Poet Thomas Vaultonburg’s Ten Most Influential Books

This is from a Facebook writing prompt. The 10 books that have influenced me the most.

Not sure why anyone would tag me, or be interested in ten books that influenced me, but here is a list.

1) Candide. Voltaire. Travel the world, figure out it’s all the same bullshit everywhere, then tend your own garden.

2) The Oxford Book of American Verse. I used to go to the Byron Public Library and check this out every six months. 1076 pages. I have since bought the book, but rarely open it anymore.

3) Love Is a Dog From Hell. Charles Bukowski. His best book of poetry. A gut punch if you’re not ready for it, or a real comfort if you need it.

4) A History of Western Philosophy. Bertrand Russell. I used to consistently raid the bookshelf of my first girlfriend’s father. He was a professor, and I will now confess I stole many of his books, including this one. Most philosophy is virtually impossible to read from the primary sources, so this survey, written in plain language, is invaluable to humanity.

5) Dungeon Master’s Guide. Gary Gygax. I think this was published 1977, so it was about five years later when I saw it and a band of fine fellows from Byron Middle school banded together to play, and were promptly banned from doing so on school grounds. The beginning of a long, fantastic journey into fantasy that I have treasured and never intend to return from.

6) The Riverside Shakespeare. William Shakespeare. Had the good fortune to study this book with professor Michael Quinn at Rock Valley College. He had learned the plays by heart while studying at trinity College in Dublin. To find an educator of that magnitude in a place like this was miraculous.

7) The Bible. The playbook of all the failed ideas of Western civilization. Nonetheless, indispensible in understanding why nothing works.

8)The Great Gatsby. As Bukowski might advice: don’t try.

9) The Crying of Lot 49. Thomas Pynchon. The center cannot hold.

10) Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion. I love a refernce book. And good writing. Maybe the best combination of the two.

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Catfish Mermaid

I really love Jenny’s new project. She has been painting a series of mermaids, but not your traditional mermaids. These are mermaids one would find in freshwater lakes and rivers in the Midwest. Crappies, bass, trout, bluegill, alewives, sturgeon, perch, walleye, muskie, and of course, catfish. This is one she did this very night for a client. You can see all 18 mermaid here at Rockford Illustration

"Long-locked Channel Catfish" by Jenny Mathews

“Long-locked Channel Catfish” by Jenny Mathews

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How To Deal With Production Delays In Your Children’s Book

Jenny and I have  an important art show this weekend, and we wanted to have the paperback edition of The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company ready to sign, but we experienced production setbacks and it won’t be ready.

Not unusual.

Especially when you’re dealing with smaller print runs and smaller printers, your project just isn’t much of a priority. 

So, we wait. And the book will arrive in the middle of a week when we have nothing planned.

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Writing For Boys and Ghouls

It seems like the consensus is that if you want to write for children and young adults you have to write about farts and underwear and unicorns. Anything but reality. 

I’m fine with that.

I find reality to be heavily overrated.

Yesterday I was invited to join a team and write for a fantasy role-playing game. Specifically I was asked to help write the undead and demon creatures and scenarios. 


I’ve begun researching the history of the ghoul, a misunderstood undead creature. How does one even become a carrion feeder? 

Aside from this additional writing project I’m still working on the project for The Rock River Times. And wrangling several blogs. Getting ready for Spring Art scene. Trying to get food into my body and workout. Hoping The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company will be finished early next week so we’ll have it for Spring Art Scene. 

Busy times. I’m sure my attention will veer off from these tasks I know are the most important and I’ll want to write a book for kids about ghouls or flatulent zombies. 

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The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company Second Printing

I just sent the files for the softcover version of The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company to the printer and it is in preflight. I’d like to have it back so Jenny and I can sell it at Spring Art Scene when we display our Tiny Drawing Poems for the first time. However, as anyone who has dealt with printers before knows its a very unpredictable part of the process. I’m slightly anxious that because it’s a very thin book there won’t be much to it in paperback version, but we saved almost five dollars a copy doing it this way.

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Money For Nothing

Not really money for nothing, but it’s time to re-order The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company. We sold out the original press run, and now we must decide to order more or just move on. As most writers and small publishers know, there just isn’t a lot of profit in small press runs. After printing costs, shipping, postage, and a dozen other small expenses one never thinks of until they arise, you’re just not making any money, so either you decide to do it because you like what you’re doing, or move on to something else.

I designed the second printing on In design, got a quote from the printer, who offered a generous 10% discount, then started debating whether or not I wanted to a second printing at all. I love the book and it turned out beautifully, but I can’t say anyone is beating down our door to get it. 

I received several emails from Chinese publishers promising they could do the project for half as much, but I shudder to think what type of human rights and environmental violations they have to commit to make it so cheap, so I’ll stick with my printer right here in Ohio. I’m just not chomping at the bit to give them any more money right now as much as I’d like to have another printing.

It would be so nice to not have to do all of this while trying to live a life simultaneously. 

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Commercials, And Why I Need Them

Jenny likes to fast forward through the commercials when we watch television. And it drives me batty. I grew up with commercials. Commercials are like the circadian rhythm. I can’t comprehend how anyone watches television without the buffer zone of the commercials. Commercials allow you to get a snack, to collect your thoughts, to, umm, relieve yourself. How can anyone watch television without commercials?


You have meddled with the primal forces of nature. And by primal forces I mean my kidneys. My kidneys need commercials. My kidneys grew up watching commercials. Who is the sadist who invented the technology that allows her to fast forward through commercials on programs that aren’t recorded? I don’t know what kind of planet we’re living on these days, but I long for the good old days of broadcast television. I started my career as a television watcher as a designated channel changer. This was in the days before remote control. Or at least the days before my family had remote control. Who needed it, they had me. Forty years later you can’t sit on a couch with someone who doesn’t get fidgety three seconds into a commercial about antacids. I need to know about antacids. And upcoming truck and tractor pulls, and whatever it was they were selling in that mysterious blue bottle. I understand a great many of you will tune in to a sporting event you can’t stand tomorrow just to watch the commercials, then talk about them as if you were discussing classic cinema, only to return to your commercial zapping ways on  Monday. Not me. I love commercials.

Please give me back my commercials.


Oh, what a relief it is.

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