Now, I want to start by saying I am NOT having heart problems.


Originally I was going to start with, "So I went to the doctor to have my heart checked ..." Which would have been foolish, because people actually care about my health. The dog cares. My wife cares. The fire department would have to set up a funeral detail if I kicked the fire bucket, so they care. My insurance company? They totally care.


In fact, lots of people care more than I do. They would have dragged me to the doctor right away if they'd known that a while back, I started getting this fluttering feeling in my chest. It was as if my heart was trying to do a Mexican Hat Dance around my major aortas. It would come around long enough for me to get concerned, then go away, at which point I did what most men do: Ignored it.


See, this is why I never bought into this whole gender equality thing: Women are clearly superior to men. They have a problem, they go to the doctor. Men have a problem, they watch football.


Anyway, I got some testing, the electrodes were cold, ripped my hair out, yadayada, my heart is fine. The problem is stress. Those of you who follow my blog may have figured that out already--it's been a rough year. My stress levels are high. Also my pain levels are high, due to chronic back pain acting up a lot more than usual, which causes stress. The other day I missed a fire call because I was on the chiropractor's table. Welcome to my fifties.


There were several related health things that could, experts say, help reduce my stress:


Lose weight. (Which would also help the back pain.) Yeah, going into winter and the holidays ... even thinking about it increased my blood pressure ten points.


Exercise. This is an awesome idea at all times. Especially when my wife's seasonal job is shutting down for the winter, leaving me without the long hikes I was taking four or five days a week. Sheesh.


Cut down caffeine. No problem, I'll just quit my third shift job, and leave behind the stresses of paying for heat, electricity, food, housing ...


Looking back on that list, I realize I've got it pretty good. Lots of people in the world have no access to Mountain Dew. Can you imagine?


But at the moment it's all about getting stress out of my life, and I take 911 calls for a living, so it's not going to happen that way. So I've cut my Mountain Dew consumption down to exactly one can a day, about a 75% decrease; I've started using honey instead of sugar as a sweetener; and we're making some wintertime exercise plans. Small steps. Also, I'm skipping all holiday treats this year.


Kidding! Let's not get crazy. But okay, cutting down.


We live in stressful times, and there's only so much we can do. I suppose I should start some new-age type stuff--breath in the lotus position or something--because, apparently, the stress is going to kill me. But since I'm not a new-age type person, I've decided to spend as much time as possible this winter doing the one thing that relieves my stress the most.


No, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter.


Writing. Not selling, promoting, or submitting, all of which increase my stress levels. (Although I do have three completed but unpublished manuscripts, so those other things have to happen, too.) Writing and reading are two things that always make me feel better. In November, especially, I hope to do a lot of writing, which will reduce stress and give me something to show for it. And take my mind off the treats.


Or my head will explode, which is very stressful.


"Belly rubs reduce stress. So get over here!"

I just added in the vampire part, but if you want me to write a book with vampires, hey -- I'm game. Not literally game. I suppose I should specify, with vampires.

But seriously, this is a call for all of you who've read our books to please, please, give us a review. Amazon, Goodreads, wherever--authors these days live and die by reviews, and hey--I don't want to die. Not without a review.

(I've heard Amazon is zapping reviews that aren't "verified"--in other words, from Amazon buyers. I guess that makes Goodreads a place to go for getting them counted.)

There are several websites I've checked out, with the idea of posting ads for our books on them; especially Radio Red, the newest, which has been getting little traction even though my publisher has it up on the Simon & Schuster website. (If you're not aware, they're a very big publishing house, which is distributing all my romantic comedies via e-books.)

The problem is, websites devoted to helping writers with publicity are being overwhelmed with requests right now. As a result, many of them won't take on your book unless it has a certain amount of--yep--reviews. In other areas *coughAmazoncough*, word is some websites use algorithms that keep your book from getting noticed until, well, it's noticed, and reviewed. Catch-22? Yep. I wonder how Catch-22 would have done in modern times?

I guess I could have just shortened this to: Please, send in some reviews of whichever of our books you've read, and make sure they're honest ones, no pulling punches. I have zero dollars in my bribery budget, so we might as well have the truth. If we get, say, ten new reviews overall, good or bad, I'll ... I'll ... hm ....

Oh, I know! I'll record a video of me reciting one of my own poems, and post it for all to see. Yep.

Guess I'd better go write a poem now, just in case.

Albion Fire Auxiliary Holds Fundraiser


The Albion Fire Auxiliary is having a Sportsman Raffle Fundraiser, to support the Albion Volunteer Fire Department's efforts to purchase fire equipment not available through their limited budget. Only 500 tickets are being sold by firefighters at $10 per ticket, or 3 tickets for $20. A Remington Model 770 .270 caliber Hunting Rifle with Scope is first prize, a Parker Bushwhacker Crossbow Hunting Package is second prize, and a Case Hunting Knife is third prize, with the drawing date of November 11th.


The Albion Fire Auxiliary has recently become incorporated as a Nonprofit 501 c 3 organization, so any donations are fully tax deductible. It's the mission of the Albion Fire Auxiliary to support the Albion Volunteer Firefighters' efforts to better serve their community and its emergency needs.


For more information, contact Project Chairperson, Bryan Peterson at 260-564-1995.





For those of you who aren't into raffles or perhaps don't live close by, don't forget that all the proceeds from our book, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department also go to the AFD's operational fund. Like the raffle tickets, a copy is only $10, or less as an e-book.


A few years ago my Blogger posts averaged maybe fifty views. This year they've been averaging around 150, give or take. My most recent post, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction, is within two of hitting 700 views.

Unless I've missed one, it's a record for my blog views. What am I to make of this? That BtVS fandom isn't dying? That a lot of people haven't forgotten when I was active in the fanfiction community? That it was a slow news day?

It's been two years since I wrote a fanfic, having gotten busy with original fiction and the more un-fun aspects of life in general. This makes me wonder if I should go back to what I originally planned to do, when I first got published: Write a fanfiction to celebrate every milestone of my original fiction journey, like selling a story, completing a manuscript, or seeing something published. It might bring more attention to my original fiction, but--and we all need this--it would also be fun.

Or maybe it was just a slow news day.
Or ... jeez, I just now thought of this. The title of the blog was "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Fanfiction: A Very Bad Idea". Suppose people turned in to see why I thought fanfiction was a very bad idea? I've always been bad with titles, but was "A Very Bad Idea" a very bad idea?

A few months ago I offered to write a new fanfiction for my friend Tabz, and she requested Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then stuff happened and, well ... better late than never. It went up originally on my account at

This takes place in my post-series universe (which someone dubbed the OzmaVerse), but all you need to know is that Tara and the Buffybot were both brought back to life by highly questionable magical means, and the slayers are now headquartered in Chicago.
A Really Bad Idea
They took shelter wherever they could, but suddenly there seemed far too little shelter to go around. It was just a lounge area, after all. One could joke about Chicago all one wanted, but no, the furniture was not made bulletproof.
Xander chose a couch, because it allowed him head to toe protection; if not from bullets, at least from blasts of magic and all but the most robust edged weapons. The padding might even, with a little luck, stop a crossbow bolt. “This is a terrible idea.”
From under a gaming table, four of the youngest slayers turned to stare at him. Only now did they understand that the table would shield them only from falling objects, such as axes, or pool balls. A curtain had been laid across it and draped down to the floor on the side facing the door, but it wouldn’t shield them from a stiff breeze, let alone anything supernatural. Eyes wide, they cast around for a different spot. All spots were taken.
“It is not a terrible idea. Stop saying that.” Despite her assurances, Willow had crouched down between Xander and Kennedy. The latter seemed more bemused than threatened by the whole thing, which Xander chalked up to the slayer’s famous overconfidence.
“No, this is my first time saying that. Before I only thought it.”
“Well, somebody’s been saying that, and it’s making me mad.” Willow looked around. “Who was saying that?”
From their left, where she was barely visible with her back against a recliner, Dawn raised her hand. From the right, where he’d taken refuge behind a snack table, Giles did the same. Several other hands also went up around the room.
“Well … it’s making me mad.” Kennedy patted the witch’s shoulder.
Apparently not concerned with who he made mad, Giles pointed toward the door. It was one of two leading to the lounge in the former Watchers Council’s Chicago refuge, but it was the one nearest the skyscraper’s main elevator. “This is madness, Willow. We’re inviting this threat directly into our own headquarters, and you continually deny that it is a threat.”
“It’s totally a threat,” Dawn added.
“Well, if it is we’ll face it together.” Willow had that determined face that Xander liked so much, when he wasn’t hating it—like now. “There’s strength in numbers. After all, Buffybot is here.”
“No, she’s not,” Dawn said. “At midnight she told Tara she’s been programmed to go into hiding for the entire day. Then she went into hiding.”
Oh, that was interesting. “A robot bailed on us,” Xander told Willow. “I mean, even she knew better. Think about it.”
“Well, what made her think …” Willow shook her head. “Tara, did Botty say why she had that programming?”
Dawn poked her head up. “Tara left with Kara and Dana to check out that report of seismic activity in Boston.”
“I told them to hold off on that,” Giles protested. “We were all to gather here.”
Dawn threw her hands out. “Tara said—and she said this, not me—that she wouldn’t be caught dead in Chicago right now.”
Willow looked stricken. At first Xander thought it was the reminder of Tara’s death, until she gave a plaintive sigh. “I wanted everyone together.”
“I came,” Faith called, from somewhere across the room. “Xander made me.”
Willow looked to Xander, who shrugged. “I told her there’d be chocolate and booze, if we survived.”
Xander’s phone buzzed, and he only jumped a little. “It’s the signal.”
“Places, everyone!” At Giles’ words, everyone scrunched down a little lower, trying to be completely invisible. “Xander, is Jason ready in the armory? Andrew’s manning the communications center?”
Willow jerked around. “The armory?”
Heh. “That’s where the big weapons are, Wil. You wouldn’t let us bring them in here.”
“Oh, for—!”
The phone buzzed again. “Elevator’s reached the fourteenth,” Xander whispered.
Air seemed to be sucked from the room, as everyone held their collective breaths. Someone started praying. “Here we go again,” Dawn whispered.
The door opened.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer walked in.
Everyone knew what to do. They leaped up, as one, to scream, “Happy birthday!
And then they held their breath. Even Faith.
Buffy stood there, frozen, only her eyes moving as they surveyed the mass of friends and co-slayers. She, also, held her breath. Then she looked toward Willow. “Wil, I really appreciate this, but …”
“No, Buffy, look.” Willow hurried forward, then turned to take in all the naysayers. “I know you’ve had some bad birthdays.”
“You’re so good at understatement.”
“But I warded the entire building, and even sealed off the magic room. There’s no unusual reports of anything except that Boston deal, and that’s just some shaking ground halfway across the continent. No weather systems are moving in, and the eclipse was weeks ago. Seriously, nothing’s happening.”
Buffy looked around. “Well …”
“We’ve got cake, and snacks, and this punch stuff that Faith spiked, and another bowl of punch for the underage people.”
A chorus of dismayed “Ahhh’s” rolled past.
“No disasters, no attacks, no apocalypses. We’ve got it handled, I promise.”
“Well.” Finally, Buffy relaxed—a little. “Thanks, Wil. Thanks, everyone, I really appreciate it. Now, show me to that punch!”
There was a general surge toward the snack table, just as Xander’s phone buzzed. He glanced down at it, and felt the blood drain from his face. No way. No frakking way.
He was still trying to figure out how to break it to them when Andrew entered on a dead run, so fast he had to grab the door jamb to keep from rocketing into the nearest furniture. No one noticed at first, except for a few nearest him and another few, including Dawn and Giles, who simply braced themselves.
Andrew gathered a lungful of air.
Godzilla’s attacking Boston!
Silence followed. Then Willow said, “That’s not funny, Andrew.”
Apparently having anticipated this reaction, Andrew aimed a remote at the big TV on one end of the room, then tuned to the news.
Godzilla was attacking Boston.
Xander held up his phone. “Um, Tara just texted … she says they’ll need some backup. He headed toward the door. “I’ll help Jason get the weapons around.”
Dawn was right behind him. “I’ll wake up Botty.”
“But …” Shaking her head, Willow turned away. “I’ll unseal the magic room.”
At Buffy’s voice, Xander looked back. The Slayer had rested her hand on Willow’s shoulder. “It really was a nice thought.”
Willow gave a weak smile.
“But next time … let’s just make it a regular work day, okay? That way there’ll be less work.”


The actual theme of Fire Prevention Week for 2017 is Every Second Counts, Plan Two Ways Out. This is excellent advice, and you can find out more about it here:

However, I didn't plan two ways out, or even one way in, so I had nothing for Fire Prevention Week this year. Instead this is from the "Best of Slightly Off the Mark", which is a little silly because no newspaper is running Slightly Off the Mark at the moment. What isn't silly is fire prevention, which, you might be surprised to learn, is what Fire Prevention Week is about.

            The National Fire Prevention Association would like to point out that, if your smoke detector is not working, it won’t work.

Sure, it seems obvious. But it’s also obvious that if sprinkler systems aren’t installed they don’t put out fires, safety belts that don’t get used aren’t safe, and people who stay in Washington, D.C. turn into blithering idiots. And yet we defeat sprinkler laws, don’t belt up, and reelect blithering idiots, so sometimes the obvious needs saying.

This is why we have Fire Prevention Week, which is a week during which we try to stress preventing fires. Fire Prevention Week is always nearest October 9th. That’s the historical date of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which took place in 1871, was indeed in Chicago, but really wasn’t all that great.

“Great” is a term used for fires that get so out of control that they get weeks named after them. The NFPA has devoted itself to keeping fires from turning great, and the best way to do that is to keep them from getting out of control. It’s counterintuitive, but they would not then be called “good”.

More important is to keep people from getting killed in a fire, which is the job of smoke alarms, which are just like smoke detectors except with fewer syllables. A working smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a fire in half. You don’t have to be Captain Obvious to see the value of that.

Here’s the fun part, though, and by “fun” I mean “tragic”: When talking smoke alarms, you always have to stick in the word “working”. In 23% of home fire deaths, there were smoke alarms—but they didn’t work. Why? Sometimes they were old or damaged, but usually the batteries were dead or missing.

“Honey, the batteries in the camera are dead.”

“I’ll just take some out of the smoke detector. Don’t worry, I’ll remember to put them back.”

Sure you will. Stop at the dollar store and get more for the camera, you schmuck.

But even if the batteries stay in, there’s no guarantee they’re working. Batteries go dead from time to time, and dead batteries lead to dead people.

Thus the idea of changing them twice a year, when Daylight Savings Time comes and goes. Whine all you want about springing forward and falling back (and you will … you will), but it’s a great reminder to put in a good set of working batteries. If the old ones are still good and you’re particularly cheap, put those in your digital camera. Sure, there’s a chance they’ll go dead and you’ll miss catching that UFO hovering over your house ... but the little green men are going to steal your camera and make all the photos blurry anyway, so why bother?

In between changes, you should test your smoke alarm batteries every month. This is about the same rate at which a major celebrity gets arrested. If you’re really paranoid you can check them every few days, at the rate a minor celebrity gets arrested.

If the smoke alarm is more than ten years old, replace it. If you can’t remember how old it is, replace it. If you can’t remember how old you are, have someone else replace it. And yes, if it doesn’t work when you test it, replace it. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

There was a time when experts recommended installing a smoke alarm on each level of the home and outside each sleeping area. They now say to install one inside each bedroom, in addition to the others. By my estimation that would mean five smoke alarms in my house. If you count every room my dog sleeps in, that would mean nine smoke alarms, or more if you count each spot as a separate bedroom.

That may seem like a lot, but I’ve long had a suspicion that my dog smokes when we’re asleep. Have you ever seen hairballs burn? Not pretty.

Can’t afford a smoke alarm? Yes you can. You, put down that beer. You, put down that cigarette. You, put down that game controller. And you, put down that—oh, man. Dude, close your curtains! I can’t unsee that.

Yes, you can scrape up the money to save your life. I did a quick internet search, and found smoke alarms for sale ranging from twenty to less than five dollars. I wouldn’t necessarily go for the cheapest ones, but you can cover your entire home for less than the cost of that 32 inch flat screen TV you want to mount in your bathroom.

On a related note, you do not need a flat screen TV in your bathroom. We’ll talk electrical safety in a future column.
 (Oh, and remember that sales of our book, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department, go to the fire department's operational fund.)


Today is Columbus Day, when we celebrate the first European explorers to discover the Americas, which they weren’t, when Christopher Columbus landed on our continent, which he didn’t.


Still, Columbus thought October 12, 1492, was worth celebrating. After all, he’d badly miscalculated the size of the word, figuring he’d have to sail about 2,300 miles to reach the East Indies. It was actually 12,200 miles from the Canary Islands to Japan. I’m not sure anyone even consulted the Japanese on the idea, let along the Canaries.


Luckily for Columbus’ dwindling food supply, he bumped into a continent that nobody even knew was there. He spent his whole time there assuming he was in Asia after being the first to sight land—which he didn’t. A guy named Rodrigo de Triana was the first to actually see some little palm tree in the Bahamas.


After one of his ships ran aground he established the first Age of Discovery colony in the New World, but the men he left behind argued over gold and internet usage, and the town failed. Meanwhile Columbus headed back with some kidnapped locals, and introduced Europe to tobacco.


If you think about it, he was kind of a lousy explorer. If he'd made it to the Pacific, he'd have ended up stranded on Gilligan's Island.


I mean, Cuba looks nothing like China. Come on.


But at least that got Columbus the job of Governor of the Indies, where he gained the nickname “The Tyrant of the Caribbean”, soon to be a major motion picture from Disney.


All of this led to the Aztecs and Incas being wiped out, pandemics in both the Americas, yadayada, Pilgrims, American Revolution, treaties broken, Trail of Tears, casinos.


I’m summarizing a bit.


Now, my wife is not a fan of Christopher Columbus. I suspect she thinks Columbus’ direct descendent was Andrew Jackson—see above about the Trail of Tears. Emily’s a descendent of the AniyvwiyaÊ”i, which is what we’d call the Cherokee Indians if we weren’t too lazy to spell it.


My Cherokee ancestors lived up in the Appalachian Mountains and got something of a pass, pardon the pun, from forced relocation. Emily’s ancestors walked hundreds of miles, and those who survived ended up in snowstorm earthquake territory, instead of the much more pleasant southeastern hurricane zone they’d enjoyed before.


All because of Christopher Columbus.


You can see why some areas now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on this day, which is actually that day, because getting a Monday off is way more important than marking an actual date. Personally I’m in favor of renaming it Explorer’s Day, or Discoverer’s Day, or some such. Columbus did make important voyages, after all, even if he was a dick; and it would be a way to learn about all the explorers from all over. Remembering the past, instead of hiding it.


We are a race of explorers, after all, and as a people we tend to crave discovery. To the bottom of the ocean to the ends of space, we need to keep exploring.


For the sake of little green men, hopefully in the future we’ll be nicer about it.




ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Oct. 6th, 2017 09:31 am)

I posted a photo on Instagram in August that was pretty popular, even though I thought it was a little dark. I've noticed that I tend to prefer a lightened version of my photos, but now I'm wondering if they're better, or if's just me preferring brighter. So ... I'm asking you. This photo was taken at dusk along Sand Lake, at Chain O' Lakes Park near Albion. Which version do you prefer?

The original:


The slightly brightened:



That's the family out on the dock, of course.

I studied photography for quite a while, but that was back in the film days; I'm still getting used to the idea that I can make substantial changes to a picture after taking it.

A few days ago I rushed out a link to a review of Radio Red, over at:

And thanks so much for it! Then things happened, and I didn't get it out on all my social media or get a chance to comment on it much. (I think the original post was what ... Sunday? Lots of bad has happened since then.) I decided to just start over from scratch, and include the news that there's also a new review of The No-Campfire Girls over on Amazon:

There's another review of Radio Red further down on my Amazon reviews, and also one of Strange Portals since I reported last, which was some time ago due to stuff, and things. I want to thank everyone who's taken the time to write a review. If sales are what pay the bills, reviews are what feed the sales.

Deer are so common in Indiana that sometimes we forget they were once wiped out in the state. Now they're back, wiping out cars instead, so you really don't have to try to hard to see some. Still, seeing them up close doesn't happen too often, unless it's in that instant when you stand on your brake and yell, "Oh, crap".

Earlier this year I was hiking on trail 9 at Pokagon State Park. Trail 9 is the one marked "rugged" ... which is a relative thing, as I've been on more rugged trails in other parks, but it's still a bit of a challenge. I was on a ridge, wishing for an excuse to stop and catch my breath, when I saw two deer standing on the next ridge over.

Sadly I didn't have my camera with me, but I did have my cell phone in case I needed to call in an ambulance to haul me out of there. It turns out those things have cameras on them. Who knew? So I stood there as still as I could, zoomed all the way in, and tried to get a decent photo of them before they ran off, which one soon did.


Then a strange thing happened.




The second one decided if I was checking her out, it was only fair that she check me out. So she got closer ...







And closer ....











And we ended up in a staring contest, only about 25-30 feet from each other.



Hoping to seem less threatening, I tried to crouch down. It was probably all the creaking bones and cracking joints that scared her off, and last time I saw her, she was standing with the other one on the same ridge where they started.

You can see deer close up at various places, but there's something about standing in the open and going nose to nose with an animal just as curious about me as I was about it. It was, in other words, very cool.

ozma914: (Dorothy and the Wizard)
( Sep. 28th, 2017 11:39 pm)
I have the same relationship with my dentist that many people do with family members: I love him and appreciate him, but I don't actually want to see him.

I suppose that's not unusual, but my history gives me maybe a bit more of an excuse. As a kid, I was a "problem" patient. You know, the kind who whines, screams, has to be held down--like I am now if you make me watch "reality" TV. My dentist as a kid didn't like me much at all, and I felt the same way about him that most people feel about Benito Mussolini. (Hitler's so overdone.)

About the time I graduated from high school, a new dentist came to town. After examining the previous dental work, he pronounced it to be the worst he'd ever seen in his life. He understood when I explained that drilling me was like trying to shoot a hummingbird, although who would do that?

Some of it had to be fixed, so he injected me with Novacaine, waited, and was surprised to find I still wasn't numb. So he injected me again.

Then again.

All those times as a kid, when the dentist lectured me and had me held down, and everyone thought I was acting like a baby. I mean, after all, I'd gotten a shot of Novacaine.

Only the Novacaine hadn't worked. It had never worked.

Granted, there was some relief in the discovery that I wasn't a big weenie, after all. And I'm still not entirely sure why it didn't work. My research didn't show cases of people being intolerant to the drug. There are several listed reasons why it might not be effective with some people, including anxiety, which--how many dental patients don't have anxiety? But for whatever reason, including possibly the fact that dentists don't use Novacaine any more (my first trip to the new dentist was thirty-five years ago), I'm better. I can now go to the dentist with only crippling anxiety, instead of whatever would be worse than that.

(A quick note here: While writing this I did a lot of research, and I now wonder if my original dentist wasn't using Prilocaine. There have indeed been cases in which that drug didn't get patients numb. Another possibility is that I am indeed a weenie, and Dr. Hayes is just being nice to me.)

That's why this year I tried sedation dentistry. Honestly, I don't have a clue why I didn't before--maybe because I'm not a fan of taking drugs, especially the ones that put you out. But earlier this winter I went in for my regular cleaning, after which Dr. Hayes announced I needed not one, but two procedures: the replacement of a childhood filling on one tooth, and a crown on another.

I became instantly weenified. It's a real word--I should know, I just invented it.

So for the first time after all that grief, I asked the Doc: "Do you do sedation dentistry? And if not, why the *$#@ not?"

He did, indeed.

I had to pick it up as a prescription; it was a controlled substance, apparently. If it isn't, it should be. I left it in the bag until I got to the dentist's office, because I have a stressful job and was afraid I'd be tempted to use it after work, instead. At the office I discovered it was a liquid. Before letting me take it, the dentist asked, "Do you have a ride home?"

"Yeah, my car's right out there."

"After you take this, you'll forget you ever had a car."

I'm paraphrasing, but still.

At first I was afraid it was just a repeat of the old days. Yes, I felt like I'd just downed a half bottle of vodka (which would taste way better than this stuff, believe me). But I'd been promised forgetfulness, and I remembered most of the procedure and the ride home. The good news: Once he got in there, the Doc was able to do a repair, instead of a full replacement.

But I wasn't done yet. A week later came the crown. And believe me, those are a royal pain.

So I got another dose of the stuff and this time, to increase its effectiveness, I went in on an empty stomach. I wanted effectiveness. A crown involves grinding down your old tooth, and although it's not really that much, it feels as if they're leaving only a needle point, and you wonder why they didn't just pull the darned thing out.

I was about to tell the dentist that, too. And that's the last thing I remember.

Apparently I cracked a few jokes, offered to drive home, and walked like I was in a Monty Python skit. So far as I know, there's no video of this, which would have been crazy funny to everyone but me. After that it was a matter of wearing a temporary crown for two weeks, then the (mostly) painless process of getting the permanent one on. Way more effective than half a bottle of vodka, and for twelve hours I got the best sleep of my adult life.

Hopefully I'll never have to take that stuff again ... but I'm so glad I did.

This photo is actually from after my sinus surgery, but I have a feeling my expression is the same. Um, I'm the one on the right.

I made a mistake that I need to correct: I assumed the flowers we got after my mother-in-law's death (see my last post) were from both the Sheriff Department and the Fire Department, mostly because we have employees of one that are members of the other, and vice-versa. But the day after I posted about the flowers from the Noble County Sheriff Department, we got this beautiful plant from the Albion Fire Department:



My wife told me mum's the word, so we had an hour of silence before she explained that she thinks these flowers are mums. I know what you're thinking: How will I keep them alive? I dunno. Luck? Miracle?


I was going to go up to the fire meeting tonight but we're both still feeling crappy, so I want to extend my thanks to all the firefighters here. It's nice to be thought of by both these great groups of people.

Thanks to my coworkers at the Noble County Sheriff Department and my family at the Albion Fire Department, who had these flowers delivered after Emily and I finally stayed in one place long enough to receive them.


The color's a little off in the photo, due to the burgundy suitcase it's sitting on. Actually, our whole house is a cluttered mess right now; but Emily and I both had to go back to work immediately after returning from Missouri, so we're just too exhausted to care.

I don't remember if I mentioned it, but we'd already scheduled two weeks in September for a vacation before Emily's mom passed away. Turned out to be even worse than last September's vacation, with the totaled car and injuries and everything. Maybe we should try for a different month next year?

I normally try hard not to complain too much. Complaining is like trying to talk about politics: It's pointless and just annoys everyone else. Although I often fail, in recent years I've tried to be either positive, funny, or quiet. I used to have a reputation for turning the things that go wrong in my life into humor columns, but I can't anymore because ... well, I'd getting ahead of myself.

But please indulge me, just this once.

Because it's been a really, really bad month.

Actually, the really bad month started last month, as my fourteen regular readers already know. Just before we left for Missouri to see the total solar eclipse, my wife and I learned that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. We did indeed get to see the eclipse, but that was, pardon me for saying, eclipsed by our worry over Jean Stroud's medical condition. We spent most of that week taking her to various medical places, and were there when she started chemo.

Then we came back to Indiana so that Emily and I could do our jobs, only to rush back over Labor Day weekend when things took a very rapid, very unexpected turn for the worse. It turns out her cancer had progressed much further than any of us realized, and she passed away while we were driving somewhere through west central Indiana.

Honestly, that's not something I'm ready to talk about yet.

Now, I could probably turn everything else that happened in September into a humor column, because it was all small stuff of the type we're not supposed to sweat. But when you're already in a state of shock, and the stuff just keeps on happening, one after another, it just can't be made funny.

I should consider us lucky we didn't get into an accident, like we did last September. That ended in splints, X-rays, and car shopping. I'd thought it as bad as a vacation could get, until this September. This one turned into the vacation they schedule in Hell, and what follows is just a sample.

But no accident, although we had a close encounter with a coyote. We drove some five thousand miles over the course of four weeks, most of it in the last couple of weeks. And we drove most of it while sick.

Emily got it first. Nothing accompanies settling your mother's affairs like a bad head cold. We made two trips to and from to arrange and hold a memorial, and to take care of a thousand details, most of which had to be done by Emily as the only child. Those trips were done with frequent Kleenex breaks. I did my best to be a supportive spouse, until I was also felled by little warrior germs that set up shop in my sinuses, then invaded my lungs.

All that driving. After it was over, the chiropractor could identify the model and make of our car by the bends in my spine. By the way, I've made that 500 mile trip for a decade, and have seriously never seen as much road construction along the route.

In the middle of it, we had to come back to Indiana because we'd previously signed up for an author appearance and didn't want to be no-shows. That was on a Friday, and Emily took advantage to work her saddle barn job on Saturday and Sunday before we headed back south. Believe me, she made more money there than we did as authors.

In fact, my author aspirations took quite a hit during September. We sold only a few books that Friday (although we handed out some business cards and bookmarks, which often lead to sales). A few days later I got my publisher's first sales report on my newest novel, Radio Red. Between its release in April and the end of June, the sales made me ... cry. It's the worse opening of my nine books.

Oh, and the newspaper that ran my column stopped publishing, so I no longer have a home for "Slightly Off the Mark".

At least that gave us a little time to watch TV. With a planned vacation, we'd set the DVR to record the shows starting up in September, and had hours of unwatched shows already recorded. Emily was at work when that last straw went dark and permanently dead, falling on my last nerve. She missed the horror-movie screaming noises that came from ... someone ... after the good people at Mediacom said they'd speed a technician our way in only a week or so.

All minor stuff, really. TV shows? You can catch up with them online. Poor book sales? My next novel is just around the corner. Illnesses pass, spines recover, and our car gets really good gas mileage. The dog slept for about twelve hours straight after we returned the last time, but now he's good as new.

It's just that stuff builds up, sometimes.

I don't know. Maybe the hardest thing after the memorial was cleaning out Jean's storage unit. Not because of the 90+ degree heat, dust, and spiders, but because you're suddenly going through memories at a time when it's most painful. We had to start three times, and in the end brought some boxes home into the air conditioning to be looked after later.

They say you have to go through bad times to appreciate the good times, and if that's so I'm feeling pretty darned appreciative. So, okay ... rough month. But if you've been watching the news at all, you know that everyone's been having a pretty rough month. Now and then we all need to vent a little.

I have to be redundant, at the risk of repeating myself, which I do all the time, often more than once.

But I wanted to remind everyone of the Kendallville Public Library's Art and Author Fair, coming up Friday, September 15, from 2-7 p.m. This is something I believe they plan on doing every year, or at least annually, at their own risk of being redundant.

It's critically important to support your local artists and authors, especially if they live in your area. Emily and I will be there, but so will several others of the art and artist variety. In addition, I'm trying very hard to start a rumor that Stephen King is stopping by, to such an extent that I'm actually trying to find some random guy (or woman) named Stephen King, who can come in just long enough for me to honestly say Stephen King will be there. If he does show up, maybe he'll sign something for you; who's to say he's not the real Stephen King, and the guy on the book photos isn't a model, or his personal assistant?

This is a change from my original plan, because there doesn't seem to be a single J.K. Rowling in Indiana.

Anyway, the "Showcase Kendallville and Job Fair" is going on at the same place on the same day, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. (Maybe Stephen King needs a job?) So there's stuff, and things, plus it's a library, which is cool. Please make an attempt to stop by and visit; and remember that Emily and I tend to discount our books at events like this. Even for Stephen King.

The library's page for the event is here:


And here's the Facebook page, which is indeed on a page, and has faces:


(Remember, this is a library, so at least Stephen King's books will be there.)


When it comes to revision, there are two kinds of writers: Those who need to cut, and those who need to ... um, uncut.

Most writers tend to put too much into their first drafts, and so have to go in and cut later. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as they actually do go back. A bloated manuscript is like your uncle on Thanksgiving evening; just sitting there, listless and fat, dull and motionless, at least until the half time bathroom break.

Well, that's how I am at Thanksgiving, anyway.

I have the opposite authorial problem: I tend to write sparse. Usually, the word count for my novel manuscripts is at the low end of what's considered a novel ... which maybe isn't such a bad thing, in these days of too much to do and not enough time for a good read. If War and Peace was written today, it would just be War.

I expanded the name of my novel in progress from Unnamed Space Opera to Beowulf: In Harm's Way, because that added one word to the word count, and every little word counts. Kidding! Actually, Unnamed Space Opera has been used. Anyway, late last year the manuscript had a word count of 62,500. (give or take, depending on the title. Okay, 62,522.)

I got busy for awhile after that, leaving the story to get "cold"; which is a good thing, not like at Thanksgiving dinner. Then, in April, I made a mistake: I sent the first three chapters and a synopsis off to an agent, and I went through the now-cold manuscript for a final polishing.

Unfortunately, I did it in that order.

I thought I'd fixed up the first three chapters previously, but as I went over them again I found several mistakes, plus areas that could use improvement. Writing off that agent (I've since received her form rejection), I started work again. I made numerous changes, and added something like two thousand more words. Along the way I realized I'd started small story arcs with a couple of characters that never really closed out in a satisfactory way. After some thought, I came up with a 2,000 word scene toward the end of the story that I think does the trick.

So my manuscript, which I "finished" before the holidays last year, weighed in at 66,788 words. That's over 4,200 words more than the previous version, even considering the stuff I removed while adding other things. That, by the way, is the second time I let the manuscript get cold.

What have we learned from this? One, let your manuscript cool, or it'll burn you. Two, writing's hard. Three, don't throw away a shot at publication because you're in a hurry. Four, don't overeat at holidays. And I suppose the thing about not giving up your day job still stands.

So I'm done now, right? I mean, I spell checked and polished the thing six months ago! No ... no. I made so many changes in the story, I had to go through and polish all over again. That's the biz. The "final" draft now weighs 6,7248 words, almost 500 words more.

Then my wife gets a look at it. She finds all the problems I missed, and I start all over again ... again.

Now I'm curious to know about your revision process, if you're an author. Or even if you're not--there's no law saying non-writers can't revise. But for now ...

For some reason, I'm in the mood for turkey. Hopefully that speaks to food, and not the quality of the story.

Here's hoping Hurricane Harvey soon moves on and leaves the stricken residents of Texas and Louisiana alone.

From what I've been able to gather, Harvey isn't all that different from other very strong hurricanes of the past, which is like saying being mauled by a 950 pound grizzly bear isn't all that different from being mauled by a 925 pound grizzly bear. But unlike past hurricanes, it's been stalled by other weather patterns; in the time Harvey has been hovering over the coast, Katrina had already made its way inland to Indiana.

50 inches of rain forecast. I mean, 50 inches of snow qualifies for an "I survived the blizzard of ..." t-shirt. That's, what ... five inches of rain, give or take?

And so ... record rains. I don't have to tell anyone how bad things are down there, and North Korea's attempts to help by firing rockets at it have so far had little effect. For those of you in the path of this apocalyptic shower, I can only say that we're all thinking of you, and hoping you'll dry out soon. Keep your spirits up ... another thing easier said than done.

I took a few photos when we were in Missouri to see the total eclipse, and I thought I'd pass some on. Not of the eclipse itself--the video I posted a few days ago is about the best I could do with that.


We were at the Meramec State Park near Sullivan, Missouri. You can learn more about it here:


I've been describing it as central Missouri, but it's only about 60 miles from St. Louis, so it's really more east central Missouri. It has rugged hiking trails, caves, zero cell phone reception (which is both a good and bad thing), and it edges the Meramec River, so there's the swimming and boating thing. A really nice place that we're hoping to visit again something, a couple of hours from Emily's parents' house.


More about the park later--I have lots of pictures. But I didn't have the best camera there:



There was a good crowd, and we were thankful to have headed there in the wee hours of the morning, even though the roads there and the park itself were both pretty out of the way.


The park had a big awning up with activities and information, and even a board where visitors could show they were there:


As cool as the partial eclipse was, the wait for totality seemed to take forever, especially with the temperature hovering at around a million degrees while we stood in the sun and stared upward. Did I complain? I did not, having been convinced for weeks that it would be cloudy that day, wherever we were. The good thing about being a pessimist is that you're never disappointed.



Some of us were more relaxed than others:

Considering how much my neck hurt the next day, he has a point. But considering how little he moved throughout the lead-up to totality, I wonder how sunburned he got--we kept ducking back under the trees--and whether his eyes were sore later. At least he brought enough cigarettes.


As the eclipse advanced, we began to see a curious effect that's common with partial eclipses. The vanishing sun continued to shine through the trees, which produced a pinhole effect that allowed us to see the eclipse on the ground below:


As it grew darker, a dog that belonged to people nearby dragged his blanket out, pulled it into a circle, and got ready for bed. He was very confused when nap time ended so quickly.


And then: totality.

Yeah, that's totality. It's just that my camera couldn't handle it. Here's Venus coming out, beside a jet contrail:

Seeing some of the other cameras set up there, I'll bet there are a whole bunch of much better pictures. I took a few and then put the camera down. Emily and I just stood there with our arms around each other, taking it in. I've said it before: Even the best photographs, with the best cameras, don't begin to do a total eclipse justice. There's nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. And, although we certainly had ups and downs on that trip--it was totality worth it.


A lousy video, but what I thought you'd be interested in is the reaction of the crowd:

I'll have more about the eclipse and the trip, which got complicated and was very much good news/bad news, later. There was often little or no internet where we were, so I'm playing catch up, but I can tell you this: That 1,400 mile drive was totally worth it.
By now most people have probably figured out that an eclipse is coming this Monday, as it tends to do here in America every so often. Still, I'm not sure everyone's completely clear on all the details, so I thought I'd answer some common questions:

Q: Why does everybody have to scream at everyone about everything these days?

No, I mean about the eclipse. 

Q: What the heck is this thing? Is this some holdover from the 2012 Apocalypse?

This is a reasonable question, since we're still waiting for the 2012 Apocalypse. An eclipse simply happens when the shadow from one body passes over another body. For instance, one day I was lying on a beach when movie maker Michael Moore moved by. Moore blocked out the sun and ruined my tan, thus saving me from skin disease. (He refused to give me an autograph, just because I asked him when his totality would be over.)

That's Michael, in the middle. Not so very big after all.

Q: Huh?

Moore is rather portly, although I've been gaining on him. If you're a liberal, feel free to insert Trump's name. Oh, you mean "huh" about totality? That's the area of the Earth's surface that's completely covered by the Moon's shadow, usually only for a minute or so. During totality is the only time--and I mean ONLY time--when you can safely look directly at an eclipse without eye protection. Unfortunately, the area of totality is only about 70 miles wide. For example, in northeast Indiana the eclipse will cover about 86% of the sun, so go buy those glasses.

Q: What will happen if I look at it without protection?

Have you ever watched that episode of the TV show Supernatural, when the psychic gets to look at the true face of an angel? It's like that. Nothing left but smoking eye sockets. And yeah, that looks cool for a second, but only to everyone else.

It's perfectly safe to look at the eclipse during totality. But if even a sliver of sun is showing before or after, POOF! Seeing eye dog time. (Or, you could maintain some vision but have "just" permanent damage.)

Q: What's so important about this eclipse?

Well, it's cool, even more cool than smoking eye sockets. Also, it's rare in that, for the first time in almost a century, it will traverse the entire U.S. from coast to coast, over fourteen states. That's happened only 15 times in the last 150 years.

I can block my house from here!

There are between two and five eclipses every year, but a total solar eclipse only happens every 18 months or so. Not only that, but when they do happen it's often in a place where most people don't see it, like over an ocean, or the Pacific northwest. According to this mathematical guy from Belgian, any certain spot on Earth will see a total eclipse once every 375 years. That's an average, and it's math, so I'm just taking his word for it.

This is the first time in 38 years that a total eclipse was visible anywhere in the continuous U.S. For perspective, at the time Jimmy Carter was President, and gas was 86 cents a gallon. St. Louis, which is in the path this time, last saw totality in 1442, when gasoline was even cheaper. Chicago, which saw one in 1806 but will miss this one, will next see totality in 2205, when fueling your flying car might be very expensive.

Scientists have determined there are two small areas of the country--one in northeast Colorado, and one near Lewellen, Nebraska--that haven't seen a total eclipse in over a thousand years. Talk about bad luck.

Q: So I'm guaranteed to get a good show?

Oh, heck no. See above joke about the Pacific northwest; the 1979 total eclipse over that area was largely unseen due to clouds and rain.

This isn't a Hollywood movie: Any number of things could spoil it, from bad weather to having Michael Moore stand in front of you. But I wouldn't sweat Michael (can I call him Michael?) who I've heard is looking after his health much better these days. No, the big question will be whether weather cooperates. My wife and I are heading into the path of totality, and I can pretty much guarantee a day-long driving rain, or possibly a hurricane, will hit central Missouri at about that time.

What I probably won't see

 Q: What effects can we expect?
Fire and brimstone, dogs and cats sleeping together, total chaos, new super powers, pretty much the worst parts of the Bible. Wait, that was in the movies. Well, it'll get dark, 'cause--no sun. In the path of totality you'll see stars (or clouds), and you'll also be in for a rare treat of seeing the sun's atmosphere with the naked eye. One cool thing I noticed during a partial eclipse was that sunlight passing through the trees cast thousands of little crescent shaped shadows.

Some animals might be fooled into thinking it's twilight. In fact, eclipses have been known to thin out the local vampire population.

Geeks like me will geek out. People who don't understand, or don't care about, the difference between reality and Hollywood special effects might be disappointed.

Q: What are the greatest dangers?

As with many things in our modern society, the greatest danger might be driving. Officials expect major traffic jams as millions of people try to get into the path of totality. For those who don't make it on time or aren't expecting it, the danger is that they'll be driving down the road, trying to stare at the eclipse, only to ram someone who pulled over along the side of the road to watch the eclipse. Don't do either of those.

Otherwise, there's that smoking eye socket thing. Interestingly, during partial eclipses when the brightness doesn't seem too bad, infrared waves from the sun can still cause damage by overheating the eye, in a boiling egg kind of a way. Disturbed yet? Me, too.

Enjoy these eclipses while you can: The Moon's orbit is slowly getting larger, so the time will come when it will be too far away to completely cover the sun, meaning the end of total eclipses. Scientists predict this will happen in less than 600 million years, so go look while you still can.


ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)


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