My First Book Is Now Available For iPad and iPhone

The new cover for my book, Blue Like the Sky. Now available for your iPad and iPhone.

So I’ve written before about my first book, Blue Like the Sky, and how I published it through a company called Blurb. Like any good self-published and control freak author, I have gone back and done a little work on the book, adding some new content, changing the cover art, rearranging pictures–making it available as an ebook on your iPad or iPhone.

Yes, you read that correctly. Blue Like the Sky is now available as an iBook for $4.99.

I know not everyone has an iPad, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of folks have an iPhone. Regardless of which device you use, you can download my book to your iBooks and read me wherever you go!

And, no, that link won’t take you to the iTunes Bookstore. It’ll be at least two weeks before the book appears there. But it’s coming.

I’m a little fuzzy on this whole selling books thing, mainly because in just writing a couple of the sentences in this blog I’ve felt extremely narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. My ambition has always been to write and sell books, and hopefully be good enough to sell lots of books, but there’s just something in the self-promotion that feels creepy. Vaguely wrong. Immoral, even.

I know that all authors have to sell themselves if they want to make it, and nobody will buy what they don’t know is available, I suppose. But I guess for me, I don’t want to promote my stuff too much for the fear that people will resent the promotion and take it out on the book. And I’m really proud of Blue Like the Sky. It’s not groundbreaking in any literary sense, but it’s an honest walk through a man’s death with that man’s family. There may be people who need this book, and I don’t want to turn them off.

So here’s where I find myself. I’ll keep the link to my bookstore active, and I’ll let you know when the book is available in the iTunes Bookstore, but beyond that, I’m not going to mention this much, if any, again. If you like the work, you like the work. I would achieve greater satisfaction as an author in knowing that whatever books I sell come from people thinking enough of the work to recommend it to someone else, and so on. And if you enjoy enough to recommend it to a friend, hopefully you’ll enjoy it enough to write a rec on the website. But I’m not going to push.

I’m happy just knowing that my family has been blessed by the book, and knowing that 10 or 12 of you have been too. Everything else beyond that is gravy.

Thanks for reading–you are an encouragement to me. All the best to you.

New Blog Feature: Stump the Chump (And Some Housekeeping Notes)

The Chump got that question...wrong.

I have a thing that I do with my students called Stump the Chump. Essentially, they ask me hard questions about God, the Bible, Christianity, or just religion in general and I answer them. Some questions are easy to answer. Others, not so much. But I answer all of them, no matter how hard or personally challenging they may be.

To help with the effort, I started a Stump the Chump blog. It didn’t go over so well. Got a couple of questions, but no real movement. I thought about a Stump the Chump podcast or video series, but again – without questions, there’s not much I can do.

Then it hit me: why not just move Stump the Chump to my regular blog? I mean, this isn’t an investment profile; there’s no real need for diversification (well, maybe when it comes to content presentation, but that’s another matter entirely). So I’ve decided to add a Stump the Chump page and open it up to you, my regular readers. Feel free to click on the STC page and submit a question, a query, or just flat out write your own diatribe. Just know that I get to rebut. :)

Also, after one week of simul-blogging (and a host of issues with the other blog site) I’ve decided that I need to keep things where I’m at. I get more functionality here (and for free) than I’m finding at the other site. The biggest draw there was really design…and heck, I can hold out for some better designs here. So, the short-lived experiment with changing homes is over.

But the production of two new books is still on. I’m currently revising my memoir about Ruthanne and hope to have it ready soon. I need some good cover art, so if you’re willing to do a cover design for name recognition and credit here and in the book, click the email link at the right and shoot me an email. I’d love to talk. The design I’m thinking about is fairly simple (I would think…).

As a final note – happy Hallowe’en! I’ll be back later with a spooky themed post, based on something that happened to me yesterday.

When Books Get Tiring

No, I'm not above posting a cute cat picture as a way to draw traffic.

I’m a reader. Love to read. Love to read so much that I currently have a stack of books on my office floor that is approximately 5 feet in height. Love to read so much that almost all of the wall space in my office is filled with bookshelves, and those bookshelves are crammed full of books–on the shelves, on top of the shelves, books on top of other books. So please know that what I’m about to write comes from a place of deep love.

I’m bored with books.

Not all books, mind you, just the ones I’ve been reading lately. Admittedly, my scope has been narrow–as a youth pastor, I’ve been reading a lot of Christian books lately in an effort to improve myself as a pastor. I’ve read or re-read everything from Desiring God to Crazy Love to Mad Church Disease to Transformational Churches to Influencing Like Jesus, and I have to say:


Now, this is a generalization. One of the things that I love about books is that each one, no matter how boring, has the capacity to surprise you with a sudden turn-of-phrase, or a burst of insight, or a brilliantly delivered line. The books I mentioned above are no exception; each have their moments. But as a whole, the Christian stuff that I’ve been reading (most of which calls the reader earnestly to live a full, vibrant life for God) is flat. Dull. Lifeless.

I can’t put my finger on it, but if I had to offer a thought as to why these books bore, I would have to say it’s due to the fact that too many of us Christians are concerned with how to live life than with actually going out and living it, and the books we read reflect that. It’s the Age of Insecurity–are you a good enough person? Do you know enough? Do you love enough? Do you give enough? If so, how do you manage it? If not, what keeps you from living your best life now? (©Joel Osteen) In the end, you’d think that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are paranoia, depression, repression, fear, conceit, and self-loathing.

I mean, by comparison, Woody Allen’s neuroses are small.

Of course, no one is forcing me to read these books. There’s not a gun to my head. But lots of people are buying these books and using them for guidance on how to live life better. People are obviously dissatisfied with the direction/trajectory of their lives, and they’re seeking answers. This is good. That they’re seeking them from books that make you want to end your life rather than finish reading them is a problem.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with people writing books. I want to write books. I want to publish books. I think books are a vital contribution to the world, and one of the best gifts given to humanity. I think that the authors of the books I mentioned are deserving of credit for what they’ve written because their books have helped many people.

But we have reached a place where the words written on the page do not suffice for the ache, the lack, in a person’s daily life. There’s only so much we can learn by proxy; at some point we must get out and live life. And in living life, share it with other people. There’s a crackling to that kind of living; an energy and a pulse that can’t be found anywhere else, not even in the world’s best prose.

Perhaps the issue isn’t with the books as much as it is with the reader, and in this case that’s me. Maybe it’s my time to get out and live a fuller life, do a better job of becoming the person I want to be instead of reading about how to become that person. The tools are at my avail; I don’t need anything more than what I already have. I just have to make myself do it. I have to choose to live.

And by living, here’s hoping I bring life back to the pages I hold so dear.

Why “Toy Story 3” Makes Me Cry Every Time

My children love movies (as I’ve written before; that post, by the way, still gets over 100 original views a day on average, far and away the most popular post I’ve ever typed!). So it was business as usual when Jon wanted to plop in front of the TV this morning and watch Toy Story 3.

Or, as he says, “I wan’ see Woodee an’ Buss?”

(That the request comes out in the form of a question is his attempt at psychological maneuvering. I honestly think Christopher Nolan got the idea for Inception from dealing with someone’s toddler.)

I sighed. I love Toy Story 3. I think it is one of the most beautifully animated and heartfelt movies ever made, but I hate to watch it because I cry every freaking time I see it. Happened again this morning – we got to the scene where Woody and the gang are slowly slipping to their doom in the garbage furnace, and as they do, the friends all join hands and lean into one another for comfort. Only Woody, in the center of the gang, holding them all together as always, faces their impending deaths alone. The way he closes his eyes and grimly accepts their collective fate just gets me.

The tears just came on their own. Rachel walked by and said, “Are you crying again?”

Yes. Yes I was. Because I can’t help it. The movie is just that good.

There’s a reason why Toy Story 3 makes me cry every time – it’s called parenthood. Having kids of my own, I’m acutely aware that every day that passes brings me that much closer to the end of my time with my kids. They are growing up, as evidenced by Jon’s rapidly expanding vocabulary and Ella’s writing and illustrating her first book.

(Seriously, Ella has written and illustrated a book. Sure, she copied pictures from a Clifford book and simply wrote descriptions of what she drew, but the fact that she cut out pages roughly the same size and tried to follow the same formatting for each page tells me that my little girl is really freaking smart. And talented. And perhaps adopted.)

I have noticed in my own children the sad, forgotten truth that the Toy Story franchise brings achingly to the fore: that the process of time is best observed through children and their toys. Even as Ella transitions away from some of her previously beloved toys, turning instead to crayons and paper and toys for older kids, I see that part of her past fading away like morning mist. And Jon’s the same – while he’s still into some baby toys, he’s asking for Spider-Man, Star Wars and other action figures that move beyond the Little People and their world.

Heck, the only baby toys he really plays with anymore are his Woody and Buzz figures (almost called them dolls).

Why does this franchise have such an impact on the culture (and me in particular)? Because it engages us in that forgotten place from childhood – our imagination. When our sense of pretend gets cranked up by watching Andy construct elaborate worlds with his toys – and then watch as those toys inhabit an elaborate world all their own – we cannot help but be transported back to those times in our own childhood when all we needed was the plastic warmth of a beloved toy and space in which to play.

And perhaps the reason we all go to those places so willingly is that they feel safe. The memory of them, that is. When you think about that favorite toy and how you used to play with it for hours (assuming you were fortunate enough to have such things; I know I was) there is a sense of security and protection that comes over you that belies even the very truth of what was going on around you at the time. Maybe mom and dad were fighting all the time, or maybe dad had walked out. Maybe you only had the one toy because you couldn’t afford any more. Maybe you were abused by someone you thought was nice. The fears and worries of childhood can be many.

But the safety represented by that toy, and your ability to escape via your imagination, could not be undone. It was the one place we could each go to escape whatever else was going on.

It was only after we got older, after we lost those places of safety and solitude, that we put away the toys and tried finding another refuge. Most of us found that there wasn’t really a better one to be had. Adult escapes are generally magnifications of our greatest weaknesses – whether it’s booze, pills, sex, the internet or something else, when we try to get away as adults we usually end up where we started.

So when I watch Toy Story 3 and sense the death of childhood innocence and safety as seen through Woody’s love for Andy, or the toys’ love for one another, I can’t help but shed a few tears for the lostness of my own childhood and the creeping loss of my children’s. Does it make me a pansy? Probably.

But it also forces me to get down on the carpet and play with my son in his world, instead of dragging him into mine. It makes me sit at the table with Ella and marvel at how excited she must feel as she sees her penmanship or artistic skill continually improve.

I cry because Toy Story taps into the truth of human existence: that we all face this world on our own, but we survive it through the company of good friends who inspire us to imagine, who help us discover new worlds, who are simply there when we need them.

And I guess I cry, too, because all too often those good friends are only made out of plastic, instead of flesh and blood.

But I’ll take them all the same. And I’ll love them as much as my kids do while my kids love them, because one day, they’ll represent that portion of my life which was simultaneously the most difficult and most beautiful: the precious few years I had with my daughter and son, just us, together and dreaming.

Descriptive vs. TMI: One Man’s Analysis

I have not felt well today, and neither has my family. We’ve all fallen prey to a rather nasty little virus that seems to have no discernible symptoms other than a rampant nausea and what sounds and feels like a sackful of rabid honey badgers wrestling in your stomach.

In fact, I posted that very sentiment on Facebook today:

Obviously, I made a mistake from the outset by not mentioning that the badgers in question were honey badgers. My bad.

But what fascinated me was the response it generated. One of my co-workers asked how I was feeling, and then said this: “I love reading the way you describe things. It’s always interesting without being TMI.”

Contrast that with a friend of mine who saw me later and said, “Raging bag of angry badgers, huh? Does that mean poop or vomit?”

And thus I began to wonder where the fine line between description and TMI lies.

Being Southern, I’m inclined to descriptive little phrases that communicate clearly not only my answer, but the feeling behind my answer. An example would be my father’s favorite phrase for an affirmative response. If my dad feels emphatically about something, rather than saying a simple “yes”, he’ll respond:

“Does a cat got a climbin’ gear?”

Which is a delicious and descriptive phrase. If you wish to get a tad more forceful (and vulgar) you could substitute in “Does a duck fart underwater?” or the immortal “Does a fat baby poot?” Why so many Southern euphemisms seem to involve the gastrointestinal system is beyond me, but these little phrases certainly convey the appropriate imagery for making the point.

So it is that I have come to use phrases like this in almost all situations where comparison or contrast are involved, or, as in today’s Facebook post, in cases where a simple answer doesn’t accurately deliver the whole message.

You can imagine how it would feel to have a sackful of these rumbling around in your belly...

Now, part of my using these descriptions is to elicit a humorous response. Let’s face it – nothing feels so good as writing or saying something that another person finds humorous. The ability to turn a phrase just right and get that giggle, guffaw or the highly valued snort is quite pleasing. Plus, it makes the misery of the moment a little lighter to bear; misery may love company, but only if the company can laugh at its jokes.

Occasionally I go too far with my metaphors (or similes) and draw the opposite reaction: instead of a laugh I get the face – the one people make as if you just committed a bodily indiscretion on their new rug. This is the opposite of pleasing, and it is the single biggest sign that you have crossed over from being descriptive into being disgusting. It’s TMI – too much information. And it’s not funny.


Sometimes, TMI can become exaggeration and then you achieve the rare double-whammy: you go from funny to disgusting back to funny again. It takes some real doing; usually you have to think of a funny retort to the initial reaction of disgust, then continue to build on the humor with one comment after another. It’s as if you’ve been dropped into a hole, and the only way out is to dig it deeper, piling the dirt up inside the hole until you finally have a large enough mound to scale, thus escaping safely from said hole.

It’s kinda hard to do.

I have no idea where else to go with this, as I’ve made my point thirteen times over and haven’t typed anything genuinely funny or informative. And the stomach honey badgers are really scraping their claws against my innards. It’s time for me to call it a night.

Hopefully my intestinal friends will call it a night soon too.