The Dreaded Rejection Letter

Dear Author,
Thank you for submitting your work to us. Unfortunately, it doesn't meet our needs at the present time, but we wish you future success.

The Editor

Well, that's what they write. Any professional in the business will tell you editors, agents, and publishers don't reject writers: They reject pieces of paper with words written on them. However, that's not what writers hear:

Dear Loser,
 We considered using your manuscript as a coaster, but it was stinking up the place so much we couldn't even be bothered to steam off the stamps. Hopefully we'll never hear from you again, but wish you success at a more appropriate profession, such as fish cleaner or stall mucker.
Go Away,
The Editors

And that's not fair, because in the publishing industry the gatekeepers are inundated with hundreds of--let's face it, sometimes desperate--writers every day. Sometimes a form rejection letter (more likely e-mail) is all they have time for; sometimes they don't have time even for that. There are lots of things to complain about with the publishing industry, but on an individual basis the people working there are pretty decent.

Still, writers get more rejections than a nerd at a sports bar, and I should know. (Just kidding--I never went to sports bars.) In fact, if you're doing it right you're going to get lots and lots of rejections. But sometimes, especially if you're having a down day overall, your umpteenth rejection will show up and just hit you harder than most. That's what happened to me, anyway.

When I first started out, back in the days of snail mail delivered by the Pony Express, I collected enough form rejection letters to paper my office walls ... which would have looked better than the wallpaper I actually had at the time. Later I'd get the occasional encouraging note at the end of one. Then I'd get brief, but personal, rejections. Then more detailed ones, and then, one day, an acceptance. A few times after that, I received some detailed letters describing why they were rejecting the manuscript, or even asking for some changes and a resubmission. Now it's decades since I started out: I have nine published books, and stories in three anthologies.

And I still get form rejection letters.

So yeah, it gets me down sometimes, especially this time of year when the days are short. But after all this time, I've developed a method of dealing with these bouts of sudden depression: I go to my laptop, open up a word document ...

And start working on another story.

It doesn't get me published ... well, not immediately. But it does remind me of why I'm doing this to begin with.

Sometimes the writing life just goes to the dogs.

When Your Car Is Smarter Than You

When Your Car is Smarter Than You

I totally loved my last car, so it’s ironic that it got totaled, which I didn’t love.
Normally I’m not one of those who falls madly in love with automobiles. They’re just something to get me from one place to another until they don’t anymore, which with my track record happens sooner, rather than later. My first car exploded; a wheel fell off my second; my third died at a rest stop outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee; my fourth froze solid on a snow swept rural road half a mile from the nearest phone.
And so on.
So when a car comes along that does me good, I appreciate it. So it was with my Ford Focus, which lasted over ten years despite … well, me. Yes, it had its problems, but it was as reliable as the American election cycle, and way more fun. It was easy to drive, had great brakes, accelerated me out of trouble more than once, and the back seat was kind of comfortable to sleep in as long you curled up. (That’s another story.)
Then, like a vampire, it was killed by sunlight.
Well, it was killed by another driver who was blinded by sunlight. To be honest, we grieved: because it was a great car, and because it was paid off. But life goes on, so my wife, who was laid up with a broken foot (see above about the blinded driver killing the car), started researching a replacement.
We wanted a domestic model, which is silly because these days half of American cars are built in other countries, and half of foreign cars are built in America. Still, I never forgot the time the transmission broke in my Renault Alliance (see car #3), and they had to order a new part—from France. I’ve bought American ever since (except for car# 8), which didn’t save me from the Chevy Chevette (see car #4).
We also wanted something that could transport both of us, plus our dog and the grand-twins. A 95 pound dog and two kids in one back seat adds up to someone being crushed.
We wanted something that would get us around a little better in an Indiana winter (see car # … well, all of them), but that would still get decent gas mileage. (Car #5 got awesome gas mileage, because engines don’t burn gas when they never start.) The answer: a mid-size SUV.
We picked out a Ford Escape before discovering that it was built on the same chassis as the … wait for it … Ford Focus. Maybe that’s part of the reason why we fell in love with the car. (Can I call an SUV a car? Too late.) It’s burgundy, although it has one of those non-color names, like pink grapefruit, or tangerine, or something else with vitamin C.

It's not made of rubies. That's my wife behind the wheel, and she's not made of money.
Oh, ruby red, that’s it. Where did I get food from? I’ve hated that trend ever since I accidentally ate a macaroni and cheese crayon.
There was one problem. (Well, two, as we had to start making car payments again.) Our old car was over ten years old, which in terms of today’s electronics meant it was about eighty.
Things had, to put it mildly, changed. And not because I’d never owned a sport utility vehicle. I don’t even like sports.
To this day I’m always a little surprised not to find preset buttons on my car radio. You know what I found when we got into a 2014 SUV? A TV screen. That’s sixties-era science fiction movie stuff.
“Look at this!” I said.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” the car replied.
Because you can talk to the car. And it can talk back. You can use it as a phone, or an internet hot spot. Also, you can use the car to get music and news from a satellite orbiting the Earth. In space.
Think about that.
When I was a kid, you could barely hear the radio station during a thunderstorm. We could pull in three AM stations: country, NPR, and WOWO radio 1190, which was the top 40 rock station. Now some guy was downloading all Beatles songs into a computer in London and beaming them to a satellite thirty thousand miles in space, which was then sending them straight to my friggin’ car.
I don’t care if you’re a millennial or not: If you stop to really think about this, how can you not be amazed? (In case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t continue the satellite service after the free trial was over. I wasn’t that amazed.)
You touched the screen to change radio stations. Then you touched it again to turn on the air conditioning. You can set a different temperature for each side of the car. You know what the air conditioning was on my first four cars? Rolling the windows down (with a hand crank) and driving real fast.
If it’s a nice day, we can now push a button and open the roof. Dude.
So we were test driving the Escape, and I put it in reverse, and the “environmental” information on the screen disappeared. Instead, I saw what was behind me. ON A TV SCREEN.
A little voice said, “What are you doing, Mark?”
“Um … I’m backing up.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. There’s a car three blocks away that will go by when you’re four feet onto the roadway. Please wait until it passes.”
“But … how do you know my name?”
“I knew it as soon as you sat down. Butt cheek recognition software.”
Okay, I might have been making up that last bit. But the seats are all electric, so who knows what they’re feeling?
Next thing you know, cars will be driving themselves.

The dog likes it, too.

5 Generation Family Photo

We had an opportunity over Christmas to get a five generation photo for our family:

All of us looking at a different camera, which gave a result I kind of liked. That's me in the middle standing tall, and from left to right daughter Charis, grand-daughter Lil' Lillianna, daughter Jill, grandsons Hunter and Brayden, mom Linda, and grandma Nannie. For those of you keeping track, that makes Nannie a great-great-grandma.

And a bonus photo, my mother and grandmother with the whole passel of grands and great-grands who came to the Christmas celebration:

Everybody Jokes About The Weather, But Only the Desperate Move

Somebody asked me the other day why I don't write humor columns about the weather these days. It's the same reason why I don't make many political jokes: They're just not funny anymore.

I've endured Indiana winters for so many years that they've become like my chronic back pain: I don't notice it as much unless I think about it. Another way to put it is that winter is like having dental work done while on nitrous oxide: You still feel the pain, but you just don't care anymore.

(No--the original source of my chronic back pain was not weather-related. But that would be a reasonable assumption.)

It's amazing how quickly people adjust to weather, which is seldom moderate in most of the country. After last week, thirty degrees suddenly looks good. In August, forty seems horrible. (Twenty is always bad. Anything with a minus or triple digits is always bad.)

As a volunteer, I've fought fires over a 130 degree temperature range, and that doesn't include the fire itself. One summer I took off my boots while on a break from a hayfield fire, only to have the asphalt pavement melt to my socks. At a mobile home fire one winter, as I've related before, it was so cold my breathing air regulator froze up while I was inside the building. It was like having a plastic sheet tightened over my mouth, only the plastic sheet was at minus fifteen degrees.

Before you ask, yes, I survived my headlong dive out the door.

Still, our winters here in northern Indiana have been relatively moderate, these last several years. I mean, moderate by our standards. Your average resident of, say, Key West wouldn't agree, but why would they be up here in winter anyway? Last winter the temperature only got below zero a few times. The Polar Bear Plunge, in which the insane dive into open water at New Years, was almost canceled for lack of a challenge.

But I remember the days when you couldn't open your downstairs windows, because the snowdrifts would fall in.

I remember having to chip the dog away from the fire hydrant. Very carefully.

Me being the pessimistic type when it comes to the weather, for the last several years I've predicted a return to truly winterish winters. "I have a feeling," I'd say every year, starting in October, "that this will be a really bad winter." My theory was that if the winter turned out to be mild, it would be a pleasant surprise, and who doesn't like those?

Every year I'd be wrong. I was okay with this.

But this year I've been right. I suppose I was bound to be right about something, sooner or later.

I'm never right about good things.

As I write this we've just passed through a record cold snap that put an ice coating over pretty much everything east of the Rocky Mountains. Several inches of snow are standing on a mountain in Hawaii, and California's turning cool and wet. Well, everything that didn't burn is turning cool and wet. The northeast is trying to recover from a storm so bad they had to drag out another obscure meteorological term for it. I just heard a prediction of a major snowstorm that will hit somewhere in the Midwest, but the forecasters say it's too early to tell exactly where--apparently it's the same system that's dumping rain on the fire-scorched Cali mountains.

I predict, here and now, that this major snowstorm will go right over northeast Indiana. In fact, I predict the worst of the snow will fall on Noble County, which I'm in the center of. It's Tuesday as I write this, and by Saturday we're going to be talking about the Blizzard of 18. And then, maybe, when I'm dug out, I'll come up with some new, original jokes about the weather.

But I doubt it.

"You promised me a nice walk. This is not a nice walk."

This is my favorite winter photo, because I was two feet from my front door.

Fire Training In Unoccupied Old Building

The Albion Volunteer Fire Department wishes to thank LeAnn Conley, who was owner of the former commercial building at the west junction of US 6 and SR 9, for allowing firefighters to use the unoccupied building for training several times last year. Much appreciation is also given to Hosler Commercial, Inc., which assisted in setting up the training on the 1.5 acre commercial property while it was listed for sale.

It can be difficult for firefighters to find lifelike training opportunities, so this was a great chance for them to get some experience in forcible entry, search and rescue, ventilation, and other training evolutions. Albion and Avilla volunteers took advantage of the experience.

The property was sold to a new owner late last year, for possible future development. It’s expected the present building, which over the years served as a restaurant and auto dealership, will be torn down.

(Thanks to Monica Fassoth, of Fassoth Fotos Fotography, for contributing photos.)

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At least it wasn't a popcorn fire

Note: This is from late November, back before the snow flew. I held onto it, hoping some pictures that involved no snow would cheer me up come winter. They didn't.

 A few photos of Albion firefighters refilling a brush truck's water tank and preparing to go back into service, after fighting a cornfield fire north of Albion. No serious damage was reported, although the fire did threaten a combine operating in the field. It was that time of year when farmers were hurrying to get their harvest done before winter weather sets in.