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.