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.