Booting Up the Carpocalypse

Remember when cars didn't have starters, and you used to have to crank them to start?

Okay, neither do I. But I'll bet a lot of you remember a time before cars were mostly computers. On my first car, the starter was about the only thing electric, let alone electronic. On my current car, you quite literally can't operate it without the help of a little brain.  No, not that little brain.

If all the computer stuff in my car stopped working I'd not only be out my radio (excuse me, entertainment system), but I'd have no way of knowing my speed or how much fuel I had. I mean, I could get a dipstick, but don't we have enough dispsticks on the roads? My car's abilities are awesome, but also scary to a science fiction fan like me.

So it should have come as no surprise when I got into the car awhile back and saw this:

Yeah, my car was installing updates. I kept waiting for it to restart all by itself.

And how do I know what new program was loading? Cylon? Terminator? Didn't Stephen King write a whole story about this? Someday I may not be able to escape from my Escape. It's the carpocalypse.

I suppose the survivors will have to go back to the crank start.

50 Authors from 50 States: Oh My! I Think I Love This Place in Connecticut: ...

The story behind a Connecticut bookstore on 50 Authors From 50 States

50 Authors from 50 States: Oh My! I Think I Love This Place in Connecticut: ...: Here’s what I took from RJ Julia Bookseller Website and I’ve got to go.  This story in itself makes me love the place.  It’ll be on my list...

Valentine's Day, or: Epic Fail

The fact that I'm reposting this from three years ago tells you all you need to know about how well I handled Valentine's Day this year. Turns out it's on the 14th. Who knew?
Unfortunately for me, Valentine’s Day comes during a time of year in which I don’t do well. I’ve said before that the only good thing about February is that it isn’t January, but let’s face it: they’re not all that different.

The best way to describe most men on this dedicated-to-love holiday is: epic fail. This is two steps beyond complete fail, which is itself three steps below just fail. As a result, any store that’s open the morning of Valentine’s Day is sure to see an influx of desperate, rather dazed looking men, searching for flowers or chocolate. If they can’t find a place open with Valentine chocolate, there’s always the corner convenience store.

“Let’s see … what’s more romantic, Baby Ruth or Milky Way? Say, do you have any wrapping paper here? No? I’ll just use the real estate listings, they’re a little colorful.”

My wife is not a fan of flowers, and is allergic to milk chocolate. She also doesn’t like to go out to eat, citing the expense and the crowds on a holiday. At first glance that seems like a great thing. But it takes away all the emergency “I’m in trouble” backups.

Now, you may be thinking, “But Mark, what does she get you for Valentine’s Day?”

If you’re thinking that, you’re a man.

Valentine’s Day, like weddings, is for the woman. The man’s job is to show up, look fairly nice, and make her the center of the day. With weddings men can usually focus just well enough to handle that for a day, having been around the planning stuff for months beforehand. With Valentine’s Day, the word “planning” puts them on life support.

I love my wife. I wouldn’t have married her if I didn’t love her. The idea of marriage for convenience ignores the fact that making a successful marriage isn’t convenient at all. And yet, as each holiday approaches, I utterly freeze up. I stink at shopping. I stink at picking out cards. And—this coming from a man who actually writes romantic comedies—I stink at being romantic.

The fact that most men have the same affliction is in no way an excuse.

At least, that’s what I assume my wife would say, if I was dumb enough to ask her.

My conclusion—and guys, you can all benefit from my hard-won wisdom—is this:

Being a man is no excuse. Suck it up, fellas. If, like me, you can’t seem to function during winter, try this: Go out in the summer and buy a bunch of generic presents. It’s your job to find out what your wife likes, I can’t help you with that. Figure it out, buy a bunch of them, and hide them away somewhere. When you hit that inevitable panic point—and you will—and realize the holiday happens to fall on a Sunday and there’s no store close enough for you to sneak out to, don’t gift her a zippo lighter from the Sunoco station. No, break into your horde of presents, and—surprise!—you’re a hero.

That’s what I’m going to do. Next year. This year, wish me luck.
"Yes, I promise to try to remember ... what was I supposed to remember?"

Book Review: Odd Thomas, By Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas sees dead people. Walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.

Wait, I thought the kid's name was Cole. The Sixth Sense, right?

But no, this is a novel by Dean Koontz, and also a great example of how there are no new ideas: Just new, unique, and fun ways of examining old ones. Odd Thomas does indeed see dead people, but that's one of the more normal aspects of Odd, and of Koontz's amazing novel.

My adventure came when my wife brought home a stack of used Koontz novels. I've seldom read his books, and had no real opinion about them, one way or another. The first I liked; the second I didn't much care for. Then came Odd Thomas, which kept me enraptured in a "do I really need to sleep? Do I have sick days available at work?" kind of way.

I was late to the party: There are six Odd Thomas books and a movie version of this one, dating back fifteen years. To demonstrate whether I liked it: I've already finished the first sequel, Forever Odd.

In the best "strange characters in a small town" fashion, Odd is surrounded by the unique occupants of Pico Mundo, California. Koontz's idea of a small town is a population of forty thousand, which really small town people like me regard with amusement, but never mind. Also in the best entertainment fashion, Pico Mundo seems to have a very high percentage of murders and other violence--where's Jessica Fletcher when you need her? As the story opens Odd encounters a little girl, who seems perfectly normal except that she can't speak.

In Odd's world, the dead don't talk. By the end of the first chapter he's used his psychic powers to identify the girl's killer, and the chase is on.

Despite his talents Odd is a short order cook. Because of his powers, really, because he's an unusually aware twenty-year old and knows that without order and routine, his ability would overwhelm him. He's madly in love with his childhood sweetheart, Stormy Llewellyn, he's the helpful sort you'd dream of having as a neighbor, and he's known around town as a great--but strange--young man. Only a few people, including the Police Chief, know of his psychic talents.

But in the course of one day his life is disrupted even beyond his own experiences. Odd finds himself chasing after a suspicious newcomer, and it leads him to supernatural madness, murder, and the knowledge that in less than a day something horrible is going to happen to the town he reluctantly protects.

I just realized how impossible it is to actually describe Odd Thomas. You have to experience it. To a large extent it's all about the style, in a book written as an after-the-fact account by Odd himself.

Odd Thomas is a weird and wonderful mix of action, thriller, and humor, the kind of well-crafted work that reminds one of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. It makes fiction writers like me insanely jealous. It's the kind of book that only established writers can get away with, especially when Koontz fills in backstory by having Odd just tell you what the backstory is. Yeah, he gets away with it, and also with that kind of colorful description that's gone away a little too much in today's literature. But what he gets away with is awe-inspiring.

No, I have no idea if the movie is any good ... but I'll probably watch it, anyway.

My Funny Valentine

Let me run this scenario past you. Your significant other says, "You never use your imagination when you get me gifts!"

So Instead of flowers or chocolate, this year you give her flower-shaped chocolate.

Let me know how sleeping on the couch works out.

Or, you can get them a book about Valentine's Day! Now that I think about it, maybe you should have it delivered with flowers ... just in case.

A bunch of us got together a few years ago to write this humor anthology, and it could save your romantic life ... unless you got a copy last year, too. In that case--unless you have a different significant other--you might want to consider lingerie. Or, um ... chocolate flavored lingerie in a flower print.

Or you could gift them one of my romantic comedy novels. But a book that actually has a Valentine on the cover is pretty appropriate.

Website updates, and print books available!

Emily has updated the website and yes, Coming Attractions is up and ready to order in both print and e-book versions. Check it out and read a sample here:

(You know, after all this time I still have trouble getting used to the idea of a website with my name on it.)

She sent in a print order, and there's a form you can use on the website to order one straight from us, signed or unsigned. ('Cause do you really want graffiti in your brand new book?) And hey, just let us know if you want her to sign it! You can pay with PayPal, or a credit card, or a debit card ... but my scheme to take payment in large blocks of milk chocolate didn't work out.

Of course, you could just knock on the front door and ask for a copy, when they arrive in a week or so--but I'd suggest calling ahead, so the dog doesn't get too upset.

"Sorry, I can't get your book right now: I'm out testing my fur coat."

Don't forget to review! Authors survive on three things: Sales, reviews, and caffeine. One can build on the others.

As I've mentioned before, here's the post that mentions all the places you can order Coming Attractions and most of our other books:

And remember: Every time you buy a book, the winter gets just a bit warmer. Help us out of the snowdrifts.

50 Authors from 50 States: A Wide Scope of California Talent

California, where it has to be warmer, on 50 Authors from 50 States:

50 Authors from 50 States: A Wide Scope of California Talent: Patricia Dusenbury’s California Noir:   Winter is a good time for an indoor road trip. Get comfortable, grab a cup of something warm, an...

Whining About Cold Injuries, Or: Why I laid on the couch for three days

Hey, can I whine, for just a second?

Usually when I write about some problem I'm going through, I try to do it with humor. I figure, why bring people down? Better to leave them with a laugh, or a smile, even if they're smiling at your misfortune--better to make life a wee bit better.

Especially now, when, honestly, it got so bad last week. We had a young police officer and his wife killed in a car crash, several bad fires in the region, and general misery for just about everyone, thanks to weather conditions so bad polar bears have been checking local real estate prices.

And that last is partially why I decided to whine. (The cold, not the polar bears.) I want to do a little public service announcement, which I'm naming after a guy I saw the other day wearing shorts. It was snowing, and three degrees. I call my PSA "If you freeze because of doing something stupid, it's stupid".

The title's a work in progress.

When I was about sixteen or so, I went out with a group of kids to play in the snow. Even back then I hated cold; but I had a lousy home life, so maybe I just wanted to get out of the house for awhile. As I recall I had a nice coat, but otherwise it was jeans and maybe some light gloves that quickly got saturated from all that snow-playing.

The thawing out process was excruciating.

So here's my first PSA: Frostbite often sneaks up on you, especially if you're sledding or, say, throwing snowballs at other sledders. And here's my second: The damage can be permanent. (Thinking back on it now, I also had a nice case of hypothermia going on.)

Afterward, once the temperature dropped below forty-five or so I had to wear gloves, or keep my hands in my pockets. Once it got down into the teens it was hard for me to use my hands even with gloves on, and I had the same problem with my toes. My cheeks and ears would burn, and any kind of breeze would give me an earache. Whether that was connected to my sinuses' sensitivity to weather changes, I couldn't say. Basically this body was meant for the desert, as a desert rat writer friend of mine often points out.

What the heck. I got used to it. Or at least, I got used to bundling up.

But wait--it gets better.

The dog doesn't care. He's got a fur coat.

As last week's cold snap arrived, my hands and feet stiffened, hurt, and even burned a little. My ears and cheeks got sore. Inside the house ... with the heat on. That pain and increasing sinus pressure sent me into a headache that lasted three days and devolved into one of my few migraines. The good news is that I was on days off (I hate using sick days), and didn't have to go anywhere; the bad news is that I missed some fire calls, and in minus teens temperatures they could have used the help.

Yes, I know I wouldn't have lasted long in those temperatures, but who can?

Okay, enough whining, here's my point: Frostbite damage can not only be lifelong, it can get worse with age. Guess whose hands tingle and burn (and sweat, which I recently learned was a thing after frostbite)? Guess who gets that pain sooner and faster? Guess who has signs of arthritis that might be connected?

No, stop guessing, it's me. Pay attention.

So my PSA: Protect yourself. Learn how to prevent all those things that begin with "frost".  Because even if you don't lose body parts (or die), you could be in for long term, and very annoying, problems.

Also, my wife wants you to yell at me if you see me outside without a hat and gloves on. She didn't say anything about pants, but maybe that's a given.

That's my wife, bundled like insurance.

Get serious about the weather

Okay, I joke about it because that's what I do, but it's time to get serious about the weather. It's horrible out there. Not "let's make jokes about milk and bread" horrible, but honest to goodness, you're taking your own life into your hands if you go out horrible.

Between the snow that already fell and what came down yesterday there are several inches on the ground. At some point yesterday it turned for a time into rain/sleet, so there's now a coating of ice that was followed by more snow, some of which is still falling. Now the winds have picked up, so snow is drifting--over a layer of ice.

Roads are drifting shut; as of about midnight Monday night US 33 in western Noble County is down to one lane in several areas, let alone the county roads. With drifting, drivers often encounter sections of road that seem fine, only to suddenly come across snow covered areas--in this case, over ice. Stopping times will be severely effected. Four wheel drive is fine in snow, but in these conditions it can be worse than useless, giving drivers a false sense of security. White-out conditions are also being reported.

(County Highway crews will be out in the morning, but I don't know what time--and with the continued winds, I don't know how effective they can be. INDOT will be having the same problems.)

Add to that the fact that temperatures are going to get so low that ice melting materials will stop being effective.

We haven't even talked about wind chills. Strong winds will blow that snow around for the next couple of days, and temperatures will hit record lows--that means not only getting pulled off the road but stuck in drifts, and getting out to dig could mean frostbite in just a few minutes.

Take it seriously. Do not go out unless you have absolutely no choice (I'm afraid I can't do anything about work requirements). If you do have to travel for any reason, have a full gas tank and emergency supplies, and remember that if you get stuck, it might take awhile for help to get to you.

A forecast for Thursday says "not as cold. Highs near zero." That should tell you something.