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Frequently Avoided Questions

Phil is asked questions everyday. Questions like, "Why do fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?" "Why do we give God 10% and the waitress 15?" He is also asked serious questions. Normally he tries to avoid them, but several magazines have pinned him down. Here are their questions and his responses:

Questions about Writing:


What new projects are you working on?

I'm treading water trying to keep up to our Laugh Again radio program. We're nearing 700 programs completed and it's been a wonderful wild ride. We're on more than 60 stations in the US (www.laughagain.us), double that in Canada, the UK, Australia, and English-speaking Africa. The Adventures of Jake CD has been such a hit with parents and we've finally released a new one. My book for guys has been rewritten and released for Kindle. Check it out. And I'm working on thinking about perhaps asking someone to renovate a bathroom in our house. I think this would impress my wife more than just about anything right now.

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Your schedule looks very busy. How do you keep up?

It's really not as bad as it looks. The radio program is recorded in my home. TV shows are usually taped at a more convenient time and air travel allows us to get there and get home quickly. The truth is, the opportunities are so cool, it's hard to say no sometimes. So I stay in as good a shape as a middle-aged guy can, working out three times a year...I mean a week...necking a lot, and I have people around me that hold me accountable. I will admit though that today I realized I had a problem. I realized that I can describe to you the best seats on different airlines and the smell of shampoo at different hotels. For some reason I dislike The Westin's shampoo the most.

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You write about "family matters" but it seems you're gone from your wife and kids a lot.

It's ironic how often people asked me to leave home and tell them how to spend quality time with their kids! But part of the key is this: I'm always accompanied by a family member or close friend and my schedule is approved by my wife. Now that our kids are older, Ramona travels with me 95 percent of the time. I asked our youngest son one day when he was in his early teens, "Am I gone too much?" and he said, "Na, you go away just enough so we don't get tired of you." I have several close friends who are kind enough to travel with me. They've seen me at my worst, so they're less impressed with my best. Yes, there's stress associated with my job, but I don't let it bother me. Of course, I've been in the bathtub since Wednesday!

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What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years? The next 20 years?

I'm not against long range planning, but it's not the most noble thing. My plans are to think about golf this afternoon if I can get another chapter written. Seriously, I'm trying to shorten my plans. And when I do plan, my plans are always too small. I never would have planned to be the author of a few dozen books or be able to share the good news of Jesus with 200 million people. My plans are always too small. I'm more into figuring out what God is up to and hitching my tiny wagon to His. I'm more about doing the next thing. Loving my wife. Being there when my kids need me. I wrote years ago that I would consider myself a success when I'm walking close to Jesus every day. When I'm building a strong marriage, loving my kids, and performing meaningful work. That hasn't changed. I've been blessed beyond belief to be able to do something I can't believe people pay me to do, and if I can be doing that 30 years from now, I will be very old, very wrinkled, but very happy.

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What has been the high point of your writing career so far? The lowest point?

I suppose there's nothing quite like holding your first book in your hands and realizing that a publishing house believed in you enough to make that kind of investment and that your two-year-old just bit a corner off the book. When you find out it was a bestseller, that's not bad either. The highest point has come in realizing that God can use a guy like me, so there's hope for anyone. Moses stuttered. Sarah laughed. David liked rooftops. Matthew worked for the IRS. And God used them all. He can do the same for us and our children. The lowest point came in 1995 when I burned out from running too fast, chasing the wrong things. It's taken me years to recover and establish boundaries that will keep me from going there again. That's what my book Who Put My Life On Fast Forward? is about.

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What's the funniest response to one of your books?

Oh man...I'll have to think. I had a phone call from a lady who said, "Hi, I'm Sister Sarah. Several of the nuns and I are reading your book." I thought it was one of my friends calling with a practical joke. But it was way better than that. This dear lady told me how they were reading my book and laughing and laughing and laughing. I asked what book it was and she said, The Total Christian Guy. 

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Are your wife or children ever upset or embarrassed about having their exploits recounted by dad" in his books?

Actually, they aren't. They are in their twenties now and they get a chance to approve (and sometimes improve) the things I write and say. Veto power for each of them has been important. I won't tell a story or write a story about the kids  without first asking them if it's okay. So sometimes I get up to speak and have nothing to say. My wife has the attitude that if it's the truth and God can use it to help people, then it's worth saying. In Laughing Matters I wrote of her battle with seizures, but only after she said, "Go ahead. It might help someone." Turns out this story has been read by millions. My kids don't seem to mind when we meet people and they say, "I know all about you," because they know I've been more brutal about my own shortcomings than anyone else's in my writings. There's safety there. One of the downsides of being a transparent author is that you open yourself to some remarkable criticism, so that's been a hurdle. But 99% of the audience has been fabulous. But there does come a time when you don't write the truth, you put it in a novel!

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You write for the Christian marketplace. Would you consider getting a book published by a secular company?

My children's book Be Kind, Be Friendly, Be Thankful is published by a general marketplace publisher, and it's been very successful so they want another one. I'm encouraged by how many of my books are sold through Walmart and Chapters and Amazon, etc. I suppose I just love to write and tell stories. Some are about my faith, some are not. 50% of our radio listeners are not Christians. Much of the correspondence I receive is from people who don't necessarily share my outlook on life and I enjoy that very much. Close to half of my speaking now is for corporations and "secular" conferences. I'm honored and I love it. 

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QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING:

I have a great book idea. Will you help me get it published?

No. Sorry.

Why?

I'm too busy writing, speaking, hanging out with my kids, romancing my wife, and taking out the garbage. Sorry. 

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But I want to write. What should I do?

Sit down and start. Also...regardless of your age, I recommend some journalism training. Adult evening schools offer some good journalism courses. Most published writers have either a background in newspaper or magazine journalism, so do all you can to get some.

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Will you read my manuscript and advise me?

I'd love to, but I can't. Again, I'm sorry. I have done much of this during the last ten years, but just do not have the time to do justice to your work. I do teach at writers' conferences occasionally, and the best bet for getting someone to help you with your manuscript is to check out one of these.

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How do you write? Do you have a formula?

Mostly with a crayon. Actually, I try to write 500 words a day when I'm under contract. I do not always accomplish this, but sometimes I accomplish far more than 500. I discipline myself by leaving the answering machine on (except for calls from my wife or children), gluing my seat to the chair and staying on topic. Often I begin the day by editing what I worked on yesterday, then working on today's assignment.

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How much does it cost to publish a book?

Absolutely nothing. Costs involved in acquiring, editing, proofing, typesetting, printing, binding, storing, and shipping (including marketing and advertising and sales) are the responsibility of the publisher. If you have to pay to have it done, it's unlikely you'll ever recoup your expense. Self-publishing is a costly endeavor, but in some cases it will work. Rumor has it that the Bee Gees got on the charts by buying their own albums, so you never know.

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Do you have some practical advice on writing?

First of all, read, read, read. In fact, feel free to read my books if you like. But great writers are always great readers. Here are a few other keys: Be talented. Be self-critical. Be observant. Be patient. Never hand in anything that doesn't appear to be done by a professional. Remember that great truth is taught in simple ways, so if you can use a story to communicate a point, do it (The King James Version of the Bible uses fewer than 8,000 different words. Shakespeare used more than 30,000. When you sit down to write, write! Glue your seat to the chair. And get a copy of Writer's Market or The Writer's Guide (available at amazon.com). They can help you find the resources you need and guide you to those who are looking for what you have to offer.

I suppose the most practical advice I can give to writers who are Christians is "Write on your knees." Psalm 34: 3-4 says, "Trust in the Lord and do good...Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Boil it all down and the mystery of writing and getting published amounts to this: Trust in the Lord and do good. Stay faithful, stay active, and stay on your knees. If you are writing to become a millionaire, you'll be disappointed whether you achieve it or not. If you are writing to watch people's eyes light up as the truth hits, you'll be happy as a pauper or a king.

I wish you all the best as you embark on this grand adventure. And be mindful of the audience of One!

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Do you have further questions? Email... callaway@prairie.edu