Albion Fire Department's fish fry, Chain O' Lakes Festival

The Albion Fire Department's annual fish fry -- which happens annually -- will be Wednesday, June 7th, during the Chain O' Lakes Festival. We're also having tenderloin again this year, for those of you inclined, although I can't imagine why you'd want to pass on the breaded fish. It's all you can eat, and you can't beat that unless you're a diet doctor.

I can't be there (I'll be helping to bread the fish earlier in the day, and it's one of those scheduling things where I can't do both). However, they tell me copies of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With The Albion Fire Department will be on sale at the fish fry, for $9.95. That's our book about the history of the fire department: Proceeds from book sales, as with the fish fry itself, go to the Albion Fire Department's equipment and training fund.

 So come and support your local emergency volunteers! It's from 5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at the Albion Fire Station, 210 Fire Station Drive, on the east end of town.  (It's traditional, when a town has a Fire Station Drive, to build the fire station there.) Price for adults is $10, for children $6, with children 5 and under eating free.

Emily and I selling pre-orders of Smoky Days at the fish fry just before its publication.

Why we do it: Albion firefighters attack a training fire. I'm particularly proud of this photo, because I didn't die taking it.

Yeah, but at least the forest fire risk is low

They cleaned up the beach at Chain O' Lakes State Park, all ready for the big holiday weekend ...

And now the beach is gone.

And more rain is expected tonight.

Be very careful driving--there was lowland flooding last night, and there's going to be more tonight across local roads, so slow way down, watch out, and don't go into standing water. Remember this rule: Stalling out your car is no fun, and drowning is even less fun. I've heard.

Roger Moore and the best James Bond

I've not planned my funeral. I'm not the Queen. A procession through the streets of Stockwell would be nice, I suppose. But when I go, I'd just like everyone to say: "He lived longer than anyone I knew.". -- Roger Moore

The death of the third James Bond naturally brings up that question fans have debated for decades: Who was the best Bond? (Roger Moore was actually the fourth on-screen Bond--the first, Barry Nelson for an American TV Movie, might be so changed from the original as to not count.)

George Lazenby is generally considered the second Bond for his one and only appearance in 1969, but that would be wrong, kind of. David Niven played Bond in a 1967 spoof of Casino Royale. To confuse matters further, in 1964 James Bond was a character on a comedy sketch show, Mainly Millicent. In that case, a full nine years before Roger Moore took over the part in the movies, James Bond was played by ... Roger Moore.

"Maybe someday they'll give me this part in a movie."

So you see, the question of how many actors assumed the role of James Bond is complicated, even if you don't include Bob Simmons -- a stuntman who played Bond in the opening "through the gun barrel" sequence in Dr. No.

For me the question of who was the best Bond is very complicated indeed: The most realistic Bond seems to be Daniel Craig, the best Sean Connery, and my favorite Roger Moore. (My next favorite after Connery and Moore would be Pierce Brosnan, who I predicted would someday play Bond the moment I first saw him on Remington Steele.)

Daniel Craig seemed most like the original Bond, the one from Ian Fleming's books. Plus, his character gets beat up and wounded inside and out, is darker, and generally as close to real life as Bond ever got. That's why he doesn't make my favorites list--not because he or his movies were bad, but because I watch spy movies for escapism and fun, not real life.

Sean Connery was just ... Sean Connery. He's on a gold medal stand, all by himself, not just for originating the movie roll but for doing it with such style. You can believe he's a cold blooded killer, but you can also believe he's having some fun with the role. No one else ever quite matched him. (In my opinion. And no, I'm not going to get into a fight about it, because hey--it's movies.)

Then Moore came along, and instantly realized the inherent silliness of the whole thing ... so he played it with tongue in cheek, which enraged many fans.

Sean's jokes come from left field, and I let people know a joke was coming. I basically said "I'm have a good time doing this, and I hope you're having a good time watching me have a good time.". -- Roger Moore

The first Bond movie I saw was Moore's first, Live and Let Die. You always remember your first. Everything that meant Bond to me was there: The gadgets, Q,  the over the top villains, the jokes, the girls, the chases. The boat chase in that movie stands up to this day, as does the opening song (the first in a Bond movie not sung by a woman).

Irony: Roger Moore hated guns.

To me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous, so outrageous. I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet, everybody knows he's a spy. Every bartender in the world offers him martinis that are shaken, not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognized everywhere he goes? It's outrageous. So you have to treat the humor outrageously as well. My personality is entirely different than previous Bonds. I'm not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs. -- Roger Moore

And there you have it, the reason why I can have more than one favorite James Bond. They weren't playing the same character, not really. Conner, Moore, Craig ... they're playing characters with the same name, but from different worlds. You don't have to debate: Just enjoy their work, and if you don't enjoy it--turn it off.

When I was a young actor at RADA, Noël Coward was in the audience one night. He said to me after the play, "Young man, with your devastating good looks and your disastrous lack of talent, you should take any job ever offered you. In the event that you're offered two jobs simultaneously, take the one that offers the most money." Here I am. -- Roger Moore

Weathering Indiana Festivals

Weathering Indiana Festivals

In one of my books I included a photo of the Onion Days Festival, in Wolf Lake, Indiana. Never mind that it’s called Onion Days—that’s another story—but the photo was taken in the early 1900s, over a century ago.

Hey, I wrote the book; I never said I took the picture.

There are also photos in Albion of what would one day become the Chain O’ Lakes Festival. Those pictures were taken some fifty or sixty years before there was a Chain O’ Lakes State Park … so if the street fair had been called that at the time it would be some pretty amazing precognition.

While researching local history I was shown many photos of fairs, parades, and other gatherings from back a century or so: A late 1800s fair in downtown Kendallville, a 1914 wedding in the middle of Albion’s main intersection … to this day we’re still doing a lot of those same outdoor gatherings. (I assume they shut down traffic for that wedding, but maybe they had to use a team of wild horses to drag the groom in.)
"Do you take this man to put a roof over your head, hopefully before they invent cars that need this intersection?"

I know what you’re thinking: “But Mark, what do all these things have in common?”

Actually, you’re probably thinking, “Festivals? I love funnel cakes!” but that doesn’t fit where I’m going with this.

What they have in common is that they all took place outdoors. To this day, summer is festival season in Indiana. We tried doing an outdoor festival in January once, and they never did thaw out all the bodies.

(There actually is such a thing as a frost festival. There’s also such a thing as legal insanity.)

With summer, the only thing organizers of fairs, concerts, and parades have to worry about is rain, wind, cold snaps (they happen), heat waves, tornadoes, lightning, flooding, dust storms, and earthquakes. Actually, I guess I’d rather be outside for the earthquakes.
"Don't worry folks, it's just the cloud's ... tail. Yeah, that's it."

But otherwise, what are we thinking?

Recently I was contacted about being a vendor at the Avilla Freedom Days Festival, which as you might imagine happens in Avilla, June 22-24. What I have to sell is books. Are books? Our books. Specifically, the ones Emily and I wrote. Since we have nine published at this point, I can easily fill a table with a product. After all, most people who go to a festival are thinking, “Boy, I really hope I can find some good books there”.

Aren’t they?

I agreed to go, under the theory of “why not?” On the one hand, it’ll be something of a hard slog having what amounts to a three day book signing—my longest previous one took place in a few hours of one afternoon. On the other hand, I get to go to a festival. By the time I’m done with the pork burgers, funnel cakes, and lemon shakeups, I’ll be twice the man I used to be.

On the third hand, there are all those weather-related fears I mentioned previously. Plus books. We don’t even need rain—in a Midwest June, the humidity alone might be enough to make the pages curl. This is why most book signings are held inside, but I’m nothing if not imaginative and daring. (Did you catch that? I just totally lied.)
"My book is wilting! I never thought I'd need a blotter for sweat."

So what made us think this was a good idea to begin with, this outdoor gathering thing? Never mind outdoor book signings, that’s just a literary anomaly. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Tradition. We start doing a certain thing, and we just never stop. Think about it: In, say, 1880, when someone said “Let’s have an outdoor party!” everyone else said “Great idea!” Why? No air conditioning. Poor indoor lighting and ventilation. Most people couldn’t afford big homes, and there weren’t that many public buildings with large spaces. They went outside because it was closed in and miserable inside. These people had just spent a whole winter stuck inside with their families, and often their extended families. Heck yeah, they were ready to get out.
"The weather got so bad we were blown clean into another century!"

And they stayed out until harvest time, and then they stayed out for that. Many of us have air conditioning now, but those of us who are too smart for winter sports are stuck indoors from October to April. There are large indoor venues now, but have you ever tried to set up a Ferris Wheel in the school gymnasium? I mean, other than that one epic senior prank from ’93 that I deny any knowledge of?

There’s also that human desire to get together in large groups and share common experiences, then complain about them. My wife and I tend to be anti-social, which means we’re not against socializing in theory, but we’d rather be home writing about other people socializing. But even we need to get out now and then, and it’ll be nice to see the people go by, either enjoying themselves or hiding from a downpour.

There’s something to be said for getting together to share our commonalities, such as our common fear of the weather, and our love of food that’s bad for us. If I might make a suggestion, hit the vendors first, then the rides, and save the fair food for last.

But even if you don’t go in that order, take some time to enjoy and appreciate your local festivals. If you’re up for an adventure take in a walking taco, then ride the Scrambler, then try to keep the taco from walking back out.

Revenge of the Water Heater

 Note: I wrote most of this piece a month ago, put it into a draft, and immediately forgot about it. I decided to post it now because a few days ago I mentioned in passing that I was attempting home maintenance, and there have since been several inquiries about me at local hospitals. I'm still here, I survived, and thanks to my brother my home once again has running water.

The thing about a water heater is that it's supposed to heat water--hence the name--and then hold aforementioned heated water until you let it out. If the water gets out before you want it to, that's a problem. It's also a problem if the heated water isn't heated, but never mind.

So when I saw water leaking out of the bottom of my water heater, it naturally occurred to me that I might have a problem. And what does one do in modern times when one has a problem? That's right: consult the internet.

The internet told me that the water might be coming from the drain valve, in which case I might be able to cap it. (It wasn't.) Or, it might be coming from anywhere else, in which case both I and my wallet were screwed. Further consultation revealed that "screwed" was not meant literally, so my collection of mismatched screwdrivers would not help me. Nor would the jar full of screws I've found in random places, and always wondered what they were supposed to be holding together.

Further, I discovered drinking a screwdriver would help, but only temporarily.

The internet told me my water heater is approaching its normal lifespan anyway, and there's no use crying over spilled water. However, it also told me that if the leak isn't too bad, and the water isn't damaging anything, I could go on using the heater for years more before it finally conks out.

(I suspect it was people on the internet who said that, rather than the internet itself. Then again, keep feeding information into a computer system and sooner or later it's going to figure stuff out for itself--we've all seen those movies.)

This idea suits me. (The "keep using it" idea, not "the internet's taking over" idea, which terrifies me.) "Ignore the problem and maybe it'll go away" is a creed I've lived by when it comes to home repairs, or anything mechanical. Yes, that may have led to a tire falling off my car, but no creed is perfect.

On a quite definitely related note, I also discovered that the valve to shut off water to my heater is corroded so badly that it's no longer a valve. It's just a scaly green blob with no logical function, rather like a politician's brain. I can't change the heater without shutting off water to the entire house, and the house is heated with water. If that's not an excuse to put the whole thing off until cold weather ends, I don't know what is. What could possibly go wrong?

 So I put it off until May, and started work three days before our town's spring cleanup day, when I could put the old water heater out. Three days later I was indeed able to take the old heater out, just in time. At that point I didn't have any water, hot or cold, and due to a pressure surge I'd also lost my  washing machine. But hey, I got rid of that old water heater.

I could go into more detail, but it's a little hard to type with these burned fingers and the strained shoulder. On the other hand, the sore toe and damaged knees make for a good excuse to catch up on episodes of Fargo. Thanks to my brother everything's up and running except for the washing machine, which was at least three decades old and bought used, anyway.

My home, which was also bought used, is always looking for new and original ways to beat me down. I suppose when it's time to install the new washing machine, it'll find a new way.

This is where my home maintenance projects usually go.

Worst Home Maintenance Fail Ever

When I opened my Blogger account this morning, I found that all my visitor stats had disappeared. (They popped back into existence a few hours later, having apparently undergone some kind of existential crisis. I've been there.)

One would be tempted to blame Blogger, or the internet in general. However, in the last two days I've broken a brand new pipe wrench, a washing machine, a copper water pipe, a vent hood, my back, and the entire water supply to my house. Can't speak for the new water heater: I haven't advanced to the point of igniting the pilot.

So for the moment I'm not prepared to blame anyone else for stuff going wrong in my  vicinity.

On an all-too-related note, you might not be hearing from me for a few days.

This photo is from my chimney demolition, which led to a broken sledge hammer, smashed ladder, and big hole in the ground.

50 Authors from 50 States: Robin Bayne’s Maryland: America In Miniature

50 Authors from 50 States: Robin Bayne’s Maryland: America In Miniature:  Ah, Maryland My Maryland . I’ve lived in Maryland all of my life. In fourth grade we learned that Maryland is considered “America ...

Radio Red: Because Romantic Comedy is Good for the Soul

In an all too humorless year, I have to remind you from time to time that everything looks a little better after some romantic comedy. Well, I don't have to, but I do have to promote myself now and then, so please spread the word about Radio Red. It's not every year I release a book ... well, okay, it has been every year since 2011 ... never mind.

Imagine if Groucho Marx and Katherine Hepburn were reincarnated, and found themselves solving the mystery of who's trying to sabotage a small Michigan radio station.  Say, that's pretty good ... I made that up as I was typing it.

If you've already had a chance to check out Radio Red, please leave a review, and remember: It's the most fun you can have on the radio, without being shut down by the FCC.

And all my books are required by contract to be available at, of course.

(Also, don't forget you can get a different look at the novel's opening scene in the story I wrote for The Very True Legends of Ol' Man Wickleberry and His Demise.)


First Interview of the Year: Cleaning Up at the Newspaper

While hauling stuff out for spring cleanup I ran into a reporter right in front of my home--camped out, no doubt, hoping for a good quote, or a photo of me with my hair in curlers. (Just kidding: The newspaper office is just down the street, and the rest of town is just up the street.)

The next day he stopped at the house for an interview and we had a nice, hour and a half long talk about all aspects of writing and publishing, and I got to show off Radio Red as well as our other books. I also pimped our upcoming appearance at the Avilla Freedom Festivals, of course. But I don't know what all will make it into his article--I'm sure he has only so much space, and we covered a lot of territory. Turns out I love to talk about writing, go figure.

I'll let you know when it comes out! Meanwhile, as usual, check out all our books at, or stop by here for the latest.

50 Authors from 50 States: Author Nancy Fraser’s Maine Squeeze

50 Authors from 50 States: Author Nancy Fraser’s Maine Squeeze: For me nothing says “kick back and relax” like the beautiful state of Maine. Whether it’s the open, luscious farm land or the seaside a...

Speak of the Devil: Bickering Out In The Cosmos

Speak of the Devil: Bickering Out In The Cosmos: Today I have a movie review. And for another take on this one, check out Norma and Collin's  reviews and Mark's review. “...

I'm not the only one reviewing this movie!

movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

How the heck did I manage to not find out Sylvester Stallone was in this movie?

Anyway ...

It says something about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 that the opening fight scene is incredibly fun--and yet largely unseen by the audience.

Which has been done before, but in this case the focus is on a tiny little shrub that's just trying to get his groove on.

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, apparently after inhaling helium) is one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a motley crew that, at the end of the last movie, decided to hang around together mostly because they didn't have anything else to do. Now they're working as a team, and they're also family--which means they fight and often don't like each other (that they'll admit), but stick around anyway.

They're busy making enemies of just about everyone when a guy shows up who calls himself Ego (Kurt Russell, and he's perfect). He announces he's the father of the Guardians' leader and only human, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, who gets to show some beyond-the-wisecracking layers). Ego's also a god. ("Small 'g'.")

Poor Peter's pretty puzzled.

Things move quickly after that, as some of the team accompany Ego to Ego's planet, which apparently is Ego. It's entire population consists of Ego and an innocent alien named Mantis, an empath who Ego apparently keeps around just to help him sleep.

Meanwhile Groot and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper's voice, and a character that would also be cute if he wasn't busy killing people) stay behind to repair their damaged ship along with a wanted captive, Nebula (Karen Gillan, in an epic sibling rivalry with Zoe Saldana's Gamora). They manage to get into quite a bit of trouble of their own when an army or two of bounty hunters show up.

Along the way old enemies and friends arrive, including Yondu, played by Michael Rooker as a blue-skinned version of his Merle character from The Walking Dead (that's a compliment). We find out Stan Lee is a Watcher (from the comics, not from Buffy), and--hey, is that Sylvester Stallone playing the leader of the bad guy guild, which kicked Peter's adoptive daddy out of the group for trafficking in child slaves--including Peter?

Now that I think of it, it says something about the quality of the writing that I didn't have trouble keeping track of the zig-zagging story line, or of the Galaxy-spanning cast.

Part of the fun of Guardians, if you're any kind of a nerd, is keeping track of actor connections to other shows and movies. Yep, there's The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Star Trek,  Jurassic World, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate, and even the DC Comics universe. Is that Castle's Molly Quinn in a cameo with the worst intergalactic date ever? I hope at least he paid the bill.

And Stan Lee, of course. I don't care what anyone says: Stan's cameos are awesome.

Among the other major stars Dave Bautista is still solid and hilarious as Drax, and Pom Klementieff--I suspect that's not her stage name--makes a great entrance as the winsome Mantis. Rocket and especially Groot tend to steal any scene they're in, which says something about the quality of digital effects, that a raccoon and a tree shoot give worthy performances. Oh, and stay for the during and post credit scenes ... all of them.

Okay, so it has a fun story, great cast, and amazing special effects ... but is it a good movie?

Well, yeah. And if you say otherwise, Rocket might come for you.

My score:
Entertainment value: 4 out of 4 M&M's. The good green ones.
Oscar Potential: 2 1/2 out of 4 M&M's. Just because movies like this don't get major Oscar nods.

Mushrooms, Morel Less

I went out hunting mushrooms, a spore-t even I could succeed at.

Kidding--I just stumbled across them by happy accident. (Literally stumbled across them, in one case.)

I hate regular mushrooms. They taste like a 50s horror movie. Still, I must admit that finding edible ones in the wild made my interest ... well ... mushroom a bit. And who doesn't want to have a little fun-gus in their life?

So, at my wife's urging (okay, she made me), I tried one. She fried it up, with a little butter, much the way I like everything cooked except for chocolate. (I like my chocolate covered with a nice thick layer of more chocolate.)

It tasted like pork. I'm not kidding. Unlike mushrooms I've tried in the past, which taste much like unripe raw rubber, these are much Morel tasty. (Now I'm wondering what raw rubber really tastes like.)  It's not a food I'd want every day, but it just goes to show you ... sometimes it's worth giving something new a try.

Before you ask, I was assured by the property owner that if I identified where I found these Morels, I'd end up pushing them up myself.

Doggie DNA

Sometimes you just have to know where you came from.

But we don't have the money for that, so instead we decided to find out where our dog came from. So Emily found a doggie DNA test on sale and gave it to me as a Christmas present--I mean, she bought the test for me, to give to the dog--never mind. The point is, the results are in! It turns out Baeowulf (that's our spelling, get over it) is ... wait for it ... a dog.

That was kinda anticlimactic.

More specifically, Bae is, like most good Americans, a mutt. Or maybe I shouldn't say like  Americans, since it turns out he's 25% German Shepherd. I believe Emily and I both have some German in our ancestry, so ... coincidence? Well, yeah.

But he's 12.5% each of five other breeds, with a smattering of others. In fact, it would appear that his parents had a party: One was a German Shepherd/Old English Sheepdog/Siberian Husky, and the other was a Collie/Labrador Retriever/White Swiss Shepherd. So, just as my wife and I have Cherokee in us, Bae has Shepherd on both sides. Awkward family reunions.

I saw definite connections in some of what the company claims are common breed behaviors. For instance:

They say German Shepherds can vary from calm and watchful to energetic. This describes Bae: for instance, calm and half-asleep until the moment the mail arrives, followed by him trying to break the door down like a TV cop. He's completely guilt-free about it: "Dude, he came onto my porch. My porch! All I want is a leg."

Then there's the Collie, which like most of the others is described as intelligent. According to Wisdom Panel they're usually friendly, but can be wary of strangers. That fits: Bae is wary of strangers until the moment he gets that first pat on the head, then he's in love--as long as you don't mess with Mom Emily.

The Lab, in addition to meeting the other descriptions, can be very food motivated. Bae can be asleep in the other corner of the house, but if we even think about the kitchen he'll come running as if the postman is in it.

The English Sheepdog can be motivated by food too, and favorite toys, but he can be stubborn. Try to get Bae to take a pill or a shower, and he's stubborn as a politician guarding his taxes.

The Siberian Husky may chase wildlife. Bae will chase wildlife. And if it moves, it's wildlife.

Then there's the White Swiss Shepherd. Raciiisstttt!!!! The White ... um, let's call him the Swiss ... can be aggressive with other pets or people. Bae usually isn't, unless he and Emily are alone and anyone comes within a mile of her. Then they will be eaten, and killed. Hopefully not in that order.

Finally there was the "Mixed-breed" group, which made up the last 12.5%. Basically the DNA tests found evidence of those groups from way back in Bae's ancestry, just like I go Irish if you search back to the early 1700s. To paraphrase a line from "Stripes", we've been kicked out of every decent country in the world.

Part is the Asian groups, which shockingly are compromised of breeds from Asia--and the Arctic. That's Malamute, Shar-Pei, and Chow, for instance. They're often bred for guarding, which explains why even I can't approach my wife without getting Bae's attention.

Part is the Sighthound Group, which were old breeds often owned by royalty. You got your Greyhounds, you got your Wolfhounds, you got your Whippet--Whippet good. (You older music buffs, you'll get that one.) No, I don't know why kings and princes wanted fast dogs. To chase queens and princesses? There'll be a Disney movie about this.

Finally comes the Terrier group. I didn't see that coming. They were bred to hunt and kill vermin, such as mice, rats, and politicians. I guess I should have seen that coming, since all Bae has to do is smell one of those from a distance and he's in jumping and biting mode--came in real handy during the election. Still, I have a hard time relating a 95 pound dog to a Chihuahua.

Apparently they tested for 200-250 breeds, which is pretty impressive. We expected he might have some wolf in him, but that--they call it Wild Canids--came up negative, as did Companion, Guard, Hounds, Mountain, Middle East, and African breeds.

Just the same, I think he does companion just fine.