October 31, 2012

For November’s book, I’m reaching back to my childhood for one of the books I loved most during my growing-up years. Coming in the midst of Hurricane Sandy devastation, I felt following up Mendenhall’s Cool Names with a book like Penrod might be an additional opportunity to stir in a few chuckles—well, more like a lot of them.

Another reason for choosing this book is that it graphically—by contrast—highlights how much childhood, family life, and community interaction has changed since Booth Tarkington launched his bad boy on an unsuspecting public. “Bad” is a poor choice of words, for Penrod can more aptly be described a tornado of mischief wrapped up in boys’ clothing.

In reading Penrod, our readers will rediscover this America that is no more. A world of picket fences, stay-at-home moms, two-parent families being the norm, fathers being the breadwinners, and children feeling free to roam in and out of neighbors’ homes at will, children living and playing out of doors, and boys having the opportunity to be boys.

The contrast is obvious: today, with pedophiles being a constant threat outside, porn criminals weaseling their way into home computers, and violent crimes becoming the norm in society, no one—least of all children—feels safe anymore.

I’m not claiming that world was utopian, for there were also dark sides to it: racial stereotyping and inequality, inadequate career opportunities for women, to name just two. But the beauty of reading Penrod is that you the reader have the unique opportunity to vicariously immerse yourself into that world, sort out for yourself the positive and negative aspects of it, and draw your own conclusions.

But, as a child, I read Penrod first not for its social commentary but because I laughed myself half to death over Penrod’s antics: getting in big trouble for his mischief only to get deeper into trouble the next day. There is a direct correlation between Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Tarkington’s Penrod. Given that today it is so hard to find a book that appeals to boys, here’s a heaven-sent opportunity to set a boy loose on Penrod, and just let him cackle as the town’s goody-goody boy, Georgie Bassett, gets his comeuppance. The “Little Gentleman”/“Tar” sequence by itself is one of America’s all time classics of humor.

Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) was born in Indianapolis, and remained there for much of his life. During his life, he won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for The Magnificent Ambersons in 1919 and the other for Alice Adams in 1922.

Donald Heiney declares that Tarkington was an expert satirist, one of the first to depict the urban middle class. Heiney also notes that Tarkington had a marvelous talent for creating unforgettable characters. His key fictional milieu has to do with the rise of a midwestern aristocracy, essentially Victorian and conservative, beginning in the 1890’s Gilded Age, its ascendancy, then gradual decline at the hands of a new industrial and mechanical generation.

Tarkington wrote three Penrod books: Penrod (1914), Penrod and Sam (1916), and Penrod Jashber (1929). In Seventeen, Tarkington depicts an older character than twelve-year-old Penrod. Interestingly enough, today’s teenagers are so much more sophisticated, jaded, and cynical about life that they’d have little in common with the protagonist of Seventeen.

So welcome to the three worlds of Penrod.

Mendenhall’s Cool Names – Part 2

October 24, 2012


As promised, here is the second batch of “Cool Names” Dr. Mendenhall sent me to offset our October attack ads. Read ‘em, and cackle. Then see how many cool ones you can think of to build on Mendenhall’s two lists.


Lou Keemiah                    Al Packa                               Ginger Snapps
Karen  Keeping                Esther Pance                       Bobby Soxx
Joe Ker                              Sonia Papermoon              Asa Spades
Nan King                           Penny Pasta                        I. C. Spotts
Terry Kloth                       Oswald A. Peesagumm     Rosetta Stone
Jack Knife                         Pat Pending                        Grant Stoom
Shirley Knott                    Barry Picker                       Max Stout
Manuel Labor                  Stew Pidd                            Kay Surrah-Surrah
Marsha Lartz                   Sam and Ella Poyzning     Ty Tannick
Crystal Shanda Lear       Gene Poole                          Dick Tater
Earnest Lee                      Will Power                           Anne Teak
Frank Lee                         Rachel Prejudic                  Will N. Testament
Peg Legg                           Karen Protectio                  Tom Thom
Vi Lentz                            Dusty Pyle                           Tess Tosterone
Mandy Lifebotz              Jon Quille                            Nan Tuckett
Terry A. Littlelonge       Jack Rabbitt                        Ken Tuckey
Isiah Littleprayer           Amanda B. Reckondwith Paige Turner
Penny Loafer                  Alan Rench                          Beau Tye
Kara Lott                         Anna Rexia                          Justin Tyme
Hal Lucination               Dusty Rhodes                     Mark Tyme
Dan D. Lyon                   Bev Ridge                             Amy Ubbull
Ole Mackerel                  Jerry Rigg                            Phil Ubbuster
Jerry Mandering           Jack D. Ripper                    Hal Uhtosis
Randy Marathon           Tara Round                         Barry Ummenamuh
Ole O. Margarine          Harley Ryder                       Bob Uppendown
Marsha Mello                Arthur Rytis                         Sue Uprising
Ella Mentry                    Chuck Roast                        Russell Upsumgrub
Sal Minnella                   Mike Robial                         Noah Vale
Pete Moss                       Kurt N. Rodd                       Minnie Vann
Bessie Mae Mucho        Rose Royce                          Ella Vayter
Anna Mull                       Rhoda Ruder                       Sue Veneer
Sue Nahmi                      Len Scapp                            Di Vinn
Jim Nasium                    Bea Seated                           Rhonda Voo
Justin D. Nickatyme     Barry Senshulls                  Claire Voyant
Lee Ning                          Homer Sexual                     Beau Vynes
Jim Nist                           Cam Shaft                            Chuck Wagon
Hazel Nutt                       Sharon Sharalike               Walter Wahlkarpet
Paddy O’Furniture         Rick Shaw                           Jay Walker
Lynn Oleum                     Tyrone Shoelaces              Luke Warm
Cy O’Nara                        Jim Shortz                           Juan Way
Angie O’Plastie               April Showers                     Bob N. Weeve
Rick O’Shea                     Lou Siddity                         Bob White
Travis T. Onjustis           Frieda Slaves                      Sherry Wines
Al O’Vera                         Jane Smoker                       Holly Wood
Ala Wrench                     Eileen Wright                      Sybil Wrights
Bob Wyre                        Sheik Yerbouti                     Gordon Zola
Sue Zuki

Published in: on October 24, 2012 at 6:30 am  Comments (1)  


October 17, 2012

A little over a week ago, as we drove west reveling in the dramatic fall colors with our cherished friends, Bob and Bev Mendenhall, en route to one of our all-time favorite breakfast watering troughs, Sunshine Café in Dillon, Colorado, Bob (a fellow wordsmith and punster) and I got on the subject of strange family names. I chanced to think of the true instance of a clearly sadistic set of parents with last name of “Hogg” who named their daughter “Ima.” To my disappointment, however, I later discovered that it wasn’t true that they named their second daughter “Ura” (certain to have resulted in bitter fights).

Well that started it. The rest of the drive was dedicated to loony name combinations. In the end, I made Bob promise to send me a copy of his favorites when he returned to Keene, Texas, where he chairs Southwestern Adventist University’s Department of Communication. This week’s blog features half his list; next week’s blog, the second half.

At any rate, we all need a blessed change of pace from these disgusting and vicious political attack ads that poison television viewing during October. “Cool Names” ought to help.

Perhaps you’ll find it possible to add some gems of your own?


Al Abbaster                Rose Bushe                    Gloria N. Excelsis
Ben Addrill                Preston Buttons            C. Howett Feels
Cary Ahn                    Stan Bye                          D. S. “Al” Fine
Mary Ahtchee           Jay Byrd                          Grace Flexit
Terri Aki                    Russell Caddle               May Flowers
Bob Alou                    Polly  Carbonate            Tom Foolery
Sal Amander             Iona Carr                         Sally Forth
Al Amony                  Justin Case                      Bob Frapples
S. P. Anaj                  Belinda Chinashop         Orlando D. Free and
Kris  Anthemum      Seymour Clearly                    Homer D. Brave
Julie Ard                    Billy Club                         Al Fresco
Penny Arrabbiata     Dot Comm                       Roland Function
Natalie Attired          Anna Conda                     Clara Fye
Jerry Attrick              Norman Conquest          Greg Garious
Kenny Kerry Attune  Cookie Crum                   Max Glucose
Ginger Ayle                Hugh N. Crye                   Dag Gonnett
Teddy Baer                Wanda Danse                   Billy Gote
Carrie A. Balance      Wayne Dantz                   Anna Gramm
Krystal Ball                Harmon Danger              Doug Graves
Al Bania                     Al B. Darned                     Carrie A. Grudge
Robin Banks             Otto DeFay                        Cliff Hanger
Candy Barr               Art Dekko                          Phil Harmonic
Sue Barroo               Crystal Shan DeLear        Hardy Harr
Dwayne de Bathtub   Jimmy DeLocke            Mary Hart
Sandy Beaches        Lois and Carmen              Marian Haste
Paul Bearer                   Denominator                Moe Heakin
Rose Beef                 Al Dentay                            Helen Highwater
Sarah Bellum          Marcia Dimes                     Rhoda Honda
Moe Betta                Phil Dirt                               N. “Vince” Hubble
Lois Bidder              Sues Doku                           Amanda Huggenkiss
D. Linus Bizzy         Duncan Donutz                  Gary Indiana
Ken U. Bleevitt       Ben Dover                            Gene Jacket
Bertha D. Blues      Neal Down                           Dora Jarr
Rita Booke               Pat Downes                         Mason Jarr
O. Danny Boyd       Erasmus B. Draggon          Shirley U. Jest
Lance Boyles           Kenny Duitt                         Kit N. Kaboodle
Xavier Breth            Stan Dupp                            Al Kahall
Donnie Brooke       Cy Dwok                               Patty Kate
Sandy Brown          Barb Dwyer                         Betty Kant
Vesta Buell              Ray D’Yo                              Tom Katz
Al Bumin                 Sam and Janet Evening    Buck Keaney

Published in: on October 17, 2012 at 6:30 am  Comments (2)  


October 10, 2012

[First of all, an apology: inadvertently the wrong date was attached to last week’s blog, “Christmas In My Heart® turns 21″; the release date was October 3, not September 26.]

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Yes, strange as it may seem, personal letters still exist! Indeed, an unexpected thing has taken place in this digital age: the once lowly personal letter has become a prestige item, and the handwritten letter the most valuable artifact of all! You see, all this ubiquitous electronic gadgetry, that was supposed to bring us together, instead separates us to the extent that one-on-one personal conversation has become an endangered species. Meanwhile, the ability to articulate well on paper continues to degenerate—and along the way, cursive writing is so rarely taught that many children cannot even read it!

So it was a day-brightener indeed when I received this letter from one of our faithful blog and tweet readers, Michelle Swanson of Missouri. Here is how it read:

September 30, 2012

Dr. Wheeler,

I want to respond to a statement in your August 22 blog (yes, I know it is a late response, I apologize): “The mere fact that no one jogged my memory about the omission makes me wonder how many of our readers are seriously into reading our selections.”

I noticed (as I am sure others did too) that you skipped a selection, but I was sure there was a good reason. Your blogs each week are excellent, and since they continued I assumed you were in good health and were just giving us a much needed chance to catch up. Several of the books you have recommended have led me to search out other writings by the same author, and once I get started I read all that I want, which leads me to often get behind in the readings.

Your Zane Grey selections introduced me to an author I had not previously read., I have so far read 6 of his books, and have several more listed that I want to read. My teenage son, and my husband have been reading these books as well, in fact they have been giving me reports on which of the Grey books they think I will like best. I just finished the book “Nevada” which I thoroughly enjoyed. The men in my family liked Robbers’ Roost better.

The August selection of Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps is outstanding. I had not previously read any of Sheldon’s writings. I have now read two additional Sheldon books: Miracle at Markham and Robert Hardy’s Seven Days. I found them interesting, thought provoking, and easy to read. Thank you for recommending this author.

The little break in Book of the Month selections this summer was fine. I don’t want you to get discouraged in thinking that no one is reading the books. I do read the books you recommend, and I look forward to each selection as if it were a special gift.

I am a wife, mother, work full time, and am back in school to finish my degree, which doesn’t leave me with a lot of pleasure reading time. As a family we don’t watch a lot of television, so we often read as entertainment. It is nice to have you recommend the books, and then provide an excellent introduction for each book chosen.

I enjoy your post of quotes on Facebook. I should probably respond more to those posts, but I just haven’t taken the time to do so. I will try to be more responsive in the future.

I was pleased to learn that your home escaped damage from the terrible fires. Enjoy the beautiful autumn weather.

May God bless and keep you.

Michelle Swanson

* * *

[And may God bless Michelle for taking the time out of her hectic schedule to weigh in on our Book of the Month blogs and daily quotation tweets.]

Published in: on October 10, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  


September 26, 2012

It has arrived. As I sit in my writing rocker, on my lapboard is the reality that for so long has been so much less: first Christmas stories I read and re-read, wrote their titles down in Draft #1, discarded some and substituted others for Draft #2, repeated the process for Draft #3, again for Draft #4, kept discarding other stories that all but demanded to be included that ended up in Draft #5, repeated the process in Draft #6, began feeling better about the collection in Draft #7, better yet with those in Draft #8, almost got there with Draft #9, and only with Draft #10 did I prayerfully conclude that God was pleased with that menu of stories.

Once decided on, I began playing with the order. It is at this stage that I’ve sometimes concluded, for one reason or another, that one story had to go. Sometimes because two stories were too much alike or one of them just didn’t stand up to the competition. Always in the back of my mind is the vow I made to God many years ago: Lord, if any future collection of Christmas stories is less powerful than those that went before, give me the guts to hang it up right there, because I must never, never, never coast!

But this collection stood up under such a re-reading. So which one should be placed in the lead position? A crucial question, for if the lead story fails to suck readers into it, then we risk losing them completely. There were a number that competed for that position in my mind, most notably, Isobel Stewart’s “Christmas in the Heart” —no wonder she loved the series! What jubilation reigned in her house in Helderberg, South Africa when Pacific Press’s Karen Pearson hand-delivered the newest collection to her a year ago. But this year, her story faced tough competition with that battle-hardened veteran, Temple Bailey. I’d just recently stumbled on her wondrous love story titled “The Christmas Quest,” and it just plain dug in its heels and tantrummed its path to the lead position. So I then positioned Stewart’s story next to my own at the end. Always I try to feature one of our strongest stories in that position. Sadly, not long after I sent the manuscript in, Isobel’s husband e-mailed me that the love of his life had passed away. Never in this world would she get to light up with the arrival of another Christmas in My Heart® collection carrying one of her magical stories—often Christmas love stories (a genre our readers treasure above all others!).

Once those two positions were decided, I began wrestling with organizing the rest of them. There is always a rhythm to their appearance: Don’t position two long stories together, but separate them by shorter ones; ditto short ones; normally, I don’t position two tear-jerkers sequentially; don’t place the most powerful ones at the front, the middle, or the end; above all, don’t leave the weaker (of course we try our best to have no weaker ones!) for the end of the book, for the stories ought to reach a crescendo that culminates with my own story. A real challenge, believe me! Especially this year when I made such a departure from my norm and turned to a non-fiction account of the most memorable Christmas of my lifetime. Six of the fifteen finalists turned out to be love stories.

Two stories, Pierre van Paassen’s “Uncle Kees’ Christmas Rebellion” and Willemm Brandt’s “The Candle,” had been in the running for years and years, but each time failed to make the final cut; but this time I felt God saying to me, Their turn has come: include them! Though short, each of them is a masterpiece.

One genre I have usually avoided—other than featuring my own—is the long Christmas story, reason being that to include two long ones in one book results in too few stories in the 128-page collection. But since my own story wasn’t as long as some this year, I was able to include Lucy Agnes Hancock’s unforgettable romance, “Christmas Gift,” one of the longest Christmas stories we’ve ever featured. I’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t do its best to run away with this collection.

I also make a point of featuring contemporary writers as well as time-proven ones; these add vibrancy and uptodatedness to a given collection; this year, making that tenth cut were Virginia A. Johnson’s “Ornament of Grace,” Harriet LaBarre’s “The Magic Key,” Katharine Swartz’s “Star of Hope,” and Jill Hoefler’s “The Empty Box.” Johnson writes from Crabtree, Oregon; LaBarre (96 years old and still writing!) from Sag Harbor, New York; Katharine Swartz from St. Bees Vicarage in Cumbria, England; and Hoefler from Firth, Nebraska.

The oldest story in the collection, first published in 1891, Ella F. Mosby’s “The Christmas Inn,” is set way back in 1465 England.

Then there are other ever so special authors we’ve never featured before: Lola Lamorreaux, Lawrence York, and Leslie Peters. It is always a joy to bring back to life from the very edge of extinction authors whose work deserves to live on!

And I must not forget the bookmark! I just spoke two days ago to Doug Church, Pacific Press’s Vice President of Marketing, who confided in me that he and his marketing team have concluded that one key reason why last year’s collection, Christmas in My Heart® 20, sold out of its first-printing before Christmas was the stunningly beautiful bookmark that was given to each purchaser of the collection. A Barnes & Noble manager told me, “Joe, that bookmark is as beautiful as any of those we sell for $5 each!” The bookmark was taken from the center of the Currier & Ives-ish cover crafted by Steve Lanto. And some people coveted the bookmark so much they bought the book just to get it! So, on this basis, Church told me, they did the same for Christmas in My Heart 21. And he sighed, “Do you have any idea how long it takes for our entire staff to hand-tie all those thousands of tassels? It takes everyone, beginning with the front-desk receptionist, to tie them!” Isn’t that uniquely special? A hand-tied artifact in this age of mass market digitalization!

You can order your copy (copies) from us at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433. $13.99 each, plus shipping. Or go to our web page and send us an email through the web page: http://www.joewheelerbooks.com. Or send directly to our email: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Let us know if you want your books to be personally inscribed.

May you and yours enjoy a blessed Christmas season!