Taking Charge

Any writing I may have done yesterday was interrupted by a house fire; I ended up driving the rescue truck and then commanded the operation, but the fire went out anyway. Honestly, I've always preferred to be inside on the nozzle, where it's warm; sometimes *very* warm.

But, when you're on a volunteer fire department you don't really get to choose what position you end up in. I think I did a fair job in both; the Rescue and crew arrived in one piece (I don't usually drive the trucks -- not my area of expertise), and yes, the fire went out. It might be better to ask the other firefighters how they think I did!

another review post

Or at least, a repost of an older review, on ... Liquda?


The Writers of Mass Distraction

I’d meant to do a blog of my own about the Writers of Mass Distraction, but my hands have been full the last few days so I thought I’d let my fellow WMD writer William Kendall explain it, instead. Besides, he explains it so much better than I would:


Halloween Costumes for Fending Off the Cold


            There’s probably no better timed holiday than Halloween. After all, it comes just before the two most frightening times on the calendar: Winter, and elections.
            It’s hardly surprising, then, that one popular Halloween mask is any famous politician. Two years ago I went out as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stopped all the other Trick-Or-Treaters, and collected 28% of their candy. The only real drawback was the binding effect of the bra.
            I decided not to do that this year, because half the people don’t recognize political figures and the other half got too scared. The Donald Trump outfit is, well, out. Too bad, because the six yards of fake hair wrapped around my head would have gone a long way toward keeping me warm.
            That’s always my main criteria in choosing a costume: Warmth. It’s not unheard of to have snow on the ground in northern Indiana by the end of October. It’s also not unheard of for it to be unusually warm, or so some old-timers claim while talking about the Dust Bowl days. Any Hoosier parent will tell you the main task in designing their kid’s costume is incorporating a heavy coat and snow boots. Dressing as an astronaut is very popular.
            I stopped celebrating Halloween after realizing I can just go to the store, buy all the candy I want, turn off the porch light and eat it inside, in the warmth.
This time of year I’m diving straight into that hole of despair doctors call Seasonal Affected Disorder, otherwise known as winter. The sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet, the scent of wood burning stoves, “crisp” (a nice way of saying freezing) air? Just Mother Nature dying. No human can produce a Halloween celebration more frightening than staring another Midwest winter in its frostbitten face.
So those times when forced to go out for Halloween, I dressed as an Eskimo. Once, to mix it up, I went as that kid Kenny from South Park, even though it killed me. He dresses as an Eskimo. I’m still not warm – an entire calendar worth of Playmates of the Year couldn’t warm me up in autumn or winter –  but at least I’m comforted in the knowledge that I tried.
Now I’m engaged to a woman who loves Halloween. It’s one of her few faults. She refused to marry me until I agreed to go annually to my brother’s Halloween party, which is sadly held outside and is probably his way of dragging me out of the house. Usually I just hover near his wood burning stove in the garage, but in any case Emily says I’ve used up my Eskimo appearances and have to try something new.
Last year we went as zombies. We attended the Zombie Walk in Kendallville, shuffled  to a cemetery for a photo op, and then, just for fun, walked into a grocery store and asked if they had any bran. The clerk said, “Last year you were way scarier as Dick Cheney”.
This year we’re trying to do costumes on the cheap, because I’m cheap. That gave me two possibilities, both costumes that can be worn with insulted long underwear:
My adopted brother Martin gave me bags of hand-me-down clothes. Being that I’m a small town white person and he’s a black guy from Fort Wayne (which is big city by my standards), we don’t have exactly the same fashion sense, but see above about me being cheap. I got some nice jeans, slacks and sweaters in the deal, and reminded myself to ask how he has the money to replace perfectly good clothes that he hasn’t yet spilled food on.
Anyway, I found a couple of items that I’m fairly sure he threw in just to mess with me. One was a uniquely loud puffy shirt, the other a pair of oversized parachute pants that button all the way down the side. I refuse to believe he ever wore these things in public.
I’m left with two choices: I can go to Halloween as a stereotypical 70’s disco black guy, or as a clown. While I’ll never be politically correct, we all know I’m not brave enough to tackle the former.
The second choice includes something my mother bought for me, back when she (correctly) assumed I needed to get more fit. It’s an outfit designed to hold in body heat and moisture while you exercise, apparently under the assumption that you’ll sweat yourself healthy. It’s like a portable sauna. I used it once on the treadmill, and lost twelve pounds in thirty minutes. That day I could have gone trick-or-treating as a zombie without needing any makeup, assuming I could walk in a straight line, which I couldn’t.
But now the outfit might have a better, safer use. You see, it’s basically an all silver track suit, neck to toe. A little silver makeup, aluminum foil hat, and – tah-dah! I’m a space alien.
That’s the one I’m thinking of going with, for two reasons:
First, any candy I eat will sweat out of me by the time I make it home.
Second, anything that reflects that much body heat back into me is bound to keep me warm, no matter how cold it gets outside. Since my one and only goal from October through March is staying warm, I might celebrate Halloween for months to come … even if the upcoming political campaign leaves me cold.
And if that doesn’t work, the Eskimo costume is standing by.

illness update

No classes today for Emily. At the moment she's sleeping, if not comfortably, so I haven't taken her temperature yet -- blessed be Nyquil. She was running around a 99 degree temp last night, I think. I'm sneaking up and down the basement stairs, throwing everything I can get my hands on into the laundry and soaking everything else with Lysol. I feel it's a losing battle. No symptoms for me yet, though.

sick house

Emily Stroud has the flu ... maybe two bugs based on her symptoms: the regular respiratory one and a stomach virus that people call the flu, but really isn't. (See? I learned something!) Because why just get sick if you can get extra sick?  She's pretty miserable, but handling it okay, and I'm giving her all the TLC I can from arm's length on the other side of a plastic sheet. Send a few good wishes/vibes/prayers her way.

I got my flu shot yesterday, but I suspect I'll end up with one or the other illnesses soon enough; that's the way our year has gone. Meanwhile, we'll stay in for awhile and try to cut down on contaminating other people.

Creating Great Villains

I post about creating great villains over at the Writer's of Mass Distraction blog site:



Many of my friends plan to participate in National Novel Writing Month this November -- or are at least considering it. It's a big commitment, to write 50,000 words in 30 days! Good luck to those who go for it; I've tried it only once, but I do think it's a worthwhile project.

I considered starting work on Storm Damage over that month, but due to getting tied up with home refinancing, maintenance tasks, winter preparation and various RL stuff, I still don't have the fire history book ready. I have to finish that (I'm close), and I also want to do some columns up in advance, so that if I get too into my first draft I can skip writing a new one for a week or three.

I wouldn't have officially participated in NaNoWriMo, anyway: While it works well for many as a kick in the pants to get that first draft finished, I found it didn't match my writing style. My long stories work best if I go back over the previous day's work every writing session, cleaning it up and adjusting my plot and other details along the way. I've found that if my first draft is too rough when finished, I tend to put off going back to put the work into it, which is part of the reason why Red is For Ick (my only NaNo novel) is languishing on the back burner now, needing some work to its middle.

Just the same, NaNo's a brilliant concept, and good luck to everyone who's participating. Keep writing!

The Desert Rocks: The Typewriter As The Cognitive Link Between Realm...

Ah, manual typewriters. Those were the days ... the slow, unproductive, carpel tunnel days.

The Desert Rocks: The Typewriter As The Cognitive Link Between Realm...: When I was a kid I wanted a jet pack. It was going to be the scientific breakthrough of the future that would take me anywhere. Plus, why w...

"Storm Damage" prequel short story: "Out of the Frying Pan"

I've been promising this new story for awhile: a bridge between Storm Chaser and its sequel, which has the working title of Storm Damage, this tale introduces us to a new character who'll have a major role in the new book. Believe me, Ian Grant quite literally doesn't know what he's getting into ...

Warning! Spoilers for some general details about the end of Storm Chaser. If you haven't read (or finished) the novel yet, you might want to skip this until later. As a shout-out to my fans, for the first week the link to this will be posted only on my Mark R. Hunter Facebook fan page, and on my @StormChaserBook Twitter account. But that doesn't mean you can't tell your friends!

            Ian Grant pulled the thousand thread count Egyptian cotton sheet up to his chest and tried to identify the feeling that interfered with this happy moment.

            Well, he told himself it was a happy moment. A good meal, just finished … a blonde, also just finished.

            She hummed in the hotel shower, some insipid tune from her self-titled album. An ode to puppies, or making love, or making love in a field of puppies, or something like that – whenever he heard the song he forgot the lyrics within minutes. It was almost as forgettable as her hair, which judging by its roots once looked a much more interesting red.

            He looked around at the ornate furniture, the remains of expensive room service, the lingerie scattered across the shag carpet, and wanted to be somewhere else. What the hell was wrong with him? “Are you happy?”

            The humming stopped. “Well, sure I am!” Her natural voice fell a full octave from when she sang. Weird. “I have a single at number seven, and I’m on Craig Ferguson tomorrow! Oh, and you. You’re so good.”

            Suddenly he felt like a candy bar.

            “Yes, but …” Sitting up, Ian ran a hand through a wild disarray of dark hair and gazed around the room. This wasn’t his home. This wasn’t his girlfriend, not really, and for the first time he realized she used him as eye candy, someone to hold her arm on the way into clubs. He used to like clubs.

            What’s her last name, anyway? He glanced over at the CD she always kept on the headboard, but it said only “Bethani”. That one name crap should’ve ended with Madonna.

            What did I see in her? I mean, there is the hot body … and what did she see in him? With a sudden desire to do something other than just lay there, he grabbed the TV remote and stabbed the on button.

            A few minutes later Bethani padded into the room, wrapped in a huge white towel. She stopped in mid stride to stare at the screen. “Are you watching … the news?”

            “Yeah …” Some politician blabbed on the screen. The guy looked familiar; Ian thought they’d met at one of his father’s dinner parties.

            Bethani perched on the edge of her bed, her gaze still on the screen. “The news is always depressing – why watch what you can’t change?”

            “I suppose it has something to do with education.”

            Her head tilted, like a bird staring into a mirror. “Ever seen an educated person have a good time?”

            “Hm.” The cable network went into human interest and celebrity stuff, and Ian recalled his father once flew into a rage when he saw Ian on the same program, dancing on a car near the Hollywood Bowl. He tried to remember … Sheen’s car or Kutcher’s? He’d been pretty blitzed at the time.

            Then Ian sat up straight, as a familiar face glared at him. Was this a flashback?

            “Venerable Hollywood movie star Charles Grant narrowly escaped a tornado that tore through the little town of Hurricane, Indiana yesterday –“

            “Grant?” Bethani turned to Ian. “Why would he be in the Middle? Is he on location?”

            With a shrug, Ian turned up the sound and reminded himself that “escaped” meant the old man was okay.

            “And why is Charles Grant in Indiana? Sources say he came to the little town to bless the impending marriage of his daughter, weather photographer Allison Craine, to a man who’s reputed to be an Indiana police officer –“

            “Wow,” Bethani murmured, “I hope he’s okay. I needed him to co-produce my first movie.”

            It took a moment for Ian to process the information, as a too-chipper woman announced in a bemused voice that Grant and Allison Craine remained on the scene, to help recovery efforts and presumably make wedding plans. Although the newscasters – and the weatherman – seemed to think this the most unlikely news of the day, after a moment Ian realized it made sense. Allie always ended up where trouble brewed, and although Grant wasn’t known to be hands-on, he had a reputation for sending aid whenever some deserving group needed it.

            They got involved. Helped people. Made a difference. And, yeah, apparently they’d take extra time to plan a wedding, too. When did Allie meet an Indiana cop?

            Wait … Bethani wants my father to co-produce her movie?

Ian turned to see blue eyes not vacant, but calculating. Of course. He took a breath, then threw off the sheet and reached for his clothes. “I’m going to Indiana.”

           “What?” Bethani’s tone matched the incredulous voice in his head. “Why?”

            “My sister’s engaged to a guy I’ve never even met.” He pulled on his jeans. It took him a moment to find his second sock, draped over the bed lamp.

            “But your sister hates you. You told me she got mad about the book you wrote, and they said on Extra that you showed up drunk at her coming out party.”

            “Guilty.” He walked around her and found his black silk shirt draped over the bathroom door knob. “All the more reason to pitch in. Lend a hand. All those help clichés.”

            “But Ian.” Her voice sounded so … whiney. Why did he never notice before? “Do you want to leave – this?”

            Bethani dropped her towel.

            No, he didn’t want to leave that body, kept firm with the help of personal trainers and choreography, especially since she’d offered him a part in her next music video. But for the first time he paid more attention to her face than to her body, and saw … something empty. “Haven’t you ever wanted to help people?”

            She gave him a slack jawed stare. “That’s what the government’s for. Besides, what can you do to help? You’re a drunk.”

            In an instant Bethani, darling of the paparazzi, looked ugly. “What’s your last name?”


            “How much do we really know each other? What conversation didn’t involve the business, or sex? Do you care so little that you never noticed I didn’t drink one drop of alcohol in all the time we knew each other?”

            Scooping the towel back up, Bethani held it against her in a clenched fist. “You went to rehab? But you were such fun …”

            “I went to the same place I’m headed for now: reality.”

            “In Indiana?”

            “It has to be more real than Hollywood.” He scooped belongings into an overnight bag, and when it was stuffed began to fill his duffle. All his worldly goods in two bags, except for the stuff in a storage unit near Malibu.

            Bethani flung the towel across the room, then searched for her own clothes. “You can’t just leave me! I can replace you with any B-list celebrity out there, all the guys and half the girls!”

            “I know.” Ian stopped beside her and reached out, but she shrugged him off. “But you see, that’s the point – I want to be useful.”

            “Doing what?”

            Good question. She stormed around him, while he stood there and thought about his two years of ditched college classes, mediocre acting career, and a bestseller he didn’t even write himself. What could he do? He barely knew which end of a hammer to use, couldn’t operate heavy equipment, and hadn’t cooked himself a meal in years. Time to get educated, and fast – before Allie disappeared again and his father didn’t need him … again. For an instant his thought processes ground to a halt, then he blurted out:

            “I’ll help my sister organize her wedding.”

            “You what?”  In the midst of disentangling her black lace bra from the table lamp, Bethani whirled around to gaze at him, in figurative and literal naked amazement.

            “Yeah.” He shouldered his bags, and checked his pocket for the keys to his Mustang. It would be – what – about a three day drive? “How hard can it be? You call a few caterers, yell at the flower guy, everybody’s happy.”

            “A wedding planner? But you’re straight.”

            “I’ll work through it.” Ian paused by the door. “Goodbye, Bethani. I’ll give you a good recommendation for your next B-list beefcake.”

            “But nobody’s ever broken up with me!” She tried to throw the lamp at him, but it reached the end of its cord and crashed to the floor.

            “Yeah, well … in the end, people like you are just another addiction to get over.” Ian closed the door behind him, but could still hear her rage all the way down the hallway, right up until the elevator door closed.

            He stepped outside into late dusk – or early morning? – and looked around the hotel parking lot. He couldn’t see the stars, and smelled only ozone and asphalt, but as he threw his bags into the Mustang’s trunk the air seemed clearer, somehow … refreshed.

            So, now to stop somewhere and get an audiobook on wedding planning, learn all he could in three days, then convince the half-sister who hated him that he could do it – without getting shot by her cop fiancée.

            One thing about his new life would be the same as the old: He knew how to live dangerously.

for sale (or giveaway?): used e-book

Sometimes an author finds their book in the strangest places. I think this is the first time I've stumbled across a case of my first novel being redistributed -- and on a firefighting site, no less:


The Heavenly Jobs Program


“Hello, Apple Customer Service, how may I direct your call?”

Hi, this is Steve Jobs.


It really is! I assume you haven’t forgotten me yet.

“Oh, not at all. But, um … aren’t you dead?”

            Yeah, I’m calling from Heaven. Ironically, the weather’s a lot like in Cupertino, but with less pollution.

            “But how --?”

            How am I communicating with Earth? I hacked Heaven’s phone system. Just wanted to check in.

            “Oh, of course.”

            Listen, tell that moron from the Westboro Baptist Church that Heaven is full of guys and gals from the US military, and every Wednesday they have a great mixer with the people from the Muslim neighborhood.

            “I’m so sorry about his group wanting to protest your funeral, sir –“

            Come on, he Tweeted about how evil I was from his iPhone – how funny is that? Besides, between the two of us, which one made the world a better place? Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me. There’s also the fact that we sometimes sit around at the Heavenly Pool telling jokes about him. ‘How many Phelps does it take to screw in a light bulb? None – he likes to be kept in the dark.’

            “I can only imagine the look on his face when he gets there and sees you.”

            Heh. Oh, he’s not gonna get here.

            “Oh --?”

            I’ve seen the files. They had a Microsoft based system up here, security was horrible – I just hacked my way right in. So I sat down and had a talk with Saint Isidore, then Tom and I went to work redesigning the whole system.”


            Edison. Imagine the talent pool up here! Alexander Graham Bell loves the iPhone, by the way. I’ve only been here two weeks, and we’ve already gone all wireless, and the angels are now supplied with iPad 3’s. I guess it goes without saying that up here we use cloud computing.

            “Naturally. So, what’s life like, up there in Heaven?”

            Well, there’s no cancer.

            “No … Mr. Jobs, I’m sorry we lost you so soon.”

            Don’t worry about it. There’s no cancer. Nobody hates up here. Nobody wants. I can stay up as long as I want, build new stuff, play with electronics, eat all the ice cream I want without getting fat, and I feel great. I just finished my latest operating system – I’m calling it the Cheetah. It’s fast, man – fast. This Cheetah will prosper.

            “But no one down here will ever see it …”

            Don’t worry about that, either. The people doing the work are the moving force behind Macintosh; my job was to create a space for them. If the people who replace me clear out and let them work, they’ll come up with something just as good. Besides, the Cheetah’s going to do a great job up here keeping the records, updating the naughty and nice lists and such. My new iPod’s going to be a hard sell, though – the live bands in Heaven are incredible.

            “Well, sir, is there anyone you’d like me to direct your call to?”

            Hm … no, not really, I guess. I thought about having you put me through to Fred Phelps, but that would just be cruel … and maybe talking to my wife would be cruel, too. People up here, they’re not interested in being cruel.

            You know, I once said that all expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure fall away in the face of death, leaving only what’s truly important. I was already facing death – there was no reason not to follow your heart, so I did. Every morning I looked in the mirror and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?’ whenever the answer was no for too many days in a row, I knew I needed to change something. I figure that was a pretty good way to live my life.

            “I think so too, sir … a very good way.”

            Oh … and one more thing:

            ‘Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in square holes … the ones who see things differently. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones we see genius. The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.’

            “Thank you, Mr. Jobs.”

            Sure, see you soon.

            “Wha --?

            No, no, sorry – just an expression!