Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Other Jesus

My next title--The Other Jesus: Stories from World Religions--will be released by Rowman & Littlefield in September in hardback.  This will be my fourth book released in 2014 (egads!).  Those wishing to pre-order the book can do so from the Rowman & Littlefield website ( or from the toll free number (1-800-462-6420) and use the code, 4M14OUTCALT, to save 30% off the cover price, or pre-release ($25.20).

The Other Jesus took me two years to research and write, and required me to brush up on my Greek and Hebrew in order to re-write and translate some of the ancient texts.  I hope the book might be used by scholars, students of religion, as well as the general reader interested in an overview of the hundreds of images and ideas that existed about Jesus through the first 500 years of the common era.   

Here's the back cover copy for the book.

We're familiar with the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament, but many people are surprised to learn that a wealth of stories and traditions about Jesus have always existed alongside the Biblical sources.  Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism--among other religions--have created their own tales about Jesus, sometimes out of necessary self-preservation and reaction to claims of the church, but more often through thoughtful and artistic adaptation.  The Other Jesus explores these varied traditions and offers a fresh exploration of Jesus--new perspectives that challenge long-accepted beliefs about his place in history and his impact on other religions.

Anyway . . . I hope that this book can contribute to conversations between faiths (and scholars), but also offer a fresh and refreshing look at the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of stories about Jesus and the many ways that people, from the first century forward, saw Jesus and regarded his influence--both in the church and from outside the Christian faith.

As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote:
"Christ plays in ten thousand places."

The book is available now for pre-order through Rowman & Littlefield, but once released in September will be in bookstores and online.  I enjoyed researching and writing this book very much.  It was truly a labor of love.  And I'm grateful to my new friends at Rowman & Littlefield for believing that I was the guy to deliver this one. 
~Todd Outcalt

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Many people have asked me over the years, "How do you manage to find the time to write?"

My answer has always been the same:  "For me, writing is as much about mathematics as semantics."  Let me explain. 

Years ago, once I figured out how much I wanted to write each year, I would take this total number of pages or words, divide by 365 days, and this would give me a number I would need to produce each day.  Now that I have many deadlines and goals, I still operate in much this same fashion.  Writing is a simple equation of words or pages produced, or that must be produced, every day.

Recently, in the final chapter of I. Asimov (Isaac Asimov's autobiography), I read about a small slip of paper that Asimov's wife, Janet, discovered in his study following his death.  It seems that Asimov had written down his own averages as follows:

Over a space of 40 years, I sold an item every 10 days on the average.
Over the space of the second 20 years, I sold an item every six days on the average.
Over a space of 40 years, I published an average of 1,000 words a day.
Over the space of the second 20 years, I published an average of 1,700 words a day.

Asimov's calculations set me to thinking this week, and so I've looked back and arrived at my own averages.  These are nowhere approaching Asimovian numbers, but I have to be pleased with them in my own right.  Here they are:

Over a space of 15 years I have sold 30 books, or an average of 2 books per year.
Over a space of 15 years I have produced 1,618,000 published words.
Over the space of 15 years I have published an average of 108,000 words a year.
Over the space of 15 years I have published an average of 300 words a day.

Of course, this is only my published writing--not the writing that goes unpublished (which includes my blogs, my unclaimed books and book proposals, my hundreds of shelved essays, and hundreds of unpublished poems).  If I counted all of the latter, my averages would be much higher . . . but like Asimov, I'm only going to include my published work in my averages. 

Simple math . . . and if my calculations are correct and my mind and fingers hold up under the stress, I should exceed these numbers (perhaps more than double them) in the next 15 years.

Kind of nutty . . . but it's the best I can do with my limited knowledge of higher math.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Happy Typewriter Day

Today is national typewriter day (June 23).  I don't know the particulars of this history or why June 23 holds this prominent place, but it does.

As for my own history with the typewriter, let me explain.

For my 12th birthday I asked my parents for a typewriter.  My father looked at me as if I were an alien species, a bird from another planet.  He could not understand why I would waste a birthday wish on something as useless as a typewriter.  "What are you going to do with it?" he asked.

"Type on it," was my reply.

You ask a stupid question . . . .

My parents, I know, lived to regret that first manual typewriter--a blue Corolla that became, even way back then, my pecking companion in the wee hours of the night.  I wrote my first "real" stories on that typewriter, mainly science fiction and humor, and learned many years later (from my mother) that my 7th grade English teacher, Ms. McGee, thought I had "great potential."

Perhaps that was enough.  But in high school I wasted another birthday wish on an electric typewriter and received, this time, a sleek, blue Corolla with both ribbon and erasable cartridges.  Here I typed my first lengthy work, including a few book-length manuscripts, and this was the typewriter that saw me through both college and seminary. 

Looking back, I don't know how I managed to type those lengthy papers on this machine, but that typewriter was definitely a workhorse.  And there was a special kinship between writer and typewriter, an affinity stirruped to the keyboard, with words flowing from the mind, to the fingers, to the white bond paper with a sharp blat blat blat blat that is missed now with our quiet, humming PCs. 

Even yet, there is something that stirs in me, a desire to type.  Writing on a typewriter actually made a person feel like a writer.  Typewriters, after all, are made for writing.

Happy national typewriter day. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

After the Reading

At the poetry reading on Saturday I shared primarily from Where in the World We Meet, but I also read some newer work (and even work-in-progress). 

One poem I did not get to read was this one, gleaned from my 2014 poetic journal.  It's not really an ekphrastic poem, but it does have to do with art.  Anyway, I like it. 

Patron of the Arts

But of this we shall make an image
From the mind of the artist
Some intention unintended
Through anonymous strokes of despair
Or perhaps some wild-eyed vision
Of the thing itself
Where only the idea lingers
Upon the canvas like an elision
Discovered in the higher altitudes of air

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Yesterday afternoon I was one part of a triad of poets reading at Indy Reads Books (Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis).  The proceeds of the book sales went to adult literacy programs and I was honored to be included in the reading.

One poem I did not read was this one . . . a childhood memory with my father.  The poem is in my collection of poems, Where in the World We Meet (Chatter House Press). 

The Blessing

I remember the day my father died.
This was also the day I was born.
We were standing in a field
Freshly turned and planted,
A field that had worn our hands
Rough with clods, the scent
Of damp earth under our feet.
And my father did not shelter me
From the scorching heat,
He did not condescend
Or offer me rest from the labor.
Plodding through mud, he said,
"This is the way it is.  This will be your life."
That afternoon, my father gave
His life for me out of his own
Hardship and weariness.
And when he placed his hand on my head
And tousled my hair,
I received his blessing and felt
His hope transcend to me.
And I was born.

The crows were witnesses. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Understanding a Writer's Tools

William Zinsser, in his classic volume, On Writing Well, notes that a writer's tools of trade have changed, and continue to change, over time.  Many writers like me started out writing on sheets of legal paper in pen or pencil, graduated to the typewriter (manual then electric) and eventually embraced the PC as the tool of choice.  The tools, indeed, have changed. But the hallmarks of good writing have remained unfazed.

Last week I had a rather lengthy discussion with an editor about the intricacies of a book manuscript I had completed. At question were the smallest of details--and consistency with the latest style manuals--where and as these applied to periods, commas, and their respective usages. The editor may have thought I was getting a bit testy, but in point of fact these conversations were important to me and we were both seeking a unity of approach and position that would lead to the strongest possible book.

It is true that computers have built-in editorial components now (such as spellcheck and verb-tense usage), but nothing has been invented yet, I'm afraid, that can take the place of the meticulous editorial eye . . . the line-by-line review of hundreds of pages of material.  I wish I were better at it.

Personally, my writing tools have changed little in fifteen years.  I am still writing on a fifteen-year-old computer with floppy drives, still creating print from a fifteen-year-old laser printer that, at the time, was a speed demon, but is now as slow as molasses.  My ageing software reminds me of my ageing wife.  Whenever I experience a glitch in the computer I give it a gentle tap, or a hug, or sometimes curse at the keyboard . . . and I get results.  The thing fires up again and still provides satisfaction.

I know that all of these old tools will one day fail me.  And my wife has been urging me for the past five years to trade up for a younger model, to purchase a tool that will provide me with the speed and convenience that she thinks I deserve. 

But I can't bring myself to pull the trigger.  My old model, like my old wife, is still chugging along.  We have grown old together and I understand that, when the computer catches fire and smoke begins to roll out of the monitor, she is just trying to tell me that she has had enough for the night (my wife, after all, does the same thing).  All the old model needs is a bit of tenderness and some lovin' and she'll be good as new in the morning. 

That's the wonder of being a writer in the marketplace of the newer tools.  It really helps to understand women.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Week Of Essays

Here at the juncture of a half year I am pausing to take stock of the various essays I have written for several magazines as well as the deadlines looming prior to my trip abroad.  In other words, I am pressed to write ahead, producing in essence two months of work so that I can take a three week break.

Thus far in 2014 I've written at least 55 published essays (these things are like fleas and rather difficult to track and to remember). But I'm also working on some non-deadline essays on a variety of subjects including a personal, medically-related essay on the condition of Ataxia, which is a genetically-predisposed condition in my family.  I hope to write it well.

As it stands now, I'm ahead of pace and should be sending along my July essays early next week.  It's just a matter of mathematics (words per day, pages per week).  To writers like me, time is not so much a factor as productivity.  The words might get written early of a morning or late at night, but it's the pace that produces.

I like to think there is an art to writing the essay, a craft that can perfected through repetition and attention to detail.  Finding the voice, the creative force, are also important.  And usually, after a couple of revisions, an essay is born.

This week has been devoted to the essay.  But only God knows what I will have to produce when I return.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Status Update

Status:  In a relationship.

Actually, I don't know the history nor the intent of the "status update" on social media sites, but based on the frequency that some folks change their status, I would ascertain that life's ultimate purpose has something to do with photo-shopping a selfie.  That, or the status change is a form of social commentary that screams to others:  "Boring!"

The latter must be true for me.  My status hasn't changed for more than three decades. 

For example, I am still in a relationship with my wife.  We will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in August.  But this status is of no interest to any but our two children, whose very existence is due, in large part, to two of the five intimate moments my wife and I have shared in the past thirty years.  (I can't recall the other three, but I'm basing this intimacy stat on national averages.)

My status with certain publishers has also remained unchanged.  Most publishers don't want to be in a relationship with me anymore, since my books are only purchased by a small percentage of my relatives and by two librarians stationed at federal penitentiaries.  I also sold a book, once, to a dog--but it was only interested in using the book to mark its territory and most of the pages are yellowed and unreadable.

My career status has also remained unchanged, as has my wardrobe, including certain pairs of underwear that I keep for sentimental reasons.  (See above: "intimate moments".) 

I have also not changed my status as it pertains to my "likes".  I still like black licorice and coffee (have you tried this combo lately?) and I also continue to like fresh drinking water (lightly cubed) and any donut that has not been dropped on the floor.  I also like gyms with early morning hours, hardback books, and five hours of sleep.

I don't plan on changing my status any time soon . . . and quite frankly, I don't know how.  Once I establish my settings on any electronic device (including an old VCR that I still use) I quickly forget the passwords and/or where I hid the operator's manual.  This insures that I am incapable of changing my status.

This may also explain why my photograph never changes and why I do not plan to get a divorce.  My wife doesn't know where the passwords are either.  We watch out for each other in this way.  And we drift on through life with a mutual forgetfulness that is both comforting and alarming.    

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baseball Boss

Reading John Updike's essay, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" (later published as a book by the same title), I was taken by one reviewer's comment that this was the best essay on baseball ever written. High praise, to be sure.  But Updike had made his foray into the Boston ballpark to witness Ted Williams's last at-bat (which turned out to be a home run)--and to produce an essay on the experience.

Fresh into a new major league season, it is fascinating to look back on an era when several major league stars spent time overseas during the war.  Williams himself was a pilot. 

Nevertheless, even with three years away from baseball, Williams by the time of his retirement was 3rd all-time on the home run list.  He also sported one of the highest lifetime batting averages and was generally regarded as the best hitter of his era.

I am no baseball expert, but I did enjoy Updike's account of Williams's final game.  A well-written piece.


Friday, May 30, 2014

More LImericks for Annual Conference

And still more frivolity . . . with apologies attached.

A pastor with ninety tattoos
Gave up drugs, and women, and booze
So he inked in his cleft
(The only space left)
"Repent" and "Receive the Good News!"

A pastor from Kalamazoo
Cloned herself eighty times, then a few.
But still she lost track
Of herself from the back
'Till she met herself as the zoo.

A pastor from Myrtle Beach
Wore a thong in the pulpit to preach
But the people grew edgy
After he got a wedgie
And his sermons were more like a screech.

A circuit rider from Leese
Came down with mad cow disease
He ate nothing but grass
And that's what he passed
Then became infested with fleas.

A pastor who worked half the time
Preached all of his sermons in mime
And he said not a word
That anyone heard
But his sermons, they say, were sublime. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Limericks for Annual Conference

Back by unpopular demand:  another batch of limericks, just in time for Annual Conference.  Read 'em and weep, brothers and sisters.

There once was a pastor from Haute
Who misplaced his badge and his coat.
When they called for a show
Of hands "yes" or "no"
He found he could not cast a vote. 

A pastor whose folks had bequeathed
A candy shop down underneath
Sent all of their sweet
To the conference as meat
And rotted out everyone's teeth.

A pastor appointed to go
To a church on the radio
Could not find the dial
Or the frequency's style
And she ended up missing the show.

Three bishops from County Cork
Flew into the conference by stork
And they lived on the beach
To be well out of reach
Like the agencies in New York.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How I Spent My Memorial Day

Much to do, and so little time.

But I did "sleep in" . . . rising at 7:50 a.m., which is very late for me.  I made coffee and then went to work reading another chapter of Updike, the new biography by Adam Begley.  Then, helped wife set flowers and spread mulch.

Mid-afternoon Becky and I kayaked White Lick creek, putting in around 800 North and sashaying back to our own yard in about an hour.  Had to port around trees twice, but otherwise it was a nice run with a few challenging white water veins.

Late afternoon was spent preparing the index for my next book--The Other Jesus--due out in late September.  I usually pay someone to prepare the index, but this time I thought I would do the dirty work myself.  And so, a few hundred alphabetized index cards and another galley read later, I'm the proud owner of an index.  All I have to do now is type it to format.

And, since Becky worked all afternoon and evening writing as well . . . we decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. 

Memorial day.  Reading.  Writing.

Not a bad combination.  I even parked in a cemetery after we unloaded the kayaks and paid my respects at one grave. 

A great country. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

How to Read Poetry

On Saturday, June 14th, 4 p.m. at the Indy Reads Books bookstore, I will join two other poets as we read new and selected poems.  Indy Reads Books is located on Massachusetts Avenue (Indianapolis) and the event begins at 4 p.m. with a book signing to follow.

Wow, it's been years, man.  Back during my college days at Indiana State, I frequently read my poetry in smoke-filled bars and coffeehouses, but I've had nearly a thirty year hiatus from poetry before taking up the poet's pen again in 2009.  Anyway, if this is your thing . . . hope to see you at Indy Reads Books on June 14th.

A few people have now commented on my first collection of poetry:  Where in the World We Meet (Chatter House Press).  One reviewer even said, "I read the entire book in one sitting."  And listen, this guy wasn't a relative, either . . . and as far as I know he's taking no hallucinogenic drugs. 

Me?  I wouldn't read a collection of poetry in one sitting.  I couldn't, and don't, do it.  Poetry is to be savored, I think, over the course of time.  Poetry is intended to sink, not swim.  It is intended to go deep.  Linger.  It is intended to leave a welt.  The only way it can do this is to leave the reader (or the listener) wanting more.

I don't have a fancy reading voice.  I know I'll just get up there at the podium, say a few words about a few poems, read 'em, and then let the audience have them for what they are.  Eventually, the words just have to survive on their own--like children leaving the house.  I can't make them say or be anything that they don't have the capacity to convey.

But the most troublesome question I'm mulling now is:  what do I wear?  A suit seems rather pretentious.  Blue jeans are too informal, I think.  Perhaps something in an evening gown.  Or I could pull a Dennis Rodman and show up in a wedding dress.  

I wonder if my wife would notice?  And perhaps more troubling:  would she even care? 


Sunday, May 18, 2014


Last week I entertained a few questions at a writing seminar, but this week I have a few of my own.  Namely:

Q:  How does one go about preparing an index for a book?
A:  In my past lives, when my books have reached this critical stage, I have usually paid for an index to be prepared.  (Yes, writers have to pay for indexes and they can be costly.  Heck, I've paid more to have indexes prepared than I have made in royalty on the entire book.)  But this one is going to be a BIG index, and I want to own it.  So . . . I'm going to go with the index cards (old school) and glean through the entire manuscript, making citations as I go, with corresponding page numbers.  At the end, if my theory holds together, I should be able to alphabetize the cards, transpose each card as an index entry, and viola! I'll have my index.  Well, this is how Isaac Asimov prepared his (I've read this methodology in at least two Asimov essays).  It must work.

Q: What happens if I don't get the galley proofs (with edits) and the index of the book back to the editors by deadline?
A:  I won't miss the deadline.  I won't sleep until I finish the book.

Q: Is there are gulag for writers who miss the deadline?
A:  Yes, it is known as Siberia.  But many writers find inspiration in dark places.

Q:  What's the worse thing that can happen to a writer who misses a deadline?
A:  Hey, they don't call it a "deadline" for nothing.  I don't want to think about it.  

Friday, May 16, 2014


Yesterday I received the "Galley" for a new book to be published in October of this year.  This galley is not for sailing, but is essentially the print-ready version of the book that is used for a final proofing and correction--though with a very light hand.  Having read the first chapter of the manuscript (again) I have found three typos, all of the one-letter variety (think "has" instead of "had"). 

Reading the galley is meticulous work and for guys like me, it will be essentially the last time I read this book.  Once it shows up at my door in the form of final hard-bound copies, I'll shelve the first copy out of the box, closet another one, and then give the remaining copies away to those few family and friends who, most likely, will not read it either, but will likely use it as a doorstop.

The Galley is the last refuge for most writers.  Once I send it back to publisher (in a mere two weeks with my freshly-created index, nonetheless), it's a done deal.  And while I'm waiting for the book to be printed, or otherwise released in both print and digital copies, I'm working on other books, writing other essays, etc.  Why wait around on opening a box of the final product?  Writing does not wait for writers.  One must keep the keys stirred.

But this book did require a great deal of me.  Two years of research and writing, all told.  (Yes, I was writing other things, too, during these two years--even other books.)  And yet, how the time has flown.

In the meantime, I have many late nights ahead of me . . . many early mornings.  Maybe one or two "all-nighters" . . . which I am, of course, too old to endure any longer.

But I like this Galley.  It should be a fine book.  My name is even spelled correctly on the cover. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Back to the Future

A few weeks ago Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP (thanks, Mr. Gates!).  Unfortunately, my work computer AND my writing computer operate on the XP software and I am now experiencing multiple problems trying to write, email, and otherwise do my business.

Fortunately for me I have a backup:  my 16-year-old Compaq (aptly named "Old Sparky" since the monitor often bursts into flames, but continues to run).  Yes, folks, I'm back to writing on a computer with floppy disks. 

The last time I had this computer in for service (I was worried about the flaming monitor) the technician told me, "You'll never have to worry about this thing giving out. It has three fans, a monitor that was made to last, and even though the floppy drive is broken you can still remove the disks with an ink pen cap."  Basically, I can still depend on this old standby to keep me writing till the cows come home.

And that's a good thing.

I completed a new book on Tuesday night (yes, another one!) and here on Wednesday night I am preparing to stay up all night in order to complete another book (yes, number two in two days...perhaps a record for me).  My wife's comment:  "I don't know how you do it . . . but you are certifiably nuts."

But here's the kicker.  Also had an email tonight for a third book that I must complete before June 6 . . . one of my whoppers that will require a complete reading, line editing, proof-readers notations.  Oh, and I also must create a full index for my massive book from scratch.  A first for me . . . but I've got the index cards to swing it.

I'm not giving Bill Gates the satisfaction (yet) by buying another computer with his unsupported junk on it.  I'll keep working on Old Sparky in the near future while I finish these three books in less than a month.  (Yes, gotta be a record for me!)  But I'm not worried.  When the monitor catches on fire, I'll have a spray bottle to put out the flames.  The screen may flicker, but I've got too much writing to complete to worry about buying a new computer at this point.

Onward to the promised land.  One floppy disk at a time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lost & Found

Last week, during a break in the Writer's Workshop I was conducting, a young woman commented:  "I always see your books in used bookstores."

Of course, I didn't have the heart to tell her that this is never a good sign for writers.  Seeing one's books in a used store means that a writer's inventory has been "remaindered" by the publisher.  In other words, no more royalties.  I've seen my books in Goodwill, too . . . but I don't get excited about this development.  Rather, I know that someone has likely read my book, didn't feel it was worthy of keeping, and discarded it.

A couple of weeks ago I did receive word from yet another publisher that one of my titles was soon to slip into the "out of print" status.  Publishers usually offer the writer a huge discount at this time (which is a nicety), and the invitation usually reads something like:

Dear Mr. Alleycat:
Due to the complete lack of interest in anything you have written, or perhaps owing to the collapse of western civilization as we know it, your book is soon to go out of print.  In order to soften the blow and make you feel that you have something to live for (other than a jelly-filled donut), we'd like to offer you a superb offer on your own merchandise. 

If you call our toll-free number before midnight tomorrow we will ship our entire inventory of your title to you (provided that you are willing to pay the shipping costs and also buy lunch for Jimmy, our summer intern, who will have to pack these boxes by hand).  All you have to pay is $1.95 per book, which is about all we have invested in printing your book some years ago when we felt good about you as a writer. 

Now that we are parting ways, we hope you will enjoy your copies and find some use for them.  We do have suggestions:  many writers enjoy bonfires, while others distribute their titles to homeless shelters, where the paper can come in handy if placed near the toilet. 

Anyway, let us know how many of your books you'd like for us to ship to your home.  Won't they look impressive on your shelves? 

Umbilical cordially yours,
Your Publishing Friends 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Open Invitation

Have you ever wondered what a six-hour root canal felt like?  Have you ever longed to be understood and accepted by complete strangers?  Have you ever thought to yourself:  "Self! I should enroll in a writing course?"

Well . . . if you have asked any of these questions, or any other question for that matter, let me invite you to enroll in my writing class:

This Thursday, Indiana Conference Center (301 Pennsylvania Parkway, Indy)
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
(Sign up at
Or, if you call the conference office (317-924-1321), simply ask to take the class with "the weird guy leading the class that provides the Panera Bread lunch on Thursday."

I hope to see you there.

You'll learn lots of fancy writing tricks like:
     Five easy steps to dotting an i.
     Ten little-known facts about the least-used letter of the English alphabet.
     Four household uses for leftover printer ink.
     Recipes that will keep you up all night.
     Seven common misconceptions about writers and how these people differ from marine biologists.  (Answer #1:  Writers are better lovers.)

As you can see, this class will provide the answers you've been looking for . . . and parking is FREE.  Moreover, you can bring your own works-in-progress to review with your peers and there will be plenty of time for question and answer about "how to get published" or "how do I get red wine stain out of shag carpet?"

And, if you call the conference office before Midnight Tonight, you'll also receive personal advice from the presenter.  But wait . . . there's more!  If you do make the drive, you'll get not one, but two hours of personal instruction. 

Don't forget to sign up!  This Thursday.  Indiana Conference Center.  9 a.m.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco De Mayo

Pondering on this first Monday of May, I realize that I will need to press on to meet deadlines before my deadlines.  This is principally the case because I will be out of the country in July.  (Don't worry, I'm hiring two Dobermans and several in-laws to secure the estate, including my secret trove of black licorice, while I'm overseas.)

But I realize that losing that month has forced me to work ahead.  I've completed now most of my deadline material for July, including columns, book reviews and essays . . . and for all intents and purposes I've also completed a second massive book that I will be hand-delivering to New York in October.  In fact, I see that I wrote something like 60,000 words in April alone.  

Amazingly, I accomplished all of this without the aid of artificial sweeteners, amphetamines, weight-loss powders, or prescription eyewear.  Neither was I being propped up by tasty food, fireworks, or sex.  Really, for the past five weeks it's just been me, the moonlight, and a well-oiled keyboard.  I'm sharing these things so that others can know all things are possible on an average of three hours of sleep and two pots of coffee.  I'm not a rockstar although, at times, I must drive myself mercilessly by listening to "Highway to Hell."  

But here's the kicker, Bernie.  May can't be much gentler.  If I'm leaving on a jet plane in July I've got to kick butt for the next eight weeks.  From Cinco de Mayo to Cinco de July I've got to hammer away during David Letterman and then rise before Al Roker begins to make his way to wardrobe and makeup.  

And since I don't know when another big ol' box of books might arrive (for review) or when another editor might call with the question--"Can you get this to me by tomorrow?"--I've got to stay prepared like a Boy Scout.  

I'll be prepared.  Just don't expect me to be thrifty or clean.  I often sleepwalk.  And I hear that my wife sometimes finds me writing in my underwear with a blank stare on my face.  I just hope I don't wake the neighbors.    

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Covers

Recently I discovered a copy of one of my books with an alternative cover.  In fact, it was a printer's mistake . . . much like a coin cast with two presidential heads or a dollar bill engraved with the image of Frank Sinatra.  My wife noticed this error first when she asked, "Why does your book have another book's cover?"

Her observation made me realize:  1. That Becky is much more intelligent and observant than I am (not being funny here) and 2. that this misprint was the first I had noted among all my books (now in the thousands of copies). 

In fact, I have even started wondering:  "Could this misprint be worth something?"  Rare books are still collectible, and listen, this is a rare one.  I have no plans to discard it.  It's now one of my most cherished possessions and a great conversation piece.  "Hey, you wanna see a real misprint from a misfit writer?" or "Keep your cotton-picken hands off my million dollar baby!"

I'm not sure where I need to store this book or even if I could find a pawn broker to confirm my million dollar valuation.  But I'm certain that I would let the book go to anyone willing to give me a smooth $100,000 for it.  Or, I guess I could place it on eBay with a starting bid of $95,000 and see where that would take me.  Stranger things have happened.  

In the meantime, you can bet that I'll be buying up as many of my remaindered titles as I can find at Half Price books or from those online warehouses that specialize in out-of-print titles (like most of mine).  If I can find another weirdo among the batch I'll snatch it up.  

I must confess, at first I was pissed when I saw this book on my shelves.  But now I'm elated.  My very own mistake.  Kind of like me when it comes to romance and cooking and a thousand other activities that linger in the kingdom of mediocrity.  

The printer did me a favor.  Now I have my very own success story . . . a misprint with my name on it!   

Monday, April 28, 2014


The 2014 lineup:  Where in the World We Meet (poems); Husband's Guide to Breast Cancer; Before You Say "I Do" (third edition); For the Love of God.

Last week I received an invitation to speak at a church in North Carolina (in July).  Would have been nice--and a decent excuse for a summer interlude and a return to Duke--but alas, I'm overseas.  Gotta keep the wife happy with this 30th anniversary trip to Europe.  Heck, might be fun at that.

But the question did arise from the invitation . . . where can we find copies of your most recent books?  Today the answer may be obvious, but not to all.  Amazon ( and Barnes & Noble ( carry the full slate.  Just type my name in the search and away you go.

Another question of late . . . what are you currently writing?  Actually, I can't say or I'd have to kill somebody.  But suffice it say that I'm working on more projects than is actually healthy for any one individual or, as my wife reminds me daily, at an insane pace.  In truth, I'd need a committee of writers to meet all of these deadlines, but I'm still meeting them by myself, nonetheless.  Magazines, journals, poems, books . . . I'm carrying a full quiver and when I go to bed each night or when I arise before the sunrise each morning, I'm usually scurrying to finish a column or an essay or another chapter of a book before the editorial hammer falls. 

Anyway, I'm not complaining.  Working 100 hrs. a week is far better (to me) than being under-utilized, so I'll continue the insanity for as long as my legs will carry me.  I'm spending a bit more on coffee these days, but that's small potatoes.  And really, how much is a donut and a glass of protein?

I only hope folks will find the essays and books once I write them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Writing My Own Obituary

It's the newest craze:  writing your own obituary.  Have you noticed?  There are "how to" books, obituary kits, workshops, workbooks, and even funeral homes getting in on the craze.  Evidently, while family is meeting with the funeral director to plan one funeral service, others in the family (the widow, the widower, for example) can interject their own obituaries into the mix and file their obit for safe-keeping.  Cause you know . . . everybody gonna die!

Seeing as how my wife won't write an accurate portrayal of my life, and would likely opt for the cheap 25-word "free" obit in the newspaper once I croak, I have been considering writing my own obit to save her the hassle (if, indeed, I go first).  In fact, this was part of my Easter message this year.  I won't share my facts here, but I do find the self-obit to be a fascinating turn.

However, some years ago I did have an interviewer ask me a penetrating question.  She asked, "After you die, do you think people will consider you to be a pastor who wrote, or a writer who was also a pastor?"

Interesting question, and a fascinating distinction.  I'm not sure, at this juncture in my life, if I could accurately answer that one.  But here is what I do know.

There are some people who know me first and foremost as a writer (and some who are surprised to discover that I also am a pastor).  

And there are other people who know me as a pastor (but who are flabbergasted to learn that I also am a writer).

As to the former, I recently had an editor tell me, "If I had known you were a pastor I would have suggested another book for you."

And as to the latter, I meet people every month (and some in my own congregation) who have known me for years, but who are oblivious to my work as a writer.  "When did you start writing?" they'll ask.  Or, "You write stuff?"

I'm fine with both positions . . . I've leaned to live in this twilight zone and navigate it with some ease.  What I do know is that, regardless of how I define my life's work, most people simply don't know me.  This includes most friends and a fair number of family.  Heck, my wife and mother don't even know how many books I have written, nor have they read them--not even the books dedicated to them (and this is no joke, Sally).  But I don't sweat it.  My wife and mother haven't heard most of the sermons I've preached either, and it was only a few months back that my son said to me, "You write books?"  I pointed to the shelf containing my entire corpus of 30+ titles, front covers exposed with my name in bold, and he merely grunted and said, "Never noticed."  I asked him, "What do you think I've been doing all these years working all night long, slaving away in the office?"  "You write at night?" he asked. 

I give up.  My obituary won't be written by me.  But I doubt anyone in my family will write it either.  And if they do, you can bet they'll pad it with a bunch of lies.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014


There are two milestones attached to this blog.  1. I've now written more than 1600 of these things.  2. I've now had more than 100,000 "hits".

I'm not sure about the significance of either milestone, but if I take an average of 400 words per blog post, I've written 640,000 words on my blog posts alone.  Given the fact that I have recently completed two "big" books of 80,000+ words each, that's equal to 8 such books.  I have no idea what 100,000 hits represents, but I have a feeling that it means I have a meager readership given the total number of blog posts and the number of years I've been posting here at

I'm also not sure how many people find this blog entertaining, or helpful, or insightful or insane . . . but I see this blog as part of my output as a writer and it often serves as a practice forum for me as I attempt to complete other projects. 

At any rate, thanks for reading.  Every time I think I don't have any more blogs inside of me, I think of ten more . . . so you can anticipate that I'll continue here for some time in the near future. 


Monday, April 21, 2014

Poetry Readings

As noted in my most recent book--Where in the World We Meet: Poems--I've had my history with poetry readings.  But back then my hair and beard were long and most poetry readings were conducted in smoke-filled bars and coffeehouses (and not all of the smoke was tobacco, either). This was late 1970s, early 80s.

Now, most poetry readings are stylish affairs, conducted in bookstores and on stages.  Poetry readings also remind me of all the poems I memorized back when--and many that I can still recite line-for-line.

In the near future I know I will be participating in some readings.  I also hope to bring along some of the new to mix in with the old.  (I'll have some calendared dates very soon.)

And, since some people like to participate in poetry, let me offer one I'm currently working up.  It is a sonnet, and I have all but the last line composed (line 14).  Anyone want to take a stab at the last line of pentameter?

Good Intentions

I intended to tell you that I would buy the bread
I intended to haul the garbage to the curb
I intended to say “I love you” but instead

I offered up a platitude I’d heard

I intended to change the light bulb in the hall
I intended to leave the meeting early on

But my intentions were not fulfilled at all
And when I found my bearings they were gone

I intended to remember what you said
About the road to hell and how it’s paved

How life is short and soon we will be dead
And only in completion shall be saved

But my intentions like that loaf of bread


Wednesday, April 16, 2014


A few days ago someone asked me, "How many sermons have you preaching in 30-plus years of ministry?"  Wow, I'd never really considered it.  But I did do some quick mental calculations (and conservative at that) and I dredged up the following estimate:  2,000.

Now, this number does not represent individually-prepared sermons alone, but the actual number of times I have spoken in front of a group on weekends (and would include multiple presentations, such as now, when I preach 3X each week).  But . . . if I also include the number of times I've prepared other messages (funerals, weddings, revivals, workshops, etc.) then I'm going to easily ramp that number up past 2,500 . . . and counting.

2,500 speaking engagements.  This is not in the same caliber as John Wesley or Francis Asbury, but it's not chicken feed either.  No wonder I now lose my voice sometimes.  My vocal chords are tired.

And when I factor in all of the sermons I've preached to my wife over the years . . . .

Well, you get my drift.  

But here's another wonder . . . I don't have any manuscripts of my sermons.  I don't write sermons.  I was taught in seminary (by a wonderful homiletics prof named Richard Lischer) never to depend upon a sermon manuscript.  Rather, I was told, preach from an outline . . . and when you can dispense with the outline, do so.  I've tried to speak in this manner for thirty years (I'm sure, with varying degrees of success). 

When people ask, "Can I have a copy of your sermon" . . . I always have to admit, "I don't have a copy.  You heard the sermon.  A written copy does not exist."

Looking at my schedule for the remainder of 2014, I note that I am scheduled to speak at least 75 more times on weekends and at least another 25 times in other settings.  If I continue to add 150 speaking engagements a year to that total . . .

Well, I don't want to think about it.  Hearing myself talk just makes me tired.  I don't have the words to express it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Third Time's a Charm

Back in January, Perigee (now part of the Random House family) published a third edition of Before You Say "I Do".  As far as I'm concerned it's the best edition, and by far the best cover, to date.  Most of all, I hope it is helpful to couples who are preparing for marriage--and I did my best to update this edition to reflect the newer realities of this digital-dating age and the growing marital stresses related to finances and debt.

So here we are . . . a third edition three months in and my "best-selling" book over the past sixteen years.

But relationships are tough, of course.  I am reminded of this reality every time I write a guest blog, complete an interview, or write an article.  My wife always chides me with comments like:  What do you know about love? or Do you really think other couples should be listening to you? or That's the best ya' got?

Okay . . . so I'm not a marital expert.  I'm just a guy who has officiated at hundreds of weddings, counseled an even greater number, and otherwise slogged through some very heated exchanges between disgruntled spouses.  Of course, my own marriage has never suffered from any of these deficiencies, and I remind my wife every week how fortunate she is.  Then, whatever she says in response is what I write into the books.  There must be some truth in there somewhere.

I don't know if there will be a 4th edition of this title.  But I'm very proud of edition #3.  Later this fall I hope to visit my friends at Perigee and personally thank them for making it possible.  I've got my New York plans, my New York schedule.  All I will need now is a New York minute.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Egg Hunt

Currently I am embroiled in a massive egg hunt--which for a writer gathering permissions is akin to searching for the golden center amid a vast field of brightly-colored stinkers.  And, while I don't particularly enjoy this end of book production, it is an essential ingredient in the current books I'm completing.  But gathering these permissions does allow me, of a sort, to enter into various publishing firms around the world.  I show up via email or phone call in those offices asking for permission to reprint material owned by the copyright holder.  I cross my fingers and hope for the best . . . and where it doesn't work out, I go back and remove the work in question from my book. 

Gathering the permission eggs has already taken me around the world.  I've been to Australia and Ireland.  I may have to go to Germany, too.  (Folks don't often realize that some of the largest publishing firms in the world are part of huge conglomerates whose parent companies are off shore.) 

Eventually I will gather up a full basket of eggs.  Some of these will provide the bright colors for my upcoming books . . . and in advance I am truly grateful to those publishers and authors who allow me to reprint copyrighted material in my own work.  I stand ready to return the favor when others want to quote from my books (which is rare)  But it is always an honor.

I will continue to gather in the springtime . . . as summer (and publication) is just around the corner.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

To Singapore

Every now and again I receive requests from editors abroad wishing to reprint my work.  One such request arrived last week from Singapore. 

When these requests for permissions do come my way, I am always happy to oblige.  Heck, the more the merrier . . . even if the work has to be translated.  In this instance the request was a surprising one:  a permission to reprint one of my poems.  (I've written hundreds, so I always have to ask "which one".)

The poem in question, I learned, has already appeared in many other publications, and the request comes on the heels of the release of my first poetry collection:  Where in the World We Meet (Chatter House Press).  I'll blog about this new book next week, by the way . . .

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy a foray abroad to the beautiful land of Singapore . . . courtesy of the publishing world and the growing number of connections I am making with editors on other continents.  (Thank you, Grace.)

As for the poem in question, it didn't make it into Where in the World We Meet (now available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble), but I will have to add it to my list of other published work for my next collection . . .

Until then . . . God speed.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I am enjoying The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, a writer, I must confess, whose work just recently surfaced for me via a review in The New Yorker.  Ms. Davis, I am learning, writes some of the most tightly-woven and efficient fiction around.  Some of her stories are single paragraphs, others but pages in length, and other stories might be mistaken for three line poems . . . but they all tell a story.

In modern idiom I suppose her storiees might be termed "flash fiction"--a relatively new editorial scheme that is meant to compete with the rapidly deteriorating American attention-span.  There are now magazines devoted to this fiction--stories told in five hundred words or less, sometimes a hundred words.  But don't let length be a fooler, these shorter breeds are difficult to write.  I've tried.

In fact, I've had a few of these flash fiction pieces published in the last two years, including one I entitled "Kilimanjaro" and another entitled "Tango".  These are the ones I can remember (and that can still be found in the online versions of their respective magazines).

But Ms. Davis is no doubt in a class by herself when it comes to the quality and scope of her brief affairs.  Most of her fiction might best be described as domestic, which can encapsulate a great deal with regard to marriage, parenting, and work.  But her themes are universal.  And I find this type of fiction very utilitarian, as a story can be read between the interstices of other demands.  There are no excuses with Ms. Davis.  Anyone can find them time to read one of her stories.  All she needs, in some instances, is thirty seconds.

I think I can manage that.  And for those who need something a bit more protracted, you can always read some of her longer stories while you sip a cup of coffee.  Total investment:  five minutes. 

Refresh the mug and repeat. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Ageing Game

Evidently, according to the latest trending stats and social media conversations, no one under the age of twenty-five uses Facebook.  This social media site has now become associated with "old folks", has an "old" look, and, according to the word on the street, is on its way out.  This could be the case.  Nothing lasts forever (not even Mark Zuckerberg) and as younger generations take the reigns of conversation, they are bound to be doing it through different forums.

But hey, you're talking to a guy who still walks 120 yards each morning to stoop on cracking knees to pick up a newspaper along the road.  (I did this in snow, ice, sleet and rain this winter . . . and I cursed every step of the way.)

And now that another study revealed that nearly 50% of people (but more women than men) would answer a text/twitter while in the throes of sexual passion, I realize that I'm not really connected at all.  I mean, if my mother were to call me some evening (I do have caller ID and ignore most) I would simply call her back the next morning and ask, "What's wrong? You gotta problem?"

I'm not connected.  And if there's one thing I've learned in 53 years of life and 30+ years of pastoral work it's this:  Emergencies are rare.  Most phone calls, twitters, emails, voicemails, and text messages are just that . . . messages.

Picking up a loaf of bread is not an emergency (not even if a foot of snow is predicted).  A flat tire is not an emergency.  Heck, if I had a phone call informing me that my wife was in jail, that wouldn't be an emergency either.  If I had a deadline to meet and words to write, I know this:  She's gonna spend one night in the slammer and I would be there the next morning with bail.  What's the rush?  (I hear these jail accommodations can be rather swanky.)

In all honesty, I can say this, too.  My age belies the fact that I really don't care if Facebook makes it or not.  I don't tweet, and by the time I would learn how, something else will be "in" and twitter will be "out".  I don't care if WalMart goes the way of the DoDo bird, either.  

My age belies the fact that someday, one of my highest aspirations is actually to become dis-connected.  Someday, I hope to toss my cell phone in the river, my computer in the lake, and my television over the cliff.  (My wife and I are almost TV-free now, so the latter portion of the triad isn't so far-fetched.)

Some day I hope that my social connections will be good friends sitting on the back porch with a glass of wine, a book in hand, and a dirty pair of hiking boots.  I can holler out the window if I need help.  And I hear that they still make postage stamps.     

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Important to have goals.  I set goals every year:  marks I will measure and set out to achieve.  Some of these goals are lofty and very likely unreachable, while others are benchmarks that prop up other goals.

At the beginning of the year I had set a goal to have 150 essays and/or stories published by year end.  I am making progress, but I will have to pick up the pace in order to achieve that benchmark.  To date:  19 essays in three months.  (And this doesn't include guest blog posts that I have written for other bloggers.)

More recently I have undertaken pursuit of another goal:  losing the ten pounds of winter weight I seem to pack on every year between Thanksgiving and New Year.  All of that pie and cake and ice cream and heaping bowls of spaghetti tasted great during those twenty-below evenings, but now it's time to shed it.  I feel like a bear coming out of hibernation.

Three months into 2014 those goals loom large.  

I will soon be tightening my belt another notch (or two) and will be looking to discover new ways to write smarter and faster.  And as I think about it--perhaps the two are inter-related. 


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Passwords

If you are reading this blog, it is the result of some sweat and tears.  Yesterday, after beginning some work on a new Google account, I inadvertently shifted my blogger dashboard to this new account.  It has taken me hours to figure out that I actually have several Google accounts and, subsequently, several passwords (most of which I had forgotten).

I know we live in a digital age when online piracy and identity theft are rampant, but personally, I can't remember most of the passwords I establish.  (It's one of the reasons I am a Luddite and still write checks instead of banking online.)  I do have a book with these passwords listed inside, but I can't remember where I put the book.  Every now and again I find this book that contains the passwords, but I can't remember what the passwords are for.  It's a quandary.

Passwords show up in some odd places, too.

Last week, when I leaned over to kiss my wife, she asked me for a password.  I gave her one, but she said it was invalid, as it did not contain at least one number and a symbol.  I remembered the number, but the symbol eluded me:  Was it $ or @ or %?  

Soon, I have a feeling that we will go to open a box of Hamburger Helper but will have to enter a password to turn on the stove. When the stove doesn't work, we will have to call the gas company and someone will ask, "Can I have your password please?"  

I have actually spent more time trying to recover passwords than I have creating them.  Most of the time, when I have forgotten my password, I am asked to provide the answer to several questions such as:  "What is your mother's maiden name?" or "What was your nickname as a child?"  It takes me more time to dredge up this information, as I always have to call my mother and ask her to explain her virginity to me.

I wish that these password prompts would be more transparent.  Why can't the prompt ask questions like:  "Are you wearing boxers or briefs?" or "How many cups of coffee have you had today?"  These I can remember . . . and if not, I can always peek inside my pants and remind myself to put on underwear (why I often forget this step is beyond my comprehension). 

The password police are everywhere.  A friend recently told me about a new safety feature on his car that disables the engine whenever he parks it, and it can only be activated by a voice password.  Good Lord . . . if I had that feature, I'm sure I would never leave the parking lot.