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.

I remember it being taller.

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'm Matt Mason, and I"m bendy!"
 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.

Thanks to Dee Williams, who gave me these as a reminder of the kitchen's piece of Apollo.

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.

Just to be clear, this is the real thing.
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?

Well, okay, never mind the communicator.

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.

"That's one small step for half a billion ..."
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.

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 very old, the old, and the much newer.

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.

Big water, four wheel drive, and--if you look closely--medical assistance, all at the ready.

 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.

Which takes people, as well as the right equipment.

 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.

Blue helmet = Safety Officer. Well, on our department, anyway.

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.

This one, and another one in progress.


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.

4-H Writers Show Potential

I received this year's Noble County 4-H Creative Writing Projects the other day, so I'll be busy with the judging for several days.

I kind of hate that word, judging. Who am I to judge? I should forward all of these to George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling, they could judge ... but they're probably busy buying countries, or something.

When people start referring to me as M.R. Hunter, maybe I'll be too busy too. Until then, it's only right to help along aspiring authors. I was one, once ... and in many ways I'm still aspiring, along with inspiring and perspiring. So I'll do my best to do right by them.

Still, it's hard to be objective, especially when you can still remember how flimsy your own self-esteem was back then, and by you I mean me. Also, there are three categories, and it's important not to judge one by the standards of another. It would be like judging a college essay, then using the same standard to judge a third grader's "what I did last summer" paper.

Every 4-H entry I've read showed potential for great works to come. I hope I'll see all their names on a bookshelf, someday.

Happy Independence Day

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men -- deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

On this Independence Day, remember that while we have differences, we've always had differences. We're still all human beings, far more alike than different. Most of us--at least, most of  us outside of Washington, D.C.--want to keep this country free and great, even if we disagree on how to do so. So disagree: But try to find areas of agreement, and respect each other. And be kind.

We need each other now more than ever before.

Psychoanalyzing my temper

I lost my temper the other day. It was over something I considered to be childish actions, which made me act childish, which I suppose is the way it usually happens.

Now, I get frustrated a lot; impatient fairly frequently; grouchy all the time. But I only "lose it" as the term goes, infrequently--maybe just every five years or so. I saw red, lost control. You can tell when I'm that angry, because I start shaking. I don't even shake when I'm scared, or maybe in those cases I'm too frightened to notice.

I didn't like it.

In fact, I wasn't able to sleep the next night, and it bothered me for days. I don't want to be the guy who upsets other people, unless its with bad jokes and silly antics.

I'd like to be the fun guy. I'm not, but I'd like to be. I am seen, by many people, as the funny guy, although maybe not as many people as I think. Funny is good. It makes other people feel good, so maybe they won't lose their temper.

And so I make a lot of jokes, and I write humor. I've been the complainer, and after being around other complainers I learned that being around complainers sucks. So I accentuate the positive, and stuff down the complaints, or try to make them funny.

But have you noticed the funny people are often messed up?

The funniest person I knew of was Robin Williams. He killed himself.  In the entertainment world, it seems like the funniest people all too often end up immersed in drugs, alcohol, overeating (that would be me), and other self-destructive behavior. Why?

Well, I'm not a professional funny guy, but I play one on the internet. I think the problem is that we use humor as a defense, which means we often make fun of our problems instead of facing them. While young we learn to either put on a happy face, or show no emotion at all.

I dunno, I'm no shrink. In fact, at the moment I'm just associating freely.

The point is that sometimes the quiet ones aren't calm and well adjusted at all--they may just be the people who are shoving their anger down deeper and deeper, until every, oh, five years or so it bursts out, leaving people to say "Wow--where'd that come from?"

Again--I don't like it. Anxiety, man, it's real. I used to make fun of this stuff.

I recognize some of the causes, things as varied as my writing career, politics, and work burnout, but dealing with them isn't so easy. Maybe that whole primal scream thing isn't such a bad idea, after all. Maybe people who get mad and scream at others all the time are more emotionally healthy than I am. Or maybe I simply am one of those guys, heavily filtered.

But I'll tell you this: I'm not going to go around yelling at people just because I'm having a bad day. That just makes things worse for everyone. No, something else is in order; and I'm thinking of something in the basement, which I've had for several years but never set up.

A punching bag.

And if that doesn't work, there's a pizza place right down the street.

Sometimes things bug me.

Happy 68th birthday, Camp Latonka!

Happy 68th birthday, Camp Latonka!

Today (Friday, 6/28), The No-Campfire Girls is being promoted on The Fussy Librarian, an e-book website that can be found here:


Yes, there's a connection! I don't normally ask you--um, more than once a week--to buy our books. But half the proceeds of this novel continue to go toward the effort to support Camp Latonka, the Missouri Girl Scout facility where Emily camped and then worked for many years. It's listed as a young adult adventure, but I think it could be fun for adult readers, too--and at least the cost is fun, at 99 cents on e-book and $5 in paperback.

If you don't want to subscribe, The No-Campfire Girls can still be found at the same price at, among other places, here:

It's been awhile since I've been able to give Friends of Camp Latonka a donation, and Scout camps continue to get shut down across the country. Please spread the word to everyone you know, especially if you happen to know former Scouts Taylor Swift, Gwyneth Paltrow, Susan Lucci, Abigail Breslin, Dionne Warwick, Katie Couric, Martha Stewart, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Dakota Fanning, Barbara Walters, Venus Williams, and Sheryl Crow. They could probably use a fun read, right?

Fifteen year old Beth Hamlin is horrified to discover her beloved summer camp must go without campfires this year, due to the fire hazard from a drought. But Beth isn't one to just sit (or swim, or boat, or horseback) around. When her new cabinmate, Cassidy, claims a local Cherokee can do a rain dance, she jumps into action.

All they have to do is trick the Camp Director into letting Running Creek do the dance, avoid the local bully and a flying arrow or two, and keep from getting caught plotting with Cassidy’s firefighter father on a forbidden cell phone. With luck southern Indiana will get a nice, soaking rain, and Camp Inipi can have proper campfires again.

But when things go horribly wrong, the whole area is endangered by a double disaster. Now Beth and her unit may be the only people who can save not only their camp, but everyone in it.

After Action Report

During the Avilla Freedom Festival my family and I heard two good bands, met a lot of people including a new writer, toured a car show, and ate some really, really good food (for which I paid in another way later).

What I didn't do was sell a lot of books.

I still got 'em.

It would have been nice to at least break even ... but on the other hand I did sell some books. I've been to a few author appearances in which not a single copy was bought.

The important thing is to learn from experience, something some people are better at than others. Personally, I kind of suck at it. Still, here are a few conclusions:

Just because you tell people where you'll be doesn't mean they'll show up. Partially it's about the busy world we live in; partially it's a lesson in promotion. I hit the promotion hard, with social media, a press release, invites sent through Facebook and Goodreads event posts,  a newsletter entry, and enough related blog posts (five!) that I was worried about driving people away.

When I say driving away, I don't mean the car show.

I can confirm, as a result of all the work I put into publicity, exactly two sales. Not only that, but we had no new sales of my newest book, Coming Attractions.

Part of the problem might be the time of the year, when people are outside doing summer stuff instead of being online and/or looking for books. A few weeks ago I also heavily publicized a TV interview I did, which showed not only all of our books, but also blurbed our http://markrhunter.com/ website. The increased website visits? Barely a blip, and sales remain flat.

Okay, so, 'nuff complaining. What can we take away from this experience? That writing is a horrible way to make money? That the art of writing had better be its own reward, because nothing else is guaranteed? That you can't reach people through social media as much as you used to? That people walking around at a summer festival will give you odd looks when they realize you're selling books?

All true.

My sister-in-law Cathy, on the right, had a bit more luck with her jewelry. That's Emily on the left, and my camera-shy brother Jeff took the photo.

I'm going to explore other promotion options in the future, and I'll continue trying to get the word out where I can, because you don't just give up when you have a few bad turns. In my mind, two rules remain as true today as when I first started writing:

1. You must deliver a good product. Yes, sometimes bad books become best sellers, but usually quality tells. There's no shortcut: Put the work in, from the moment you fire up your laptop through revision, editing, and polishing. People might not buy my books because they don't care for the genre, but I never want someone to walk away because of the quality.

2. You must love writing. Again, occasionally we see "overnight sensations", people who get a hit with their first swing. Most authors--by a huge margin--never earn enough to make a living at it. If you're looking for a way to supplement your income, there are a vast number of easier and healthier occupations. Complain all you want about submitting or promoting, but if you don't love the writing, don't bother.

If I'm going to keep doing it--and I am--last week won't be my last setback. But I'll keep going, because nobody ever bought a book that wasn't published.

Besides, that fair food was really, really good.

Bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato. Yum.

My Subcsonscious Still Hates Book Signings, but My Conscious Is a Fan

 I've been on edge recently; more stressed than I usually am this time of the year. There are a few reasons, but one cause became apparent while I was going through old blogs, and came upon this one from five years ago. (Never mind why I was going through old blogs.) I always enjoy author appearances, once I get there and everything's set up. But from the time I sign up for one until things are set up, I'm a walking, shaking pile of anxiety.


Why My Subconscious Hates Book Signings

I’m sure some writers approach public appearances with the confidence of TV’s Richard Castle, who swaggers into every room like he has the world by the keyboard. Then again, maybe not … Castle seems to have become a bestselling novelist without ever actually writing. In other words, he’s every writer’s dream.
I, on the other hand, have to actually pound away at the keyboard to produce a manuscript. Probably I’m more representative. If that’s true, then most writers approach book signings with no confidence at all. What’s worse? That no one will show up, or that they’ll show up to point and laugh at your temerity in thinking you actually deserve any sort of success?
Like most things, the anticipation is worse than the reality. (Not with dentists. Oh, not with dentists.) Still, as I approach the next book signing, I can’t help thinking: Is somebody going to finally call me out?
Dude, you suck. What makes you think people will actually want to read your books?
“Hey, I’m published!”
So was Hitler.
“That’s just mean.”
That’s my subconscious talking. But my subconscious assures me real people will show up and say the same thing.
It used to whisper, “You’re a horrible writer!” Finally, after a few decades, I came to accept that I was actually a pretty good writer. Then it started whispering, “There are millions of good writers! You’re a little minnow in a big sea. You’re so pathetic that even your subconscious can’t come up with a cliché that doesn’t involve little fish in the ocean.”
Other times it gets bored and switches: You’ll never write full time! You’ll die at a keyboard, working two full time jobs and never taking the time to vegetate on the couch with chips and dip.
“Oh, yeah? Well, my wife and doctor won’t let me eat chips and dip anymore, so there!”
Nice riposte. Use that in your imaginary Pulitzer speech.
Is it any wonder, then, that I hate promoting myself? Okay, I have a book signing coming up. (at the Avilla Freedom Festival this time, June 20, 21, and 22.). So why can’t I just yell it out, rather than writing some long article about it? “Hey, be there! I’ll have all my books!”
You’re pathetic. That’s your own home turf, what are you worried about? Try having a book signing in Chicago, see who shows up there.
“You’re my subconscious, you just called yourself pathetic.”
I know. It’s pathetic.
You can’t win when you take on your own subconscious.
By the time June 20th rolls around I’ll be too worried about the details of the signing to let my inner voice bother me. I’ll sell some copies of my various works, go home happy that anyone bought any at all, and go back to work on my next book project.
Then the voice will start whispering again. But you know what? I’m a good writer, by gosh, so I’ll ignore it … at least, until it’s time to send in the next manuscript. 
And hey, I DID sell that book to a State Senator!
 Oh, the blog with all the details of the upcoming appearance is here: