Saturday, November 30, 2013

Guest Blogger

True to form, I am posting a guest blog today written by Mark Wilcoxson--his Thanksgiving story created from the six random items consisting of a magic lamp, a toilet brush, a tailpipe, hemmorhoids, dad's mustache trimmings and leftover turkey grease.  Tread lightly readers, this is a story for "Real Men" . . . and the full version can be found on Mark's Facebook page.

Call Me Ish-Male: A Thanksgiving Holiday Tale in the Man Genre
John rolled out of bed frustrated that his this-is-my-magic-lamp pl...
oy hadn’t worked, again.

John had a lot on his mind that morning after Thanksgiving. There was pecan pie in the fridge to be eaten and while John liked warm pecan pie now as much as he liked warm apple pie as a teenager, there was nothing better than the coagulation of pecan juices that takes place over night in a dark, or is it dark, refrigerator.
November means Thanksgiving of course, but recently the implementation of MoVember, that time of year when men grow mustaches for charity, had inspired John to grow a wispy blonde ‘stache that convinced him he could have been Larry Bird if his debilitating hemorrhoids hadn’t prevented him from sitting down on the bench during that sectional matchup with storied Milan and thus being dismissed from the basketball team on the spot for defying a direct order from Coach Watdahale.

Personal hygiene wasn’t something that John, as a male, normally worried too much about, but today he was taking his baby, a 1976 AMC Gremlin he called Patti, to Midas for a new exhaust pipe. An exhaust pipe; John stashed that away in the folds of his brain where he also never washed for tomorrow morning’s

(For more, visit Facebook)


Call me Ish-Male is to man-lore what Gail Sheehy is to estrogen.  Wilcoxson's toilet brush imagery puts one in the frame of mind to eat a twenty-ounce steak and is celebration for getting a 20-point inspection at Midas. 
~Bob Cobb (the "Maistro")

I was languishing as a male until I read Wilcoxson's masterpiece, and then I went from Dead-Beat Dad to Clint Eastwood in one fell swoop.  I couldn't put this one down, and I wasn't even holding it.  
~Ray McKidney (former hand model)

There are men, and then there are MEN.  Wilcoxson and his protagonist, John, take us on the adventure of a lifetime.  From the deep end of the bench, to the bathroom sink, to a greasy auto shop floor . . . this tale will stir your loins and make you want to sue somebody.
~Art Vandalay (circuit court judge)

Reading Wilcoxson's "Call Me Ish-Male" so close to Thanksgiving made me want to puke, which is a killer funny word.  Killer, Jerry!  It also made the thought of my demise more tolerable, which is something I will review with my mentor.  
~Kenny Banya (comic)  



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks at the Keyboard

Not long ago I had reason to experience a flush of gratitude when I noted a gentleman in a hospital corridor who had lost an arm.  Seeing him there, fresh from his surgery but eager to be discharged, left me with an overwhelming sense of grace.  "There but for the grace of God go I," I said to myself.

In particular, I was thinking about the keyboard, and how difficult it would be to write without the use of arms and fingers.  There can even be thanksgiving over the keyboard, I thought.  This only makes sense to me.  After all, a great many years of my life have been poured through the keys (my time and my talent, I hope).

I also consider how far I've come or, I should say, how much technology has changed the act of writing during my lifetime. 

Years ago, I learned how to type on a manual Underwood--a machine created in the Pleistocene era that had to be pounded into submission in order to make a mark on the page.  Later, after IBM invented the Selectric, a new era dawned and the modus operendi was powered by electricity, deft to the touch.

My first PC--a Radio Shack Tandy 1000 with dual floppy drives (the berries!) and green monochrome monitor landed me in good stead for some years.  I printed from an interchangeable set of daisy wheels and shied away from the dot-matrix printers that, while offering speed, sacrificed the appearance of manual type.

This was followed by, in rather quick succession:  a full-fledged Compaq PC with media software, a Compaq PC with 3 1/2 floppy and hard drive (which I still use), and two Dell laptops, the youngest of which is my primary writing tool and is a whopping eight years young.

Between the Compaq and the latter Dell I've written at least thirty published books, no less than a thousand essays/stories, probably another thousand poems, and untold letters, emails, and blogs.  Well-worn, thread-bare, punished would be the operative words here for these two machines.

Still, I'm grateful for the keyboard, and still feel an elation at the stroke of a key or the appearance of a carefully-crafted sentence.  No doubt that the printing press followed by the PC would be two of the greatest inventions ever concocted by those who never sleep. 

One of these days I'll earn enough from a sale of an essay or a book to warrant purchasing a new PC.  Or perhaps one of these beasts will simply expire gracefully.  But until then, I'll continue to write, to give my royalties away, to have a reason for working into the sunrise. 

I can only hope I keep my fingers through the dark nights.  Somebody needs to write these blogs.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Speaking of Writing

Speaking of Writing . . . my calendar will soon be filled with so many speaking engagements, appearances, book-signings, and readings that I won't have time to write . . . which is what writing is about.  My December is rather flush now, but folks may see me at some of the few remaining bookstores, at some local open-mic nights, or at the Glick Museum for the author's fair late in the month.  (I'll be the lonely guy in the corner that no one is talking to.)

And peeking into 2014 (a mere seven weeks away gang!) I'll be offering some other writing workshops.  I enjoy assisting folks with their projects and helping others to make the connections.

At a Rotary meeting yesterday, where I spoke about being a writer (what could be more boring?), someone asked, "Have you ever suffered from writer's block?"

My answer was, "I don't think I have."

Oddly enough, I can't think of any time in my life when, if sitting down to write, I have come away empty-handed.  I have, however, suffered from other types of blockages such as:

Hamburger Helper Block
     This symptom occurs, usually, after I have cooked HH seven consecutive days for the family meal.  There is usually a revolt, with someone in the family suggesting I order Chinese take-out.  Anything!  But for the love of Mike no more Hamburger Helper! 

Hard Cheese Block
     This occurs if I have eaten too much cheddar.  Enough said.

Andy Griffith Block
      Not usually a factor, but sometimes my wife tries to hide my AG Show DVD's so I can't watch Earnest T. Bass.  She points out that I have seen each show at least twenty-five times and tries to block me from having romantic conversation kickstarted as a string of Barney Fife quotes.  (But listen, have you ever tried to woo a woman into bed by quoting Barney Fife?  It's quite the challenge!  Favorite romantic quote:  "From your head down to your feet, there is nothing half so sweet, as Nita, Nita, beautiful Juanite.")

Floodwater Block
     Occurs each spring when the creek rises at our house.

But enough of this . . . back to that blank page.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Be My Guest

In the coming weeks I will be a guest blogger for several sites, and I'm appreciative for the invitations.  But as I write for other blogs, I had a thought:  Would anyone want to be a guest blogger here?

How about it fans?  Anyone have a book to review?  A funny anecdote to share?  A point of writing advice you'd like to offer?  Or even some of your own writing that you'd like others to know about?

Keep in mind that over 4 1/2 people read this blog daily, so your exposure here would be life-changing.  If your blog is published, you will no longer have the ability to roam around in public without a disguise.  People will recognize you in the bathroom at Harry & Izzy's.  You won't be able to chew a decent mouthful of ravioli without being interrupted by some chain-smoker wanting an autograph.

Still . . . if there are people out there who want to roll the dice, please submit a guest blog for consideration to:

Blogs may also be submitted via snail mail to:

The Blogger Formerly Known as "Big Tater"
575 Northfield Dr.
Brownsburg, IN 46112    

I do invite you to be my guest.  And keep in mind that photos are also welcome.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Odd Balls

Now and again I type my name into Google search, and last week there were over 36,000 sites that popped up.  I have no idea how Google works, heck I don't even know what it is (like, who owns it or is Google better than the Dewey decimal system at the local library . . . ) but evidently whoever this Google guy is, he can locate just about anything that's floating on the clouds of the internet.

Among the weirder and surprising references I found for "me" were these:

* A site equating "Todd Outcalt" with the word Omnilexica  Evidently, I'm part of the definition of this word, whatever it means.

* A writer who quoted me in the most recent issue of Cosmopolitan magazine in regard to marital advice.  Heck, my wife won't even listen to me, why should young women listen to my sexual advice?  And what do I know about sex, anyway?  Well, I know some things, like how to calendar it twice a year and save three and a half minutes for it, but other than that . . . .

* A church that calls themselves the "Bath" church that evidently is using He Said, She Said as part of their adult education curriculum.  Boy, I'll bet that place is lively.

* A literary magazine that recently published one of my short stories entitled "Tango" which contains a cover painting of an eviscerated corpse.  Evidently my fiction makes readers puke.

* A Portland, Oregon radio station that picked up one of the recent essays I wrote about leadership.  The radio station must have reprinted this essay, but made it look enticing by reprinting it in full-color.

* Text from a radio interview I did last year where the host asked for my advice about sex and marriage.  Again, I was just making stuff up, trying to sound authoritative on the air, and I guess the interviewer thought I was a real Casanova who could actually give advice to those young couples who still have energy for sexual activity.  I didn't get into specifics in this interview, but was just expressing a conceptual idea of sex, stuff that my mother told me about years ago but I've never had the guts to try.  My best advice for men at this stage of my life would be:  "Make sure you're healthy enough for sexual activity, and call a doctor if you have an erection lasting longer than six hours."  (Or, if you don't call your doctor, at least brag about it.)

* A website called DocStock, in which I learned that I had a total of 11 "views" of my book Candles in the Dark.  I have no idea what this is or what it means.

* A recommendation by the United Church of Canada for my book, The Best Things in Life Are Free.  Evidently the Canadian church likes this book.

* A reader's choice poll for a recent fiction issue (in which one of my stories appeared) and for which I received 0% of the vote.  

* A listing for the Polish edition of my book, The Healing Touch, on a Polish website.

* My name listed as the presiding pastor in an obituary (not my own obit, but another person presumed to be deceased).

* A church website containing the bio of a pastor who indicates my book, The Healing Touch, was one of the ten most impactful books in her life.  (Go figure.  And no . . . she is not a relative!)

* An out-of-print magazine that had published several of my stories back in the late 1990s.

* A Religion News Magazine that had recently reprinted/recommended an essay I wrote about ordination.  (But really, what do I know about ordination, other than that they are quite beautiful flowers, and I especially enjoy the white ones?) 

* A feature story about 4 women who dated 365 men over the course of one year--and one of them quotes me (again) on the importance of "intimacy" and "communication".  I don't know why these professional daters were looking to me for guidance, but I had to look up the word "intimacy" in the dictionary so I could spell it correctly.  Intimacy?  Heck, I've never been intimate with anyone, you can ask my wife.  We don't even talk about dinner, and the last time we discussed anything of an intimate nature we stopped immediately and went back to reading the newspaper.     
Anyway, you get the picture. Quite frankly, the deeper I went into Google, the scarier things were looking, and I didn't want to learn too much about myself.  I still want to remain a mystery to myself so that, when I look at myself in the mirror, I can say without fear of contradiction:  "I have no idea who you are . . . and why are you looking at me like that?"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Playing in Terhune

Yesterday I discovered a "fan letter" that I had, evidently, overlooked.  It was written by a woman of some adoring qualities who, apparently, liked what I wrote and how I wrote it.  In particular, she wrote to tell me she enjoyed my humor.

Now, there happen to be a lot of women who tell me they enjoy my humor (which is to say, "I think you look funny" or "you smell like humus" or "are your ears supposed to stick out that much and produce that much wax?").  But when the woman signed her letter she also included a return address at the bottom, and I happened to notice that she lived in Terhune, Indiana.

Terhune?  So there really is such a place?!

The Terhune I happen to know comes from the movie, Hoosiers.  And one of the lines I recall from the movie went something like this:

"Hell, if Jimmy jumps ship and goes over to play for Terhune, we're screwed!"  (Hence, the PG rating.)

Terhune was also the school that Hickory beat in the sectional tournament--the one game where all the players on the opposing team appeared to be in their mid-twenties, with lots of facial hair and a snide attitude.  But they were, after all, from Terhune, reigning sectional champs, and they knew they were hot stuff with their fancy uniforms and their dolled-up cheerleaders, all of whom were probably hookers.  That's the Terhune I remember.

But I mean no disrespect.  I am, after all, from a small town myself.  A town that had a main street comprised of four stores and a primary industry that featured a salt-packing plant.  I come from Terhune stock, shooting hoops in the backyard for twelve hours a day or until my fingers bled.  With my background, I know how devastating it would have been to have seen Jimmy go over to Terhune.  I would have felt screwed, too.

I want to thank my fan from Terhune.  It's good to know that my junk plays in small town America and that there are readers out there who weep for Jimmy, just like me, and feel that they are getting screwed by the neighboring town. 

But let me tell you, this fella will never go over to Terhune.  He'll continue writing on his home court.  After all, no town this small has ever made it this far.  Which ain't sayin' much.

But he is grateful for the chance to play.  Just call me Ollie. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guest in the House

Later this month I will be "guest blogging" on a number of breast-cancer related sites.  But I always feel a sense of pressure whenever I am, so to speak, being invited into another person's living room.  I don't want to spill my drink or step on the sleeping dog.  I'd hate to say something that is out of turn or offend my host.  I would prefer to enjoy the caviar.  And I don't need to stay long.  I'll take my leave quickly.

Guest blogging also fills me with a sense of trepidation . . . and if I ever do experience anything resembling "writer's block" it might occur when I'm asked to encroach upon another writer's space.  Writing a magazine article, or even a book, is quite a different matter.  It's a clean slate on those pages.  But a blog has a history.  And some blogs have large readerships.  I'm inside someone's personal space and I know it.

So, now I write.  But what do I write?  And how do I write it slant?

These are the questions I shall be mulling over the weekend, perhaps writing my blog posts early on Saturday morning or late Sunday night, maybe with donut in hand. 

I deserve a donut for these blog posts.  It's a frightening thing, after all, to appear at someone's front door without a gift.  I can't bring any bread, or wine, or a cake.  All I have are the words.  And sometimes these seem so inadequate.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Goal Line

It's a dictum I've tried to live by since I was twelve years old.  That is:  A writer must have goals.

I first said this to myself when I was a seventh grade student while taking a creative writing class with Mrs. McGee.  I says to myself:  "Self!  You must have goals!"  My goal that semester was to ask my parents for a typewriter (manual, Smith Corona) and then to write science fiction stories for the class.  I achieved both, perhaps much to the chagrin of my parents and teachers.  But I was on my way.

One thing I do each year is set writing goals in January for the year ahead.  This past January, one goal I had set for myself was to strive for 100 published essays/articles this year.  (Not 100 written, but published.  I can write 100 essays every year in my sleep, but to have 100 published, some of which actually pay cold hard cash . . . well, that's a different story entirely, Aunt Bertha.)

Now, as I approach mid-November, I've begun to calculate my efforts toward this one goal and, by golly Miss Molly, I might just achieve it.  I'm having a tough time accounting for every one of my published pieces (after all, I forget essays, and even entire books, as soon as I've written them), but as I use the touch pad on my handy-dandy pocket calculator and try to use the basic math I learned from Mrs. Allison in second grade, I'm gonna come pretty darn close to the goal if I don't surpass it.

I'm including in this calculation all of my various columns and regular pieces for magazines, my book reviews, magazine and journal articles, published commentary, and a few devotions.  The 100 essays would include subject matter ranging from theology to antique lure collecting, from personal memoir, to humor, to poetical comment, to the wild and wacky world of the bent synapses in my demented mind.  I'm also including my published fiction . . . and now that I think about that fiction . . . I'm sure I reached my goal of 100.  I surpassed it.

Well, but what about 2014?  Shall I do it again?  Or shall I up the ante to 150?  

I gotta have a goal. Mrs. McGee taught me that. And I write by mathematics.  It's all about how many words I can produce each day, multiplied by weeks, multiplied by twelve months . . . and that tells me how far and how fast I have to stretch to get to the goal line. The goal tells me how early I have to rise.  And how late I have to work into the night.  The goal dictates if I have to write while I'm on vacation, or while I'm driving. The goal also tells me how many pounds of coffee and black licorice I'll have to budget for and how many pots I gotta drink.  Somewhere in the mix, I'll also account for the twenty-five minutes of conversation I can give to my wife, and I dole out these minutes to her by the week via a conversation chart I have tacked to the refrigerator door.  She's a good sport, and it's amazing how quickly she can talk in 15-second increments so as to allow me time to get back to the keyboard.

But I've never had 100 published essays in a single year before.  That's a milestone for me.  And you know what, it doesn't feel heavy at all.  Feels rather freeing, actually.  I like 100.  It's a good ROUND number.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Back to Britain

As my wife and I are planning a 30th wedding anniversary trip to Europe next summer, beginning in Ireland and England, I've been foraging for the best deals, the top sights, the workable itinerary.  But I'm also going back to England to write.

Last week I received word from an editor in London (thanks, Adam!) that he's going to publish yet another of my science fiction stories.  This chap has been good to me and seems to like what I write. 

And the day after I received this word, I learned that I'll be writing as a guest blogger for an English publication, this time writing about breast cancer-related themes to correspond with the publication of Husband's Guide to Breast Cancer.

It's a small world.

A short decade ago, writing for publications in England while living in the States would have been, at best, a lengthy and frustrating exchange.  But now it's achievable with the click of a mouse or a Skype conversation. 

These long-distance conversations are no longer science fiction, but reality.  And it's amazing how a guy sitting in a dark office in Brownsburg, hunkered at a keyboard illuminated by a 40-watt bulb, can write a piece at 3 a.m. and have it in England, ready for publication, by mid-afternoon Brit time. 

Not exactly "Beam me up, Scotty" material . . . but it'll do.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Five "W"s, Part Five

QuestionWhy do you write?

AnswerWhy not?

(Really, that's my answer, so why are you looking for more way down here?)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Five "W"s, Part Four

QuestionWhere do you write?

Answer: This is not being flippant, but I write on the computer.  I have been writing on the computer since 1985, when I purchased a Tandy 1000 (Radio Shack) with dual floppy drives and a green monochrome monitor for $1000.00.  Let me tell you, that was big money back then . . . my full time salary as a pastor in those days was $13,800, so I shelled out nearly 1/13 of my annual salary for the purchase.  I never regretted it.  (I'd still be writing on that Tandy if that system was compatible with Microsoft Word, and I still have the system stuffed into my closet along with dozens of those 6 inch floppy drives loaded with novels, short stories, and essays.)

There were a couple of computers since, but in 1999 I purchased a Compaq computer with the latest version of Microsoft Word loaded on it ('98) and updated the software on this machine a bit later.  This computer sits in my office at home, along with hundreds of 3 1/2 inch floppy drives . . . and I'm still using it.  I don't write so much on this machine any more, as it often sparks into flame and I have to blow it out . . . but I've been told that this computer, with its three fans inside, will never die. 

I do write on this computer from time to time when I need to find material that I've been working on for, say, over a decade.  Often, it takes me hours to find this material (I don't have my floppies labeled very well).

I typically write now on a Dell laptop that is six years old.  I write in my office at home.  I write on the couch (say, while I'm watching a Colt's game on TV as I did Sunday night).  I also write in bed (occasionally) and I write at a smaller desk in my home office that sits next to some built-in bookshelves that hold, now, nearly 1500 books.  I have also been known to write in the car, on airplanes, on buses, and while on vacation. 

I also write online (blogs) and I write for several magazines . . . that's another WHERE.  I currently write for book publishers in New York, Boston, Chicago, Florida, and Indianapolis.  And I write for magazines that are published in Nashville, Chicago, and Indianapolis.

And as of this week, I just learned that I'm going to be writing (as a guest blogger) for several other folks in other cities around the country. 

If you need to know "what" I write or "when" I write . . . see my previous blogs.  And if you need to know "why" I write . . . that's my next post.

Until then . . . let me get back to this old keyboard.  Most of the letters are worn off the pad.  But that's okay.  After all these years, I just write by feel.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Five "W"s Part 3

Today I'll attempt to address the question:  When do you have time to write?

Answer: I suppose people ask this question because they are wondering . . . don't you have another job?  Of course I do.  In fact, I work around 60 hours a week as a pastor.  But as I've charted my writing hours beyond this I've learned that I work an additional 40 hours a week writing.

But when? Well, let's begin with several observations.  First, I don't have a life.  There's little on TV that I watch (in fact, I only have "rabbit ear" reception in our house . . . no U-Verse, no cable, no satellite.)  And as the average American watches something like 90 hours of TV a week, well . . . I use this time to write instead.  Sure, I'll occasionally watch a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show, or I might watch a football game like I did last night, but I also write while I watch, and when the TV goes off, I write some more.

Most days I also write long before the sun comes up (that's very early a.m boys-n-girls!) and when I come home from a day at the church office for example, even if it's 9:30 p.m., I usually hit the writing trail again for a few hours.  

I also write on those occasions when I have a day off.  Some of these days, I write all day.  I'm not talking part of the day (like 3-4 hours), but I'm saying I might write all day. All day means that I might write from 6 a.m. to midnight.  What's that . . . something like 18 hours?  That's a lot of numb-butt writing let me tell you.  But I do it.  

I write when I'm driving.  Can't explain it, but I have a great many pieces that I've written in "my head" while traveling from one appointment to the next.  I write on airplanes.  I write on buses.  I write on the computer.  I write on scraps of paper.  I write on the back of my hand.  

Recently I wrote a piece entitled:  "Writing in the Dark."  That's when I do most of my writing.  Some day I hope to write in the daylight.  That would be a wonderful treat, to be able to have fun in the mornings and evenings.  I might even do more more with my wife at those hours. 

When do I write?  Well . . . perhaps a better question is--when do I not write?

I have to keep writing to meet all the deadlines . . . and sometimes it's the writing that is keeping me alive.