Saturday, October 24, 2009

Your Turn

Every four to seven days for almost nine months now I’ve posted a blog on “The View from the Back Pew.” Today’s blog is my 54th. It’s assessment time.

I’m asking myself, Why do I blog? First of all, for the discipline of writing. (Though I’ve other things waiting to be written without the same time pressures.)

I write, also, for the pleasure of communicating. Problem is, except for reader comments, which are rare, I’m flying blind (or deaf). But am I connecting with any live minds out there in the ether? I'd really like to know.

I'll acknowledge also a self-interested motivation. I’ve hoped that this blog might, without constantly harping on my recently published novel, give me enough name recognition to attract readers to Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough. This, too, I have no way of knowing.

So, today I’m asking a favor. Scroll down to the word “comments” below and me some feedback. My questions:

1) Who is reading this? Give me a name, a nickname, an Internet ID, or whatever.

2) I write on a variety of subjects. What would you like to hear more of? (a) matters related to the writing and selling of fiction? (b) reflections on what I’m reading? (c) musings from the back pew on matters of faith and church life? (d) observations on aging and life in a retirement community?

3) If you have bought or read Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough, was it this blog that stoked your interest? If not, what was it?

Your turn. Comment on any of my questions, or say what you please. I’m listening.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Tax Man Cometh

At the age of 83, I’m admittedly a babe in the woods when it comes to business affairs. I’m getting an expensive lesson.

In September, when I offered my novel, Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough, for sale locally, my tax accountant did the paperwork and online work to set me up for the collection of state and local sales taxes. He filed online with the state of Alabama and gave me papers to file with Baldwin County and the City of Spanish Fort. All three jurisdictions levy sales taxes.
I paid him $75 for his services. It seemed reasonable, although I wasn’t real happy about having to seek professional help for the privilege of collecting taxes.

I took the county form to the nearest county court house annex and was told they’d send it to the proper office. When I dropped the city form off at city hall, I received an unpleasant surprise. “That will be $35 for the remainder of the year,” I was told.

“What for?”

“For your business license.”

As I said, I’m a late learner in these things. “I don’t want a business license,” I told her.

“But that’s what this is,” she said, “an application for a business license.”

“I need that, just to collect your taxes for you?”

“Yes, you’ll be doing business.”

I paid it of course. I was told I would owe another $65 in January.

Ten days later, a surprise in the mail. A bill from the county for a county/state business license. This time, only $30, good until next October 1.

My CPA told me I’d have to file forms with each jurisdiction every month “whether you do any business that month or not.” So today, a visit to his office to file sales taxes collected in September and to learn the complexities of doing my own filing in the future.

It took him nearly an hour to set up the online payment forms that I can use in future months. Good man, he asked, in return, a signed copy of my book.

In this first month of book sales, the taxes I owed the three jurisdictions totaled $35.98. For October, it will be less than that. In November, the game will probably be about over as far as personal sales of my book in Alabama go. All told, I may collect as much as $80 in taxes through December, at a cost to me of $140 and a signed copy of my book.

It’s rather late in life, but I’m learning about government and business.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Authors Nights at Westminster Village

In the six years I have lived at Westminster Village, our active Leisure Services Department has on several occasions sponsored book readings. In the last three weeks we have had two.

Almost three weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be the featured author. I
told how I had taken to writing novels at the age of 80 and read half-a-dozen passages from Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough, after which I signed copies as people attending bought them to read for themselves.

Except for the Kindle version, which was published last December, it was the first time the novel was for sale in Spanish Fort, and therefore a special night for me. I’ve had the pleasure since of hearing from some well satisfied readers.

On Tuesday of last week, the Village hosted Sonny Brewer, the popular author of four books, all set in or close to nearby Fairhope, where Brewer lives. Of course, I attended. I’ve been a fan ever since reading The Poet of Tolstoy Park. I’ve reread it twice.

As Brewer read briefly from three of his novels, including the just published The Widow and the Tree, I realized anew what a lyrical writer of prose he is. He pushed my envy button, for sure. But he spent most of his forty minutes telling stories related to the writing and publishing of his books. As a teller of stories, he is a real artist.

When Melissa Manjone, our Leisure Services Director, signed me up for my night at the podium, she didn't tell me that Sonny Brewer would be our speaker just two weeks later. I’m glad I was the first up to bat. Brewer is an act I would not have wanted to follow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Red Robes

About three blogs back, I recalled how the choir of my childhood church processed down the aisle and into the chancel every Sunday singing Holy, Holy, Holy. I have one other memory of church processionals. It has to do with bright red robes.

In the later years of my active ministry I served as interim pastor for a year and a half at the First Presbyterian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska. It was a handsome old Gothic church in downtown Lincoln, a block from the high rise Art Deco state capitol building and not far from the University of Nebraska.

As in my boyhood church, the choir processed down the aisle every Sunday. Not always to the same hymn, however.
It was a good choir. They sang better than the angels and they looked really sharp in their scarlet robes. A theologically appropriate color, I thought; better than in some churches where the color of the robes is chosen to complement the color of the paint on the walls.

One Saturday, when I had been in Lincoln only about a month, one of my new Nebraska friends took me to my first University of Nebraska football game. I don’t remember who the Cornhuskers were playing that day, but they won. “Of course,” their fans would say. The Cornhuskers had a habit of winning.

What I remember most about that Saturday is that the Cornhusker fans all turned out for the game dressed in the school colors. The U of N side of the stadium was a solid sea of red. I was impressed.

The next morning as my associate pastor and I followed the choir down the center aisle, I was struck by a jolting question. Were those red robes really chosen for their doctrinal significance? They were Cornhusker red.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Naming Game

When I started writing my current novel, set in Mobile, Alabama, and Costa Rica, I labeled it “Megachurch,” a working title. Over the course of its development, encouraged by members of my bi-weekly writers’ group, I’ve experimented with other titles. There have been two or three versions of “The Tattoo, “The Unholy Tattoo,” “Pastor Matt’s Tattoo,” etc., but I’ve never been happy with the use of that device in the title. It figures in the plot, but is not central to the message of the book and probably not appealing to the readers for whom I write.

As I move into Draft 7 of my editing and rewriting process, I’ve put a new label on this book-in-progress. The manuscript now bears the heading “Sunrise in the Cloud Forest.” That describes the climactic event in the novel, and also suggests its overarching theme. At last I have a title I feel good about. It just might endure.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banner Week

This is the end of a banner week in my life as a published writer. It was marked by two happy events.

On Tuesday I introduced my first novel, Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough, to my fellow residents of Westminster Village in an evening book reading/signing, hosted by Melissa Manjone, our Director of Leisure Services. The reading had been announced almost a month in advance. It was well attended, and book sales surpassed expectations. Thank you, Melissa.

On Friday I received in the mail my first royalty check for books sold through in August. It was a modest check, but the first month sales were a boost to my morale for they, too, exceeded expectations.

I’m not tempted to frame this first royalty check, but I will make a Xerox copy to file away somewhere to be discovered amidst my clutter by my heirs.

Of course I am not yet in the best seller league, but Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough is off to a respectable start, and I have reason to believe that my September royalty check, when it arrives, will reflect an even greater number of sales.

So I'm celebrating. Lift a glass with me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Holy, Holy, Holy

We have just concluded a five-week study of Revelation on Wednesday nights at Spanish Fort Presbyterian Church, led by the Reverend Samford Turner, our local presbytery executive. Though he has been out of the active pastorate for seven years, holding down an administrative position, Samford has not let his talents as a Bible teacher grow rusty. He made one of the most difficult books of the Bible come alive to the substantial number of folks who come out on Wednesday night for supper and Bible study.

On those Wednesday nights we sang some of the many hymns that are rooted in the book of Revelation. Of these, the old classic, Holy, Holy, Holy, is my favorite. When he announced it on the second night of our study, Samford told a story that took me back to my own childhood.

Samford lived in Mobile as a boy and was privileged to grow up in the Government Street Presbyterian Church, the historic old mother church of Presbyterians in coastal Alabama. He told us that in his boyhood the congregation at Government Street stood up and sang Holy, Holy, Holy as their first hymn every Sunday.

I may have been the only person in the room who could say a similar thing. When I was a boy, our family church was the Second Presbyterian Church of Washington, Pennsylvania. I have two early memories of that church.

One was the memory of being taken by my father to see the building site when our new Gothic church was being built. I was four or five years old. I don’t think I had ever seen any kind of building construction before, and this site was like a yawning crater opening up in the earth.

My other, more vivid, recollection is the memory of standing in that church with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great aunts and great uncles, cousins--the whole Scots-Irish Johnston tribe filling the same three adjacent pews--as the choir processed down the long aisle singing the same hymn every Sunday.

Of course, it was Holy, Holy, Holy. I have loved it ever since.