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NEAL CONAN, host:

David Ellis Dickerson has a gift. This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

He's got a natural ability to craft puns and puzzles. He started writing poems after he cracked - cracked his first Dr. Seuss. His many talents found an ideal outlet in 1994, when he landed a job at Hallmark. But most greeting cards are constructed around life's varied experiences, and Dickerson found himself slightly out of the loop in that department. But as anybody who's ever received a card for a milestone birthday knows, maturity comes in strange ways and times, and David Dickerson found that Hallmark was as good a place as any to grow up.

His new memoir, "House Of Cards," tells the story of his transition to adulthood. And it's also a look at a much admired and much maligned industry. We want to use his expertise as a greeting card professional this hour. So we have an email challenge for you. What's the sticky situation Hallmark does not make a card for? What is your greeting card emergency? The email address is talk@npr.org. And if you would like to ask him about his adventures at Hallmark, our phone number, 800-989-8255. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, Detroit Native Daniel Okrent joins us to look at the decline of the Motor City and how it can rise again. But first, David Ellis Dickerson joins us. He - he's in our bureau in New York. His book is called "House Of Cards: Love, Faith and Other Social Expressions." Good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. DAVID ELLIS DICKERSON (Author, "House Of Cards"): It's wonderful to be here, Conan.

CONAN: And incredibly, you seem absolutely cut out for the job at Hallmark. There are few folks that actually carry a rhyming dictionary around with them.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, that's true. And I - I gave up that - that habit once I started actually meeting women, but yes, it - it was…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: …it served me well.

CONAN: It served you well at that time and - you, well, you used poetry to try to get ahead with women from an early time.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah. Absolutely, and - and I - I - for the longest time after Hallmark even the - the habit stayed with me. And although I picked up the habit of drinking during my years at Hallmark, I would find like anytime you're at a bar for any length of time, someone is going to come in with a birthday.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. DICKERSON: And I would - I would, you know, I could write or whip up a birthday card for you - you know, really, really fun based on your name or whatever it is and I would, you know, write it and hand it to some women. And they always, you know, really liked me and thanked me and bought me a drink and never actually got my phone number. So it…

CONAN: Yeah. Good ice breaker but doesn't - doesn't close the deal.

Mr. DICKERSON: There was another chapter I had to learn, exactly, yes.

CONAN: Indeed, yeah. Well, explain to us, first of all, how Hallmark works. I think a lot of us had the idea that there are a bunch of bright creative people who sit around and - and write cards and pass them around and they say this is a good one.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes. Actually, "500 Days of Summer," which just recently came out, had a main character who was a greeting card writer and they made one error, like in the very beginning of the shot they have - they were establishing that - they're sitting around trying to come up with a - a holiday. And Hallmark - and no greeting card company has ever invented a holiday. You don't need to. People are begging for cards at holidays. Everyone is coming up with holidays and Hallmark just, you know, greeting card companies in general just publish what people want.

CONAN: And so you say at one point in your book that they don't do enough Mardi Gras cards or at least done enough funny ones.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKENSON: That's true. That was - that was a time, a relatively low time in my life. But I thought - I thought I know what would be funny. How I - because this was - the Internet was still relatively new, you know, this was 1995, 1996. And so everyone had filters and particularly Hallmark, of course. They want everything to be family friendly, but I thought - I wonder if there's some way to challenge the filter while still looking like I'm doing justifiable research. And so I thought why could you put in, you know, the search term that would turn up maybe something naughty that you could say - but look, boss, I was just looking up bunnies, you know, or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: And bunnies seemed too, you know, easy, so I - I actually work with Mardi Gras, you're right. I thought that will be - I can propose it as a new card idea.

CONAN: A new card line.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah, and - and sure enough I - I got in trouble.

CONAN: Well, as well you should have…

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes.

CONAN: But I was fascinated by the idea of these big, I guess, poster size things which have every card in the line. And if you could flip them and find the place where there were Mardi Gras cards or where there were cards for, well, priest's 40th anniversaries…

Mr. DICKERSON: Right, the ruby jubilee, exactly.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. DICKERSON: And these - these places were so big that people didn't even know what was in them sometimes. Like I - I was assigned ruby jubilee as my first card and it was clearly such a small caption, priest's 40th wedding anniversary - 40th anniversary of being a priest, anniversary in the ministry.

And I was Catholic, I had never heard of it. And I went to the only other Catholic I knew on staff to write it and she had never heard of it.

CONAN: She was a former nun.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah, exactly. And so, it was - it was astonishing. So yeah, small captions - we call them the wings. They're these large, large kind of poster-sized, you know, displays that are hinged on one end and you can like flip through like some giant book that clacks. And they're also organized according to popularity. So if you have a smaller card shop you are only going to get the top five, you know, selling cards. And if you have the deeper, you know, shelf space, then you can go all the way and then at that point you might be hitting the ruby jubilee cards.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It had to be a pretty large card shop to have a ruby jubilee card.

Mr. DICKERSON: Actually, I talked to a card guy while I was writing the book. Just to do a little more research, I walked down to a card store and saw what they were doing today. And one of the guys said that that's actually the main way they compete with the Internet, was - is by doing these captions that no one else has. So they'll do a twin birthday, you know, they'll do, you know, Valentine's Day anniversary and stuff like that.

CONAN: But I was fascinated, they go through these and say, you know, we need to freshen up that birthday spot for people under the age of six and over the age of four, and the editor will then assign a writer to do a new card.

Mr. DICKERSON: Right. Well, it depends on the staff, or it depended back then. What often happens is the editor would put out a whole bunch of requisitions for different kinds of cards and say we need a four-line for sister, we need, you know, sister birthday, we need an eight line, you know, gag or something. But in the humor staff, you just - they would just sell them out and hope to God someone picked up them all. It seems odd, but I can't - I can't believe it actually worked, but every so often actual requisitions would go begging.

And so an editor would want something that we did not supply. But on the main writing staff, which is much more serious and much more workmanlike, because that was the humor staff I was talking about (unintelligible) writing, you really did get stuff (unintelligible) directly on your desk. Look, we need animals, you're good with animals, go.

CONAN: Hmm. We put out an email challenge. One of the things that former greeting card professional David Dickerson specializes in, now that he's a out of the game full time is, greeting card emergencies, those strange situations that Hallmark is yet to develop a card for, and email us talk@npr.org. Here is one we have from Christopher in Gilbert, Arizona. A friend died in the emergency room and was brought back to life. I wanted to send him a welcome back from the dead card, but alas, those do not appear to be available.

Mr. DICKERSON: Wow, that's beautiful because that - what I love about that, it's so optimistic. It allows you to be sort of celebration, you know, celebratory and - oh my God, I think you'd want to do something like…

CONAN: Oh my God, it's good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, I think something like welcome back, and while we're at it, how about happy birthday?

CONAN: That's (unintelligible).

Mr. DICKERSON: That would be just lovely, I think. Man. I'm sorry, I'm writing that down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: By the way, Neal, I got you a card. I wrote you a card.

CONAN: You did?

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes. It says, on the outside: Happy birthday, Neal Conan, and on the inside it says: If not today, then eventually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: Because Wikipedia is vague on your actual birthday, and I just…

CONAN: It's actually next month.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh really? Okay, well, if you store it in a freezer, the wishes will keep.

CONAN: Thank you so much. That's very kind of you. Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Tracy(ph), Tracy with us from Tucson.

TRACY (Caller): Hi, Neal. My name is Tracy, and I can't hear you very well because I'm streaming at work. So there's a little bit of a delay. I apologize for that. But I wanted to say hi to Dave. I don't know if he remembers me, but we went to college together.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh my goodness, hi.

TRACY: And we were in a Christian group our first couple of years of college together, and I'm not a very religious person anymore, but I've been looking all over for him because I'm trying to get back in touch with people that I knew, and during my freshman year I came down with a case of acute appendicitis, and I wound up in the hospital, having surgery, having an appendectomy, and I woke up the next morning and the word had spread around this group of friends of mine that I had wound up in the hospital, and I woke up and there was my boyfriend at the time with Dave at the end of my bed, who had made me a special get well card for your appendectomy, and I loved it because it had three cartoon pictures, and the first was me sick, and the second was me under anesthesia, and he had put little X's in place of my eyes, and then the third was me feeling much better because I had been treated in the hospital. So Dave, I don't know if you remember me, it's Tracy Kurtsman(ph), and it's great to talk to you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh my God, it's so wonderful. You know, it's funny. You have just blown my mind because, like, I've drawn cards like this and handed them out, you know, through the years, and people always say, oh, I'm going to save that, and I've never - like, you've saved that for 15 years.

TRACY: I - oh, more than that.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh my God.

TRACY: I was 18 and I'm 39 now, and I still have it in a little box - on yellow paper.

Mr. DICKERSON: I am so honored.

TRACY: So thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, I'm so glad.

TRACY: And I'm glad that you've made this into a full career. I think that's wonderful. You were one of the most smart and witty people that I have ever known, and I think this is perfect for you. I can't wait…

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, thank you so much. Oh, you're so sweet. Okay, thanks, gosh.

CONAN: Tracy, thanks so much for the phone call.

TRACY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And I take it she's aptly described your Leonardo-like artistic abilities.

Mr. DICKERSON: Right, X's instead of eyes. That's exactly the level of skill I have. You know, there's a reason I was hired as a writer and not an artist, and you can see, actually, on the greeting card emergency videos, look quickly at the cards because I try to flash them in front of the screen because I have what you might call a naïve drafting style.

CONAN: There is a series of greeting card emergency videos you can find on YouTube that have been done by David Dickerson in connection with the publication of his book, "House of Cards: Love, Faith and Other Social Expressions." He's with us from our bureau in New York.

If you have a greeting card emergency, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or zap us an email, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. David Ellis Dickerson may not be at Hallmark anymore, but he's still got a card for almost any occasion, an ex-fiancé's wedding, those 9/11 birthdays, or when your snake eats the class hamsters. And we have an email challenge for you: What's the sticky situation that Hallmark does not make a card for? What's your greeting card emergency? The email address is talk@npr.org.

David Dickerson's book is titled "House of Cards: Love, Faith and Other Social Expressions." If you'd like to read his college poetry on - wait for it - crime and medieval German history, check out our Web site at npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And if you'd like to talk with him about his adventures at Hallmark, our phone number is 800-989-8255. You can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Here's - this is Cheryl in May's Landing, and she wants to have this greeting card emergency addressed. I need a card for a neighbor, apologizing for our dog peeing on her back while she was weeding her flowerbed.

Mr. DICKERSON: Hmm. Actually, Neal, during the break, I thought of a card for that other guy, the first one whose, you know, friend got brought back to life.

CONAN: Brought back from the dead, yeah.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah, it occurred to me that it would be a great card that on the outside says it's great to have you back, and on the inside, simply: Please stay a while.

CONAN: That's nice.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah…

CONAN: What would the art be?

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, goodness. You know, honestly, any kind of generic, you know, hospital bed type of thing might work because, you know, on the inside you don't need anything at all, although it might be fun to have something kind of like defiant, you know, like - so like a leg cast that's bursting on the floor or something, but of course appendicitis wouldn't work.

CONAN: Maybe ER paddles, you know, the…

Mr. DICKERSON: Ooh, ooh, that would be nice, held up with a Rosie the Riveter arm toward the sky. I think that would be great. Welcome back of the - yes, they're perfect.

CONAN: Okay. All right, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Margaret, Margaret in Phoenix.

MARGARET (Caller): Hello, Mr. Dickerson.

Mr. DICKERSON: Hello.

MARGARET: My husband and I were married 31 years ago on Lincoln's birthday. We need a card to cover both occasions.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh my God. That's really, really funny because the first thing I went through, automatically, I'm afraid, was the fact that marriage is a form of slavery.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARGARET: Now, now.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, that's the thing.

CONAN: And I thought - nice to reach you on your Gettysburg Address or something.

Mr. DICKERSON: And so, well, something like, you know, so many years ago Lincoln freed the slaves and I have been free in my bondage to you ever since, something like that.

CONAN: Not bad. That's not bad.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, of course, I'm winging it on the radio here. Normally…

CONAN: Normally you take about five, 10, 15 seconds to work these out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: They take about an hour to write, most of them, for the shows. So yeah, so I'm impressed with what I'm doing on the time - I feel like this is like…

CONAN: Speed-writing, yeah.

Mr. DICKERSON: One of the - what's the - "Project Runway" is what this is for greeting cards right now.

MARGARET: Well, we're impressed too. Thanks.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, thanks. That's a lovely day to get married on.

MARGARET: I think it was.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah.

CONAN: Margaret, congratulations, and thanks very much for the call.

MARGARET: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

MARGARET: Bye.

CONAN: Let's get another email, this from April in San Antonio. I need a card for my brother who just became a father for the second time in six months by a second woman. He is currently dating a third.

Mr. DICKERSON: Wow, wow. One of the things I mentioned in one of the episodes is that I don't do kind of cards that poke at people's flaws because, you know, the world is mean enough. You know, why be mean? So the first challenge of that is to find an upside, like you're certainly keeping busy.

CONAN: Addressing the population shortage.

Mr. DICKERSON: Exactly, and goodness, how productive your work has been. So there's something like that. But honestly, for a case like that, I would almost want to know, you know, that he's going to be a good dad around. If not, I'd be more inclined to just go, you know, I think I'll write a sympathy card for the woman, you know, and encouragement because that seems, like, more relevant to this particular situation. A scolding card is not something I'm actually particularly interested in.

CONAN: Steven's with us from Kennebunk in Maine.

STEVEN (Caller): Hello, Neal.

CONAN: Hi.

STEVEN: Hi. Yeah, I was - we were adopting our first child, and my wife and I were in a different city to be there when the child was born. So we spent a lot of time with the birth mother and the birth father, and the four of us were in this little apartment of hers, and it was her 21st birthday, and of course she was only, it turned out to be five days from giving birth to the child we would adopt, and while we were singing happy birthday to her on her 21st birthday, all I could think of was: Hallmark doesn't make a card for this situation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: Wow, that's beautiful, though, because really what you have is a woman with a birthday who's about to give a great gift. You instead are receiving them, and that's, you know, a beautiful thing to mention, I think, where if you just, you know, say something like that, you know, normally you'd be getting gifts, but you're giving, you know, the greatest gift of all, and all we can say is thanks.

CONAN: Did you come up with anything, Steven?

STEVEN: No, no, we didn't get her a card. We did get her a gift, and it turned out to be a wonderful child. She's a great person. We still keep in touch with her too, so…

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, that's beautiful.

CONAN: That's great, Steven, thanks very much.

STEVEN: Thank you, gentlemen.

CONAN: Appreciate the call. I did want to ask you. Some of us would think that people who write what can sometimes seem like treacly sentiments would be cynical, and the characters that you describe at Hallmark are not that way at all.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, some of them are. There actually were cynical people and I had to cut them out for space, but there were - like the humor department was genuinely sarcastic. There were - it was a bunch of, like one of our guys went to Rome and brought back a pope plate that just kind of hung in our office for kitsch value, you know, which is not something that genuinely nice, sweet people who are worried about how they're presented would do.

We had, you know, a kind of anti-Christmas tree in the office that was simply a rug thrown over a hat rack that we would pin random things to, buttons and whatnot, and so there is an element of sarcasm in it. But I have to say the thing that I found most about greeting card writing and greeting card writers is no one goes into this business because they're jerks.

You know, you go into the business because you like making people happy, and you have a skill for it, and you like exercising that skill. And so the good side is you find yourself surrounded by tremendously decent people, you know, just wall to wall. The downside is you wind up with the single most passive-aggressive corporate culture you could possibly imagine because no one will be direct about how badly you're doing. You know, they're going to say oh, buck up, you'll do just fine.

Like I had - after I moved to the main writing staff, I had writer's block for a year, which is probably the most embarrassing thing you can have as a greeting card writer. You know, like I'm just writing two-line verses. How can I not have ideas? And I was flailing, and no one seemed particularly concerned. They were all really, oh, you'll get over this. This will be nice, you know, that kind of thing. And it wasn't until I had, like, buried the needle in the red and was really in danger that suddenly it kind of turned on me. It was like, look, shape up already, and there was no in between.

CONAN: There was another situation. You were - you had difficulty sitting in a cubicle and being creative - I can't imagine why - but there's a moment in the book where you start sitting on the window, and this becomes your place, and at some point one of your co-workers comes down and lies down in front of you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Right, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: He was making a point how apparently I was violating people's space and hadn't been aware of this. If you have a cubicle, this is a rule I learned, and you have - if you swivel your chair and can look out a window, even if the cubicle is sort of in the middle of the room, that window is sort of yours, and I was apparently sitting in people's windows because I didn't have a window. I was in the middle of the main kind of traffic area, and that was what was kind of driving me mad.

CONAN: You were blocking their light, yeah.

Mr. DICKERSON: Being able to find a cul-de-sac to stare out at was really, really handy to me, and that was denied to me because it was interfering with other people's work.

CONAN: Here's an email from Kevin in Jacksonville. I recently came out to my parents as gay, and I always thought it would have been great if there was a greeting card I could have sent to them for just such an occasion. Could you think up one that would have been appropriate for this?

Mr. DICKERSON: Not only do I have one, it's actually available online. I wrote a coming-out card. I looked online actually. Hallmark and American Greetings and all the major card companies don't actually have a lot of coming-out cards, and there aren't - the ones that they do have aren't funny.

I have one that you can find on pigspigot.com. I just did it for the fun of it. It's a sort of a greeting card wiki, where anyone can submit. And it's - on the outside, it shows just an empty closet. You know, you can just see a hanger, a lone hanger sitting there, the door is open. And on the inside, it says, I hear you've moved. So that's, you know, congratulations for coming out.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DICKERSON: And I have another one that I'm planning, a thank you for coming out. But to come out to your parents is interesting. I am actually also planning a card because the holiday season is coming up for coming out to your parents about being an Atheist, because that happens a lot, at least here in New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: I don't know if it gets into the water or something. And it seems to me that the same approach that I'm planning for that one is the same one that works here, which is, before you knew what I'm about to tell you, you thought I was a perfectly sweet human being, and guess what, I still am. You know, focus on what you already know in your heart and not the facts that I'm about to tell you, because those don't change a thing.

CONAN: It's interesting. This book is not just a book about growing up and about a lot of transitions in your life, but they include a lot of religious progressions.

Mr. DICKERSON: Right. Because I - when I started, I really, really wanted to be a pastor. That was my plan. And then - it's just a good plan for someone who wants to make people happy and, you know, spread goodness in the world. The problem is I studied religious studies in college. And this is actually - there was a piece on "This American Life" (unintelligible) about this, where I just suddenly realized, oh, a lot of this stuff isn't true if you're really scientific and, you know, and determined to prove everything, which I sort of was.

So, if you'll demand enough proof, it's not going to be there. And I - so, I wandered away from the faith. But I found myself still acting like a religious person, because the habits stay with you. And, you know, one of the things that - as a major conflict in the book is that although I'm not technically a Fundamentalist Christian anymore, I'm, you know, I'm a Liberal Catholic and I go - we go (unintelligible) field, I still am a virgin and I'm dating a woman that - we've been together for six years and we haven't done that much. That habit stays with you if you're afraid of making a mistake and you don't need, you know, God to make you afraid.

CONAN: Our guest is David Dickerson. His book is called "House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions." And he got this email. This from Ken(ph) in South Bend, Indiana. There once was a card man named David who was, till I'd verse, long enslaved. When given a topic, he grew quite myopic, until the last word was engraved. We're talking about…

Mr. DICKERSON: Nice.

CONAN: It's nice. It's nice.

Mr. DICKERSON: Nice.

CONAN: Yeah. Little limerick never hurts anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we get another caller on the line. This is Nina(ph). Nina with us from Birmingham in Michigan?

NINA (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Okay. My Birmingham is confused.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah.

NINA: It's okay. This was going to fit into your mean category, but I really want to send my husband's ex-wife a card that says, you know, we've been married longer than you guys, so get over it.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, that's funny.

NINA: But - because she deserves it, but I - and I won't do it. But I really wish there were cards out there like that because some people does - it's appropriate.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, actually, there is a way to do that if you emphasize the positive, you know, which is to say, like - presumably, you're objecting to a specific kind of behavior she's doing like is she (unintelligible) like hanging around places uninvited? As, you know, she…

NINA: Oh, yes.

Mr. DICKERSON: …(unintelligible)?

NINA: Totally. Totally.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, that's (unintelligible).

NINA: She's never exited the picture after 15 years. Yeah.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, thanks. I - because, you know, the best thing I can think of is to suggest, you're a smart, capable person. And just look at the whole world of things available to you besides my husband.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NINA: Oh, I love that. Oh, that was very good.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's, you know, so if you come with, you know, tickets to ballroom dancing lessons or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NINA: Maybe I'll get her some tickets for that or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: To me, it would be a generous gesture.

NINA: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Nina, thanks very much for the phone call.

NINA: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's two emails, both along the same lines. One from Melissa(ph) in Norman, Oklahoma. When you have loaned a friend money and really need it back.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh.

CONAN: And this is from Anita(ph) in Hudson, Ohio. How about when your children's father is late with the child support? That would come in pretty handy.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, my God. I've been in these situations so often, too. Like I - one of the reasons I have relied so much on my friends in all over the years because I usually made bad life choices and thought, I know what would be great, grad school. And so…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: There's so many who've made that decision.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: That will bring in all kinds of like - and so, I know what it's like to actually, like, need money back from people you've loaned money to or to be - to hold it to someone and to say, I can't give it to you right away. And so, the key is to, of course, not focus on the money so much and to, you know, to emphasize the positive. We're friends and, you know, friends look out for each other to the best of our ability. And I think you'd have to go somewhere in the area of saying, you know, my ability is a little tight this month.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKERSON: And (unintelligible) we're still friends, but we need to work together on this.

CONAN: Yeah. Any windfalls that are coming up for you?

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. I understand there's money in plasma sale, you know, something like that.

CONAN: That would be good. Yeah, something like that. So anyway, we follow your career at Hallmark through everyday cards and on into humor and then back up into main writing and then back into humor, and then finally, at the end of the book - well, I don't want to give it away, but you leave Hallmark…

Mr. DICKERSON: Right.

CONAN: …and you're in search for, among other things, the girl who has not yet there.

Mr. DICKERSON: Right.

CONAN: Has she arrived?

Mr. DICKERSON: No. It's funny that was a - there's a story I tell but I can't tell on the radio, but you can listen to it online if you want about the most heartwarming wet T-shirt contest ever, because the girl is not there. It was the most religious experience I had at Hallmark actually was - I don't want to (unintelligible) - but I was on a really, really down part of my life. I thought I ruined my relationship. I thought my life was over.

And just on this beautiful spring day that I desperately needed and was not paying attention to, a van drove by while I was just standing on the street feeling morose and a woman leaned out and - wearing a bikini and said, hey, lover, like lift off her top and the van, like, roared away, and I was thinking, that's - this is Kansas City. That's not supposed to happen. But it was such an alarming moment of joy that I - completely unexpected.

And I took a class in the sociology of religion, where they suggest that moments of unexpected and overwhelming grace (unintelligible) moments of religion, and that's what I was looking for when I went back to Florida, to find the woman who is not there - that woman in the van.

CONAN: Maybe in the next book. David Dickerson, thank you so much for your time today.

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, thank you. It was delightful.

CONAN: David Dickerson is the author of "House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions." We posted an excerpt at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. He is a regular contributor to "This American Life" as well.

Coming up, the death and possible rebirth of Detroit Motor City native Daniel Okrent goes home again and sees a way to bring his city back. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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