Books for Dad

Dad's a science fiction fan like me, so I loaned him a box full of books to read while he's undergoing chemo. Note that two of these are by Linda Nagata, who was my instructor in a Writer's Digest Science Fiction Writing course way back when we did those things by snail mail.

Denial, and Family, and Hope


            Many years ago, I was awakened by a phone call to discover my father had suffered a heart attack.

            I said okay, that I would be at the hospital later that day – then I rolled over and went back to sleep.

            Too sleepy to process the information? Maybe, but I think it was mostly a case of denial. When it comes to medical stuff, denial is something we Hunter men are particularly good at.

            But time goes on, and reality intrudes. By the time we’ve seen our fourth or fifth specialist and half a dozen prescriptions, medical stuff becomes less something to deny, and more something to fear.

            When I got the call this time I was standing in the Trail of Tears State Park in Missouri. I’d just been on a scenic overlook, snapping photos of a spectacular Mississippi River and enjoying the attention our dog got from every single person who encountered him.

            Then the phone rang.

            My brother had been staying in contact more since earlier this year, when first I, then my sister-in-law, then my wife ended up in the emergency room for various reasons. I had no reason to think he was doing more than checking in.

            Instead, he called to tell me it was my father’s turn to be rushed to the emergency room, with pneumonia. It seemed a repeat of what happened to my grandmother over the winter. Pneumonia’s bad when you’re young; it’s often fatal when you’re old.

            Oh, and there were also the lumps, in the area of his lymph nodes. By the time I got the call, doctors were already pretty sure he had cancer.

            I didn’t know it then, but at about the same time my father received his diagnosis, I was sent an e-mail asking if I’d be willing to do public information work for the Noble County Relay For Life again next year.

            Our location in the state park was an hour’s drive from where Emily and I were staying with her parents, nine hours from home. It was near the end of a long day, and we were supposed to be down there for a while more; packing up our scattered stuff could take hours.

            There was, to say the least, a certain feeling of hopelessness.

            I don’t have a particular direction to this story, or an end. On the contrary, the story is just beginning. As I write this, Dad has been taken to the emergency room after a bad reaction to his very first chemotherapy treatment … not a good start. They still haven’t returned the results of a bone marrow biopsy, which will tell us whether he’s stage 3 or stage 4 – it doesn’t matter from a standpoint of treatment, but it makes a difference to us, the people who need every scrap of information we can get.

            Delbert Hunter has Aggressive Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a type of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s not common, and it doesn’t play nice. It tends to be discovered in its advanced stages. It started in his lymph nodes, but this disease tends to get around.

            In the last few weeks I’ve read up a lot of this type of cancer. A lot. And then I stopped reading because, quite frankly, I wasn’t being encouraged. At times like this you need facts, but then you need hope.

            Now the chemo has started. Imagine you already have the flu, and then you get food poisoning, while your hair is falling out. It’s like that, only worse.

            (I’m being necessarily vague: The actual side effects vary from person to person.)

            Not long before treatment started, my wife got sick. Nothing major, but when an immune system is beaten down by cancer and chemo, the little things can kill you. Would I get what she got, and send it on? I took my dad a box full of movies to watch, a copy of both of my books, and a print-out of my e-book short story collection. Then I left, with the intention of making my personal visits sparse until sure I wouldn’t give him something his body couldn’t handle.

            I’d been working on a writing project that I was going to dedicate to my parents. I think that might be part of the reason why I’ve lately had an overwhelming urge to write more, write faster, get it done.

            It might also be because I deal with tragedy and stress by retreating from it, and what better place to retreat to than a fictional world, where I can control what happens? It might also be that keeping busy also keeps me from thinking about it.

            But it might be about facing reality, as well as retreating from it. It’s a selfish kind of thing that humans do: The possibility of death makes us look at ourselves, our regrets, our shortcomings, our accomplishments. “I have so many stories to tell! Must write faster! Must get more done!”

            Yeah, I made it all about me. But here’s the thing: In the end, we have to have hope and faith. The world revolves on those things, with a dollop of love. Right now, while I can’t spend much time with my Dad, I want to put all my efforts into a project I’m dedicating to him, so that later he can hold it in his hand. There will be a later. That’s where the hope and faith stuff comes in.

My parents are readers. They bought me my first comic books, and the Oz book collection, and encouraged my book wormishness. I think he’ll like having the culmination of his parenting, bound in a book in his hands.

            He’s got an experienced, hardworking medical staff doing everything they can for him – this is what I can do for him. That, and be there.

            Oh, and that request to help out the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life next year? Of course, I said yes.

Third Place For Short Story Collection

            Storm Chaser Shorts placed third for Best Short Story Collection at the eFestival of Words Virtual Book Fair. Thanks to those who voted, and to whoever nominated me!

            First place is Storm Damage by John A.A. Logan (which pretty much confirms that I was right to change the name of my Storm Chaser sequel), and second place is Cage Life by Karin Cox. All the winners can be found here:

            This would be a good time for me to sell the soap: Don’t forget that you can get your copy of Storm Chaser Shorts at the Whiskey Creek Press website, or at

Or at

Unfortunately, my short story collection isn’t available in print, but it’s still the third best batch of tales at a virtual book fair, and isn’t that better than fourth?

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Dog

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Dog: 7:15 AM. Sun's up outside. The human is awake upstairs, from the sound of it.  Feeling hungry... 7:30 AM. Good morning,...

Speak of the Devil: Frosty The Scary Reanimated Popsicle Person

I'm about halfway through Barry's latest book, and will post my own review later. But so far this reviewer is in agreement with me ...

Speak of the Devil: Frosty The Scary Reanimated Popsicle Person: A couple of outstanding items to be looked at before I get into anything else. First, my partner in crime Norma has been in pursuit of the D...

You gotta have class

Emily got that third class she'd been hoping for this semester, one on fiction writing. The bad news: She'll have at least one class at IPFW every day of the week. The good news: It fits in with my writing/promotion plans for this fall. Also, I love hanging out at the library down there.

She's almost done checking through my manuscript of The Notorious Ian Grant, previously known as Storm Damage (the Storm Chaser sequel). She seems to like it, and it'll be ready for the publisher in September. Last night, after finishing an outline, I wrote the first 1,500 words of a new fiction project, planned as a novella. More on that later.

Sacred Ground Travel Magazine: Primal Wilderness Rambling From Ottawa River

Sacred Ground Travel Magazine: Primal Wilderness Rambling From Ottawa River: “There is another (river) at the mouth of which is a marvellous fall... the Algonquins take pleasure in passing under it and not wetting...

A Hairy Coincidence, or: The NSA Wants Me To Shave


            While on vacation last summer, I stopped shaving. During vacations we should be able to stop some routine chores, and taking out the trash wasn’t on the table. So, I grew a beard.

            I never shaved it off.

            Well, not until my next vacation, which is backward. Beards are for winter, to shield your face from the cold and make you look all manly when covered with frost. (That was the theory – I never noticed it helped much.) But summer is a bad time to have another layer between you and whatever cooling breeze might happen along.

            Whether a man (or a woman – let’s not discriminate) should have a beard is an issue that changes over time. For instance, you won’t see many American politicians with a beard these days. At least, not that I know of. I’m not going to examine every member of Congress for facial hair – it would be like spending all day going through a rogue’s gallery of fools, thieves, and scoundrels. That’s what reality TV is for.

            The last American President with a beard was Benjamin Harrison, in 1893. In fact, the last President to wear any facial hair at all was William Howard Taft, whose mustache left office with him in 1913.

            Maybe the disappearance of Presidential facial hair had to do with the concurrent invention of the safety razor, which had the advantage of bringing – as you might imagine – safety to shaving.

            But did Presidents always wear beards before then? On the contrary: Abraham Lincoln was the first to grow a beard in office. The hairy pendulum swings.

            Now beards remind American voters of mad mullahs, drop-out hippies, or our old friend Fidel down in Cuba.

            In the 1800’s, many firefighters grew long beards as a safety measure. These days facial hair can interfere with an air mask seal, but back then they didn’t have breathing air packs, or anything to protect them from smoke and toxic gasses. So they’d grow a long beard and, before running into a burning building, soak the beard with water and stuff it into their mouths. Quick and easy smoke filtering system.

            Who says beards don’t have their uses?

            As for me, it was laziness. It’s easier not to shave. Of course, it’s also easier not to shower, and I still do that (no matter what rumor you might hear). I had no motive beyond that, except for thinking it would be nice to have a layer between my face and the winter elements.

            Then a strange thing happened: People started telling me they liked the beard. I figured they were messing with me. When I had a beard before, back in my early twenties, it would send people screaming in terror. This time I bought a beard trimmer, which kept me from looking like a half-crazed mountain man but also took away much of the laziness factor.

            Now people told me it looked good – distinguished was a term I heard more than once. There was a time when I had no desire to look distinguished, but I gave up long ago on looking handsome, hunky, or in any way better than average. So yeah, I’ll take distinguished. Personally, I didn’t think extra hair made me look better than fair to middling.

            But after all these years, I’ve learned to take compliments where I can get them.

            Eventually, after some fifty or so weeks of winter, the time came for me to shave the darn thing off. I was due to host a book signing at which I would represent my fire department, and modern firefighters have no need to stuff beards into their mouths except in answer to Friday night bar bets. So, the beard had to go.

            But the mustache stayed, let’s not get stupid. Mustaches have been a great American firefighter tradition since the 70’s.

            I set my beard shaver to its lowest level, and carpeted the bathroom floor. It looked better than the real carpet, which was there when I bought the place. Who carpets their bathroom?

            What remained was some extra heavy duty stubble, and on a related note – how come the hair on my head gets thinner and thinner, but my beard’s like the Amazon rain forest? I tracked down Old Reliable, a double edged razor originally bought during the Bush administration – the first Bush. It took me a few hours, but eventually I was able to expose my entire face and discover …

            The beard really did make me look distinguished. Now, instead … well, let’s just say the years haven’t been kind to my chin.

The beard (and some young relatives) before ...

And the lack of beard, even more before.

            Despite my regret, the next night I picked up Old Reliable, placed it against my stubbly face, and watched pieces fly as it broke apart. Removing that forest of beard had just been too much for the old guy.

            I wanted another double edged razor and went to the store, where you could still get double edged blades – but not the razors to go with them. Apparently I’m not the only guy who doesn’t give up a razor easily. Not willing to spend the money on those monstrosities with five blades, I went home to consider the possibility of smearing Nair on my face.

            The next day, one of those five blade monstrosities arrived in the mail for me, sent by a famous shaver company that wanted me to spend a bunch of money on their multi-bladed miracle refills, which by next year will no doubt be up to ten blades each.

            The next day. It’s like they were guided to me by the NSA.

            Obviously I was meant to go bare for a while, but there will be other vacations, and I’m thinking it’s time to get lazy again.
            I liked being distinguished.

another Dad update

Dad had a reaction to his first chemo treatment that landed him in the ER. He's out of the hospital now, but chemo was postponed for three more weeks while they work it out and he builds his strength up. Meanwhile, he's going through some family issues that he shouldn't have to deal with at this point, so wish him all the strength he can get.

It's safe to say things have been rather stressful for the whole family.

As for me, I'm working on a plan to post more regularly, so stay tuned. It's not just medical stuff that has kept me offline, but the fact that I'm doing final work on the Storm Chaser sequel. When it comes time to seek and destroy "ing", "ly", and "was", it's best to just bear down and get it done.

Straight Talk on Gay Marriage


            The other day I was telling someone the issue of gay marriage had become too politicized, which is true. However, all issues have become too politicized, including politics.

            I used to be against gay marriage, for one simple reason: Haven’t gays been punished enough?

            I also used to have a little photo of a white-clad bride, with the caption, “Why do I have to get married? I didn’t do anything wrong!”

            You gay people out there, you know who you are: What are you thinking? You have a readymade excuse to avoid marriage: It’s illegal! Commitment phobia? No problem: “Oh, sorry, dear – my idea of expanding my dating pool never included meeting everyone in cellblock B.”

            But I no longer make such anti-marriage jokes, because … well, because now I’m married.

            On the other hand, I’m a humor columnist, and it’s my job to make fun of stuff, and things.

            On the third hand, I’ve looked into both sides and I understand their arguments, and their feelings on the issue. Can I make fun of people, even when I find their arguments persuasive and understandable?


            Still, you can understand my reluctance to address the issue, even now after the Supreme Court struck down a Federal law against gay marriage. It has everyone dancing, rather flamboyantly, in the streets. I have friends who are gay. I assume I have other friends who are gay that I don’t know about, since it hasn’t been too long since there were more gays in the closet than too-small clothes.

            So joking or not joking, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take the libertarian position on this one: Take the government out of marriage.

            Should the government be involved in decisions of morality? Well, yes. Is crime a moral issue? Disaster relief? Vice-Presidential IQ tests? The Federal government is grotesquely obese and should be put on a crash diet, but it does have its purposes, and those purposes often do include making decisions based on some kind of a moral line.

            But marriage shouldn’t be one of them.

            Marriage was around long before the USA, and will be around long after. Generally, marriage has always been between a man and a woman, yes, although I believe a few Roman emperors married their horses. It’s safe to say that marriage has usually been wedded – pardon the expression – to religion. However, that’s led to such things as forced marriages, not to mention it being difficult to divorce in those 
times when it really is the best thing to do.

            But proponents of gay marriage point out, quite correctly, that there are other aspects to it. Gays with long time partners (as well as straights who chose not to marry) can find themselves paying more on taxes and health insurance, losing out on death benefits, being banned from seeing their partners in medical facilities, and losing control of their partner’s belongings and burial details on death.

            Okay, that was two paragraphs of no funny, but I had to lay down the basics. Now, let’s go to my idea, which will solve all the problems. It’s an idea I came up with years ago (and I’ve heard it from many others since), but didn’t write about because I couldn’t make it funny.

            (That bodes ill for the rest of this column, doesn’t it?)

            It’s a compromise that would solve all the problems, which pretty much guarantees that nobody’s going to like it. But that’s okay: Nobody who makes actual decisions listens to me, anyway:

            Civil unions for everyone.

            The government gets completely out of the wedding business. Instead, if you want to be legally wed to your wife/husband/partner/second cousin/farm animal of your choosing, you go to the courthouse and get a civil union license. (I’m kidding about the farm animals. They can’t sign the paperwork.)

            The civil unions would be legally binding, and make you a couple under the law. You could get insurance, tax breaks, joint custody of the test tube babies, hospital visitation rights, and in-laws. Hey, I didn’t say it was all good.

            Marriages would go back to the churches. You want to get married to someone of the same sex, that’s fine: Just find a church that approves of gay marriage and will perform the ceremony. You can get married in whatever way you prefer, if the religious institution of your choice approves of it. Marry a guy, girl, one of each, your rich Uncle Murray, yourself, whatever. Since the government isn’t involved in it, what do they care?

            You can have a civil union and get married. If you don’t care about the legalities, you can just get married – it won’t be recognized by the government, but they’re getting worse and worse at recognizing anything important, anyway.

            Do this, and all my friends will be happy: the conservatives, the gay rights advocates, and the conservative gay rights advocates (there are some). The most important affect: I won’t continue getting an ulcer whenever I try to debate this internally and figure out a way to make everyone happy.

            Because I just did.

            Well, everyone would be happy except for two groups of people: The ones who insist on having it completely their way, who – let’s face it – are never happy; and the ones who were looking at an excuse not to get married.

            You people in that last group, just man up – pardon the phrase – and learn to say no. But don’t tell your significant others I said so.

            I’m sure the rest of us will find something else to fight about.

from rom-com to SF

I just submitted a science fiction short story to Asimov's Science Fiction. Twenty years after giving up writing SF due to life and other writing commitments, I'm back in the game.

Speak of the Devil: An Exercise In Stupidity

Speak of the Devil: An Exercise In Stupidity: Saturday was an evening of contrasts. On the one hand, here on Parliament Hill, we had the final evening of three nights of what's call...

Dad's medical update

If all goes well, my father will start chemotherapy tomorrow morning for Aggressive Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a type of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. More information about it can be found here:

However, he has to be strong enough for this treatment, which is very taxing on the body and will go on for a few months. He's been having trouble with low potassium and sodium levels, and just recovered from pneumonia. His immune system will be severely weakened, which will limit the number of visitors he can have. Today we dropped off a box full of VHS movies for him, and there's not much more I'll be able to do until this is over.

His bone marrow biopsy still isn't back, so we're not sure if he's in stage 3 or 4, but the treatment is pretty much the same. Thoughts and prayers are appreciated, of course ...

Basking In The Afterglow: A Day In The Life Of A Sex Scandalized Politician

Basking In The Afterglow: A Day In The Life Of A Sex Scandalized Politician: Seeing as how Anthony Weiner, occasionally known as Carlos Danger, has been in the news as of late for sexting pictures of his junk (again)...

You Don't See Surreal Coming Every Day


            Sometimes my life seems a little … surreal.

            Like something out of a TV show surreal. One of those TV shows where characters are always doing double takes, and saying things like “that’s new”, or “I did not see that coming”.

            For instance, I meet a woman on a writing website, marry her, and then discover she has all the skills needed to design a book package at the exact moment when I happen to delve into the sometimes difficult world of self-publishing. Didn’t see that coming.

            Naturally that leads into the already told story of my book signing for said book, and speaking of surreal: It’s been over two years since I did my first book signing, and it’s still weird. Does Stephen King ever look at himself in the mirror and think, “How did all this happen? Wasn’t I just a nobody teaching school, yesterday? Now cartoon versions of me are doing cameos on Fox TV shows.”

            Then, being Stephen King, he’d go off and write a story about a writer’s cartoon mirror image doing horrifying things in an isolated Maine cabin.

            The morning of this particular signing I had to work until 11 a.m., and it started at noon. I didn’t worry about that, because it was at an entire fire department’s 125th birthday, and there was lots of stuff besides me going on there. I was a sideshow.

            So I arrived, and found someone had already bought a book, and someone else was standing there waiting for me. I put my tote full of book signing stuff down, and signed three books before my wife set stuff up – before I even got a chance to sit down and catch my breath. I signed books for retired fire chiefs, for people from fire departments dozens of miles away, for people I hadn’t seen for years, and for perfect strangers. I signed one for Indiana State Senator Sue Glick, who had no way of knowing if I voted for her.
State Senator Sue Glick might not know it, but she just bought my vote for $9.95.
We sold 65 books, many more than I’d ever handed out at a signing.

           Meanwhile I kept seeing people wandering around all this cool stuff, and remembered that thirty years ago I got curious about how old the Albion Fire Department was.

           Not that I saw any of this coming at the time. I was just curious.

            Not that I was a major mover, either. I’m no good at seeing something, and saying “gee, maybe someday this will be a big deal”. I specifically remember thinking, “Nobody’s going to care about any of this historical stuff I’m digging up, but I think it’s neat. I wonder if I could get anyone to read it, someday? Probably not.”

            I’m an idea man. This is another way of saying I have little practical use in real life. Other people put together our Centennial celebration after I produced the date of the AFD’s founding, and other people carried the load for the 125th. Since I had to work, I’m not even the one who set up the signing table – I didn’t even bring the books. Other firefighters did that.

            Phil Jacob was the moving force behind the 125th. I suspect Phil was thinking he wouldn’t be around for the 150th, although more likely I’ll be dead and gone and he’ll still be showing up to calls and wrestling the fire nozzle away from the rookies.

            Phil raised the money, contacted donors, sketched out plans … he had help from a committee that I’m pretty darned proud to have been a part of, even though mostly I provided sometimes-good ideas and snide remarks. His son Sean dove in, as did firefighter Chris Cavanaugh and former Chief Bob Beckley, who set up an extrication demo for the event.

            The final member, Bob Brownell, is the one most responsible for all the books we sold that day. It’s because of him that I got a radio interview. He distributed posters to places I didn’t know even put up posters. I’d walk into a store three towns away and stop short, startled to see my book cover (Okay, Emily’s) as part of the anniversary advertisement. It was …


            Bob understands that you have to cast a wide net. He sent invitations for the event to everyone – including the White House. Nobody showed from Washington, but I’m sure they were watching.

            Didn’t see that coming.

            I suppose Freud would have something to say about the fact that I still don’t quite get the book signing thing. “Oh, you want me to sign the book for you? Okay … are you sure? It could affect its garage sale value.”

            A lot of people probably thought I was kidding.

            But it was that kind of a day. And it continued to be that kind of a day after the dedication, when I walked over to get Emily a drink and passed Santa Claus.

            That’s new. Exactly how far did Brownell send invitations?

            It was hot that day, so I asked someone, to make sure I didn’t have heat stroke. “Did I just pass Santa Claus?”

            “Yep. There are a lot of Santa Clauses here. Can you sign my book?”

            The Hoosier Santas Club had shown up, something I didn’t see coming. I ended up taking pictures of them by our fire truck, and collected their various business cards while we all stood there, sweating. One of them looked so much like Richard Attenborough that I kept looking behind me for dinosaurs in case he said, “Welcome to Jurassic Park”.

            It was … well, you know.

            But sometimes surreal can be a lot of fun.

The first rule of Santa club is: You DO NOT talk about Santa club.