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THWT Question for 18 DEC 2018


This week we’ll look at your book(s) being made into movies…


Think of your favorite character from your books. If one (or more!) of the books were made into a movie, who would you cast to play this character?


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The Christmas Tree

As an author, I’m asked many times about my favorite Christmas memories. The questions come from readers, publishers, reviewers, and many others. Those memories tend to wind up being edited down to a paragraph. Maybe two. You can’t really do justice to a memory in that space.

Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, we often had a white Christmas. Yes, just like the song. The Bing Crosby version. Or The Moody Blues. A wonderfully beautiful time, but mixed now with a little of the bittersweet.

At the time, I didn’t understand that my parents scrimped and saved for a long time to make Christmas happen. Looking back, they spent a lot of money we didn’t have on Christmas, and I’m not talking about just on gifts.

My dad’s birthday was December 18th. Just a week before Christmas, his birthday present was always a Christmas tree.

We lived in a house that had high ceilings. Really high. About fourteen feet. Such a house today would have the ceiling lowered somehow, if for no other reason than to save on heating costs. And wallpaper costs. But our house had the ceilings clear to their full height. Added to this was a good deal of dark woodwork. I later learned that most of the houses of the period from when ours was built had mahogany woodwork. The carving was intricate with lots of roping and circular features.

Our home was the second floor of the building. The stairs were a straight shot from the front door, but at the top of the steps, there was a ninety-degree turn into the hallway that led to living room at the front of the house, and the kitchen toward the rear. My room was off the living room.

Between the living room and my room was a huge door. It reached nearly to the ceiling and was about eight feet wide. Made of the same dark wood, it had carved panels inset on its surface, and it slid on rollers to disappear into the wall. Oh, that’s called a pocket door. I usually kept it closed.

At least on nights other than dad’s birthday…on that night, the show was too good to miss by closing the door.

The annual floor-show we called tree shopping always started the same way. Dad would swear that we would get a small tree this year. I never figured out his definition of a small tree.

We would pile in the 1967 Dodge van and head out to the tree lots. This was one of the old vans, not like today’s minivans filled with soccer players and their moms. A big thing, based on a big truck, the van had two seats up front and the engine sat back a little, between the seats. In fact, there was room to pass from one seat to the other by walking between the dash and the engine box. The box lifted up so you could check the oil from the driver’s seat.

The back of the van had no seats. Just a huge open area, a lot like a metallic football field. Since there were no seats, we didn’t need seat belts. No one wore them back then anyway.

We went to the same lot every year. It was called simply “Ron’s”. I assume the greasy old man who drooled when he stared at mom was Ron. Anyway, dad said Ron had the best trees at the best prices. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t very old, I had never been to any other tree lot, and the prices must have been secret since the trees all had little colored tags on them. I guess Ron had the code to break the cipher someplace.

In late December in Missouri, it gets dark about four in the afternoon. Dad didn’t get home until about four-thirty or so. By the time we ate and hit the streets, it was full dark. We usually took several hours in the dark, using flashlights and the several bonfires Ron kept burning, to pick out a tree.

This was no small task nor was it one to be taken lightly. While dad stood shivering in the cold wind, mom made him hold the tree upright. She then stared at the tree with a practiced eye, making dad turn it this way and that. Most of the time, she would shake her head and mumble something about a flat or bare spot. Dad would go back to the racks of trees for another.

Did I make it clear these are real trees I’m talking about? Many people seem to think that Christmas trees come from the garden center at the local WalMart. You know…the ornaments are where the fertilizer was stacked in August. No, these trees didn’t come in a box.

Just a short time ago, these trees were living, growing things. They were snatched from the forest by force and brought by truck to Ron, and others like him, for sale to folks like us. Sort of an evergreen slave trade.

Ron had racks built from 2×4 lumber that held the trees. To a kid like me, there seemed to be a million trees there. Maybe there were a few hundred, but the smell still lingers in my head. The pine scent was almost overpowering. Ever open a new bottle of pine cleaner and take a really deep whiff? That’s not even close. At times, when standing close to one of the racks, it could actually get unpleasant.

Ron had several types of trees. I remember spruce, Scotch pine, blue spruce, and a few others. Dad liked the Scotch pines, and that’s where the efforts focused.

Often, mom’s thumbs down for a tree came because it was too small. Now, dad wasn’t a big man, only about five and half feet tall. But unless the tree was at least a foot over his head, he knew better than to waste mom’s time. She wouldn’t even speak then. She just gave dad The Look.

You know the one. All mothers know how to use The Look. Yes, you mothers out there reading this know what I’m talking about. It’s the expression that, when aimed at the man of the house, says without words, “Are you out of your mind?” The same look, when aimed at the children, says, “That’s very sweet and cute, but if you don’t stop now, I’m going to slap your face off.”

No matter who The Look was aimed at, it worked.

Dad knew better, but he always tried to sneak a tree shorter than himself into the game. I think it’s like a pitcher in baseball trying to doctor the ball. Sometimes, you get by with it. Most times, you get caught. When you did get caught, you usually paid a little fine, maybe sat out a game or two, and then all was forgiven. I wonder how many games dad sat out over the years.

The lot was pretty slow this particular year, and Ron was helping dad pick out trees for evaluation. After looking at several dozen, all rejected because they were too small, Ron told dad he could give him a good deal on a larger tree since only a few remained and it was only a week until Christmas.

With mom’s smiling approval, we followed Ron to the high rent district.

The trees towered over my seven-year-old head like redwoods. Reaching so high in the air, the tops were lost in darkness because the light of the bonfires just couldn’t reach that far. Dad frowned and turned his flashlight to the sky, but the light faded before it found the tip of the trees.

While Ron still had several trees here in the Beverly Hills part of the lot, only one fit the bill; a Scotch pine, the only one there. The trunk near the base was too big around for Dad to grip fully with both hands. Some of the lower branches were bigger than a few trees we looked at earlier. Processed and cut into lumber, the tree could have built at least two homes.

Dad and Ron wrestled the monster from the rack and balanced it precariously on the ground. The tree swayed in the wind, causing the men to struggle to keep it upright.

Mom, taking pity on them, walked around the tree instead of making them turn it for her.

Her smile said it all. This was the one.

After a few minutes of negotiation, dad and Ron settled on the price. The tree was soon tied with bailing twine and ready for loading.

With the mighty pine tree resting on the ground, the problem became obvious. The tree was about twice the length of the old Dodge van. There was no way it would fit inside unless the windshield was broken out. Maybe not even then.

Dad decided to tie the tree to the top of the van.

Ever see the Oscar Meyer Weiner-Mobile? The van looked a lot like that when Dad and Ron finished. Well, other than the moldy green hot dog drooped down toward the street at the ends.

And away we went, driving through the dark streets with a dwarf redwood on the roof.

Those old vans were top-heavy when they left the factory. Dad nearly flipped ours over several times on turns long before this night. With who-knows how many tons of evergreen tied to the highest point of the vehicle, it became very top-heavy.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the tree lot. It took more than an hour to get home. When added to the time at the lot, we finally arrived back home at about nine at night.

And the fun had only just begun.

I’m an only child. No big brothers to help. Mom was less than five feet tall and weighed perhaps ninety pounds. Soaking wet. With her clothes on. I was not quite seven.

What I’m trying to say here is that dad was on his own.

He managed to wrestle the baby sequoia from the van and get it on the ground. He had the idea of putting the tree on a big canvas tarpaulin so he could drag it instead of carrying it. It seemed like a good idea to me.

He began pulling. The tree did well, sliding along the ground and up the five steps to the door. It fit through the door, barely, and dad backed up the main stairs, pulling and sweating and saying bad things about the tree’s parents not being married.

I remember mom and I standing at the foot of the stairs watching dad. His face looked like traffic signal stuck on stop. In the rain. He was really sweating. I recall not understanding why, because it was maybe twenty degrees outside.

He was a little past halfway up the steps when the top of the tree went through the door. Dad gave a mighty pull, and the tree lurched up the steps nearly a foot. Dad sat down hard on the steps. The jolt made him lose his grip on the tarp.

The tree came sliding down the steps, top first, like a runaway train on a mountain. The bottom of the tree bounced on the steps as it descended, and I imagined the sound to be like restless cannibal pygmies deciding whose house to meet at for dinner.

I watched all this from my position on the steps leading from the sidewalk to the door. Directly in front of the door. Right in the path of the humongous tree.

Dad always called me ‘Mel’. Mom gave him The Look every time he did. She never failed to call me ‘Melodee’. I hate it when people call me ‘Mel’. Only three people can get by with it, and I like it. Dad was one. Hey? What little girl wouldn’t like her Daddy to have a special name just for her? A close business associate is another. She holds the purse strings, so she can call me anything she likes. The third is someone very special to me. But I digress.

Mom said only one word. “Mel!”

Remember the scene in the movie Vacation when Clark falls asleep at the wheel and leaves the freeway? Remember when the man walking his dog snatches the pooch back by the leash, thus saving it from being crushed by the Griswold Family Truckster? Mom did the same thing to me, only using my arm instead of a leash.

And I reacted the same way as the dog. I yelped. Loudly.

The tree shot past mom and I at a high rate of speed. I guess being tied tightly to the trunk, the branches offered less wind resistance. The canvas slide probably helped. When the bottom of the tree exited the door to the house, it was moving much faster than I could walk. Probably faster than I could run.

The inertia, a function of the mass of the tree (large) and the velocity of the tree (also large) carried the tree all the way back to the van. It stopped when the first four or so feet of the treetop was under the van.

Dad stumbled down the steps. He stood next to mom and I, his breathing a ragged pant, with his hands on his hips. I think he used up all the good words already, because he didn’t say a thing. He just glared at the tree.

Finally, dad’s breathing returned to normal, or at least as much as a fifty-five-year-old obese smoker can breathe normally, and he smiled down at me where I still stood holding mom’s hand. “You OK, Mel?”

He got The Look from mom.

I smiled. “Yeah, Daddy.”

He messed my hair and went after the tree.

The second assault on Mount Aaron went pretty good. At least dad made it to the top of the stairs with the tree in tow. It was here that a major problem was encountered.

Remember that ninety-degree turn?

How do you get a monster conifer around not one, but two such turns?

I was wrong…Dad hadn’t used up all the good words. At least not yet. Even today, I don’t understand what they mean when people say someone is ‘turning the air blue’. Mom said dad was doing that, but I didn’t see it.

Dad was a machinist. More accurately, he was a precision machinist. All machinists work with tolerances measured in thousandths of an inch. Dad dealt with dimensional clearances on the order of a few ten-thousandths of an inch or less.

The tree had far less clearance than that to get around the corner and out of the stairs.

I’m not sure if the cussing or his skills as a machinist helped more, but dad managed to get the tree from the stairway into the hall. It was a relatively simple task to get it into the living room.

It was after ten by then.

After some careful measuring and a couple of tests, dad finally cut several feet from both ends of the coniferous monster and was ready to attach the base and stand the tree up.

The trunk was far too big to fit into the stand.

Again, the air didn’t turn blue, but I came to understand that the supply of good words is all but infinite.

I had a cat. His name was Jessie, and he was just your common feline mongrel. When you have a cat, you also have a litter box. A litter box implies cat litter. But cat litter is expensive. Instead, dad would get a fifty-pound bag of something called Speedy Dry from where he worked as we needed it. It looks, feels, and smells, at least before the cat gets to it, just like clay cat litter. We had a new bag.

Being ingenious, dad got a five-gallon bucket, put the base of the tree in there, and filled the bucket with Speedy Dry. Adding water made the mixture like cement. It also weighed more than mom and I put together. That’s a good thing, because the huge dwarf redwood needed the weight to hold it upright.

When dad finally stood the tree up, it was about quarter past eleven. The treetop ornament, a hideous yellow and purple thing my grandma gave us, was less than an inch from the fourteen-foot ceiling.

Dad cut the rope holding the branches and the tree unfolded majestically, nearly filling the entire room with long green needles reaching in every direction. The already strong scent of pine intensified in the air, and sent us all the same message…

Christmas was actually coming.

Mom brought in the boxes of ornaments and lights. As mom picked out the ornaments she wanted on the tree, dad played with the strings of lights, making sure they all worked and the cords and plugs were in good shape.

I sat down on the couch and watched my parents.

The last thing I remember is the old mantle clock above the gas fireplace chiming midnight, signally the end of my dad’s fifty-fifth birthday. But his night had only just started. By the time I woke up in the morning, still on the couch, the tree was trimmed.

Dad died in 1987, but even now, I get my Christmas tree on December the 18th.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Five


Number Five
Agents That Represent Single Titles Instead Of The Author Are Con-Artists


Do you have an agent?

If no, you need to look into getting one. To make it to the real big time in the writing industry, you really need representation. Yeah, you can make some money on your own, but not much. (While 100% empirical and based only on casual chats with a few dozens of other professional writers, the limit for non-represented authors looks to be in the $250,000 a year range, and even that’s hard to get. Some of you may be thinking, “Wow! A quarter of a million a year? That would be great!” I know there are a fair number of you reading this who could be doing ten or more times that.)

If you answered “yes”, are you sure your agent is really working hard for you? In many cases, I’ll bet you’re wrong.

For the purpose of this discussion, I use the term “agent” to mean the traditional literary agent as most authors understand it and are familiar with. On the other hand, I use the term “representative” to mean something more, something more closely resembling a talent agent.

Most of the agents out there represent a single book at a time. You send them your manuscript, they read it, and they might accept that story. Then they shop it around and try to sell it to a publisher for you. You then write another story and send it to the agent, and they may or may not accept that one to represent.

WTF is that game?

A representative doesn’t pick and choose stories to accept from a writer. They represent the writer, not a single title. They take the good (and every writer will eventually create a great story) along with the bad (and every writer will produce a steaming pile of crap now and then).

A representative knows the market and the publishers and will work with the writer to make every story better and more attractive to publishers. In most cases, a representative will know after reading a few pages just exactly what publisher to pitch the story to for sale, and they will work with the writer to make the story the best it can be in order to make that sale.

And, as an aside, the representative will know when to bypass the publishers and go instead to producers and studios to get something on video.

When you consider that the best estimates for book releases are in the two-million per annum range and less than 2,000 (0.1%) of these sell more than 25,000 copies, you need all the help you can get.

A representative has editors to pre-edit the story. Simply put, the less editing the publisher has to do, the more likely they are to buy the story, so the representative gets it ready before the publisher ever even sees it.

Sometimes, after reading a story, a representative will come back to the writer and say, “…this is great! I’m gonna have publishers beating down the door for this one!” Other times, they may say something like, “Wow…this really sucks a big one, but if we make a few changes here and there, I can sell it. Just don’t buy that new Mercedes yet.”

So, how can you tell the difference between a typical agent and a representative? That’s actually pretty easy…

The first clue is that an agent will want to see your current story and not much more. That’s because all they want to sell is your current story. A representative will want to see the current story you have for sale AND pretty much everything else you have ever written. This is because the agent wants to sell your book but the representative wants to sell YOU.

Another hint is that many agents will try to impress you with lists of their clients. Actual representatives rarely tell who they work with. And the reps will almost never accept unsolicited submissions…they will contact you.

The next tip is that an agent doesn’t care where you want to be in the industry in five years. A representative cares about how much you want to make, how much time you want to spend with your family, and other things like that because they are looking at the writer as a product to sell, not just the current book.

Agents and representatives are both motivated by money and they are both, essentially, sales people. They are both selling a product, but the product is different.

The agent wants to sell your book. In other words, “How much money can I make selling this story?”

The representative wants to sell you. In other words, “How much money can I make selling this author?”

See the difference here?

Representatives also tend to think long-term while agents think more in the short-term.

In case you’re wondering, all the reps in the industry that I know of charge about the same 15% off the top that agents charge.

Think about things…again, if you really want to make it to the big time, you will need some sort of help.


Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 11 DEC 2018

Here is today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:


Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?


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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Four


Number Four
If Your “Publisher” Wants Money, They Are A Printer, Not A Publisher

See also Rules One, Two, and Three as they are closely related to this Rule.


This Rule summarizes the previous three rather nicely.

Honestly, this is just common sense, and needs very little in the way of expansion. On the other hand, that has never stopped me from expansion anyway.

Look closely at your publisher. Do they want money to edit your story? Do they want you to pay for or provide cover art? Do they want to charge you a fee to read your story? Does your publisher charge you to have your story listed for sale in their catalog?

In other words, are you, as the writer, going to have to pay the publisher any money at all? What about paying for things that are a part of the publisher’s costs of doing business?

If so, you are not dealing with a publisher…you are dealing with a printer.

If you are dealing with a printer, that’s just fine as long as your goal is to be a printed writer. But let me give you a little tip here…save some money and go down to The UPS Store or maybe the FedEx/Kinko’s and just have them print your story. They can do a nice book-like layout and even put a cover on it (if you provide the art) and make you as many copies as you like.

Yes, it really is just that simple.

Here are seven things that are common to real publishers:

1 – They do not charge for editing.

2 – They do not charge for cover art.

3 – They do not charge to read your story.

4 – They do not charge to have your story in their catalog.

5 – They pay royalties.

6 – They pay an advance.

7 – After you are established—and if you’re any good at all—they will contact you (or your agent) asking for new stories. (In practice, this one may take a while to happen…you need to get established and that will take a variable amount of time.)

Again, if the operation you are dealing with doesn’t do all of these things, you are—at best—dealing with a printer.

At worst, you’re being conned.


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THWT Question for 04 DEC 2018

I’d like to say that something came up that delayed today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question.

But the simple fact is that I forgot what freaking day it was!

Without further delay, here is today’s Question:

How do you define your specific writing style?

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Three

Number Three
Never Pay For Cover Art


See also Rules One, Two, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.

As outlined in Rule Number One, cover art is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. Just like with editing as detailed in Rule Number Two, the biggest reason is Rule Number One itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.

I know a few authors who do their own cover art, and I envy them to a large degree. I’m horrible at anything even hinting at graphic arts. PhotoShop is an absolute mystery to me. I just can’t do it. I need an artist who can make all of this work.

The exact same arguments for using the publisher’s editors apply to cover artists, but to an even larger degree…I would estimate that 90% or more of the advertising for a book is directly from the cover art. Think about it…

A potential buyer is strolling through the bookstore (brick-and-mortar or online, it doesn’t matter). Before they read the blurbs or thumb through the book to get an idea of the story, they see the cover. Does the art make them pick up the book to read the blurbs or thumb through the content? If not, a sale just passed you by.

Just like with editors, it all has to do with motivation.

A contracted artist will create a cover that the writer likes. Yes, that’s important, but it’s only number two on the list of priorities, and that’s being generous. The writer is not the person we need to sell the book to…not even close.

An artist working for the publisher will create a cover designed to market the book to the public. In other words, something that will make the aforementioned shopper pick up the book and look deeper.

Once again, the motivation is money, but the difference is where the money comes from.

Contracted artists make their money by pleasing the writer. Ideally the artist will read the book before doing the art. In practice, this almost never happens.

Publisher’s artists make their money by selling books. All real publishers require the artist to read the book before doing the art. In practice, very few small press and e-pubs even pretend to do this.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who can (and has the time) to do your own artwork, then you’re ahead of the game, but there is one thing you need to do…if you’re providing the cover art, then demand a couple of extra percentage points on the royalty. After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay an artist, and you deserve to be paid for that part of the work.

But the real bottom line is that no matter the details of the publication (self, small press, or major print house), the cover art is of supreme importance. We’ve all seen great works sit on the shelf because the cover sucks. Make sure this is done right and well.

As an aside, you will often hear small press authors complain that they have no input to the cover design. Stop whining and start reading and changing the contracts before you sign them. If the publisher balks, walk away. Insist on right of veto on the cover art.


Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 27 NOV 2018

The Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for today is:


It’s been said, “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.” How do you define success as a writer?


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When Pigs Fly

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always the big “family holiday”. We usually went to the farm that my aunt and uncle owned and had a big family dinner with them, but it was always the next couple of days that stuck in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, though…the turkey and ham that Lucile fixed were wonderful. Her sage dressing, made from homemade breads, was the best you could find. And her pies staggered the imagination. She was an amazing cook, and she never used a recipe or measured anything.

But this was a working farm, and taking the day off on Thursday meant that we had to work hard on Friday and Saturday to make up for lost time.

We did a lot of butchering when we were at my uncle Mike and aunt Lucile’s farm back in Missouri—cattle, hogs, chickens, and even a few goats and sheep, but mostly hogs, followed by cattle.

One year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we decided to butcher a big hog Mike had fattened over the spring, summer, and fall. I have no idea how much the hog weighed, but he was huge. Mike was a big man, well over 6 feet, and the hog made him look like a child, not much bigger than my 9-year-old self.

Killing the hog was normally not a big deal. Mike used his old WWII M-1 rifle. One shot to the head, and it was all over. Normally…

This hog was tough. Sort of like a B-Grade sci-fi horror flick…”The Hog That Wouldn’t Die! See the US Army held at bay by the giant killer hog! See rural Missouri in a state of panic! Coming soon to a drive-in theater near you!”

The first shot, from about 6 feet away, bounced off the hog’s forehead! Being from a rural part of the country and growing up poor, I’ve done my share of hunting. I personally have hunted deer. With my own hands, I have used a 30-caliber rifle to kill a deer. Yes, I shot Bambi. At 150 yards, one shot dropped a 6-point buck instantly.

The hog just glared at Mike when shot with the same rifle from only 6 feet away.

Oh, and the hog got mad. Really mad. I can’t say as I blame him.

The hog proceeded to chase Mike around the pen. Quickly. If you have never been around hogs, they can move very fast. Just to look at them, laying there in the mud and the slop, you might think they are slow, sedentary animals. They’re not.

To go with his height, Mike had long legs. And he needed them. He made about three trips around the pen, with Herr Hog in hot pursuit. Mike was moving like, as the song said, his head was on fire and his ass was catching.

To get the full impact of this memory, you need to see the pigpen clearly in your mind…it’s about 30 feet square. Surrounding it is a fence made of 1×6 boards nailed to hand-split posts. As I recall, there were four boards from top to bottom. There may have been only three. There was one walk-through gate latched with a length of chain. The chain was nailed to a post and another nail in the gate was used to drop one of the links over to hold the gate shut.

Oh…did I mention that the mud and slop in the pen is about a foot deep? And it’s not “just mud”. The mud in a pigpen is made up of water and dirt. Mostly. Maybe. You feed hogs corn, other grains, and table scraps—any kind of scraps. It doesn’t matter. They’ll eat it. And hogs aren’t too picky about where the toilet is. So, the “mud” is a mixture of water, dirt, animal and vegetable matter in various stages of decay, and what comes from the business end of the hog. It’s slick, slimy, and it stinks to high heaven.

So, here’s Mike running for his life from the Killer Hog through foot-deep nasty stuff in the pen. He’s wearing knee boots to keep the muck off his feet, mostly. He’s carrying a LOADED 30-caliber rifle. And the hog is, by now, SERIOUSLY pissed off.

If the visual wasn’t enough, the sounds must have been an absolute uproar! I couldn’t hear them, of course, but I could see the hog’s mouth moving as he squealed like…well, like he’d been shot. I saw Mike’s mouth moving as well as he screamed for help. The rest of us were laughing hysterically. At the time, it seemed like a laughing matter.

I can’t really say how long this all went on, but it seemed like a long time. Finally, Mike managed to get over the fence and out of the pen. The hog rammed a post with his head and broke off the 8-inch oak pole flush with the ground. And then it started to snow.

Aunt Lucile, hearing the combined screams of terror and delight, came outside to see what the problem was and why we were “foolin’ around” instead of working.

Mike, covered from head to toe in specks, globs, and larger bits of “mud” told her the story of the bulletproof hog.

She sighed, yanked the gun from his hands, jacked a new cartridge into the chamber, and fired once. The hog hit the ground, twitched one time, and stopped moving. Lucile shoved the rifle back to Mike and stormed off to the house.

Now, the fun began…

Hogs are covered with a coarse hair. Ever heard of “boar bristle” in hairbrushes? That’s what it is. To get the hair off, you scald the hog in hot water and then scrape the flesh with a knife. Sounds simple enough, and in the past, it had been.

We used a 55-gallon drum over a wood fire. We would fill the drum with water and get it boiling, and then dunk the hog in using a chain hoist. Pull him out the same way. Then scrape for all you’re worth. If any hair remains, repeat as needed.

We got the water to a good, fast roll, and we hoisted the now deceased Killer Hog into the air and lowered him into the boiling water. He barely fit in the drum.

All right, class…what happens when you heat something? Anything! Water, steel, plastics, pretty much everything you can think of. What happens to water when you heat it? That’s right, class! It turns to steam, but what else does it do? Does it get smaller, so it will fit in a smaller container? No! That’s correct little Debbie! It gets bigger! We say that it expands.

Yeah…water expands when you heat it. So does steel. And copper. And wood. And hogs.

We couldn’t get the Killer Hog out of the drum of boiling water because he expanded. Mike said the “SOB done swolled up”.

The hog was cooking in there, so we had to get him out.

But that was the least of our problems…

Remember that whole thing about water expanding when it turns to steam? Do you know how a steam engine works? As the water is heated and turns to steam, the expanding steam is used to move a piston in a cylinder. Get a big enough piston and enough pressure from the steam, and you can move a train. Some trains weigh hundreds of tons. A few, thousands. The point here is, for the careful reader, that there is a LOT of energy in steam.

As we stood around wondering how to get the Killer Hog out of the 55-gallon drum, we noticed the drum bulging. My dad and Mike exchanged a quick glance, sort of like that look you get just about the time you realize you did something really stupid. Mike yelled for everyone to get away. He grabbed me. My dad grabbed my cousin Darla. We all landed behind the old 1952 Chevy pickup truck sitting nearby.

I had just a moment to reflect on much I liked that old truck. It was the kind with steps on the sides of the bed. Mike had a homemade wooden cattle rack in the back. We used to ride back there and stand on the rungs of the rack when we went to the river for a swim. It was black. Mostly. There was a lot of rust, too. Just as I was admiring the lettering on the door of the truck with Mike’s name and address, the steam reached a critical point in the drum.

The pressure had to go someplace, and there were two options. The first was that the drum could rupture. That could be either a nice, slow splitting, or it could be explosive. That’s what worried my dad and uncle.

Instead, the other possibility happened.

The Killer Hog blew out of the drum at a high rate of speed. I can’t tell you how fast, exactly. Something the size of a hog shouldn’t be moving that fast, though. It was really fast. Fast enough that the hog went maybe 50 feet in the air. Not quite straight up, mind you, because the swelling of the drum caused it to lean a little…toward the truck.

The hog went way up in the air. One of the first things that the Wright brothers learned is that what goes up must come down. I guess the hog already knew that.

We managed to get away from the truck before the hog hit it.

The tearing of metal made a screaming sound that I actually felt against my skin as the hog gave in to the relentless pull of gravity. The shattering glass flew for many yards in all directions. The snapping of the wood slats making up the stock rack made concussions that slapped my face as hard as the crack of the M-1 used earlier. The hog itself made a sort of dull thud of a shock-wave. I imagine a bag of wet cement dropped from the Sears Tower would do about the same when it hit the streets below.

Today, I know how to figure it out. Without getting mathematical on you, let’s just say that the hog, if he went 50 feet in the air, hit the roof of the truck at about 33 miles per hour.

He also weighed about half as much as the truck.

As I remember, Mike got $75 from the wrecking yard for the remains of the truck. He bought a 1963 Chevy truck for $100. Overall, that wasn’t too bad.

After picking the now badly damaged Killer Hog from the wreckage of the truck, we finished butchering with no more drama or near disasters.

But even today, every time I have bacon or sausage, I watch the skies overhead.

Keep Loving!

Thanksgiving Day 2018

Today, Thanksgiving Day, we are all occupied with thoughts of things we are thankful for in our lives. This perfectly normal and, honestly, what we should all be thinking of.

But I want to take a few minutes to remind you, perhaps, of a few things you should be thankful for that you may have missed in your thoughts…

First, remember to offer thanks to a large group of people I’ll just call “First Responders” since most of you will instinctively understand. This group includes, but by no means is limited to: Police, Firefighters, EMTs, Paramedics, and others. A few more members of this group that you may not think of are: Power Company Employees, Telephone Company Employees, and Highway Workers. The thing all of these people have in common is that they are always there when we need them. They don’t think about the holidays with their friends and family that they miss. In many cases, they don’t even think about the personal dangers they face nearly every day. They think only of the help and services that we, the people they have dedicated their lives to helping and serving, need at any given time. If you encounter any of the members of this group, walk up to them, shake their hand, and tell them how thankful you are that they are there, on the job taking care of us.

Next is another group that most of you will be able to identify with little prompting: Medical Professionals. Doctors and Nurses come to mind first, but don’t forget all of the various technicians and therapists who also care for you when you need them. A few of these members (and again, this is not an all-inclusive list) are: Imaging Techs, Lab Techs, Physical and Occupational Therapists, and more…even the hospital food service, housekeeping, and maintenance staff. Like the First Responders, the Medical Professionals know nothing of holidays with the family. They are there when you need them. They need your thanks.

Now, only to keep this post short, I’ll end with one final group: Retail Workers. You know the ones…the people who work at WalMart, Target, etc. who are at work today (yes…WalMart is open today) in order for you to go shopping. Maybe you forgot to get Cool Whip for the pumpkin pie you baked. No problem! Just drive down to WalMart and pick some up. Just about all retailers are closed only one day a year (Christmas) and many are considering opening for that one extra day. The workers (from the floor sales people up to the store managers) also know nothing of holidays. They are there at work to help us get the things we want instead of being home with their families. You need to tell them how much you appreciate them taking care of you when you go shopping.

As you read through the above, you no doubt thought of many more we should all be thankful for. It is these people who make our lives possible.

Lastly, as you sit around the Thanksgiving feast and offer thanks for your friends and family, take a moment to remember and thank those who make the day a safe, healthy, and complete holiday.

Keep Loving!