

Perhaps writers like me should adopt the mail-carriers motto:  Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow . . . nothing shall stay this writer from his appointed rounds.

On Sunday morning I rose at 4 a.m. to write for three hours . . . yes, Virginia, a pastor can write on Sundays and still preach a sermon.  Sunday morning was, however, a veritable lightening-fest and these were not make-belief bolts. 

But I pressed on, as I had deadlines to meet and four essays to deliver by week's end.  Somebody had to write 'em, and it may as well be me.  Who else was willing to work under such harsh conditions? 

Later, when my wife and I next met on Sunday evening for dinner (long days, these Sundays), she asked, "What time did you get up this morning?" 

"Four," I said.  "I hope I didn't wake you up."

"No.  But the thunder woke me.  You had disappeared."

Not disappeared, I reminded her.  Just working in a lightening storm.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Christmas Story

For the past twenty years I've written an annual Christmas story.  But this year I seem to be having trouble with motivation.  I am beginning to doubt if there truly is a Santa Claus . . . or, more specifically:  if writing another story is worth the trouble to the people who might want to read it.

At any rate, after talking to a few folks about my dilemma, I'm even more confused.  To write, or not to write--that is the question.

If I were to write a story, I have one in mind. It would be entitled, "Up the Chimney" . . . which is not as provocative as "Up Yours", but then all literature has to give a little more these days.

So, let me turn to my five blog readers and see if there is any interest in this dram of Christmas cheer.  I can mail copies to interested parties, but I also do bar mitzvahs and catering. 

Anyway, drop me a line if you just have to have another one.  And if the interest just isn't there this year, I will stop the presses and concentrate on other matters . . . such as metalcraft and cross-stitching.