Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Memories of THE DOOR

A few days ago I happened to be looking over a pile of old magazines when I happened upon several copies of The Wittenburg Door.  I miss this magazine very much and began contributing when I was a seminary student back in the mid 1980's.  

A few years before the magazine went defunct, I was told by then editor Bob Darden that, outside of Mike Yaconelli (the founding editor) and one or two others, I had been writing for the magazine for nearly twenty years.  As memory served, I had also contributed one piece about a national Christian conference that had angered one of the featured speakers--Tony Campolo.  So I guess I did my job with the satire.

Looking back, I had written satirical pieces about Christian dating websites (like shooting fish in a barrel), little-known saints, famous theologians, various Christian televangelists of the day, and seminaries.  My last piece, I believe, was about SpongeBob Squarepants--a purely satirical diatribe that elicited several letters to the editor, all from folks who didn't understand why I was attacking a cartoon.

Well . . . I do miss THE DOOR. Wish I could write for that magazine all over again.  A classic.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Paper Cuts

I rarely work with paper anymore, but time was, when I was writing and submitting through the mail, I lived with an array of festering paper cuts that, from time to time, would bleed onto the actual pages.  Perhaps this is where the phrase "blood, sweat, and tears" comes from in reference to a writer's sacrifice for the written page.

What I do know is that I don't bleed anymore. I do occasionally sweat.  Sometimes I also weep over the page--either out of sadness at how awful my writing is, or the surprise of finding that I have written something stirring.  But I don't bleed.  

This past week, though, has made me realize how deeply embedded I am in the publishing industry.  It's weird, but as publishing has continued to morph out of the old ways into new arenas, markets and methodologies, I've navigated them all fairly well. Mostly, I think that is because I have maintained my relationships.  

Although publishing has changed, I have found that one thing has remained consistent, and that is people.  Or, more specifically, the relationship between writer and publisher/editor is still the backbone of the enterprise.  Without trust, without conversation . . . even friendship . . . publishing cannot work.

In a few weeks I will be traveling to New York with my wife and a couple of good friends.  While the trio will be out visiting Ellis Island, Central Park, museums, and perhaps taking in a Broadway show, I will be criss-crossing the publishing district near Greenwich Village and Chelsea taking small gifts to publishers and editors, a former literary agent, and two literary "giants" who have agreed to meet with me (why, we'll never know).

I expect nothing less than gratitude to come out of this trip and these connections.  Although my wife thinks I'm crazy (she still doesn't understand why I keep writing through so much failure), she does have a tinge of respect for the people I'll be seeing and the possibilities that are born and bred of these friendships.  Or, as she has told me, "While you're traipsing around all over New York worrying about your books, I'll be enjoying myself.  Sorry."

More power to her.  But she's wrong about enjoyment. I'll be in my element. I'll be walking the avenues carrying a bag full of gifts and trinkets of thanksgiving.  As long as I don't get mugged, I plan to deliver them into their respective offices.  

I may sweat in New York.  I may cry.  But I don't plan to bleed.  I won't be carrying any paper.   

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Contributor's Copies

2014 has been a rather prolific year for me.  In addition to seeing four books published so far (my fourth being the upcoming The Other Jesus published by Rowman & Littlefield on September 5) I have also written a fair number of essays as a regular contributor to several magazines.  Here I won't equal my output of 2013, but counting upcoming book reviews, I should top out 2014 near the 90 essay mark.

Last week I also received my contributor's copies for two additional books.  (I never count these "other" books in my author totals, as they don't have my name on the cover.)  Both of these, however, were in the health-wellness genre and were essays that I had written with Becky.

We actually sat down last week and re-read these essays . . . and neither of us could recall writing them.  But we must have!  There they were, in print, with our names in the by-line.  That's what a year will do to old minds!  

While some people never kiss and tell, we write and don't remember.  

Now these other two contributor's copies sit on my shelves alongside the many others that contain some portion of my work.  (I've lost count of these as well.)

But I do like contributor's copies.  Always have.  I just can't so no when an editor calls. Just like I can't so no to Becky.

Or, at least, I can't remember the last time I did.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Writing Abroad

A few have asked about my writing while abroad, and the truth is--other than some day-to-day journal entry and a few notes--I completely abstained from writing anything.  I did manage to read two books on Kindle, primarily in-flight time:  Garrison Keillor's The Keillor Reader and The Road to Echo Springs (an extended conversation about six great writers who were also alcoholics). 

Upon returning to the states, however, I put down the books and began writing again.  I've written (and already shipped off to editors) several poems with themes touching on love, beauty, music, and Venetian history.  And I've made notes that should carry me through several travel articles, should I be offered the opportunity to produce them.  I'm also back to the grind of completing another very large book, a title I feel compelled to complete before month's end (and will!) so that I can move on to other books and shorter projects to fill in the chinks.

Traveling abroad did open up my mind and stir the creative juices.  There's nothing like a change of venue to clean out the writing cobwebs and freshen the imagination and the possibilities.  I see a great many long nights, and all-nighters in my future if I am to grab hold of these ideas before they slip away.

I continue to try to place a positive spin on losing eight years' worth of writing (blue screen of death and crashed hard drive) . . . but one positive now is that I have to create fresh.  Since I cannot remember most of the material that's burned (even whole books), I now have a clean slate, so to speak. I'm taking the approach that I will be writing the best books, the best essays, and the best fiction and poems in the coming year.  

As long as I don't forget where Becky put my food dish, I should be fine.  Otherwise, I'll just lap at the wet floor in front of the sink and take in whatever nourishment I can glean from the cracks in the tiles.  

Anything beyond this, as they say, is gravy.  

Monday, August 11, 2014


Upon my arrival back in the U.S. on July 21, I was greeted the following morning by a large basket at the foot of the stairs containing nearly a month's-worth of mail and packages.  Most of this was junk, which I promptly tossed in the recycling bin.

But among the copious litter I also discovered two books--both contributor's copies containing, each, at least one of my essays.  Although I never count these books among my personal total (now well over twenty, I believe), there is nevertheless something visceral and palpitating in the sudden swell of excitement upon opening a book that, at least in part, contains some portion of one's thought and work.  

Here, to the case in point, one book contained an essay I had written last year, and which the editors so kindly and appreciatively recognized as one of the best they had published in 2013.  A small honor, to be sure, but the reprint in book form (rather than magazine) offered me the sense of a wider, though be it humble, forum of readership.  

The second book contained an original essay that I had written upon request, which is another honor that writers find compelling:  when an editor calls and asks for one's participation in an anthology.  Though I was, without doubt, working on many other projects (and some large one's at that) I put these tasks aside for a time to write this essay.

I rarely remember writing what I write . . . I find that I can't quote myself.  But from time to time I am able to observe my own work from a distance--one afforded by both time and forgetfulness--and ask:  "Is this any good?"

At times I am compelled to burn my past, wondering how I could have written so badly or so lackluster.  But at other times I am, I must confess, somewhat taken by a turn of phrase of choice of words that surely could not have originated with me, but most certainly did, nonetheless.  I keep these successes as proof that I did work upon the page.

Now that these two other books are in the bag I can go back to working on other affairs.  

It's good to be home.  And the two packages from the dusty confines of these publishing houses somehow seem more relevant than the many artifacts I brought back from Europe simply because I was carrying a VISA.  The words themselves seem to be the artifacts that carried me home.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Welcome . . . Again!

We all know that tragedies can strike at any time . . . and for a writer there are many circumstances that might be considered nightmares.  I have experienced several such "writing tragedies" in one-fell swoop.

First, upon my return from Europe, my stand-bye (and trusted) laptop of eight years suddenly died, leaving behind hundreds of my children:  poems, essays, stories, and entire books on a hard drive that, as I soon learned, was destroyed by a faulty fan.  Some of this material I had backed up on other devices, but fate determined that a great deal of my writing over the past eight years is now gone.  Writers, of course, like to imagine that this lost material was some of the best writing every produced, and this was certainly the case with me, as I lost essays, articles, books, and some of the best poems I had ever composed.  (Future generations will never understand the scope of this loss to literature!) 

One does not recover from such tragedy easily, but I knew that (after cursing a blue streak) that I could not mourn this loss for long.  I have too many deadlines looming and too many contracts signed and far too little time to produce for my editors.  And so . . . I have forged ahead with a new computer, a new resiliency and attitude to succeed, and far less sleep.  

But the loss of these hundreds of thousands of words was only the beginning.  On my new PC I was soon to learn that I hate Windows 8 (why can't I continue writing on floppy disks and the comfort of the simple and highly-navigable Word docs?).  I also lost my ability to blog (I can't remember my password to blogger and had to create this new  Note the insertion of my middle initial "e"!

Yes, I did call to find out how I could gain access to my various blogs, but the instructions were so convoluted and complicated that I might as well have been listening to a 100-page instruction manual in Chinese . . . and no, I can't even remember my middle name, much less a password I created in 2005 when my wife still loved me.  And yes, I do write all of my passwords in a small black book, but I can't remember where I hid the book.  This book will likely be discovered after my death, I have informed my wife to place the book in the casket under my pillow so that no one will be able to gain access to my vast trove of vital information tied to our national security and my secret recipe for chili.

As for blogging . . . here is the new look.  I hope you like it.  (I still don't know how I created it and if this blog doesn't work tomorrow I will have to begin again from scratch and write the next blog under an assumed name like Mannix or Gomer Pyle USMC.)

Bottom line friends:  always back up your material daily (not once every eight years) and be sure to tell others your passwords so that, in case you die of scurvy, someone will know where you hid the limes.  Also, never trust a new computer.  My best machine is still the Compaq with three fans and the trusted floppy, and I'm still going to write on that fifteen-year-old marvel that frequently bursts into flame but will never die.

As you can see, I'm back blogging . . . but it ain't easy.