The Burning Insecurities of Writing fire


            All of you authors out there with high self-confidence levels, please raise your hand.

            Okay, I see you there, Anne Rice. Anyone else? Not many …

            My career as a writer has been a series of battles in which my insecurities are fought, sometimes overcome, but at least revealed. It took many years to convince myself I could write well. Then it took more time to convince myself I could sell fiction, and I was really only sure of that when I – well, sold fiction. Now I work toward convincing myself I can someday write for a living, and considering the pathetically small percentage of writers who manage that, I’m assured of plenty insecurities to come.

            On that subject, it doesn’t help that I plan to make no profit from my newest writing project, despite working on it for 25 years.

            That project reveals a whole raft of new insecurities, drifting steadily toward me.

            Why? Because Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With The Albion Fire Department is, in addition to having a way too long title, a work of non-fiction. Writing non-fiction has one major, stressful drawback.

            It’s not fiction.

            In my novel Storm Chaser, and my story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts, two of the characters are volunteers for the Albion Fire Department, that very same department I serve on. We even get to see them in action. But that differs in a very big way from Smoky Days, because those are works of fiction, and the two guys aren’t real (although one’s a barely disguised and slightly better looking version of me).

            Smoky Days is about the real department, and the real people who served on it. You can’t make stuff up; you can’t put words in peoples’ mouths; and if events don’t flow in a nice, narrative manner, you can’t change them around for a better narrative flow.

            So let’s count the ways in which I’m nervous:

            First, there’s the usual process of selling myself, bragging, and book signings. I’m not good at the first two. I’m at a disadvantage with the third, due to my terrible memory for names and faces.

            You want stress? Try looking at a line of book buyers, recognizing half as people you’ve known all your life, and drawing a complete blank on their names. Then finding out you know the others, too. That’s stress.

            Worse, I wasn’t able to get the time off from my day job, which is at night, which means I’ll be going into the signing on July 20th with about two hours of sleep. Have you ever fallen asleep while signing someone’s name? Embarrassing.

            Second, what if I screw something up in the book?

            I’m not talking typos, although that’s possible. This is my first self-published effort, which means I was responsible for layout, editing, formatting, cover design … oh, who am I kidding? My wife did all that. She’s amazing – and she did all that stuff while suffering through various illnesses over the winter and spring. I’d give her part of the proceeds, except we’re donating profits to the Fire Department.

            Seems only fair – it’s their story.

            But that also reveals my biggest area of stress. I can live with a few typos – even correct them, if I sell enough copies for a second printing. But some of the people I’m writing about are still alive, and I know for a fact that many of them are gun owners.

            That’s part of the reason why I concentrated much of the book on the origins and early history of the fire department. Former fire chiefs William E. Worden and George O. Russell Jr. aren’t going to beat me up for not including more information about them in the book, unless they’re ghosts floating around the firehouse. They aren’t, are they?

            (Another reason is that I loved the detective process of uncovering old historical details, frustrating as it could be.)

            On the other hand, I’ve compiled a list of eighteen known Albion fire chiefs since 1887, and ten of them are still alive. All ten could snap my spine like a twig. Half of them are experienced hunters. I’m just saying.

            My book mostly ends in 1988, for reasons I explain in the opening. I did my best to stay accurate, or at least to spell it out when I had to speculate. Although there’s probably a lot of stuff I missed, I’m fairly confidence things held together despite my 25 year writing time. I’m also hoping the book will generate interest in people who will come forward with new information, new stories, and maybe even new photographs for inclusion in a second addition – assuming there is one, which is a question for the buyer to decide. I could buy a truckload myself to get my numbers up, but then what would I do with several dozen bundles of my last novel?

            There’s still that fear. Fear that every single person who reads it will find some glaring error, or that just a few will find errors that they feel are major enough for a good, professional tarring and feathering, which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. Just remember, getting the facts wrong isn’t as much of a problem when writing fiction, so don’t let this put you off my next novel.

            And believe me, considering the time, effort, and stress I put into this, I need a break from non-fiction.

            I guess I’ll find out how my change in genres goes over starting at that first book signing, at the AFD’s anniversary celebration July 20th. Then things will settle down, as they tend to do. And after that?
            Well, there’s always the next insecurity. 

Noble County Relay For Life surpasses goal

     Relay Walkers surpassed their fundraising goal for this year's Noble County Relay For Life, raising an estimated $37,812, according to event chair Carla Fiandt. That far surpassed this year's goal of $34,000. Carla has decided to step down from the position after this year, and will be replaced in 2014 by Michael White of Ligonier.

     "Hitting their goal before the event was over qualified them as a Nationally Recognized Pacesetter Event for 2013," according to Melissa Stephens, Community Representative for the American Cancer Society.

     More than 300 registered walkers and many other area residents attended this year's 24 hour Relay. The team that raised the most money was "Butterflies From Heaven", sponsored by the Yates family, which raised $3,201.90. Second place went to the Community State Bank team, while the team "Party Crashers" finished third. "The A-Team", featuring members of Albion's Anderson family, came in first at on-site fund raising.

     Barb Yates, from the "Butteflies" team, was the top individual fund raiser this year at $1,872. The best decorated team campsite award was divided between the "Party Crashers" and the "School of Walk" teams, while the "Eliminate Cancer" team won best team spirit award.

     White says work on the 2014 Noble County Relay For Life effort will begin soon. More information can be found on the Relay For Life Facebook page, or its website at:

The luminary bags at the rear spell out "Hope" -- there were some objects between them and the other side of the field, where Emily took the first photo.

Allergic To Life


            As a kid, I had what they used to call hay fever. I’m sure there’s some eight syllable medical word, but it boiled down to summer allergies so bad I’d literally run a fever, and I mean literally in the literal term. This settles where the term “hay fever” came from.

            Still, a summer with allergies beats any winter, any time, any way. Not that the season matters, as I’ve learned thanks to the efforts of a pushy wife and fourteen hundred needles.

            Last winter I suffered through a series of sinus infections. Naturally my wife suffered more, which perhaps explains why she encouraged me to go see an ear, nose and throat specialist.

            By “encouraged”, I mean “made me”. My protest that an ENT has nothing to do with sinuses – it’s not in the name – fell on ears even deafer than my own clogged ones. At least ears are in the name.

            I wonder if they have foot, leg, and knee doctors?

            The ENT (I used to be an EMT, which earned a lot less) tortured me. There’s no other word for it. The man had more probes than my urologist, who also tortured me. He sprayed something up my sinuses that actually qualifies as waterboarding, without the board. Then he did something even worse: He agreed with my wife.

            I had to get allergy testing.

            Remember the fourteen hundred needles I mentioned? I was destined to be needled more than Charlie Sheen at a celebrity roast.

            That would only be after the reams of paperwork, which were slightly more painful than the needles. Had I, anytime in the last ten years, sneezed, sniffed, itched, dried, wet, reddened, peeled, stuffed, coughed, or been cross of the eyes? Yes. “Describe each time.”

            We were there for three hours before they put the first needle in me. Then it got fun.

            The tester had a board full of needles, and each needle had a tiny speck of something that I may, or may not, be allergic to. How they came to get those materials is something I’d rather not know, but they made sure there was only a little, in case a test subject was severely allergic. If one of the tiny marks on my forearm puffed out and swelled, I was reacting.

            The tester looked away, and when she looked back my forearm had swelled so much I resembled Popeye right after taking the spinach.

            To her credit, the tester’s eyes bulged out only for a moment. Then she calmly opened the door and called to the medical staff:

            Red alert! I need 50 cc’s of all our antihistamines, a gallon of decongestant, hydrocodone, ice, oxygen, codeine, epi-pens, and an extra copy of that release form he signed, in triplicate. Also, cancel lunch.”

            From somewhere in the next room I heard a puzzled voice: “Just how many patients do you have in there?”

            Then the tester lady put twice as many pokes into my other forearm.

            She used a little card, which had several round holes in it of different sizes, to measure my reaction. The bigger the swollen area, the more allergic. After a few tries she tilted her head and said, “I think we’re going to need a bigger card.”

            Then she started poking single needles into my shoulder, one by one. Those reactions, by the way, held on for over a week.

            “What’s the verdict?” my wife asked, while I huddled, slobbering and shaking, in a fetal position on the floor.

            The tester shook her head. “Do you have any plastic bubbles?”

            “Um, we have bubble wrap.”

            “I’m not sure you can sterilize bubble wrap.”

            I already knew I had allergies – see above about hay fever. It turns out that I’m what they call severely allergic, which is a medical term meaning … well, I guess it’s pretty straightforward, what it means. I’m seriously allergic to … let me take a breath:

            Dogs, cats, indoor mold, outdoor mold, dust, grasses, ragweed, pollen, politicians, insects, dust mites, urushiol, fungus, feathers, and cottonwood trees.

            Here’s a fun irony: Standing by the entrance to the allergy doctor’s office are two big cottonwood trees.

            Oh, Urushiol? Poison ivy. That allergy I already knew about, through sad experience.

            Afterward we had a talk with the tester lady, while I recovered. And I’m not exaggerating about the recovered part, because to prepare for the test I had to go off my regular allergy medicines for a week, so I was in bad shape before she even got started.

            She explained to me that, while my medications might mask some symptoms, my body was still fighting the allergens every moment, every day. Imagine, she said, being in a boxing match in which you’re hitting at an opponent constantly, without a break, for years. How would that make you feel?

            Well, that explained a lot. Not just the typical allergy symptoms, but sleep problems, depression, headaches, irritability, itchiness. I had been sick my entire life, constantly, and because I had no period of wellness to compare it to I thought it was normal.

            Now I had a chance to experience not feeling awful all the time. When we met with the ENT again, I asked what treatment we could try. Anything, I said – anything to give me a chance to feel awake and alive for the first time in my life.

            “Allergy shots,” he replied. “Since you have so many allergies, we can’t fit all the treatment into one dose. So, you’ll have to have two allergy shots, one in each arm every week, for the rest of your life … or at least, it will seem like the rest of your life.”

            I nodded, and pretended to consider it. Then I said,

            “On the other hand, I don’t know what I’m missing, so it’s not really that bad, is it?”

            But my wife encouraged me to try to shots, anyway.
            By encourage, I mean “made me”.

Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: The proof is here!

The proof copy of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights is in! Here’s a photo Emily shot just after we got it:

Just a few more minor corrections and we’re ready for first printing!

Facebook event page for AFD 125th -- and book signing

For those of you who have Facebook, here’s the event page for the Albion Fire Department’s 125th anniversary celebration on July 20th:

This will also be the first book signing for my history of the department, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights. I haven’t decided yet whether to do a separate events page for the signing, but if you plan to buy a copy let me know, so I know how many to order!

Here’s the text of the flyer Emily created:

Albion Fire Department
125th anniversary celebration
Join us and other local _ re departments as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of our founding on
Activities and games for kids • Fire trucks on display • Antique apparatus
Extrication demonstration • Fair-style foods and drinks • Demonstrations
Activities • Fire truck cruise-in from area departments • Historical photos
Dedication Ceremony 1 p.m. - 2 p.m. in the auditorium
AFD history book premiere and book signing with Mark R. Hunter