Relay For Life: Cancer never sleeps

My stepfather was recently diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer (some of you might remember that the doctors have been keeping a close eye on me due to high Prostate Specific Antigen [PSA] levels), so this is a bit personal to me, this year.

The Noble County Relay For Life has its first sponsors for the 2012 season – but that’s just the beginning.

This year’s annual American Cancer Society fundraiser will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 19, at its regular site: The West Noble High School track and football field, south of Ligonier along US 33.

But the 2012 Relay kickoff comes on Thursday, February 9thth, from 6:30-8 p.m. at The Noble County Public Library’s Cole Meeting room, in the lower level of the library. This year’s Relay theme is Happy Birthday; let’s fight back and celebrate many more Birthdays to come. We will be recognizing any cancer survivor that comes, and signing up teams for our event.

Cancer never sleeps, so Relays are overnight events, lasting up to 24 hours, in which teams raise funds to fight the disease and they take turns keeping on the track to celebrate those who’ve battled cancer, remember those lost, and fight back. Each year more than 3.5 million people in 5,000 US communities and 20 other countries take part in Relay events to raise funds for research, treatment, and other assistance.

Team members are encouraged to find varying ways to raise funds, and at the Relay itself they often camp out around the track (although members aren’t required to be there the whole time), and take part in food, games, and activities. More information can be found on the Relay For Life website at: 

Or by contacting Noble County Chairperson Carla Fiandt at or  260-636-3744;
 ACS Representive Melissa Stephens at or 260-471-3911;
 Team Recruitment Stacey Lang at or 260-894-1418’
 Or Survivors chair Luana Walker 260-636-7337.

Please come to our kickoff meeting and lets make this a great year.  We need to band together and fight back.  There has been many lives touched by cancer this past year and this is our part in fighting back for our survivors and for those that have lost their battle.

While Relay participants have fun, it’s for an important cause, and much help is still needed to make the event a success. The Relay is looking not only for teams, but for committee members and other
help in a variety of areas.

I walked around a track today
I walked to help a disease go away
I walked because there is a need
I walked so that bodies could be freed
I walked to give a small child hope
I walked to help someone cope
I walked for a husband or wife
I walked with my head held high
I walked for that one about to die
I walked excitedly, not demure
I walked to help find a cure
I walked for everyone to see
I walked for you
I walked for me

Book signing Monday

Don’t forget my book signing tomorrow (or today depending on when you read this)! 3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. Monday at the Noble County Public Library main branch in Albion. Details on the Facebook events page:

I’ll have copies of both Storm Chaser and My Funny Valentine, or you could just come to ask questions or hang out – or say hello if you’re borrowing another book!

25,000? Time for a car chase

25,000 words done on the first draft of my Storm Chaser sequel! There's still much work to do, but I'm ahead of my 5,000 words a week goal, for now. Still mulling over the title; Storm Damage isn't terrible, but it's been done. Now that I've gotten to know his character better, I'm considering "The Notorious Ian Grant".

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Writing Fact vs. Fiction


            This winter I switched writing modes from fiction to non-fiction and back again, which made me ponder the difference between the two. In a way it’s something I do every week, since I write news articles in addition to my column. News is news, but my columns … well, granted that they sometimes have news in them. Still, they’re intended to be humor or opinion, or both.

            The great thing about a column is that even when you’re telling a true story, you can embellish just a bit. For instance, my lawn mower really did explode; but does anyone actually believe the Great Exploding Lawnmower Incident led to a FEMA investigation and the discovery of a broken mower blade in the fuselage of a 747?

            If I’d written that as fact, I’d have probably been hired by the White House Press Office.

            I slowed down promotion efforts for my novel some (but not enough that I won’t remind you about the January 30th book singing) so I could finish the text for my non-fiction book, tentatively titled Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department.

            Catchy, huh? No?

            So the question is, what’s easier to write? Fiction or non-fiction?

            That’s easy. With fiction, you can lie.

            Not that people haven’t fibbed in non-fiction works. It’s also true that real life creeps into fiction, from time to time. In Storm Chaser, the main character is made up, but he’s a member of two actual organizations, one police and one firefighting. Many of the scenes take place at real locations, such as Chain O’ Lakes State Park.

            Still, real life has challenges that fiction doesn’t. If my story isn’t working, I can change the order of scenes, stick in a new character, or bring in an evil twin. If I don’t like the way things happened in Albion in 1930, I’m pretty much stuck with that sequence of events.

            Also, facts can be hard to come by when writing an historical book. I recently discovered, after some 20 years of researching, that Albion’s first fire chief lived on West Main Street. Exactly where? Don’t know. What did he look like? Don’t know. What was his personality like? Beats me.

            I invented Chance Hamlin for Storm Chaser. He lives at the end of Prickett Street in a little village called Hurricane; he’s a tall, blond haired, blue eyed guy; and he’s kind of a jerk, although for good reason. Pretty much the opposite of me.

            So yeah, fiction is easier, with one exception. What if I wrote a novel about A.J. Denlar, Albion’s first fire chief? I could turn him into a living, breathing person. If I’m wrong about his personality … who’s going to know?

            Oh, but historical novels have their own danger. You have to do an insane amount of research, and get every detail right. Would Albion have telegraphed for help during a fire? What would Denlar have worn? How did the people of 1888 power their video game systems? Many people who love historical novels love history, and believe me, if you screw something up they’ll call you out on it.

            That’s also a problem in non-fiction, of course, and therein lays the danger of writing my book SDaSL: ACosWTAFD.

            Um, maybe I should skip the subtitle.

            I may not have to worry about vocabulary or dress so much, but I still had to figure out what actually went on, and sometimes that wasn’t easy. There’s a tendency of newspaper writers to assume their readers know certain things – they write for the present reader, not the future reader. It was true with official records, too: Not much detail. Even right up to 1988, where I stopped the narrative (gotta leave room for a sequel), I sometimes didn’t have all the information I was looking for.

            If I get the date that the 1929 fire engine arrived in Albion wrong, it’s not likely I’ll get caught; but if I screw up the details of the 1976 truck’s purchase, somebody’s bound to call me on it. To make matters worse, I didn’t interview any of the people who may have remembered something from half a century ago, both because I ran out of time and because I hate conducting interviews. Okay, what I mean to say is I ran out of time because I put off doing interviews. Besides, the manuscript length hit 45,000 words, which is short for a book – but had two zeroes more than I originally planned, when I started 25 years ago. Once you figure in photos, I didn’t have much space left for quotes.

            So I researched as best I could, surmised and guestimated on the old time stuff, and I think I’ll be okay for at least the first fifty or sixty years. Hopefully my status as amateur historian will bring me some forgiveness of any mistakes, but I have to admit it’s a scary thing.

            I mean, you’re writing about people who actually existed, and some still do. I don’t care to dive into personalities – I’m just in it for the fun of discovering history – but it’s scary. Suppose I get beaten up? They don’t sell angry reader insurance; I checked. Still, I’m going ahead: Finishing the manuscript, looking for more old photos, getting set to publish.

            Yeah, fiction just isn’t this scary. I’m not likely to get chased down by Tom Sawyer, or even James Bond.

            Although with Bond, you can never tell.

It's all about publicity

I learned today that my Noble County Library book signing on Jan. 30th has been announced on Thunder Country, a radio station in LaGrange County.  (Their website’s at )  Although I sent a press release out to all the area news outlets, but didn’t really expect a station in the next county would use it!

 Also, as we were passing the library last night Emily noticed my name on their sign, which blows my mind just a bit.  Their website is here: .

 And, of course, the Facebook events page with all the details is here:

RENA J. TRAXEL: # 2 You Know You Are A Writer When...

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20 Years of Communicating


                In December I hit a major milestone: My 20th anniversary as a member of the Noble County Sheriff’s Department.

                Doesn’t seem possible, does it? I mean, I seem so young and fresh …

                I’ve often joked that anyone who works for more than ten years in a dispatch center should automatically be considered certifiably insane. Since then I’ve learned that the average career length for a dispatcher is around seven years – which means my joke isn’t so funny anymore, is it?

                But I didn’t start as a communications officer (I didn’t make that term up, honest). I was working a factory job when I got the call to come in and apply for a job as a jail officer, known back then as a jailer or turnkey. I took a $1.22 an hour pay cut in order to put on a uniform and watch drunks throw up – clearly, I really hated working in the factory.

                At the time the jail officers often worked alone, while up in the communications department one dispatcher worked many of the shifts. It got awfully lonely, especially when a transport came in with a load of new prisoners, or police broke up a minor consuming party. All of the sudden I was the only uniform in a sea of people waiting to be booked in, dressed down, and placed near a bathroom.

                There were two things about inmates that surprised me: One was that some of them, once removed from temptation, became some of the most decent, and in the case of trustees hard working, people you’d ever want to meet.

                The other was that a certain percentage of them were just nasty pieces of uncaring scum, and absolutely no act of kindness or second chances did a darn thing to change that. When those people got booked out (you could usually tell which was which), I’d say, “See you soon.”

                “I’m never coming back here again,” they’d reply.

                But, with the exception of those who died or got put away in some other facility, they always did. Sadly, so did a lot of the nice guys who, once out on their own, just couldn’t stay away from the booze and drugs.

                Eventually I got tired of being breathed on by people who often never saw a doctor except when incarcerated, so I applied to move into dispatch. I don’t recall how long I lasted in the jail, but I figured dispatch, where I didn’t have to go face to face with people who were just misunderstood (ask them, they’ll tell you), had to be less stressful.

                Stop laughing, I really thought that.

                How can I explain what dispatching is like? Let’s say you want to be a performer, so you learn to juggle chain saws. But that’s not good enough for today’s sophisticated audiences, so you also learn how to balance 100 spinning plates at the same time. But that’s not getting you booked, so you learn how to throw knives at a spinning target while singing The Star Spangled Banner.

                Dispatching is like doing all those simultaneously.

                Not for the whole shift, of course. Anyone who’s ever worked retail is familiar with the concept of feast or famine. Say you’re at a grocery store, and shoppers start trickling in, one after another, at different times and getting different amounts of stuff.

                Then they all want to check out at the same time.

                Then they finish checking out, and there’s no one in the store … until people start trickling in again, one after another. That’s what being an emergency dispatcher is like: Feast or famine. Dispatch centers could save a lot of money by scheduling extra people only during the busy period – except no one ever knows then the busy periods will be. I’ve seen quite Friday evenings (although not many of them), and I’ve seen all heck break loose at 5 a.m.

                Once I was working alone in dispatch (These days we’re so much busier that one dispatcher is a laughable, terrifying concept), when, at around 5:30 in the morning, black ice started forming on pavement all over the county. You might say all the drivers crossing all the bridges in the county decided to check out at the same time, some of them coming close to checking out in the fatal sense of the word.

                No warning. No chance to call in help. I went from nothing on the board to three dozen accidents in ten minutes. Another example of that is when one giant fiery crash happens and you have to dispatch half a dozen different agencies to it at the same time.

                It was fun. By which I mean, it wasn’t.

                But at least with calls like that what you need to do is pretty clear cut. Here are some examples of the calls that make my head start throbbing:

                Someone calls 911 and starts with, “This isn’t an emergency …”

                It’s an emergency line, bub.

                “I have a question …”

                I have an answer, but you’re not going to like it. This person invariably will involve us in such a head scratcher that’ll take off pieces of my scalp.

                “I had this problem back in December of 1998, and …”

                We really do get calls like that. These are people who, if they were writing a book, would start out with “Chapter One: I am born.” You couldn’t get them to the point with a spear gun.

                There are other examples, but I can’t give you specifics until the book comes out on the day of my retirement, December 14th, 2016. This is assuming I can gather a single sane thought by then.

                It’ll be hard to autograph that book while in a straightjacket.

Sacred Ground Travel Magazine: Primal Wilderness Rambling From Niagara

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Emily's blog: "Chunks", Vampires, & Forest for the Trees

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My Funny Valentine -- the perfect holiday present

A local columnist is one of forty humor writers featured in My Funny Valentine, the perfect antidote to the problem of both wintertime blues and finding a perfect and unique Valentine’s Day gift. 

Mark R. Hunter’s column “Valentine Fail, or: Where to Sleep When You Don’t Own a Doghouse”, originally appeared in The Albion New Era, Churubusco News, and Northwest News last year, and is reprinted in My Funny Valentine along with pieces by columnists, bloggers, and cartoonists from all over. The book makes a great Valentine’s gift: It doesn’t go bad in a week like flowers, has no calories like candy, and at $9.95 (plus tax) is way less expensive than jewelry – and will probably be more appreciated than lingerie. Plus, a little humor goes a long way in the dark, cold months of winter.

My Funny Valentine is available as a print book at Hunter’s website,,  and in print or e-book at the publisher’s website,

Hunter will also have copies available at a book signing January 30th, from 3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the Noble County Public Library main branch, 813 E. Main Street in Albion. Anyone who buys both it and Hunter’s novel, Storm Chaser, will get the second book at two dollars off.

Print copies are also available at the Albion New Era office, on South Orange Street in Albion.

More on My Funny Valentine:

            Love is to laugh with, not at, in this anthology of Vday humor from forty of the top
humor writers around. An inexpensive, pocket-sized book focused on Valentine giving
and lightening-up, My Funny Valentine is a condensed packet of laughs and smiles.

            This is the first offering from My Funny Books, a new imprint dedicated to showcasing the country’s top humor writers. The writers here are contest winners, syndicated columnists, book authors, working comediennes, writers and producers for television shows, joke-mongers for famous comics, and beloved cartoonists. Some quotes:

I don’t need a special day to be awkward, uncomfortable and falsely selfless. That’s what dating was for. – Blythe Jewell

            We lovingly refer to it as Valentine’s Day because "Sex for Chocolate Day" was vetoed by the greeting card industry. – Leigh Anne Jasheway

Valentine’s Day is about those five little words: Charge it to my Visa. – Jim Shea

Yeah, so, I missed Valentine’s Day this year. On a totally unrelated note I’ve discovered it’s possible, and even advisable, to sleep in today’s smaller, more fuel efficient cars. – Mark R Hunter

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14, my lucky number

‎14,000 words done! New ideas to incorporate in are popping up every minute, so I'm taking a lot of notes for the second draft. Oddly enough, there's not a whole lot of romance so far (odd considering it's the sequel to a romantic comedy). The two main characters are together in almost every scene and have good chemistry, but it's almost more like a buddy comedy. Maybe that blonde teenager who keeps tagging along (and who you're all familiar with from "Storm Chaser"), is cramping their style.

Had a d'oh! moment

I'm almost always at work during down time when I check my Gmail, which is where I get notifications of comments on my blog here. I thought it was strange that there was no way to reply directly to each and every comment I got -- just the general reply button to the post, all the way at the bottom.

Then, yesterday, I checked my blog here at home ... and there were the individual reply buttons. It seems nobody who commented on my blog here saw my replies to them, unless they happened to come back and check all the replies on the post, including mine. I must have seemed like an awfully stuck-up person, never acknowledging the people who took the time to say something.  Why the reply buttons aren't showing up at work, I don't know -- the computers there can be a little touchy in what they let through.

*sigh*  Now I need to go back ....

Ringing in a Dark Birthday


            There are certain questions guaranteed – absolutely guaranteed – to cause trouble: “What else could go wrong?” “What does this do?” “Why don’t we invade Russia?”

            I planned to cook my fiancĂ©e a birthday dinner. My question:

            “How hard could it be?”

            Emily didn’t try to stop me, so in my mind she’s at least partially responsible. The plan was simple: I would take one room in the house and clean it to within an inch of its life, and there we would have a romantic, candlelit dinner to celebrate her birthday, which happens to fall on December 21st. As that’s normally the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter, before I met her it was traditionally my day of mourning.

            This year the world is scheduled to end on that date, so you’d better believe I’m just going to take her out to an expensive restaurant. According to the Mayans, the VISA bill won’t arrive next January.

            This year the normal “what could go wrong?” festivities began three weeks earlier, when I got sick – as is also a tradition for me in December. Then she got sick. Then I got new medicine, which cleared up the original problem but made me sicker. Then she was put on an antibiotic that actually has the word “nitro” in the title, a warning sign if I ever heard one, and it made her sicker.

To make matter worse, she’d ordered something special for me that didn’t arrive in time for an earlier anniversary of our relationship, so when it arrived she began agonizing over when to give it to me.

It was under these circumstances that we entered the week of her birthday, so I threw caution to the wind and suggested we just go out to eat.

            She refused, citing money issues. See why I love her so? Ordinarily I could be nothing but thankful to have someone who doesn’t want to spend money, but I was seeing the big picture: I owed her a meal, and I cook about as well as I do car maintenance – usually with the same disastrous results.

            The next day, while still trying to talk her into it, I took my car to my son-in-law so he could change the oil (see above about car maintenance). As I sat inside, pretending to play with my grandsons while actually nursing a massive headache, he came in with the same look I get whenever someone says “snowstorm”: “You need to see something,” he intoned.

            The tread was coming off my tire. Just … peeling off. Like it was something I’d glued on. “How far can I drive on this?” I asked.

            “Across town. To the tire place.”

            So I gave up hopes of taking Emily out to dinner, or of sneaking take-out into the house, and settled on … cooking. Also, I needed to make a cake. And, because we’d both been so sick for so long (being sick together isn’t nearly as romantic as they make it sound in Hollywood), a room still had to be cleaned.

            And that’s when I said it: “I have a day, extra-strength ibuprofen, and antibiotics … how hard could it be?”

            I’d never made salmon before. Or deep fried anything. Or made a cake. And once I got into the nook and crannies of the kitchen, I got to thinking I’d never cleaned it before, either.

            No, it didn’t turn out to be the perfect birthday for her. I mean … it’s me. Although I managed the cake myself, she had to help me figure out the salmon (thank you, George Foreman) and the frying. In addition, she didn’t want to wait on that present for me – so I got a gift that day, too.

            Still, we did have our candlelight dinner – for some reason I have thousands of candles packed away in the basement – and the kitchen (we didn’t have the energy to move our table into the dining room) looked pretty good if you squinted in the candlelight. I also learned a few lessons along the way:

            Red velvet cake resembles something bloody at every step of the process. For awhile my kitchen looked like the lair of a serial killer.

            Fish can taste pretty good even without breading. Why was I never told?

            Other than food, no good can come from a pan of boiling grease.

            Overall, despite our high level of physical misery and the fact that the act of eating exhausted us to the point of collapse, we had a pretty good time. After recovering she left the room, and returned with something behind her back. I don’t recall her exact words, as I really wasn’t expecting this, but I’ll paraphrase.

            “I wanted to get you the Moon and the stars and the universe and everything … so I did.” Then she got down on one knee and held out a ring. “Will you marry me?”

            We’d been shopping for wedding rings, so she knew my size, and she knew we were both huge astronomy fans. She presented me with one carved – literally – from a meteorite. It was so much cooler than the engagement ring I gave her.

            Naturally, I said yes.

            What could go wrong? Lots. But that doesn’t mean things don’t go right.