I hope you winter lovers are satisfied

Well, everybody wanted a white Christmas. There you go, if you live around here: White Christmas. So, Christmas is over now. It can all ... un-whiten up. Here, let me check the forecast.

Nope.

Some people out there say they like long, cold winters. We have a word for that: lunatic fringe. Okay, two words, and a few others I'd add if this wasn't a family column. Well, it looks like they're going to be getting their wish this time around.

I hope they're satisfied.

I hope they're freaking satisfied.

Because I just saw a nine day forecast that never hits twenty for high temps, but goes into minus territory for lows. That's Fahrenheit, people. I learned to spell it just for this.

For several years now, I've predicted that the next winter is going to be a particularly cold, snowy one here in northern Indiana, which used to be the very heart of cold, snowy winters. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Alaska and North Dakota for cold, Vermont and Main for snow, blah blah.) Being an eternal pessimist in the area of winter, my feeling has been that every mild winter gets us one year closer to an un-mild winter, and it's better to be pleasantly surprised compared to just being unpleasant. So every fall, I predict a horrible winter.

It just goes to prove rule #14 of weather forecasting, which is: If you forecast the same thing all the time, sooner or later you'll be right. (Rule #7 continues to be never invade Russia in the winter.)

I was enjoying global warning too much, that's the problem. What the heck, I'm a thousand feet above sea level. More, from my bedroom. We've been getting very mild winters, but the summers haven't seemed unusually hot at all ... or maybe we were just used to them. My wife thought our winters were still cold, but she's from southern Missouri, where the insect problem lessons in July because bugs burst spontaneously into flame. They literally have fireflies.

But I remember the early 80s, right after I became a volunteer firefighter. I joined up on my 18th birthday, which was in July; if I'd known what was coming in January, I'd probably have stayed home and taken up a solitaire hobby. Or a solitary hobby. Or a solitary solitaire hobby. I'm such a card.

I remember coming home from fires and standing my fire coat up, because I couldn't bend it to hang it up. It would be frozen solid. I had a reputation of fighting to be the guy on the nozzle, but it had nothing to do with being brave or some kind of action hero: The nozzle guy was closest to the flames. It was the only place on the fireground that was warm. My fire gloves once froze to a ladder. I had to leave them hanging, literally. Once, during the late stages of a mobile home fire, the regulator on my breathing air tank froze up while I was inside, which is to say it stopped flowing air to my mask. You'd think I wouldn't have minded, since the air was cold, but the whole experience just left me breathless.

But at least back then every joint in my body didn't hurt whenever the temperature fell below forty. I felt the snowstorm that led to this cold snap coming in, and by "felt" I mean I could barely move despite unsafe levels of ibuprofen. When did I become a human barometer? And what kind of a lame superpower is that?

I guess what I'm saying is, winter just isn't my season. But some of you people out there want it. Well, you're going to get a good, long, frozen taste of it this year, and I hope you put your tongue to it and get stuck there for months.

I also hope you're freaking satisfied.

 


"Well ... I like it."


Jilly got a Lilli for her birthday

Happy birthday to my youngest, Jillian, who got a very special early birthday present this year:

So Jill and Lillianna will share the same birth month, along with my wife, her father, Jesus, Stan Lee, and several other people in the extended family. We'll just call it a party month.

Here are the birthday girls along with dad, Doug Mapes:





Happy birthday, Jill! Something tells me that coffee maker we got you is going to get quite a workout for the next eighteen years or so. Love you guys!

That's sister/aunt Charis in the background. It's my turn to hold the baby, Charis!

T'was the Poem Before Christmas



I’ve been going through all the boxes of old paperwork in my garage attic—there were a lot of them—and I stumbled across some of my old columns. How old? Well, so old they’ve never appeared online.
There was a time when stuff didn’t appear online. No, really.
Since time has been very short lately (see above note about going through stuff, and also recently born grandbaby), I’m posting this as my annual Christmas column, a little more faith based than my usual fare … and you’d have never known it wasn’t brand new if I hadn’t told you. Well, except it mentions my youngest daughter’s fascination with Sailor Moon, which dates back to the turn of the century.
I’m typing this in without reading it first … I wonder if it’s any good?


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Twas’ the night before Christmas, and all through the house
No noise could be heard but the click of my mouse
As I searched on the net for some gifts I could use,
To keep the kids happy, and thus stop abuse.

The reason, for me, was that Christmas meant presents,
And a lack of the same could make my life unpleasant.
For I have two daughters, who I thought could be mean,
Because one still knows Santa, and the other’s a teen.

So I surfed on the net, and I found Sailor Moon
Comics, two dolls, and all things cartoon.
For the old: books, tapes, her piece of the pie,
And she wanted orange clothing—don’t’ ask me why.

So my credit card screamed as I roamed cyberspace,
Begging for mercy while I wore down its face.
My bank account suffered, collapsed, and then died.
No team from “ER” could keep it alive.

Headlong for bankruptcy, I found myself hurrying.
Yes, I was broke, but I wasn’t worrying.
After all, I was experiencing the joy of giving,
And that seemed to me the way to be living.

Then in my computer I heard such a clatter,
I thought it was crashing! Almost emptied my bladder.
A new icon appeared on my desktop display:
“Press here for Santa—now, don’t delay!”

With a trembling hand I ran virus scans first,
But it said “nothing detected” so it wasn’t the worst.
I couldn’t resist; the button I pushed,
And suddenly Santa appeared with a “whoosh”.

Although no longer fat, he still had that grin.
“My wife gets the credit for the shape that I’m in.
The doc said lose weight or one day I’ll keel over,
So Mrs. Claus feeds me stuff that tastes just like clover.”

“You’re looking good, Santa,” I had to agree.
“And you’re in my computer—high tech now, I see.”
But something about my words made him frown:
“That’s why I’m here: You’ve got it all turned around.”

“But Santa,” I told him, “I’m into the spirit.
This stuff isn’t for me—I wouldn’t hear it!
I like buying for kids, it’s the spirit of giving;
Thinking not of yourself is the way to be living.”

He shook his head sadly. “You just don’t understand.
A big present exchange isn’t what should be planned.
What good does it do? What do your kids learn?
To get lots of things? To spend more than you earn?”

I sat there in shock—didn’t know what to say.
This didn’t sound like our Santa today.
“Why do you say this? You sound kind of blue.
Is material hoopla getting you, too?”

“It was different before,” Santa said with a frown.
“There wasn’t this focus on cost all around.
People were thankful, whatever they got;
Gifts came from the heart, that’s what they were taught.”

“Do you think what they want, or what you think is nice?
Do you buy best for each, or balance out price?
I know you like giving, but is that what they learn?
Or do they just know ‘get’ and you’ve money to burn?”

“All the gifts in the world don’t play a part
In the meaning of Christmas if He’s not in your heart.
And you know who He is! So get off your can.
If you can’t afford gifts make your kids understand.”

And then he was gone. He left no gifts from his sack.
But he did leave some interesting thoughts to take back
To consider for people who go fret and worry
About gifts and cards and the holiday hurry.

There’s nothing wrong with having a nice holiday
(At least until January’s bill paying day.)
But Santa’s not the Big Guy of the season, you see.
So relax and have fun … don’t just load up the tree.

Merry Christmas!

It's the Santa Mafia! And they're going to make you a present you can't refuse.




Happy Short First Winter Day Birthday, Emily

It's the shortest day of the year, and the first day of winter.

But on the brighter side, all the days are getting longer after this, and it's the birthday of my wonderful wife, Emily.

She has an animal attraction.
It's been a rough year for Emily, and she deserves more than my usual lame and last-minute acknowledgements of special dates. Just the same, I try to make her aware every day that I love her more than chocolate. That's a big deal for me. I really love chocolate.

And I love you, Emily. Just as the days got brighter after you were born, my life got brighter after we met.

"You'd better not be taking my picture while I'm trying to make a left turn."

Free short story coming up

I'll be releasing a free short story on the newsletter in the next few days: A fun little Christmas tale (well, I had fun writing it), set before the events of Radio Red--and no, you don't have to read the novel first.

It's my Christmas gift to you, my readers, friends, and relatives, not to mention to occasional person who's all of the above. You can sign up for the newsletter over at www.markrhunter.com, and in turn be bugged by me only every month or so, slightly more or less depending on whether I have a new book coming out. Which doesn't happen that often, after all! And, of course, I never give out or sell e-mail addresses to anyone, for anything.

Merry Christmas!


The Black Building at Christmas

The Black Building has played a big role in two of my history books, plus it's an art gallery now and has a historical mural on the side, so ... cool! I took these photos during the Albion Christmas parade.

It's called the Black Building because it, and two others on the same location before it, were built by the Black family, early Albion business people.
And now, as I said, it's an art gallery. There's an antique store down the street, and two historical murals on the same block. If you look closely, I believe you can see the gallery's owner through the window. His wife was taking much better photos than mine, from the roof!

Go there to see lots of paintings and other kinds of art and, yeah, my books.

Radio Red in Christmas colors

My imagination is sometimes lacking when it comes to promoting my work ... although I should point out that my wife shot down both the sandwich board idea and, for financial reasons, the sky writing. Still, she did come up with something I hadn't considered when it comes to my newest book:

See, it's Christmas season, that time when many businesses make the lion's share of their annual profit. It was Emily who pointed out that the cover of Radio Red is also the traditional Christmas colors: red and green. (Come to think of it, so is one of the main characters.)

They're also stoplight colors, but never mind.

So you, anyone who buys our books is being festive!

If someone opens a box with Radio Red in it for Christmas, do you know what they'll say?
Well, okay, yeah, they'll say "what's a Radio Red?" But they'll also say, "Cool, Christmas colors!" Even if they download it as an e-book, because the cover's still there.

This is way better than my idea of tattooing all my book titles to my forehead.

Oh, speaking of which, all my book titles can be found here: www.markrhunter.com.

50 Authors from 50 States: Pamela Nowak, Awarded Author, Shares Wyoming’s Ric...

50 Authors from 50 States: Pamela Nowak, Awarded Author, Shares Wyoming’s Ric...: Wyoming brings to mind stunning vistas of high prairie grasslands with wild horses, majestic mountain ranges and spouting geysers. As a...

Grandbaby is here

Sorry I'm late in posting this, but we wanted to make sure my daughter Jillian could make the official announcement. At 12:26 p.m. on December 6th my first granddaughter, Lillianna Judith Mapes, was born. She was 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and 20 inches long, and yes indeed--she's beautiful. Mom and dad (Doug Mapes) are doing fine, and grandpa is holding his own!

We didn't get to see her right away because Emily and I both got sick (it's December, after all). But I'm pretty sure Emily at least had the flu, so staying home was for the best.
 

 

Albion fire trucks in the Christmas parade

I already had these up on Facebook. but I figured I'd blog them here because hey--that's what blogs are for.

You wondered what blogs are for, didn't you? Admit it.

Anyway, the guys dressed up three of our fire trucks for the 2017 Albion Christmas parade. The following three photos were taken by Albion firefighter Bob Brownell, who sent them to me to keep safe in the event of his disappearance. Kidding! Say, I haven't seen Bob.

This 1929 Buffalo Fire Apparatus engine was built in--you guessed it--1929. It was Albion's first motorized fire engine, after an 1888 hand-pumped engine and a 1914 horse-drawn chemical engine.



This is Albion's first rescue truck designed as an actual rescue truck. Our three rescues before that were reconditioned after being--wait for it--two bread delivery trucks and a soda truck.



Fast forward to modern times, and our newest fire engine. Christmas lights were not standard.



Unfortunately, the '29 was the only apparatus to make the parade. The other two were diverted--for the second year in a row--to respond to a traffic accident involving injuries. An odd coincidence ... and also confusing to parade watchers who saw fire trucks rushing through town with lights and sirens just before the parade actually started.


2017 Albion Christmas parade photos

A few photos from Albion's Friday night Christmas parade. And by that I mean the few photos that were anywhere close to usable, as my camera fogged up in the cold.

I contend that my wife just came for the horses. Well, there were plenty of them.

I'm not at all sure it's a good idea for the Snow Miser and Heat Miser to be in such close proximity.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPrbccEdI5o

It turns out Christmas is universal! But ... so are star wars.

Keep on truckin', Santa.

A lot of my photos were spoiled by the lens fogging up, but I kind of liked the effect in this case.

Movie Review: Justice League

Steppenwolf, upset that no one plays their music anymore, tries to destroy the world in the new superhero movie, Justice League.

Oh, sorry--wrong Steppenwolf. This one a minion of Darkseid, a guy just as pleasant as you'd imagine, who rules over Apokolips, a planet just as fun as the name suggests. Steppenwolf has only to join together three Mother Boxes, which were left on Earth thousands of years ago when he first tried to take over the planet, in order to make Earth just like his own home ... in other words, pretty awful.

Whew.

You'd be forgiven, even if you're a comic book reader, for not knowing this background stuff. The characters were part of the New Gods saga, which initially was barely connected to the rest of the DC universe. It involved a civil war between a race that was split between good and evil planets by the impact of Ragnorok. No, not that Ragnorok--the DC one.



Luckily all you need to know is in an early flashback: Steppenwolf tried this before and was stopped by an army of various old races that will tie-in with some modern characters (also, look for a Green Lantern cameo). Now, with Superman dead, Steppenwolf is back and aching for vengeance.

This is a job for ... oh, wait, Superman's dead.

Instead Batman assembles a team ... a league, say, of super powered beings who all do a credible job of being credible. They have their work cut out for them, as Steppenwolf has brought an army of flying zombie types. Worst of all, Superman's dead, for good. Honest.

Justice League still has a sense of being rushed, as DC tries to catch up with Marvel's movie success, but overall it's a pretty good flick and well worth watching. As might be expected, Gal Gadot steals the show as Wonder Woman, because--Gal Gadot. Ben Affleck does hold things together as Batman, with Jeremy Irons as his right hand man, the ... butler? ... Alfred. (Watch "Gotham" for an idea of how Alfred became such a bad ass.) And ... who's that guy behind Commissioner Gordon's giant mustache? Looks a lot like J. Jonah Jameson.

The movie's full of great parts, but I especially liked Jason Momoa's unexptected take on Aquaman, and Ezra Miller, channeling "The Big Bang Theory's" Sheldon Cooper as a Flash who has trouble dealing with everyone else's slow minds. Flash gets some of the best lines, and I suspect Joss Whedon had something to do with that.

Justice League is overall a fun flick with a more sensible plot outline and character development than we saw in Dawn of Justice, and the battle scenes don't seem quiet as too-long as so many other movies these days. I do wish the individual characters had their own introductions, though--especially Ray Fisher's Cyborg.

"Wait ... are we seriously arguing over who has the best costume? Duh, utility belt."


My score:
Entertainment value: 3 1/2 M&M's out of 4. Watch for mid and post credit scenes, both of which will be especially appreciated by comic book fans.
Oscar Potential: 1 out of 4 M&M's. Let's face it, it's a superhero movie. The Academy is offended when two many of us unwashed masses types enjoy a movie.

NaNoWriMo special: Back Home Again, In ... Kentucky

NaNoWriMo novel ... first draft finished! 58,264 words, a number that's sure to grow between now and the final draft. Hope everyone had a fun month of writing!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

There's an old saying in the writing biz: Write what you know.

If taken literally, it's a dumb saying.

How well did Baum know flying monkeys? When was the last time Clarke set foot inside a giant alien spaceship? How much time did I spend in a girl's summer camp?

Just to be clear, I did not spend any time in a girl's summer camp, except when it was empty during the off season. And yet I still set my novel The No-Campfire Girls inside a girl's summer camp. And by the way, my main character was a teenage girl, and I have no experience being one of those, either.

So "write what you know" has only limited usefulness as a rule, although like many rules there's a germ of truth in it. Certainly an author should research their subject as much as possible. I can take liberties when creating my spaceship, the hapless corvette Beowulf. Similarly, Baum wasn't worried about anyone complaining, "That's not like any Tin Woodman I ever met!" But if you have a character put a silencer on a revolver, you're going to hear about it.

The same goes for setting. If you set your book in New York City, you'd better darned well know which street will get you to the George Washington Bridge. If you create your own fantasy land (and haven't we all done that), you'd better understand why your main city gate faces westward, and which bridges you're likely to find trolls under. Or, you could combine the two and make a trollgate.

I've taken the easy way out up until now. My first two novels and their accompanying short story collection were set in Noble County, Indiana, a place I'm pretty familiar with--having lived there all my life. My fourth book in that series was The No-Campfire Girls and also set in Indiana, although the southern part of the state. While I have little experience with summer camps, I toured my wife's Girl Scout camp, and based the layout of my Camp Inipi on it.

Finally I set a novel outside Indiana--but Radio Red takes place in the area of northwest lower Michigan where I used to vacation frequently, and I was pretty familiar with it. Real places have that advantage, that you can steal locales. There are also disadvantages: In The Notorious Ian Grant, my characters visited a flower shop in Albion, Indiana, in a building where I used to live. That's fine, but the flower shop later moved out.

So there you have the pros and cons of real and fake settings. When I started planning my NaNoWriMo novel I was going to again set it in Indiana, but at the last moment I decided to mix it up a bit: Fire on Mist Creek (On? At? On.) is set in northern Kentucky. It's not far over the Indiana state line, but I'm still dipping a toe into another area.

My town, Mist Creek, is made up, and based to an extent on the towns near where my grandparents lived when I was a kid. But that was southeastern Kentucky, in a mountainous region--well, mountainous to a Hoosier. For the new book, I pictured the other side of the Ohio River from the Madison, Indiana area, which is not nearly as up and down. My wife and I have also kicked around setting it closer to Paducah, also a Kentucky region ... but if you cross the Ohio there you're in Illinois.

I think south from Madison gives me a terrain more accurate to what I'm envisioning: hilly, rugged in places, a rural character where small towns have a certain amount of isolation. You people down there in places like Bedford, LaGrange, and Pendleton, let me know if I'm wrong!


Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Dog

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Dog: It is time once again for the point of view of the dog and the cat. As always, the dog gets things started. 7:09 AM. Waking up at ...

Happy Book Selling Season

Being preoccupied with National Novel Writing Month, which is by definition a month long, I haven't done any work to sell my books in November.

You're welcome.

There's no better way to tell if promotion works than by not doing it for awhile, and sure enough--promotion works. So, although you're already inundated with people asking you to buy stuff this time of the year, I'm asking you to buy stuff.

It's the perfect time, since you can give my books for Christmas, or read them yourself and then gift them (be careful with coffee, and cookie crumbs). We have nine books now, which still astounds me, and the best place to check them all out remains our website at:

www.markrhunter.com

For those of you who don't do the internet shopping thing, to my knowledge the only place where you can physically pick up copies is the Noble Art Gallery, at 100 E. Main Street (the corner of Main and Orange) in Albion, Indiana. They don't have my latest book, because things have been crazy in my life and I haven't had time to talk to them about carrying it, but I believe they have all the others--and if you want to see Radio Red, just contact me or them and I'll get it up there. The advantage is that the Noble Art Gallery also has all sorts of art from all sorts of other artists, so you can support them and do some Christmas shopping.

The exception is the Barnes and Noble store at Glenbrook Square in Fort Wayne, which as of a couple of months ago still had a few copies of Images of America: Albion and Noble County.

If you do like online shopping, go to amazon.com or the Barnes and Noble website, do a book search for Mark R Hunter, and there I am. Many of our books are around at other websites, too, including the Simon and Schuster site.

And finally, just contact me or Emily! We have a supply of books at home--if it's not too far from Albion, we'll even deliver. Get them from me, our website, or the Noble Art Gallery, and you can get them signed. In our house, we still do cursive.

Also we'll do bulk discounts for someone who wants to, say, buy three or four books. Or nine.

NaNoWriMo ... winner!

Who's a National Novel Writing Month winner???

That's right ... I am!

52,265 words so far, baby. Actually, One more chapter and I'll have the first draft of Fire On Mist Creek done ... although I've already thought of another scene I need to go back and put in, and a few more things to add along the way. I'm figuring around 65,000 words when all is said and done.

Then major revisions, followed by minor revisions, followed by polishing. Then Emily will go through it and find all the stuff I missed. Then I'll put it aside for a month or so to "cool" ... then I go back and start the revision process all over again. January will be National Novel Editing Month. (Actually I think there really is one of those.)

But still ... I got the 50,000 in as required, so I totally won #NaNoWriMo2017 !!!


Suppose I should take a little time out now to pet the dog.

Making the Holidays More Holiday-ish

Just a little fun from last year ... or was it the year before? All these holidays tend to blur together ...



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I always feel a little disjointed when the holidays arrive. I’m never ready for Thanksgiving, which is followed within hours by Christmas, and minutes after that by New Year’s Eve, followed immediately by several months of miserable winter. I’m never ready.
And yet, the holidays come every year. So, what’s my excuse?
“Gee, I thought for sure it wouldn’t happen this time. Why was I not warned?”
My mother calls every year to find out when we want to celebrate Thanksgiving. We never celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving—that would be too easy. But many of us work in the service industry. In my 911 center, we almost never close down for the holidays. Okay, we took a few hours off when the Cubs won, but otherwise …
Many of my other relatives work in the more difficult service jobs, the ones where you have to work a register and deal with customers face to face. They don’t take 911 calls, but they often make 911 calls. I think I’d rather be on the receiving end. It’s because of their jobs that we can’t celebrate a holiday on a holiday. It used to be they were busy on Thanksgiving, setting up for Black Friday; now they’re busy on Thanksgiving, having Black Friday.
If you’re old, like me—I always feel old when the days get shorter—you’ll remember a time when everything shut down for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Go out for Thanksgiving dinner? What a turkey of an idea. Go shopping that same evening? There are ball games to watch, people. But these days we’re thankful for our alarm clock, so we can get up at 3 a.m. to work our part time job in riot control at Best Buy.
"Don’t worry, ma’am: A little ventilation will get that pepper spray right out of your new flat screen TV."
So mom calls, asking if we want to have Thanksgiving the Sunday before, or the Saturday after. “But mom,” I say, “Why worry about that in August?”
“It’s November, dear.”
“But what happened to Halloween?”
“Your cardiologist ordered us not to say you missed it until November 7th.”
“But—the full sized candy bars!”
The irony is that there are plenty of reminders that the holidays are approaching. This year I saw my first store Halloween display in August, and my first Christmas display in September. It was 90 degrees. Nothing says Christmas like watching a plastic Santa melt like the Wicked Witch.
“Ho ho oh noooooo!!!!”
Nothing left but a bubbling pool of liquid on the floor, smelling faintly of peppermint and gingerbread. It’s enough to make you hit the eggnog.
Maybe my denial about the approaching holidays is an unconscious response to the cheapening of those same holidays, the way they come earlier and earlier. It’s not special any more. One year, on January third, I started poking through Christmas clearance items when I was stopped by an employee:
“Sir, those aren’t available for purchase yet—we’re putting up the store display tomorrow.”
It gets confusing. The Valentine’s Day cupid wears a fur lined red hat, and instead of a bow carries a little bundle of fireworks. Every time you pass him he says, “Happy Easter!” and tries to give you pumpkin shaped candy, while waving a sign advertising a President’s Day sale. On Thanksgiving.
The underlying meaning of all holidays has blurred into one unmistakable message:
“Give us money, and we’ll give everyone ‘free’ stuff that will make us all happy.”
Which they stole from politicians, but never mind.
Thus my idea for a new federal law: No holiday can be mentioned more than six weeks before the actual date. No holiday decorations can be put up longer than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No special sales can be held on an actual holiday, with the exception of President’s Day, which is a lost cause.
One exception: Christmas lights can be put up outside while the weather is still good, as long as they’re not turned on before Thanksgiving. If they’re lit (or inflated) earlier, it’s open season for anyone with a rifle, paintball gun, blow gun, lawn darts, or snowballs. Or bazookas. No, that’s overkill—literally.
Our aim should be to make holidays special again, and you can’t do that if the holiday never goes away. If you go to the party store and can’t remember if your decorations are supposed to be red and green, or pink, or red, white and blue, then you’re doing it wrong.
How do you know if you’re doing it right? Well, I suppose you’ve got the right attitude if you’re thankful. If you’re giving. If you’re getting along with people, or at least trying to. You know, the good will thing.
And if that doesn’t work, you could try giving me some of your Halloween candy.
For Christmas.