Slightly Off the Mark
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in ozma914's InsaneJournal:

    [ << Previous 20 ]
    Saturday, October 12th, 2019
    3:32 am
    My last Insanejournal post ...
    There are two things you need to know about writers:

    1. They're excellent at organizing their time and their lives.

    2. They lie. Often to themselves.

    Well, not me so much, as I generally admit to being unorganized. Still, I'm working on it. Some stuff is going on in my life that might bring big changes. They might also bring more expenses; I didn't say they were all good changes. So I'm working on ways to, as they say, "monetize" my writing. One of the best ways to do this is to spend more time actually doing that writing (and that selling, and promoting, and so forth).

    (Am I one of those people who'd write even if it didn't pay? Well, yeah--I've done that on and off for years. But I'd rather it paid.)

    Now, over the years I've joined numerous social media sites, both to spread the word about the writing and to, well, socialize. Some don't seem to be working out too well. For instance, I went to Insanejournal when Livejournal started having problems, but seem to be the only person on Insanejournal. Anywhere.

    When I first started getting published, Emily set up Facebook pages for each of my new books. Because, hey, when you've only got one or two books out ...

    But now we have ten books out, and an eleventh on the way. I kept all the old pages, but just copied and pasted the same thing to those, for the most part. Copying and pasting doesn't take long once I get a post organized, but what's the point in places where no one is there, or only people who also are friends with me in other places?

    So I'm deleting the Insanejournal page. I'm keeping Livejournal--I'm not insane.

    And I'm deleting my Storm Chaser and Storm Chaser Shorts FB pages. For now I'll keep the Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights page and my main Facebook page, but for those of you who follow me for my writing, I ask you to join my FB author's page, at

    ... As I understand it, that's the best place on FB to be able to keep track of our writing news.

    Later I'll decide other things. For instance ... MySpace? I still have a few friends on there, but haven't had any actual interactions for years.

    There's also MeWe, which I went to because Facebook seems to hate its customers, and wish them all the failure in the world. But very few other people are going to MeWe, so is there a point?

    Stuff like that. Come to think of it, I'm on too many Facebook groups, too.

    Oddly enough, I'm not that much of a joiner in real life. But online I'm on Deviantart, Goodreads, Tumblr ... it gets to be too much. A writer should, I think, concentrate on a few places, rather than spreading themselves all over the internet.

    We'll see.

    How do you all feel on the issue? If you're selling something, do you have an honest to goodness online strategy? Or is it more like me, throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks?

    (That's just figurative, by the way -- I don't throw crap at walls. Ick.)

    Of course, you'll always be able to find me on:



    Our website:



    And there's especially our newsletter ... you can access past issues and the signup page by going here:

    I think you can. Because it's only been twenty years or so, and I'm not sure I have this internet thing down, yet.
    Tuesday, October 8th, 2019
    2:34 am
    Fire Prevention: A Light Look at a Serious Subject
    This article first appeared in the Albion New Era during 2009’s Fire Prevention Week.

    Fire Prevention Week is here, a time in which we try to – wait for it – prevent fires. Of course, Fire Prevention Week should go on year round, but if it did we’d have to change the name. So, to give you something you can take with you all year, here’s a quick quiz to see if you know … oh, just relax, nobody’s grading you.

    1. Fire Prevention Week was begun after a huge fire burned:
    a. The City of Chicago.
    b. The entire town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin.
    c. A huge swath of Wisconsin and an even larger area of Michigan, all the way from one Great Lake to another.
    d. Donald Trump’s hair.

    The answer: All of the above. The most devastating forest fires in American history roared through Northeast Wisconsin and lower Michigan on October 8, 1871, leveling at least 16 communities, killing 1,152 people, and blackening 1.2 million acres of land – those are the conservative estimates. The disaster didn’t make much impact on the national news because of that little dust-up going on in Chicago at the same time. I was just kidding about the Trump hair..

    2. President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation in:
    a. 1492.
    b. 1920.
    c. 1980
    d. OMG! Nobody told me I’d have to memorize dates!

    The answer: d. Meanwhile, since the early 20’s Fire Prevention Week has come during the same week as the anniversary of the Chicago and Peshtigo fires.

    3. On the spot where the Great Chicago Fire began now stands:
    a. The Chicago Fire Department Fire Academy
    b. A shrine to Oprah.
    c. Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
    d. The burial spot of Donald Trump’s hair.

    The answer: a. Can you sense the irony?

    4. Okay, here’s an easy true of false question:
    The Great Chicago Fire first burned down the O’Leary home.

    The answer: False. Although the fire started in the O’Leary barn, a lucky breeze spared their house. However, rumors that Mrs. O’Leary’s firebug cow kicked over a lamp made them a pariah at the Homeowner’s Association meetings for the next 130 years. Later research revealed there’s no proof the O’Leary’s – or their cow – had anything to do with the fire’s origin. In fact, there’s some speculation that a fiery meteorite broke apart as it fell to Earth, explaining how several fires over three states all started at once.

    (Experts now believe meteorites would not have started the fires, so we're back to blaming humans.)

    5. Most fires are started by:
    a. Mice with matches.
    b. Men, women, and children.
    c. Zeus.
    d. A small, square animal called the Woozy that shoots sparks from its eyes.

    The answer: b. Zeus is a myth, people – and the mouse was acquitted. Bonus points if you can tell me where I got that Woozy thing from.
    Cooking, electrical problems, smoking, and children playing with fire-starting materials are the main causes of fires. Kids with matches or lighters cause hundreds of deaths every year, and that ain’t funny.

    6. If a fire sets off a sprinkler system:
    a. All the sprinkler heads go off, allowing our hero to escape in the confusion.
    b. All the sprinkler heads go off, allowing the villain to escape in the confusion.
    c. All the sprinkler heads go off, allowing the hero to electrocute the villain.
    d. Only the sprinkler heads directly above the fire go off, saving untold lives and property every year.

    The answer: d. You might want to consider getting a guard dog, because sprinklers are designed to control fires while doing only minimal water damage.

    7. Your smoke detector batteries should be changed:
    a. So you have fresh ones available for the TV remote.
    b. Every spring and fall, when the clocks change.
    c. Because otherwise they could develop serious diaper rash.
    d. Because their behavior is just unacceptable.

    The answer: b, no matter what time zone you’re in.

    8. E.D.I.T.H. is important because:
    a. She’s the only woman James T. Kirk ever really loved.
    b. I said so.
    c. Exit Drills In The Home help families escape from home fires.
    d. How would Archie get along without her?

    The answer: c (and b. Come to think of it, all of the above). Smoke and toxic gases from a fire can fill a home within minutes, so practicing how to safely escape from a fire, and meet up in a safe spot afterward, saves lives. Firefighters are great, if I do say so myself, but most fire victims are dead from smoke inhalation before fire trucks can reach the scene.

    9. Firefighters die:
    a. Because that gray is unacceptable.
    b. hard.
    c. in the wool.
    d. At the rate of almost a hundred every year.

    The answer – is pretty obvious, and not very funny. Not only is the easiest fire to fight the one that never starts, but the least dangerous fire is the one that never starts.

    10: Fire is:
    a. Fast, sometimes engulfing a home in just a few minutes.
    b. Dark, producing dense smoke and toxic gases.
    c. Hot, over 1,000 degrees in a typical structure fire and searing lungs even at a distance from the flames.
    d. Deadly, killing 2,900 people in 2008, injuring 14,960 others, and causing over twelve billion dollars in damage.

    The answer: All of the above, and that’s no joke. So the next time you see or hear something serious about fire prevention – pay attention. When the real test comes, it’s life or death.

    Find all of our books at:
    Saturday, October 5th, 2019
    4:57 am
    Juggling Book Projects Can Give You a Headache
    After hitting 28,000 words on the first draft of my new novel, We Love Trouble, I'm calling a halt to it.

    Temporarily! Come on, I'm not going to give up on a story that I've described as The Thin Man meets Scooby-Doo. I'm having way too much fun.

    But Emily and I wanted to get our new humor book, Still Slightly Off the Mark, out before the Christmas season. It's been so long since I last went over the final draft that I assumed--correctly--that I'd find more mistakes. So, while Emily works on the cover, I've started a line edit.

    Then I'm going to finish the rough draft of We Love Trouble, and while that cools and awaits a second draft, I'll finally go back to pulling photos together for our Albion Fire Department photo book.

    It's like cooking a meal with multiple dishes at the same time. You have to add the various ingredients at the right moment, have them cooking at the right temperature, and keep anything from burning. I've always been exceptionally bad at cooking multiple-dish meals, which is why I make sure my smoke detector batteries are good.

    Hopefully I'll be better with the multiple book projects. Although, come to think of it, if I should hear back from an agent or publisher things will get even more complicated.

    Don't forget to find us on social media, including:

    Sunday, September 29th, 2019
    2:24 pm
    Agent of Change, or: Literary Invention
    As an author, searching for the right literary agent sucks.

    I've been trying to find one that will be the right match for me, not just any warm body, so I spend a lot of time researching and seeking them out. Then I spend more time doing a search to make sure I haven't already queried them or their agency, since I've been on this hunt ever since I lost my last agent, over a decade ago. If there's one thing writers don't have a lot of, it's time.

    So I've come up with a solution.*

    Someone needs to create a LinkedIn type website, for writers seeking agents. The writers will post their best query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters, along with things like the genres they write in, a list of previously published works, their social media presence, and anything else an agent might be interested in.

    Then the agent only has to come to the site, do a keyword search, and look for an author that meets their needs.

    I just went through a list of about two dozen agents, and each of them had slightly different requirements for author submissions. It seems to me this idea would actually make things easier for both sides. The writer doesn't have to try to narrow and tweak his queries to meet the desires of individual agents; The agents, instead of being inundated with e-mails every day, can just do a quick search on one website whenever they're looking for new clients.


    Unhappily, I'm tech challenged. So which of you internet geniuses is going to get the ball rolling?

    *Not applicable to you successful self-publishers, of course.

    Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
    8:33 pm
    Mark Hunter and the Albion Rovers
    As all fourteen of my regular readers know, my name is Mark Hunter and I come from Albion, Indiana. What you might not know is that I have internet alerts set, so that if someone talks about my writing I know. It's like spying, only … well, it's just like spying.

    Sadly, most of the hits are about one of the other 1,400,000 Mark Hunters on the internet, which explains why I usually stick in my middle initial. But as a result, I get fun things like this:

    'Never say never': Albion Rovers chief admits Cliftonhill Stadium could be sold for the right price
    Scottish Daily Record
    Cliftonhill may have stood at the heart of Coatbridge for a century – but Albion Rovers financial director Mark Hunter refused to rule-out selling the …

    So whenever I get too full of it, I can remind myself that not only am I not the only Mark Hunter from Albion, but I'm not even the financial director.

    (The original story is here:

    No, no, not him! Although as the CEO of Molson Coors, he's the Mark R Hunter to go to if you want a beer.

    (By the way, eight of my fourteen readers have not yet bought their copy of Coming Attractions. Remember, whenever someone doesn't buy a book, a bear loses all its hair and gets teased for being a bare hair bear. Who wants that?)

    Find all of our books at:
    Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
    4:06 am
    What I didn't do on my summer vacation
    I'm back!

    Not that we went far: we had a two week vacation that was almost all spent at home, largely because of my annual super sinus infection and some family responsibilities. I did catch up on sleep--this is something all third shifters appreciate. We also caught up on some reading and watched a season of Game of Thrones, which is not what I'd call "relaxing" TV.

    More important, once I was feeling up to it I got some writing done, and I'm up to 24,500 words on my work in progress. No, not that work in progress, which is awaiting Emily's editing skills. No, not that other work in progress, which I'm holding for cooler weather and involves me going through a LOT of photographs.

    The other other work in progress. The one about the two spouses and their dog, and horses, and maybe ghosts, and definitely a murder mystery, and mushrooms. It was supposed to come after the other two, but I started the first scene as a whim, couldn't stop, and just hit chapter fourteen.

    I'm having loads of fun writing this story. I don't know if it'll be any good, but working on it sure helps my stress levels.

    Sadly, vacation's over and it's time to put some work into promotion and marketing. Oh, and return to my full time job. *sigh*

    Find all of our books at:

    And most places where fine books with my name on them are sold.
    Friday, September 6th, 2019
    6:34 pm
    I sold a short story!
    I didn't cheer. I didn't run through the streets, kissing perfect strangers. I just kind of sat there slack-jawed, staring at the e-mail. My wife probably thought I'd gotten a death notification.

    But no: I'd sold a short story. And yes, I was happy--just having trouble believing it.

    To understand why one sale should shock me so, we have to go into history. Don't worry, it won't hurt.

    Shortly after turning 18, I started submitting short stories. At first, they went one by one to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which these days is called Asimov's Science Fiction. There were and are plenty of other magazines that print (or post online, these days) short stories, but Asimov's was the first one I read, and I was stuck on appearing there first. Just so you know, that's a stupid way to do it, then and now.

    I wrote dozens and dozens of short stories. I took a course on writing them; bought dozens of books about writing; and I read hundreds of the short stories of others. I also got smart enough to send each story to every market I could find.

    By the way, thanks to Linda Nagata, my teacher in that correspondence course. It was in the snail mail days. The story she helped me improve was "Grocery Purgatory", a tale of disappearances set in a small town grocery store. Read all about her here:

    None were ever published. I came close later on, with favorable and personal rejection letters. Eventually I discarded the ones clearly written in desperation--some of them were real stinkers--while revising and improving the ones that showed promise. But no final sale.

    Here's the thing: short stories of mine have been published. Some were holiday themed tales, part of Christmas inserts in the three weekly papers that published my humor column. They were not in the habit of publishing fiction, and if I hadn't already been on the staff it wouldn't have happened ... so they didn't really count.

    In 2011 my first novel, Storm Chaser, came out. I wrote several short stories featuring the characters from the book, intending to give them away to promote the book itself. But when I told my publisher about it, they suggested selling them together, as a collection. That's how Storm Chaser Shorts came about: They're published, and they're short stories, but it seemed to me again that I had a bit of an unfair advantage, compared to cold selling a single story to a publisher who didn't know me.

    Three anthologies carry my stories, but they were by invite, and I think they also don't count.

    The point is, it had become personal.

    (Oh, and as usual, all those can be found on our website and here, on Amazon: Always be closing.

    As time went by, I boiled down the publishable stories to six, always waiting there in my master submission log. I had submitted my first short story in the summer of 1980.

    So you see, when I received an e-mail from Alban Lake Publishing, telling me they were buying a story for one of their periodicals, I had been trying to sell to a magazine for thirty-nine years.

    The story is "Coming Attractions", the bones of which I first wrote three decades ago. Revised many times and workshopped with Linda Nagata, it's hardly recognizable from the original (which was twice as long).

    I'll give out more information when I get it, but my new publisher's website is here:

    After almost four decades, I'll have a short story published in a magazine. Well, e-magazine. Let's just say periodical. After a summer of everything breaking and a long week of sinus infection, this small step is very good news, indeed.

    Now: On to selling the rest of them!
    Friday, August 30th, 2019
    6:12 am
    Are Valentine’s books lining Cheryl’s She-Shed
    I checked my Amazon author rankings the other day, and discovered that in August they sold a copy of an anthology I'm in, My Funny Valentine.

    In August.

    We sell some copies of that anthology every year--in late January and early February. I mean, it's a humor book about Valentine's Day, so that's when you'd expect to move a few.

    But August?

    Maybe it's like those TV channels that feature Christmas related movies in July. They're just trying to ... well, I don't know what they're trying to do. Remind true holiday fanatics of their favorite time of year, I suppose. I wonder why I don't watch summer movies in January? Maybe I'll give it a try next winter.

    Meanwhile, why should I care about the reasons? I don't care of people buy my books to insulate their she sheds, as long as they buy them.

    But it made me wonder about something. What do you, the reader, think of holiday themed fiction? Who'd be interested, for instance, in reading a Christmas themed novel written by someone, say me? Asking for a friend.

    (This blog does not recommend or condone using books as insulation.)

    (You can find both Mark's books, and material to replace Cheryl's she-shed, on the Amazon that's not burning.)
    Tuesday, August 27th, 2019
    3:22 am
    Happy birthday to Wizard of Oz -- the movie
    I started scratching my head recently when I noticed buzz about this being the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

    Um ... no, it's not. It's the 119th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, as of this summer. What kind of over the rainbow scheme are they trying to pull off, here?

    What the pundits are actually talking about, of course, is the MGM-made movie The Wizard of Oz. Not only does the book precede it by 39 years, but it isn't even the first movie version.

    Just for the record, L. Frank Baum wrote fourteen Oz books, and some related short tales. After his death, other authors took over writing "official" Oz books. (Oz fanatics will mention the "Famous Forty", which sadly aren't so famous anymore.) With Baum's original books in the public domain there are now dozens of unofficial Oz books, not including the one I've been plotting out in my mind.

    Baum produced a multimedia stage presentation about Oz in 1908, and the first actual film, partially based on a 1902 musical play, came out in 1910. There were several more related movies, including the 1925 movie called ... The Wizard of Oz.

    I'm just sayin'.

    Ah, but it's the 1939 movie everyone thinks of, these days. When I was a kid you could catch it on TV exactly once a year--no DVR, no reruns, no second chances. I cleared my schedule (which was easy, because I didn't have one) and caught it every year; yes, I love the movie and always will. I have no issue with the MGM movie beyond it leading people to believe Dorothy Gale is a brunette. (She's blonde, dammit! Depending on who you ask.) I love musicals anyway, and it remains a favorite of mine.

    But the books are better.

    Well, most of them. Baum had to rush his product to feed his family, from time to time.

    My parents got me the collection of Baum's fourteen books, and as soon as I finished reading the last one, I'd go back and start the first one over again. Although I didn't know dozens of others even existed at the time, the first fourteen were enough to cement my love of reading, which in turn kick-started my love of writing.

    Without the Oz books, I maybe would have found a better paying part-time job. But, without the Oz books there would have been no twenty-five years worth of humor columns, no extra credit short stories in English class, no working on the school newspaper, no researching and writing about local history, and no ten published books. No love of reading--who knows what kind of trouble I would have gotten into, without books to keep me busy?

    So thank you, Oz ... no matter what the media.
    Saturday, August 24th, 2019
    5:06 am
    Creating Hopewell, and the Storm Chaser universe, or not
    It's fun to create new worlds for your characters to inhabit, even if those worlds are just new communities. For my Storm Chaser series, I created a brand new place called Hurricane, a town of only a few hundred or so where some of my main characters live. In my unpublished Fire On Mist Creek I developed a town of a few thousand called--try to guess--Mist Creek, in northern Kentucky. Also unpublished is Red Is For Ick, and for that I spent some time developing a southern Indiana community of several thousand that features a theme park and a large lake.

    (In Radio Red I set the story near the real-life town of Bellaire, Michigan, but never mind.)

    There at the bottom of the cover, that's a lot like what the Bellaire area looks like.

    In theory a great way to cheat and cut down on research is to set your story in a real place, but the problem with that is that you'd better get your details right. If your characters are running around New York City, you'd better know where Queens is in relation to the Bronx, and the best way to get from Long Island to Manhattan (I don't). If the tale is in your home town, you'll never hear the end from it if you have North Street on the south side. In The Notorious Ian Grant, I have some characters visit a real flower shop in my home town, Albion. The problem is, by the time the novel was published the shop had moved to a different location.

    But the main character's never been to Albion, so I blame him.

    So I often split the difference. My little town of Hurricane is totally made up, but it's in a real location: the intersection of county roads 150E and 600N in Noble County, a few miles from my home. When I've achieved Stephen King status, fans will flock to that location to see … four farm fields and a woods. And a hog farm in the distance.

    I did the same thing with Coming Attractions. The story was inspired by a real-life drive-in movie theater, but I didn't want to use the real one. So I moved the location a few miles west, from Dekalb County into Noble County in northeast Indiana, so it would be closer to the story's home town, Hopewell.

    Which was silly, because Hopewell doesn't exist. I could have just as easily put it all in Dekalb County.

    The town was named after a Noble County road, which you might be surprised to learn is Hopewell Road--but I didn't end up putting it there, either. Instead I put it around halfway between two existing towns, Avilla and Kendallville, when I could have just used either of them, instead. Why did I not? Laziness. I didn't want to have to remember where everything was. The irony of that is that, in very general layout, Hopewell is just a copy of Kendallville, anyway, picked up and moved a few miles south. It's just smaller, and has a cool coffee shop on Main Street.

    It could be any drive-in, it's just the one in a town that isn't there.

    But see, that's the kind of adjustments you can make when you create your own community. You can move New York City a few miles down the coast and call it Gotham, or Metropolis, and suddenly it has Daily Planet buildings and stately Wayne Manors … and the Batmobile never seems to have trouble with crosstown traffic. You won't hear a thing about it in the story--it's all in the author's world building.

    Speaking of world building: Coming Attractions is in the Storm Chaser universe, with Hopewell and Hurricane about ten miles from each other. I did that just for the heck of it--you wouldn't know it by reading either book. One Storm Chaser character does appear, very briefly, in Coming Attractions, but doesn't get named. (In the same way, characters from Storm Chaser and the unpublished Red Is For Ick appear together in my young adult novel, The No-Campfire Girls.)

    Are crossovers necessary? Nope … just fun.

    Find all of our books at:

    And wherever fine books with my name on them are sold.
    Wednesday, August 21st, 2019
    5:01 am
    Don't Cry For My Air Conditioner
    We had an unusually cool spring, so maybe the problem didn't start with the first heat wave of the year, but that's sure when we noticed it: Our big window air conditioner blew air just fine, but that air wasn't conditioned.

    If these things don't happen at the worst possible time, they're at least discovered then.

    I can't complain, because the air conditioner came with the house--which I bought thirty years ago. In fact, we did an internet search for the model, Sears Coldspot, and learned they stopped making it in the 70s. Our air conditioner had actually survived over forty Indiana summers, and that's remarkable.

    I was still in my teens when that thing was made! I wish I'd held up nearly as well.

    My house doesn't have central air, or central anything. I suppose we could pump cold water through the hot water radiators and cool the house that way, but ... say, maybe that's something to try. Although the furnace is also over forty years old, so best leave well enough alone.

    The air conditioner was set into a window, at one corner of the house. But it was powerful enough to cool the entire downstairs, as long as you set up three fans to blow the air from room to room, in a windy circle that ended with the kitchen air being pumped right back to the conditioner. If you set it up just right, walking through a room can feel like being Jim Cantore reporting for The Weather Channel.

    The upstairs is on its own. We bought a small unit for the bedroom, and left the smaller room upstairs to swelter in the summer. We use it as a backup fridge in the winter. Old house problems.

    When the downstairs air conditioner, which had its own electrical shutoff and a special plug, stopped cooling the house, Emily went outside and laid her hand against the side of it. Then she came back inside and placed her hand in a stream of cold water until the burning stopped.

    Yes, there was definitely something wrong, of the "play Taps at its grave" variety.

    Anyone who knows my history will not be surprised to find I'd been saving up for the next big home repair job. After that, it was a simple process of taking the old air conditioner out and replacing it.

    It's usually when the word "simple" appears that we run into trouble.

    The old unit had been permanently installed in that #@%& window. It had been screwed, hammered, molded, glued, foam-sprayed, and caulked into place. It was as if in addition to stopping air leaks, they wanted to stop burglaries, alien invasions, and Godzilla.

    Eventually we freed it, using two screwdrivers, a hammer, chisel, crowbar, power saw, and two sticks of dynamite. (Luckily it was close enough to Independence Day that nobody noticed the noise.) Preparing to install the new air conditioner, I tried to raise the window further.

    The window wouldn't raise. It wouldn't raise because it had been installed at the same time as the air conditioner, and was fitted to its exact specifications.

    The new unit did not, of course, meet those specifications. But you knew that.

    Keep in mind that Emily and I were doing this work on a day when the temperature was 88 degrees (at 6 p.m.) and the humidity was 107%. How this is possible I don't know, but after an hour we looked like we'd stepped into a shower fully clothed. Oddly enough, the dog didn't seem at all bothered by this--if anything, he seemed happy to have a new window to look out of.

    When we finished, I left the pried out metal, the hunks of insulation and piles of screws, the broken drill bits, right where they fell, and simply taped over the areas the new unit didn't cover. Then I tried to plug it in.

    Which wouldn't work. The new unit didn't have a special plug.

    Some things you should check first. Luckily, there was a more normal plug a few feet on the other side; we turned the new unit on and went out to get a pizza while it was working.

    No way were we cooking inside that house. I mean, any more than we already had.
    Sunday, August 18th, 2019
    4:56 am
    Book Review: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
    "God is dead. Meet the kids."

    Fat Charlie Nancy is just a normal guy with a normal job and a normal girlfriend, which tells you, considering this is a Neil Gaiman book, that things are about to go very, very sideways for him. Sure enough, he soon learns that his father has dropped dead while singing karaoke in a Florida bar.

    Fat Charlie hates his father, who seems to have made it his mission to humiliate his son, including giving him his nickname. Finding out that Dad was a god named Anansi doesn't change Fat Charlie's opinion a bit. But that little revelation is only the beginning, as Fat Charlie's brother, Spider, shows up and turns Fat Charlie's tiny spare bedroom into a huge pleasure palace.

    Then things get weird.

    Nobody's better at taking regular people and dropping them down a rabbit hole than Neil Gaiman. He did it brilliantly in American Gods, and here he brings back one of those gods, Anansi, to torture his unsuspecting offspring. Fat Charlie, once settled into his London life, now finds himself ping-ponging across the Atlantic Ocean, with his job, relationship, and life in jeopardy as he desperately struggles to figure out what's going on.

    It's a comedy.

    After all, there are also few authors better at drawing humor out of their character's misery, either.

    Although not as complicated as American Gods--there's only one god involved here, mostly, and way fewer characters--Gaiman weaves a great tale of rich and eclectic people, in a (shall I say it?) web that gradually draws their stories together. It's delightful, chaotic, and great fun, written in a free flowing way less experienced writers just couldn't get away with. I have a feeling Gaiman works hard to make his writing look like it's not hard work.
    Wednesday, August 14th, 2019
    3:14 am
    Animal stories

    Earlier this summer, as I entered Pokagon State Park, I spotted a turtle making it's slow way across the road.

    There was a car coming the other way, but the turtle was about to the center line and looked safe from it. I shifted into park, got out, and ran up to the turtle since, as you know, it takes them about ten days to cross two lanes.

    When I reached down, the turtle scampered away like a rabbit with its tail on fire.

    I had no idea they could move that fast. All I had to do was keep stepping behind it, and it made its way to the far side in a matter of seconds. On the way back to the car, I noticed the guy driving the other way looked just as surprised as I was.

    A few days later Emily encountered a snapping turtle, and had a similar experience in that it whirled around so fast she couldn't get it off the highway, for fear of losing fingers. Some neighbors who apparently had been there before brought down a broom and trash can, and successfully moved it out of harm's way.


    We have a compost pile in our back yard, held together by some old wooden pallets. It's a good way to take scraps of food and other suitable garbage, mix it with grass clipping and leaves, and end up with some nice, usable soil. Granted that I haven't had time to plant a garden in some years, but if nothing else maybe I can use it as a base to try and grow some grass in the front yard, assuming I trim those thick shade trees first.

    There's always something.

    Cats, on the other hand, know how to relax. In fact, when I went out back to mow the lawn I saw a small black bundle on top of the compost, which I at first took to be a dead cat. I got within a few feet of it before realizing it was just sleeping.

    It was a cool morning, and the decomposing products in compost, along with a layer of leaves over top, apparently gave the little feline a warm and comfy place for a nap. I was trying to quietly turn on my camera's phone when it stretched, turned its sleepy face around, and splotted me.

    The only thing I saw after that was a black streak, for the space of maybe half a second, before it disappeared around the corner.

    It's probably for the best that I saw it, instead of it being discovered by our dog, who has a faster reaction time and doesn't bother taking pictures.


    A few weeks ago Emily and I drove down to Missouri. Part of that trip is down the length of southern Illinois, on the four lane interstate 57. Toward the south it gets hilly and picturesque, just as Indiana does, but closer to the center of the state it can be a bit of a bland drive. Picture I-70 west of Indianapolis, only with less corn.

    So when a large bird flew down low over the highway, it caught my attention. It was being chased by a much smaller bird, something I've seen often that's (I assume) related to nest stealing. Usually the larger bird is a hawk, or buzzard.

    In this case it came down extra low, and took a turn just over the highway, in the same direction we were traveling. For just a moment, it was almost still in relation to our car, just thirty feet or so away.

    It was a bald eagle.

    This is what Ben Franklin wanted as our national symbol. Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same, fighting over an eagle leg.

    They're more common now than they used to be, but still not very common; when I was a kid they were practically unheard of. But there it was, right in front of us (no, I didn't take a picture--I was driving). Emily and I squeed and maybe I peed a little, and had something to talk about until we got further down and started seeing the Mississippi River area flooding.

    It was a bald eagle, people. Right in front of us. And I don't want to make it sound like I'm just a fanboy, and maybe it was a small thing, but it was really neat.

    I think sometimes we don't take the time to realize just how neat the little things can be. We get to thinking something's not worth seeing unless its had a few million dollars worth of CGI work put into it. We don't even bother looking up from our phones anymore. We're bringing up a whole generation of people who don't get how truly cool it is to see those first blooming flowers of spring, bringing color back to the world.

    Check out those rainbows. Study the stars. Our universe is a miracle.
    Tuesday, August 6th, 2019
    4:48 am
    Knee replacement went well, road trip was middling
    Emily's father had knee replacement surgery Monday and came through okay, although she tells me he's having pain issues. She's going to be down there taking care of him for a week or two.

    I drove her down Sunday, and drove back Monday, because there was quite literally no one to replace me for my whole work rotation. (Which isn't to say I'm irreplaceable--that's a different thing entirely.) It was right at 1,000 miles starting out Sunday morning, and getting back Monday afternoon.

    A thousand miles in thirty hours is hardly a record, by any standards. Still, I'm getting a little, um, older for that. We listened to Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" on the way down, and I listened to podcasts on the way back, which made it easier ... but man, am I stiff and sore, and tired.

    Beowulf wasn't overly thrilled either, especially when he realized we were leaving without Emily. It took half the trip to get him to drink any water, and as we got close to home I bought him a cheeseburger just so he'd eat something. Poor fellow hasn't gone a day without seeing her since we got him, and I haven't been separated from her that long since we got married. The difference is that I can stay busy to keep my mind off of it, and he's just moping by the door.

    Not much of interest on the drive, except that I got buzzed by a biplane doing some crop dusting. It's startling to suddenly see a shadow pass over that's bigger than the car.

    Prayers and good thoughts requested for my father-in-law -- and for Emily, who's tasked with making him get up and exercise his new knee, something I'm sure he won't want to do.
    Saturday, August 3rd, 2019
    12:39 am
    Indiana Beach photos
    A day at Indiana Beach

    Just a few pictures: a long day, rainy and fun.
    Wednesday, July 31st, 2019
    2:50 am
    I'm the Writer of the Week!
    I’m the Humor Outcasts Writer of the Week!

    They had very nice things to say about me. Some of them were even true.
    Thursday, July 25th, 2019
    2:48 am
    Our (old) Coming Attractions press release
    This was part of a series of Coming Attractions related posts I was going to put out regularly to promote the book's release. This summer being typical, the last one I posted was almost two months ago. *sigh* This one is just the press release I sent out to various newspapers, radio and TV stations, blogs, celebrity talk show hosts, and the Library of Congress, just after the the book first came out. It did land me a TV interview, but otherwise it seems to have vanished without a trace, so this might be the first time you've seen it.

    So hey, you want to share this around ... who am I to stop you?

    (You can read chapter one here:

    A local author has just published his tenth book, and saved travel money by setting it in Noble County.

    Coming Attractions follows the battle to save an Indiana drive-in theater from developers, and is the fourth romantic comedy written by Mark R. Hunter of Albion. It was easy to get into the mood, Hunter says: He brainstormed and outlined the story while sitting with his family at the Auburn-Garrett Drive-in, waiting for the first feature to start.

    In the darkness of an Indiana drive-in movie theater, Maddie McKinley returns from the concession stand, climbs into the wrong van, and gets tackled by the father of the kids inside. Logan Chandler is embarrassed about roughing her up, but also intrigued by the beautiful young woman from Boston, who arrived alone at the movies wearing an expensive dress. Unfortunately, he’s the local businessman leading a battle to save the drive-in from developers—and she’s the attorney sent to make sure it’s torn down.

    "At heart it's a love story, but it's also about a clash of cultures and changing times," Hunter says. "And coffee. Somehow coffee became a theme ... and I don't even drink coffee."

    The story's other main setting is the fictional town of Hopewell, situated somewhere in eastern Noble County, which he named after nearby Hopewell Road. It's familiar territory for Hunter, whose novels Storm Chaser and its sequel The Notorious Ian Grant, and their related short story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts, were mostly set in the fictional town of Hurricane, also in Noble County.

    Although his most recent novel, Radio Red, is set in Michigan, he and his wife Emily also went local for two non-fiction books: Images of America: Albion and Noble County, and Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With the Albion Fire Department. The two also collaborated on the humor book Hoosier Hysterical: How The West Became The Midwest Without Moving At All, and collected his humor pieces together in Slightly Off The Mark.

    Mark Hunter also wrote a young adult novel set in southern Indiana, The No-Campfire Girls.

    Coming Attractions and the Hunters' other books, and a link to Mark R. Hunter's blog, can be found on his website at, and he has an Amazon Author Page at

    Mark can also be found on social media, including:




    Thursday, July 18th, 2019
    8:01 pm
    Apollo: One Giant Leap For Mankind
    It was one of my earliest memories.

    Six days earlier, I turned seven. It was one heck of a birthday present.

    Human beings landing on the surface of another heavenly body. It's hard to remember, fifty years after, just how remarkable that was. In 1969 it had been only twelve years since anything made by humans was launched into orbit, let alone 300,000 miles further on to the Moon.Only eight years before (fourteen months before my birth), the first American was shot into space.

    It was all new.

    Cars were being designed with rocketship-like fins on them. Star Trek and Lost in Space were on TV. (My very earliest memory is hiding behind my mother while she ironed clothes and watched a particularly scary scene from Star Trek.) My Christmas gifts? Action figures from the Matt Mason astronaut collection, and a complete Apollo rocket that, with a click, shot the Apollo capsule into the air.

    We were space nuts because space was, perhaps literally, the future.

    Or so we thought.

    I remember one aunt claiming that the Moon landings never really happened. Yes, that was a thing even back then. The rest of us sat transfixed in front of our television sets, which themselves were the size of an Apollo capsule, and similarly colorless. We watched the launches, the landings, the splashdowns, even the retrieval as helicopters set the capsules down on the deck of a handy aircraft carrier.

    One day our teacher brought a portable TV into the classroom--by portable, I mean it could be picked up by one person, assuming that one person had been working out. She adjusted the rabbit ears until a kinda-sorta picture came on, and we sat silently, watching one of the Apollo capsules splash down in the Pacific.

    It was an early experiment in bringing technology into the classroom, and it sure worked for us ... although I wouldn't see a TV in class again until high school.

    Oddly enough, I have no memory of the Apollo 13 crisis, and I wonder now if my parents didn't keep the news from me. Maybe they figured, correctly, that I had anxieties of my own without learning that my real life heroes were only human, after all. But otherwise, I was all about space.

    Can it really have been fifty years?

    What the hell happened? We were supposed to be on Mars by now. Where's the Moonbase? Why isn't Southwest Airlines booking cheap flights to a space station? Where the heck are the ray guns, and the communicators?

    I was supposed to be up there, dammit. During winter I'd tie the hood of my coat tight around my face, and pretend I was in a spacesuit. Granted that space is warmer than Indiana winters of my youth, but still.

    I'm what people call a fiscal conservative. I don't think any government should spend beyond their means, and I'm very much against throwing money around just because you can print more. Heaven knows manned space exploration is almost as expensive as a presidential election campaign.

    But this is one area in which we should be spending more.

    The advantages of space exploration are enormous. Big enough to justify the expense, with all the other problems in the world? I would argue yes, but not just the missions themselves. It requires an investment in science, and that requires an investment in people: education, interest, employment. Discoveries that will lead to another wave of innovation and invention. Imagine the materials, knowledge, and technology that came out of the Apollo era, and imagine that continuing on, with a new generation.

    A new generation. I think one of the problems with the world today is that we've lost our love of discovery just for the sake of discovery. Yes, exploration can bring us that new technology, those new jobs, maybe solutions to today's problems. But more important than that, it's time to make kids wonder again.

    We need to be able to sit our kids in front of the TV again, and let them see real wonders, going on right before their eyes. Well, maybe not TV; maybe online, or on their phones, or visors, or their cyber-optic implants. Mankind has always thrilled in that exploration, that discovery. Reestablishing manned space exploration--preferably as a species, rather than as a country--might be just what it takes to get us moving forward as a people again.

    Okay, so maybe it's too late for me to go up there. But I have grandchildren, now. And maybe, fifty years from now, people will be telling the story of when they landed ... somewhere.
    Saturday, July 13th, 2019
    9:10 pm
    Old Firefighters Never Die: They Just Smell Smoky
    Thirty-nine years ago today (July 14th, since I'm posting this early--or if you're reading it later), I walked into a former auto dealership, past a twenty-eight year old fire engine and a bread truck that had been converted into a rescue unit, and asked to become a volunteer firefighter.

    To this day, I don't know where I found the courage. I was painfully shy and not exactly an action hero, but there were two things I wanted to do with my life: write and fight fires. Not at the same time, you understand.

    Having those as my full-time jobs never worked out.

    Still, I summoned the courage to walk into that meeting room, my first experience with entering a smoke-filled room as a firefighter. (Smoking was allowed inside at that time, you see--and some of the members had taken to pipes and cigars.)

    The Fire Chief asked my age, and didn't seem all that pleased that I'd turned eighteen that very day. Only decades later did I learn that the Albion Fire Department had, just a few short years before, reduced the minimum age for a volunteer from 21 to 18. I probably seemed like a snot-nosed, green little punk, which I was.

    Two of the trucks we had when I joined in 1980. Yes, I lined up the sign for this photo.

    For reasons I'm not interested in getting into, our department was in dire shape back then. We spent many years building it back up: replacing old trucks, updating equipment and training, improving protective gear and communications equipment. We got a lot better.

    The AFD protects 96 square miles, mostly rural. As members we sometimes disagree on the best way to do things, but we've always understood our job is to protect everyone and everything to the best of our abilities. We've had our losses; we've had our saves. My home is one in a line of three buildings that at one time or another caught fire, but are still standing today thanks to dedicated volunteers.

    Our job is to take the battle to the fire, not to wait while the fire comes to us. It's to do our level best to keep the danger as far back as possible. To protect businesses and farm fields; homes and wildlife sanctuaries; factories and a state park.

    Emergency services are inefficient by nature. We can't just rent out equipment we need for a certain incident at a certain time, because emergencies don't call in to schedule themselves. Last year we didn't get such terrible snowstorms that we needed both our four wheel drives just to get out of the station. Next year, we might have half a dozen such storms. Tomorrow we might have a car fire that's out on arrival, or we might need our foam equipment for an overturned gasoline tanker, or we might send a brush truck to aid a neighboring department at a field fire, or we might have to extricate five people from a car crushed beneath a semi. Or none of those. Or all.

    It's our job to continually improve our department; to leave it better than when we walked through the firehouse door. To keep it from falling behind again.

    I don't know how long I'll be there for that.

    This is not a "woe is me" post; I've had a good run. But I've had some problems with energy-sucking pain in recent years, some of it chronic, some of it of the "ouch! I'm dying right now!" variety. Ironically, it started when I hurt my spine at a fire in the 80s, and was exacerbated (get your mind out of the gutter and look it up) when I pulled a back muscle at an accident scene. (Fun fact: Trying to hide your pain instead of immediately seeking treatment is stupid.)

    Some days I can fight fire; most days I can do something; some days I lay whining on the couch, like a man-flu victim.

    In recent years I've floated the idea of being just the safety officer, at least on bad pain days, since that job can be done without a great deal of manual labor. Turn off utilities, check air quality, monitor hazardous operations, things of that nature.

    After all, a safety officer should be present at every major emergency scene, and a lot of smaller ones. The first time I took action as safety officer, it was just a wildland fire. (Okay, it was a really big one, but still.) Somebody needs to take care of that stuff, especially as firefighters tend to be the go get 'em type.

    All I have to do is discipline myself not to haul a hose into the building on my bad days. Lately, as the bad days increase, I've been thinking I could do that ... um, not do that.

    But like all volunteer departments, we're undermanned. The question is, can I be useful enough in that supporting role, even if it's just keeping a head count or helping with water supply, when we don't have enough people as it is? Can't my being there be at least of a little help, even when I can't throw an air pack on?

    Mostly I'm just thinking out loud, here, motivated by the turn of another year. All that is a question for the Chief and the fire board, not something I can decide on my own. But I'm starting to think it's that or retirement, and I do like to be useful.

    Of course, there's always fund-raising through the writing of books, in which my wife and I are both engaged as we speak. But, like an old fire horse, I'll always want to gallop to the scene. Mostly I'm writing this because--maybe also like that old fire horse, if it could talk--seeing that anniversary come up started me waxing nostalgic again. I guess old firefighters never die: They just start telling war stories.
    Wednesday, July 10th, 2019
    12:45 am
    Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home
    So, funny story: One day, half of all the people in the world suddenly turned to dust. Then, five years later, all those disappeared people simply popped right back to life, in what's become known as "The Blip". Okay, not so funny story.

    You'd think that would cause some chaos, wouldn't you?

    "Spider-Man: Far From Home" may focus on just one superhero, but the movie functions as an epilogue to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (so far), especially the Avengers saga.

    Ahem: I just realized I should yell "Spoiler Alert!" ... although if you care that much about "Avengers: Endgame", why haven't you already watched it?

    Young Peter Parker has been brought back to life in a world where half the people he knows are suddenly five years older. Worse, most of the other heroes he helped to defeat Thanos have gone off to one place or another, and his mentor, Tony Stark, is dead. Peter wants to be just a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in his own New York neighborhood, but finds himself a celebrity and an Avenger--while he really just wants to be a normal teenager for awhile. So when he gets a chance to travel with some schoolmates to Europe he jumps at it, with big plans to romance his love interest, MJ, and have completely non-superheroic adventures.

    We all know how that will work out.

    Sure enough, a new threat appears, along with a new hero who needs some help, but all the rest of the Avengers have scattered. Peter finds himself up to his web head in deadly battles and keeping his identity secret, all while mourning the death of his mentor and trying to find his own place in the world.

    It's a lot for a sixteen year old.

    Thank goodness the makers of this movie understand the key to the Marvel movie success: Take the characters and their universe seriously, but still throw in a good dose of humor and whimsy. Peter is indeed overwhelmed and lost, worried about his responsibilities, and still grieving; but he's also a kid with super powers, and how cool is that? With the occasional help of a few old friends (Well, well, well: You know a certain tough guy with an eye patch will show up), Tom Holland gives us a Peter Parker who can handle the same gauntlet of emotions the audience gets put through.

    Jake Gyllenhaal is a nice addition as a new hero, Mysterio, who's trying to keep Earth from suffering the same fate as his home planet. We also have fun appearances from Marisa Tomei as Peter's (hot!) Aunt May, who knows Peter's secret and is oddly accepting of the danger it puts him in; Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, who's taken Spider-Man on as his own project after they both lost Tony Stark; and Zendaya as a tough, resourceful version of MJ. A long cast list hits all the right notes, including a surprise appearance in a mid-credit scene.

    Speaking of the mid-credit scene--stick around for it. It turns the whole Spider-Man universe on its head. The after-credit scene is also fun, but not as mind-boggling.

    My score:

    Entertainment Value: 5 out of 4 M&Ms. Yeah, it's better than perfect. So I had a lot of fun--sue me.

    Oscar Potential: 3 out of 4 M&Ms. While the effects are, as usual, outstanding, we also get some great acting performances that have exactly zero chances of being acknowledged by the Academy.
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