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January 2006

Christmas, Comic Strips, Kissing, Vacation, Books I've Read, Santa Claus, Fan Ratings, and more.

Mail can be addressed to me from my web site at www.darrellbain.com. I am always interested in comments about subjects brought up in this newsletter and/or about any of my books. I do my best to answer mail promptly.

Santa Claus Lane
Just in case I haven't mentioned it before, Betty and I live on a road named Santa Claus Lane. Yep, that's our official address, courtesy of the Post Office when they began naming all the little trails and private roads to accommodate 911 calls. Rural route numbers are hard to find, especially at night. And two years after closing our Christmas tree farm, we still get letters from around the world from kids writing to Santa Claus. They're all enjoyable and lots of fun to read. I answer every one of them and sign them "Santa's Helper". I hope they continue to come.

And since it's the season, here's the first paragraph of Life on Santa Claus Lane:
Betty and I were in our early forties when we married. We were working at a hospital when we met, or rather when I first spotted her nursing a patient that I was getting ready to draw blood from. Right then I knew I had to meet her, and it being the season, I set a mistletoe trap at the entrance to my laboratory. She fell right into the trap. Or perhaps she knew it was there all the time and I was the one who got trapped. Whatever, we wound up kissing for the first time under the mistletoe and were married a year after our first date. We have lived happily ever after. Even moving to the country three years later didn't spoil things. That's really when the fun began. And perhaps that mistletoe meeting was a harbinger of our future on a Christmas tree farm.

Life on Santa Claus Lane is a narrative of my bumbling efforts to get out of real work by starting up a Christmas tree farm. And naturally, I wrote the book about it in order to avoid other honest labor. And I have to keep writing now because the bumbling doesn't seem to stop, even though my long suffering wife Betty and I retired from the Christmas tree business two years ago. See the following.

This morning I got an e-mail from my publisher, asking me to send back some copies of Life On Santa Claus Lane they had just sent me. The publisher was busy getting the mass market edition ready and ran out of the trade paperback copies needed for Amazon.com. Not wanting to miss any sales, I grabbed a bundle of books and hurried off to the post office. I hurried so fast I got out of the house without anything I needed except the books. The nice folks at the post office sold me a big flat rate priority box. When I stood there like a drooling idiot, with books weighing me down in one hand and the folded box in the other, one of the postal workers took pity on me and showed me the proper way to unfold the box.

"What do I do now?" I asked.

"Put the books in it and tape it up," the nice lady said. She didn't add "dummy" to the end of her sentence, but I heard it.

"May I borrow some tape?" I asked. She handed me a roll of that sticky stuff that you don't dare get within ten feet of anything you don't want it stuck to or it will promptly sail through the air and attach itself to the nearest object like a blue and white striped long tailed leech. I took it and started taping the bottom of the box. I had to work off an old door lying flat on a mail transport cart because our post office is still working out of a trailer until the hurricane damaged main building is fixed. The tape stuck to my fingers, the old door, my jacket and everything else it came near except the package. I tried to tear it loose and wound up with another five feet of the sticky derned stuff on my shirt collar and in my hair and somehow managed to tape the door to the baggage cart, as if I was afraid it would slip off and go running away to find a customer who looked like they knew what they were doing if I didn't fasten it down. You can't tear that blasted stuff like you can duct tape.

At that point I bumbled back through the long line of people waiting to pick up their box office mail and asked for some scissors. I was given a pair and the nice lady didn't even laugh at the way the tape was hanging all over me. I took the scissors, thanked her, and started all over again after cutting myself loose from that pesky tape. I got the bottom of the box taped while also managing to tape a couple of fingers to it, then figured it would have been easier to put the books in first and then tape the whole box up, but never mind. I cut my fingers loose.

In went the books. They didn't fit. I scrounged some papers and trash from the people picking up their mail. Small town folks are nice. Not a soul asked what I wanted their old newpapers, pamphlets and stuff for that they usually discarded in the big trash can sitting by the door that was propped across the mail cart. I did notice a few funny looks from people who didn't recognize me. They started ripping up anything with their addresses on it before throwing it away. Everyone has heard about those dump divers who steal identities. Anyway, I got the top taped down as good as the bottom was, even if it did look like something I had plucked out of the trash when I finished. Then I stumbled through the line again, saying excuse me, pardon me, and so on.

"Where do you want to send your package," the nice lady asked. "To the address on the inside cover of the books," I said. She looked at the gummed up twelve sided dummytegon I had turned my package into. I looked at the package. The books were inside it and the publisher's address was inside the books.

"Can I borrow your scissors again?" I asked humbly. "You still have them," she said. Sure nuff, I did, back at the door I had taped so tight to the mail cart they would probably never get it loose when they were ready to move back to the repaired post office building.

I went back and cut the package open, removed a book with the address and taped it back up again. I used the scissors to cut the roll of tape from my elbow, got it stuck to the scissors and spent ten minutes going through contortions trying to use scissors to cut tape that the scissors were stuck to, and then found out I had taped over the spot where I was supposed to write the address. Back through the line, and boy am I glad it was moving fast so my friends and neighbors only saw parts of my efforts to provide the great reading public with more copies of Life On Santa Claus Lane.

"May I borrow a label, please?" I asked. "Of course," the nice lady said. I took the label back to the package I had left on the door. It wasn't there. I found it in the trash can where someone hadn't recognized my twice taped package as legitimate mail and disposed of it. I fished it out, started to write the address on the label and blinked. I had forgotten my glasses. I picked up the book and went back through the line again, excusing myself for the umpteenth time that day.

"May I help you?" the nice lady asked, as if she hadn't already seen too much of me for one day.

"Would you mind writing the address for me, please? I forgot my glasses."

I think she snickered that time, or maybe it was someone in the line behind me, but she wrote out the address for me. Back to the door where I had left the package. I fished it out of the trash again, stuck on the label, then looked at the book where I had gotten the address from. I had forgotten I had it out when I re-taped the box. I looked at the package, looked at the counter, the door and both legs of my jeans where pieces of that tape refused to let loose of me. The heck with it, I thought. Someone is just going to have to do without a copy or order it from my web site. I took my package to the counter and handed it over. "Sorry for all the trouble," I said, while thinking if the publisher wants any more copies for Amazon.com, they can dern well print more copies themselves.

"That's all right," the nice lady replied. "May I have our scissors back?"

"Oh. Right." I excused myself both ways through the line again and fetched her scissors and turned to go.

"Sir?"

"Yes? What is it?" I wanted to get out of there and go home and get Betty to help me untape myself.

"It's customary to pay for mailing a package. We won't charge you for the label and that big roll of tape you used up."

"Oh. Sorry." I paid.

Just as I turned to leave, the nice lady remarked, "It's okay, Mr. Bain. I have my dummy days, too."

She obviously hasn't read my book. According to Betty, my good days are when I don't make a dummy of myself.

Comic Strips
The lead story for this month's newsletter was going to be Newspaper Comic Strips until I got carried away with Santa Claus Lane. Betty and I both love to read the comics. Fortunately, we're within delivery distance of The Houston Chronicle, which has four pages of comics. I always save the comics for last while Betty likes to read them first, so there's hardly ever any argument over who gets which section of the paper first. Some comic strips (in newspapers, at least; I haven't read comic books in 50 years) have become satirical and sometimes just plain true to life commentary on aspects of the varied society that makes up our nation as a whole.

Betty and I both love Boondocks, Baby Blues, One Big Happy, Drabble, Doonesbury, For Better Or Worse, Buckles and many others. Comic strips come and go, although a few last for many, many years. It's always a sad occasion in our household when one of our favorites goes by the wayside. We don't understand the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind many of the decisions to add or pull strips from the paper, but generally we accept it with a minimum of cussing about the idiot at the paper who made the decision to pull a really good strip and put another in its place that isn't worth wrapping fish with. We don't run things at the Chronicle, after all.

However, there was one time, ten years ago, when we actually felt like committing mayhem and it wasn't even the newspaper's fault. That day of agony came when the creator of Calvin and Hobbes decided to call it quits—even when he was still a young man and his strip of the rascally Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes who came to life when they were alone was one of the most popular in America. Betty and I gritched for years over him quitting so abruptly. Heck, he didn't even allow us to taper off from Calvin and Hobbes. We had to go cold turkey. One day it was there; the next it was just gone. And in case you're wondering, yes I am leading up to something.

Betty and I have reached a time in our lives where we don't lack for anything we want or need. It's really hard to shop for each other at Christmas time. We usually just get each other a bunch of little stocking stuffers. This year shopping for Betty wasn't the least bit hard for me. I saw an article on Amazon about a three volume collection of all the Calvin And Hobbes strips ever written. It comes in a big beautifully boxed set and weighs about 30 pounds. I ordered it immediately of course, even though Betty had told me she didn't want anything. I told her "Yes you do, you just didn't know you wanted the gift I'm getting for you this year." I have it wrapped and under the tree now, and have been calling it a cinderblock since she stubbed her toe on it and asked me how much cement had I given her?

Actually, it is about the size of a big cinderblock and she's as curious as Biscuit used to be about bumblebees before he tried eating one. I'm really sneaky, aren't I, getting Betty a present I'll use, too? I bet she forgives me this time, though!

Dachshunds
Speaking of Biscuit, his book (along with some others) is still for sale right here on my web site, autographed and postage paid. Paypal and credit cards accepted. I may write a book about Tonto, out AHDD, cross-eyed, one-testicled miniature dachshund but never about our other dachshund, Susie. All she does is sleep, eat, chase lizards and bark at everything in sight. Tonto was mad at me for leaving him behind on the cruise and wouldn't speak to me at all when we returned. Actually, I think the dog sitter seduced him. After she left he finally got over it, though.

Kissing
I saw something on my browser the other day about how married couples should kiss each other for at least 15 seconds every morning in order to keep the attraction going. Shucks, Betty and I have been doing that for years and years. When we greet each other in the morning, we don't play around with a little peck, we really get with it, and heck, we've been married almost thirty years. I inserted the picture below to show you how we felt about each other 27 years ago. We still feel like that today, and look at each other like that, even if our appearance isn't quite the same now as it was in the picture. Betty still loves me even after all the idiotic schemes I got us into as described in Life On Santa Claus Lane and the sequel, Laughing All the Way. A retouched version of this picture occupies a prominent place on the back cover of Life On Santa Claus Lane and I commissioned a big water color of it several years ago that hangs on the wall in the den.

Try that kissing routine. I promise, you'll like it!

By the way, Betty and I still play Santa Claus for each other, getting up in the middle of the night and filling the other's stocking and laying the wrapped stocking stuffer presents out, then when we wake up it's just as if Santa really has come down the chimney on Christmas night, like when we were kids. How many other adults do this, I wonder?

Darrell and Betty

 

Clifford Pickover and Godlorica
If you wonder what other people think about God, go to google and click on Godlorica. That's a new word. You can't find it in the dictionary. It was invented a few weeks ago by Clifford Pickover and already has a lot of entries. Amazing. Cliff is an amazing man, though. His web site is listed under other links.

Reading
This past month I've been on a detective procedural kick with my reading. I found a really good author I hadn't read before, Dan Mahoney. He's a narrative type author, sort of like my style in many ways, but better. He's really good and I've thoroughly enjoyed his books so far. Besides those, I read a very old one, "The Dreaming Jewels" by Theodore Sturgeon, that I have passed up numerous times over the years, simply because I didn't like the cover and title. I finally did try it and sure 'nuff, it was up to Sturgeon's usual high level of competence. I really liked it and cussed myself for ignoring it so long, which serves me right for judging a book by its cover. I liked it so much so that I passed it on to Betty, who doesn't always like Science Fiction. She was captivated by Varley's science fiction novel "Red Thunder," too, which I think I mentioned last month.

I bought a historical medical book about the great surgeon of several centuries ago, John Hunter, for one of Betty's stocking stuffers. I think the title is "Knife Man," but I'm not going to unwrap it to make sure. I'll report on it after she lets me borrow it. More sneaky type of present giving, but she's used to it. I told about that book because there was a fictional history about John Hunter that was absolutely great, by Morton Thompson, the author of "Not as a Stranger," which some of you older folks may remember. I had a paperback copy for years but it disappeared during one of my moves in the military. If anyone knows where I can get a copy of it, please let me know. The title is "Lancet."

Morton Thompson wrote another fictional historical medical book about Ignaz Semmelweis, describing his work and tragic life. Every woman today ought to read that book. Parts of it are horrible, but any woman who has given birth owes him a debt of gratitude. The title of that book is "The Cry and the Covenant," and you can find a copy of it at Amazon. I still have my copy and it's one of my all time keepers. As a matter of fact, it was the first one of my books I let Betty borrow before we were married. Damn, I wish I hadn't lost "Lancet." Same for "March To Glory," a history of the Marines at the Chosin reservoir.

For those of you who get e-books from eReader.com, I have four or five new ones up there, including The Melanin Apocalypse. For the kids, my illustrated story book, The Dog Who Thought He Was A Cat, is up at Fictionwise.com and should be up at eReader.com before long.

And here's a little note to E-book readers, inspired by a fan who looked for books only under the Suspense/Thriller genre. Fictionwise.com lists a book in only one category, despite many books that would fit multiple categories. eReader.com allows three separate categories per book, which I believe is a good idea. Most of my best selling books could as easily be called Suspense/Thrillers as Science Fiction and vice versa, and many of them could also properly fit the Action/Adventure category. If you're looking for a particular title at fictionwise, try another category if you don't find it in the first one.

THE CRUISE
We had an enjoyable five day cruise and we wound up making it to Cozumel after all, where we were originally scheduled to fly in and stay at a hotel. You could still see the huge amount of destruction caused by hurricane Wilma. Instead of docking, we had to take tenders to and from the ship. The docking piers had been mangled, to say the least. I was astonished at the force of the waves. They ate away solid concrete and left the rebars hanging, where they left anything at all. I got a really terrific shoe shine for my boots there and bought a little anniversary gift for Betty. I never have to remember the date. Who could forget New Year's Eve? We really didn't do much except laze around and be waited on. That was a real treat, having coffee delivered to our stateroom every morning at five o'clock, my usual getting up time.

Fan Mail
I'm getting more and more fan mail and the letters have been very interesting and complimentary. I like reading and answering them, even though it does cut into my writing time a bit. Besides, I sometimes get ideas for new stories from them, so keep 'em coming!

Franklin Stoves
We have an old timey Franklin Stove in the office and also in the bedroom. In fact, when we built our house, we may have bought the last two new ones of that type ever sold. Forbidding their sale or import since then has something to do with government environmental regulations, or so I was told. Anyway, I'm awfully glad we got them, even though I almost burned the house down before learning the proper way to use them (See "Chimney Bleeps" in Life On Santa Claus Lane). Betty and I love an open wood fire. We never close the doors on the stoves. There's something about the heat from an open fire that warms you all the way through. Fires are intriguing to just sit and watch, too. Sometimes I wonder if the mathematician who invented chaos theory got his inspiration from watching the ever changing flames of an open fire.

Miscellaneous
The book I was currently working on, The Focus Factor, is now a collaboration with Gerry Mills, a very talented writer and editor. You can find his books listed at Amazon.com. Target date for completion is late February or early March. Of course we'll have to each go over it again to iron out our differences, but I doubt that will be much of a problem. Look for it as an E-book in April and in print later on.

Could someone tell me why the Microsoft WP program has such a small dictionary? I'm forever finding words while I'm writing that there's no definition for on my computer. I still keep a dictionary and thesaurus by my side. For instance, yesterday I couldn't get a definition of glen, a small valley, on the computer and had to use my dictionary.

The hormone injection I got into my back didn't help much and I declined to go back for another. They have helped other folks I know tremendously, though. Maybe I'm just not that bad off yet, though the MRI surely indicates I am. Actually, I'm handling it pretty well so long as I don't bend over too much or try much lifting. That's why Betty brings in the firewood most of the time, and does the mowing, and gardening and housework and... I keep telling her writing is hard work, too, but I'm still not sure she believes me.

Mail can be addressed to me from my web site at www.darrellbain.com . I'm always interested in comments about subjects brought up in this newsletter and/or about any of my books. I do my best to answer mail promptly.

Thanks for reading.

Darrell Bain
Shepherd, Texas
January 2006

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