R.I.P. William Christopher

I told Emily​ earlier today that I was on pins and needles, waiting to see what other celebrity would die before midnight. Turns out it's the guy famous for playing the same character I played, in my school's stage version of M*A*S*H: William Christopher. I last remember seeing him on "Mad About You", playing a priest--basically the same character. One last sad goodbye this year.


2016 Was Weird

This first appeared in the 4CountyMall online. It was written, by the way, before Carrie Fisher passed away.


It was a strange year.
In many ways 2016 was a crappy year, even if you weren’t a Democrat. The weather was so awful that even The Weather Channel had to interrupt its reality programming to report on it. So many celebrities died that it could take YouTube years to replace them all. Even the Cubs winning the World Series was a bad thing, if you’re a goat, or live in Cleveland.
(If you don’t know about the goat curse, then I despair for our education system.)
I was so upset about celebrities dying that I tried to call Doctor Bombay for a sedative, but the guy who played Doctor Bombay died! Then I had to explain to everyone that Doctor Bombay was a character from Bewitched. Then I had to explain that Bewitched was a TV show. Then I went into a week-long funk about getting old, which made the year even crappier.
But at least I survived 2016, which is more than I can say about half the famous people in the world. On January 8th the first woman to compete in a Formula One car race died, and on December 8th John Glenn passed away. Talk about pioneer bookends.
In between, the world population took a detectable dip. I mean, R2D2 died. Come on. I won’t mention the other deaths that made me gasp, because if I have to explain who they are it’ll just put me into another depression.
But mostly 2016 was … weird. Here’s an example: In early December my wife talked me into shoe shopping, which is something men hate almost as much as holding a purse while their wives goes shoe shopping. My previous size 11’s had been demoted to lawn mowing shoes, and now had so little tread that I could ice skate across the grass. Which sounds like fun, unless you’re behind a running lawn mower.
Meanwhile my “good” size 11’s had spent the summer hiking around various state parks … okay, two summers. I told you I hate shoe shopping. It was time for another demotion.
But there was a problem. We spent an hour jamming my feet into new size elevens, then 11 ½, then twelves … until I left the store with size thirteens. My feet had grown two sizes. That certainly explained my puzzling foot pain.
I can’t help thinking such a thing could have only happen to a post-adolescent in 2016—a weird, weird year.
In no way am I suggesting 2016 was all about my feet; they’re just an example. 2016 was also partially about my wife’s foot, which got broken in a car accident. Eventually she got it back, which is more than we can say for the car.
My wife found a four-leaf clover this year. It didn't help.

This led to us buying our first ever Electronic Age car, a very strange thing indeed after a nine year old Ford. The new one has a computer screen. And a camera. It tells you how many miles you can go before running out of gas, and it has two of what we used to call cigarette lighter ports, where you can plug in all your other Electronic Age stuff. The other day a voice came out of the seat and told me I needed to lose a few pounds.
The car can also tell you what the temperature is outside, something I used to accomplish by sticking my finger out the window. If it turns blue, it’s too cold; if it gets wet, it’s raining. If I pull it back in and find an icicle, I should have known better. The other day our new car told me it was zero, and also said that on a related note, I should get that garage door fixed.
Welcome to the 21st Century Teens.
I already mentioned the weather, but conversations always get back to that, anyway. Here in Indiana 2016 started with a mild winter and ended with “Ohmygosh just shoot me now”. In between we had summer in spring; fall in summer; summer in fall, and as I write this winter times three.
What do you expect from a year that started with a skyscraper in Dubai burning up while revelers rang in the New Year around it?
Or a year when a 70 year old Indian woman gave birth? When Bob Dylan gets a Nobel Prize for Literature? Or the Cubs? I mean … The Cubs!
I can’t even mention the election … half my readers would boycott me by the second paragraph.
So, yeah, 2016 was weird, and as I write this we still have a couple of more weird weeks to go.  Usually in January I come up with a list of predictions for next year, but who could have predicted this year? About all I can say about 2017 is that some people will get paid too much, some too little, everyone who cares about politics will hate everyone else, and the weather will suck.
Which, come to think of it, brings us full circle.

"Leap second year? What makes you think I want even another second of 2016?"

A "perfect" ending to a perfect year

Prayers and/or healing vibes requested for my Grandmother Nannie Bricker, who fell yesterday morning and has a compression fracture in her back. Painful, but not that serious--if you're not 91 years old. At the moment she's in room 213 at Parkview Noble Hospital, but I'm not sure how things will progress from here.

Rough day, yesterday, especially with half the family still sick. Basically the perfect ending to what was, with a few exceptions, a pretty sucky year.

Cover Reveal: "Radio Red"

So far only people who signed up for our newsletter, or visited our last book signing, have gotten any more than a tease about my upcoming novel. Well, it's time for the rest of you to take a gander at Radio Red:

Our last two books were non-fiction: Images of America: Albion and Noble County, and Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving at All. The latter was in conjunction with Indiana’s bicentennial, so it moved ahead of other projects. Emily and I worked hard on it, and we’re very proud of our baby.

But I started out in fiction, and now I’m going back: Torrid Books accepted my new novel, the romantic comedy Radio Red. Set in northwest Lower Michigan, it’s scheduled to come out March 7, 2017. We’re very excited! This is my first published work of fiction not set in Indiana (or in the Storm Chaser universe, although … it could be, who knows? After all, it’s another state. Never thought about that.)

Anyway, here's a look at the blurb, which is right there on the back cover:

Torrid accepted the book on September 20th, and I went by industry standard, assuming it would come out around a year later. But in very short order I filled out all the necessary paperwork, worked with artist Kelly Martin on the cover art, and got the galleys--the actual formatted manuscript, which I had to check line by line for errors. Much to my surprise, the book is due to come out on March 7th, a full six months earlier than I expected.

This will be our ninth published work! Wow.

Author Carrie Fisher

Farewell to fellow author Carrie Fisher … of course, she was much more than that, but I personally believe writing a good book is way harder than acting. She wrote four novels and memoirs; she also had a great reputation as a script doctor, working on movies such as “Hook”, “Lethal Weaon 3”, “Sister Act”, and “The Wedding Singer”. Reportedly she also worked on the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, but no writer is perfect. I believe Fisher was the youngest cast member of the original "Star Wars" … and less than ten years older than me when she passed away.

Tripping On the Weather

Have you ever looked back at something you did, and realized you’d been warned all along not to do it?
I don’t mean like when you were a kid, and your mom told you not to go out without your hat and gloves. Although come to think of it, sorry, mom: My mottled, aching hands tell me you were right. No, I’m talking about when you get those little signs, those portents that, in retrospect, stick out like giant stop signs.
Our plan was to go to southern Missouri, to see my wife’s family and visit with her friends. The friends are largely alumni of Emily’s Girl Scout camp, Latonka, where for many years she went as a camper and then worked. It’s the basis for (and receives half the profits from) my novel The No-Campfire Girls.
This trip required driving a thousand miles over a four day period in late December. What could possibly—well, you know something went wrong, or I wouldn’t have written this.

Spoiler alert: Emily did get to spend some time with her family.
I got the time off work, but felt guilty about it because right afterward one of my coworkers resigned, making scheduling a problem. Early in December, Emily got sick with what might have been a mild case of strep throat. Later my oldest daughter and one of the grand-kids came down with a much more than mild case of strep throat. (The other grand-kid came later.) A week before we were to leave, the dentist told me I needed a filling replaced as soon as possible, plus a crown on another tooth. Three days before we were to leave, I was cleaning my glasses when they literally fell apart. And I literally don’t use the word literally very often: They just broke into two pieces. Then my grand-kid got scarlet fever. Friggin' scarlet fever.
All the while I kept watching the weather forecast.
I’m accused of obsessing about the weather, and it’s true; but when you’re about to drive five hundred miles through three states in winter, then hopefully return, it’s a reasonable obsession. In this case, we had a one day window to get there, after which a winter storm would hit the whole region, clearing just in time for a one day window to get back.
What could possibly—ah, never mind.
Emily was better by then, and although it was a cold trip all the way down, that only counted when I had to get out of the car for gas or the dog’s bathroom needs. (As for my bathroom needs, I held it. Kidding! But I didn’t join the dog by a tree.) That was Friday.
On Saturday the temperature got up to 69 degrees in southeast Missouri. That’s not a typo, you northern Indiana people. We ran some errands before the party, and were driving around in t-shirts with the windows down. It was glorious, right up until about the time the tornado sirens went off.
Surely you expected that?

It even got a degree warmer than this.
There was a confirmed touchdown, although safely to the south of us. At about the same time, starting on a line twenty or thirty miles north, the rest of the Midwest was being socked in by an ice and snow storm. But we’d expected all of it—except the tornado—and although it was a little odd watching lightning in December, we really did have a good time with Emily’s parents and at the party.
This despite the fact that by the time the party started, the temperature had dropped thirty degrees. As the storm progressed south the temperature dropped close to fifty degrees in twelve hours, and if you think my car doors got iced shut, you’re right.
But we were there, and had some time before we had to go anywhere, and everything was just swell until Emily developed severe pain from a urinary tract infection. It was bad enough that we decided to go back a day early, which was totally not inside my weather window.
Still, a lot of dedicated highway personnel had the roads in good shape by the time we left Sunday afternoon. We passed some wrecks along the side of the road and, just to punctuate the point that we should have seen the “don’t do it” signs, we hit a discarded semi tire tread in Illinois. That was an exciting after-dark moment. But we got home, where at 9 p.m. Sunday night it was three degrees. For those who didn’t do the math, that was a 66 degree temperature change for us.
Sure, I got hypothermia unloading the car. But it was good that we’d traveled and charged up the car’s battery, because it got down to minus 9 later that night.

The sad part is that I've been colder.

It was a couple of days later when people who were at the party, including Emily and I, finished incubating our upper respiratory infections.
So, what have we learned from this? Don’t travel in winter? Be prepared? Watch for signs and portents?
I’m gonna go with all of the above.