Are Valentine's Day books lining Cheryl's she-shed?

I checked my Amazon author rankings the other day, and discovered that in August they sold a copy of an anthology I'm in, My Funny Valentine.

In August.

We sell some copies of that anthology every year--in late January and early February. I mean, it's a humor book about Valentine's Day, so that's when you'd expect to move a few.

But August?

Maybe it's like those TV channels that feature Christmas related movies in July. They're just trying to ... well, I don't know what they're trying to do. Remind true holiday fanatics of their favorite time of year, I suppose. I wonder why I don't watch summer movies in January? Maybe I'll give it a try next winter.

Meanwhile, why should I care about the reasons? I don't care of people buy my books to insulate their she sheds, as long as they buy them.

"You stuffed too many flammable books into your She Shed, Cheryl."

But it made me wonder about something. What do you, the reader, think of holiday themed fiction? Who'd be interested, for instance, in reading a Christmas themed novel written by someone, say me? Asking for a friend.

This blog does not recommend or condone using books as insulation.

(You can find both Mark's books, and material to replace Cheryl's she-shed, on the Amazon that's not burning.)

Happy birthday to Wizard of Oz -- the movie

I started scratching my head recently when I noticed buzz about this being the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

Um ... no, it's not. It's the 119th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, as of this summer. What kind of over the rainbow scheme are they trying to pull off, here?

What the pundits are actually talking about, of course, is the MGM-made movie The Wizard of Oz. Not only does the book precede it by 39 years, but it isn't even the first movie version.

Fun fact: At no time did Toto climb into a giant "O".

Just for the record, L. Frank Baum wrote fourteen Oz books, and some related short tales. After his death, other authors took over writing "official" Oz books. (Oz fanatics will mention the "Famous Forty", which sadly aren't so famous anymore.) With Baum's original books in the public domain there are now dozens of unofficial Oz books, not including the one I've been plotting out in my mind.

Baum produced a multimedia stage presentation about Oz in 1908, and the first actual film, partially based on a 1902 musical play, came out in 1910. There were several more related movies, including the 1925 movie called ... The Wizard of Oz.

I'm just sayin'.
The original cover. I have what are called the "White cover" books. They're white.

Ah, but it's the 1939 movie everyone thinks of, these days. When I was a kid you could catch it on TV exactly once a year--no DVR, no reruns, no second chances. I cleared my schedule (which was easy, because I didn't have one) and caught it every year; yes, I love the movie and always will. I have no issue with the MGM movie beyond it leading people to believe Dorothy Gale is a brunette. (She's blonde, dammit! Depending on who you ask.) I love musicals anyway, and it remains a favorite of mine.

But the books are better.

Well, most of them. Baum had to rush his product to feed his family, from time to time.

The Wizard eventually came back to Oz. Um, spoiler alert! Notice Dorothy temporarily traded Toto in for a pink kitten (long story). Also, she traded her hair in for blonde.

My parents got me the collection of Baum's fourteen books, and as soon as I finished reading the last one, I'd go back and start the first one over again. Although I didn't know dozens of others even existed at the time, the first fourteen were enough to cement my love of reading, which in turn kick-started my love of writing.

Without the Oz books, I maybe would have found a better paying part-time job. But, without the Oz books there would have been no twenty-five years worth of humor columns, no extra credit short stories in English class, no working on the school newspaper, no researching and writing about local history, and no ten published books. No love of reading--who knows what kind of trouble I would have gotten into, without books to keep me busy?

So thank you, Oz ... no matter what the media.

Dorothy as a blonde, Ozma as a brunette. You know ... Ozma? Ruler of Oz? It's in the books--! Oh, never mind.

Creating Hopewell, and the Storm Chaser universe, or not

It's fun to create new worlds for your characters to inhabit, even if those worlds are just new communities. For my Storm Chaser series, I created a brand new place called Hurricane, a town of only a few hundred or so where some of my main characters live. In my unpublished Fire On Mist Creek I developed a town of a few thousand called--try to guess--Mist Creek, in northern Kentucky. Also unpublished is Red Is For Ick, and for that I spent some time developing a southern Indiana community of several thousand that features a theme park and a large lake.

(In Radio Red I set the story near the real-life town of Bellaire, Michigan, but never mind.)

There at the bottom of the cover, that's a lot like what the Bellaire area looks like.

In theory a great way to cheat and cut down on research is to set your story in a real place, but the problem with that is that you'd better get your details right. If your characters are running around New York City, you'd better know where Queens is in relation to the Bronx, and the best way to get from Long Island to Manhattan (I don't). If the tale is in your home town, you'll never hear the end from it if you have North Street on the south side. In The Notorious Ian Grant, I have some characters visit a real flower shop in my home town, Albion. The problem is, by the time the novel was published the shop had moved to a different location.

But the main character's never been to Albion, so I blame him.

So I often split the difference. My little town of Hurricane is totally made up, but it's in a real location: the intersection of county roads 150E and 600N in Noble County, a few miles from my home. When I've achieved Stephen King status, fans will flock to that location to see … four farm fields and a woods. And a hog farm in the distance.

I did the same thing with Coming Attractions. The story was inspired by a real-life drive-in movie theater, but I didn't want to use the real one. So I moved the location a few miles west, from Dekalb County into Noble County in northeast Indiana, so it would be closer to the story's home town, Hopewell.

Which was silly, because Hopewell doesn't exist. I could have just as easily put it all in Dekalb County.

The town was named after a Noble County road, which you might be surprised to learn is Hopewell Road--but I didn't end up putting it there, either. Instead I put it around halfway between two existing towns, Avilla and Kendallville, when I could have just used either of them, instead. Why did I not? Laziness. I didn't want to have to remember where everything was. The irony of that is that, in very general layout, Hopewell is just a copy of Kendallville, anyway, picked up and moved a few miles south. It's just smaller, and has a cool coffee shop on Main Street.

It could be any drive-in, it's just the one in a town that isn't there.

But see, that's the kind of adjustments you can make when you create your own community. You can move New York City a few miles down the coast and call it Gotham, or Metropolis, and suddenly it has Daily Planet buildings and stately Wayne Manors … and the Batmobile never seems to have trouble with crosstown traffic. You won't hear a thing about it in the story--it's all in the author's world building.

Speaking of world building: Coming Attractions is in the Storm Chaser universe, with Hopewell and Hurricane about ten miles from each other. I did that just for the heck of it--you wouldn't know it by reading either book. One Storm Chaser character does appear, very briefly, in Coming Attractions, but doesn't get named. (In the same way, characters from Storm Chaser and the unpublished Red Is For Ick appear together in my young adult novel, The No-Campfire Girls.)

Are crossovers necessary? Nope … just fun.

Find all of our books at:

And wherever fine books with my name on them are sold.

Don't Cry For My Air Conditioner

We had an unusually cool spring, so maybe the problem didn't start with the first heat wave of the year, but that's sure when we noticed it: Our big window air conditioner blew air just fine, but that air wasn't conditioned.

If these things don't happen at the worst possible time, they're at least discovered then.

I can't complain, because the air conditioner came with the house--which I bought thirty years ago. In fact, we did an internet search for the model, Sears Coldspot, and learned they stopped making it in the 70s. Our air conditioner had actually survived over forty Indiana summers, and that's remarkable.

I was still in my teens when that thing was made! I wish I'd held up nearly as well.

One final indignity: The box for the new air conditioner ended up on the old air conditioner.

My house doesn't have central air, or central anything. I suppose we could pump cold water through the hot water radiators and cool the house that way, but ... say, maybe that's something to try. Although the furnace is also over forty years old, so best leave well enough alone.

The air conditioner was set into a window, at one corner of the house. But it was powerful enough to cool the entire downstairs, as long as you set up three fans to blow the air from room to room, in a windy circle that ended with the kitchen air being pumped right back to the conditioner. If you set it up just right, walking through a room can feel like being Jim Cantore reporting for The Weather Channel.

The upstairs is on its own. We bought a small unit for the bedroom, and left the smaller room upstairs to swelter in the summer. We use it as a backup fridge in the winter. Old house problems.

When the downstairs air conditioner, which had its own electrical shutoff and a special plug, stopped cooling the house, Emily went outside and laid her hand against the side of it. Then she came back inside and placed her hand in a stream of cold water until the burning stopped.

At least a fire would have taken care of that ugly wallpaper.

Yes, there was definitely something wrong, of the "play Taps at its grave" variety.

Anyone who knows my history will not be surprised to find I'd been saving up for the next big home repair job. After that, it was a simple process of taking the old air conditioner out and replacing it.

It's usually when the word "simple" appears that we run into trouble.

The old unit had been permanently installed in that #@%& window. It had been screwed, hammered, molded, glued, foam-sprayed, and caulked into place. It was as if in addition to stopping air leaks, they wanted to stop burglaries, alien invasions, and Godzilla.

Eventually we freed it, using two screwdrivers, a hammer, chisel, crowbar, power saw, and two sticks of dynamite. (Luckily it was close enough to Independence Day that nobody noticed the noise.) Preparing to install the new air conditioner, I tried to raise the window further.

The window wouldn't raise. It wouldn't raise because it had been installed at the same time as the air conditioner, and was fitted to its exact specifications.

The new unit did not, of course, meet those specifications. But you knew that.

That wrapping on the new air conditioner contains ... a remote control. Unless both my legs are broken, I have no idea when I'd use it.

Keep in mind that Emily and I were doing this work on a day when the temperature was 88 degrees (at 6 p.m.) and the humidity was 107%. How this is possible I don't know, but after an hour we looked like we'd stepped into a shower fully clothed. Oddly enough, the dog didn't seem at all bothered by this--if anything, he seemed happy to have a new window to look out of.

When we finished, I left the pried out metal, the hunks of insulation and piles of screws, the broken drill bits, right where they fell, and simply taped over the areas the new unit didn't cover. Then I tried to plug it in.

Which wouldn't work. The new unit didn't have a special plug.

Some things you should check first. Luckily, there was a more normal plug a few feet on the other side; we turned the new unit on and went out to get a pizza while it was working.

No way were we cooking inside that house. I mean, any more than we already had.

Book Review: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

"God is dead. Meet the kids."

Fat Charlie Nancy is just a normal guy with a normal job and a normal girlfriend, which tells you, considering this is a Neil Gaiman book, that things are about to go very, very sideways for him. Sure enough, he soon learns that his father has dropped dead while singing karaoke in a Florida bar.

Fat Charlie hates his father, who seems to have made it his mission to humiliate his son, including giving him his nickname. Finding out that Dad was a god named Anansi doesn't change Fat Charlie's opinion a bit. But that little revelation is only the beginning, as Fat Charlie's brother, Spider, shows up and turns Fat Charlie's tiny spare bedroom into a huge pleasure palace.

Then things get weird.

 Nobody's better at taking regular people and dropping them down a rabbit hole than Neil Gaiman. He did it brilliantly in American Gods, and here he brings back one of those gods, Anansi, to torture his unsuspecting offspring. Fat Charlie, once settled into his London life, now finds himself ping-ponging across the Atlantic Ocean, with his job, relationship, and life in jeopardy as he desperately struggles to figure out what's going on.

It's a comedy.

After all, there are also few authors better at drawing humor out of their character's misery, either.

Although not as complicated as American Gods--there's only one god involved here, mostly, and way fewer characters--Gaiman weaves a great tale of rich and eclectic people, in a (shall I say it?) web that gradually draws their stories together. It's delightful, chaotic, and great fun, written in a free flowing way less experienced writers just couldn't get away with. I have a feeling Gaiman works hard to make his writing look like it's not hard work.

Animal stories


Earlier this summer, as I entered Pokagon State Park, I spotted a turtle making it's slow way across the road.

There was a car coming the other way, but the turtle was about to the center line and looked safe from it. I shifted into park, got out, and ran up to the turtle since, as you know, it takes them about ten days to cross two lanes.

When I reached down, the turtle scampered away like a rabbit with its tail on fire.

Not this one, although it was also at Pokagon.

I had no idea they could move that fast. All I had to do was keep stepping behind it, and it made its way to the far side in a matter of seconds. On the way back to the car, I noticed the guy driving the other way looked just as surprised as I was.

A few days later Emily encountered a snapping turtle, and had a similar experience in that it whirled around so fast she couldn't get it off the highway, for fear of losing fingers. Some neighbors who apparently had been there before brought down a broom and trash can, and successfully moved it out of harm's way.

Not this one either, but they were both plenty annoyed with me.


We have a compost pile in our back yard, held together by some old wooden pallets. It's a good way to take scraps of food and other suitable garbage, mix it with grass clipping and leaves, and end up with some nice, usable soil. Granted that I haven't had time to plant a garden in some years, but if nothing else maybe I can use it as a base to try and grow some grass in the front yard, assuming I trim those thick shade trees first.

There's always something.

Cats, on the other hand, know how to relax. In fact, when I went out back to mow the lawn I saw a small black bundle on top of the compost, which I at first took to be a dead cat. I got within a few feet of it before realizing it was just sleeping.

It was a cool morning, and the decomposing products in compost, along with a layer of leaves over top, apparently gave the little feline a warm and comfy place for a nap. I was trying to quietly turn on my camera's phone when it stretched, turned its sleepy face around, and splotted me.

The only thing I saw after that was a black streak, for the space of maybe half a second, before it disappeared around the corner.

It's probably for the best that I saw it, instead of it being discovered by our dog, who has a faster reaction time and doesn't bother taking pictures.

This is not a cat. But I photographed it before running for my life, and I had to use the picture for something.


A few weeks ago Emily and I drove down to Missouri. Part of that trip is down the length of southern Illinois, on the four lane interstate 57. Toward the south it gets hilly and picturesque, just as Indiana does, but closer to the center of the state it can be a bit of a bland drive. Picture I-70 west of Indianapolis, only with less corn.

So when a large bird flew down low over the highway, it caught my attention. It was being chased by a much smaller bird, something I've seen often that's (I assume) related to nest stealing. Usually the larger bird is a hawk, or buzzard.

In this case it came down extra low, and took a turn just over the highway, in the same direction we were traveling. For just a moment, it was almost still in relation to our car, just thirty feet or so away.

It was a bald eagle.

This is what Ben Franklin wanted as our national symbol.  Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same, fighting over an eagle leg.

They're more common now than they used to be, but still not very common; when I was a kid they were practically unheard of. But there it was, right in front of us (no, I didn't take a picture--I was driving). Emily and I squeed and maybe I peed a little, and had something to talk about until we got further down and started seeing the Mississippi River area flooding.

It was a bald eagle, people. Right in front of us. And I don't want to make it sound like I'm just a fanboy, and maybe it was a small thing, but it was really neat.

I think sometimes we don't take the time to realize just how neat the little things can be. We get to thinking something's not worth seeing unless its had a few million dollars worth of CGI work put into it. We don't even bother looking up from our phones anymore. We're bringing up a whole generation of people who don't get how truly cool it is to see those first blooming flowers of spring, bringing color back to the world.

Check out those rainbows. Study the stars. Our universe is a miracle.

New Jersey is up on 50 Authors From 50 States:

Featuring the Garden State on 50 Authors From 50 States:

Sneak peak at the new project

Our newsletter this time around has a sneak peak at a new writing project. (I know you'll want to know more, but it's a mystery.)

 It's a look at the opening scene--and a rough draft, something I don't usually show to anyone. Just for people who read the newsletter!

50 Authors from 50 States: New Hampshire by Nora LeDuc

New Hampshire with 50 Authors from 50 States:

50 Authors from 50 States: New Hampshire by Nora LeDuc: Hello from New Hampshire, AKA the Granite State. N.H. was one of the 13 original colonies and lives by the motto Live Free or Die. Our off...

Knee replacement went well, road trip was middling

Emily's father had knee replacement surgery Monday and came through okay, although she tells me he's having pain issues. She's going to be down there taking care of him for a week or two.

I drove her down Sunday, and drove back Monday, because there was quite literally no one to replace me for my whole work rotation. (Which isn't to say I'm irreplaceable--that's a different thing entirely.) It was right at 1,000 miles starting out Sunday morning, and getting back Monday afternoon.

We had a passenger part of the way. Apparently Pokemon are only visible in a phone screen..

A thousand miles in thirty hours is hardly a record, by any standards. Still, I'm getting a little, um, older for that. We listened to Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" on the way down, and I listened to podcasts on the way back, which made it easier ... but man, am I stiff and sore, and tired.

Beowulf wasn't overly thrilled either, especially when he realized we were leaving without Emily. It took half the trip to get him to drink any water, and as we got close to home I bought him a cheeseburger just so he'd eat something. Poor fellow hasn't gone a day without seeing her since we got him, and I haven't been separated from her that long since we got married. The difference is that I can stay busy to keep my mind off of it, and he's just moping by the door.

Not much of interest on the drive, except that I got buzzed by a biplane doing some crop dusting. It's startling to suddenly see a shadow pass over that's bigger than the car.

We passed this guy on the way down ... twice, after a rest stop. The military sometimes hauls its haulers.

Prayers and good thoughts requested for my father-in-law -- and for Emily, who's tasked with making him get up and exercise his new knee, something I'm sure he won't want to do.

Indiana Beach trip photos

Emily and I took the grand-twins to Indiana Beach, a local amusement park ... and by local I mean it was a two hour drive there and two hours back, with eight hours in between. Long day.

It rained much of the day, but the park was still fairly well attended, and with the exception of the big rides just about everything stayed open the whole time. When the temperature hits 80, a light rain isn't so very terrible.

Indiana Beach is, as the name implies, on the edge of a body of water: Lake Shafer, a ten mile long lake formed by a dam near Monticello. It's also the model I used in creating a fictional park for my unpublished YA mystery, "Red Is For Ick". If you're a publisher ... call me.

The twins have issues with heights, but that's okay: Their favorite rides were the bumper cars and the bumper boats. It makes me a little nervous to realize in five years they'll be driving real cars. (Emily has photos of me on those two rides. Hopefully she doesn't have any of how green I looked after coming off the Scrambler.)

One of Indiana Beach's first rides was the Grand Carousel, which I thought was pretty neat until Emily pointed out that all the horses look terrified.

I didn't get many good photos, as I forgot my regular camera and it was a bit gloomy (and rainy) for cell phone photos. Still, this one of the Schafer Queen, which takes half hour rides up and down the lake, came out okay.

The upper deck of the Schafer Queen was unoccupied due to a light rain, but Hunter and I chanced it while Emily and Brayden stayed on the sheltered lower deck.

Hunter was fascinated by the paddlewheel, while I listened to the Captain telling us stories about the park and the lake--he pointed out a home previously occupied by Al Capone.