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.