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Ah, summer. Amusement park visits, road trips, outside book signings, heat waves, surgery, exploding air conditioners, dead trees threatening to fall on our house ...

Boy, that went dark fast.
If you haven't seen that old elm on the property line at our house ... well, you lost your chance.
Despite all that, a bad summer beats a "good" winter. The only problem I usually have with summer (besides spiders) is that I don't get as much writing time.

Still, I have been fitting project work in, between the fun stuff and the disasters. I had a plan for the year: First, we'd finish the photo book we were doing for the Albion Fire Department. Second, I'd ready Still Slightly Off the Mark, a collection of my old humor columns. Third, I'd start planning out a new novel, based on a fun concept Emily and I had that we hope to turn into a series.

Ah, but the best laid plans sometimes ... just lay there.

Emily works at the Pokagon State Park Saddle Barn during the summer, and this summer put in more hours than usual. Then she had to take some time off to care for her dad, who had knee replacement surgery. But Emily is the one scanning in photos related to the Albion Fire Department, and it's one of those cases where just one person should be working on it. Plus, she's way better at that stuff than I am.

We got loaned a huge collection of AFD related photos (Thanks, Phil and Cindy!) which Emily is almost--but not quite--done scenning. Until she's done, I can't work on the photo project anymore, so I turned to preparing the Slightly Off the Mark book.

That was a fairly simple project of putting together a bunch of old columns from the turn of the century (2000, not 1900--how old do you think I am?), changing or taking out the "I wasn't as good back then" parts, and cleaning up the manuscript.

I wasn't as good back then. But even with major changes, I still got it ready for Emily to edit, which she couldn't do because she was scanning photos.
You never know what new project lies there, just behind the keyboard.
So, while on one of our many road trips, Emily and I brainstormed the new fiction idea. It's a supernatural humorous mystery, with the working title of We Love Trouble. I describe it as ... wait for it:

Scooby Doo meets The Thin Man.

I realize if you've never seen The Thin Man, that might not mean much to you.

Now, I'm only about 14,000 word into the rough draft, so it'll be some time before anyone gets a chance to see the whole thing. Still, I've been thinking, something I often avoid during summer. Obviously, you people who take the time and effort to read this newsletter should get something in return--something you won't see anywhere else. I'm bad at that. So I'm going to do something that, to my memory, I've never, ever done before.

I'm going to give you a scene from my new novel before it's been completed. In fact, I'm going to give you a scene from the rough draft. Ordinarily no one sees my stories until they're polished, not even my wife. Of course, by the time she's done editing them, they need polished all over again, but never mind.

So here's my summer gift to you. Please give me some feedback--if you're not busy at the swimming pool!
(And don't forget to check us out online:)
  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4898846.Mark_R_Hunter
"Don't forget to spend some summer time with your pets ... or they'll get depressed.



WE LOVE TROUBLE

CHAPTER ONE
 

It was a dark and foggy day.

No, you’re not supposed to start a story with the weather, but if not for the fog we wouldn’t have been where we were when the horse ran out in front of us.

My humans were discussing their location, which means they were arguing over being lost, which they were at least doing nicely. The Explorer had stopped giving them directions. Apparently we were so deep into the hills of Brown County, Indiana, that even satellites couldn’t find us.

“I’m beginning to think naming our camper the Titanic was a bad idea,” said Travis, who was driving. The camper as huge, and also white, just like the fog. And icebergs.

“I think the correct term these days is ‘color challenged’.” Alexandria traced her finger over a paper map. “If this is correct, the road veered northeast because we’re on the completely wrong side of Brown County State Park.”

He looked over at her. “Like, near the horse camp?” Then he glanced back toward the road, gave a yelp, and stood on the brake pedal.

I didn’t see a thing, because I was busy slamming up against the back of his seat. They’d installed this netting kind of thing that was designed to protect dogs—I’m a dog—so I just bounced off, then stood up to get a look. Then I almost fell again, as the camper trailer shuddered against the Ford’s towing package.

Ahead of us a creature, its head turned toward us, stood still like some devilish statue, dark against a curtain of white as wisps of fog swirled around it. It wore a saddle and bridle, but no rider.

“You okay, Wulf?” Travis patted me on the head, then turned to his wife. “I said horse camp, and this appeared.”

Alexandria glanced at him, then turned back to the horse. “Don’t say the name of any creature from Jurassic Park.”

Travis pulled off the road as far as he could, which wasn’t very far, and turned the four-way flashers on, which made the horse twitch. A lot of good that would do in this soup—I mean lights, not twitching. But it wasn’t long after sunrise, and we hadn’t met any traffic since turning onto this two-lane highway.

When my humans exited the truck, I vaulted between the seats and out before Travis could stop me. “Hey,” I said to the horse, “You’re standing right in the middle of a road.”

“Quiet, Wulf,” Alexandria said. “I think it knows we’re here.”

The horse looked down at me as we approached. “Bite me,” it said. I only speak a little horse, and it probably didn’t speak dog at all, so maybe it thought I was just being aggressive.

 It was shivering, its eyes wide, and a leafy branch hung from one stirrup. Stepping forward cautiously, Alexandra patted it—excuse me, him—on the neck. “How’d you get out here, boy?”

But Travis was looking the way it had come. “I think he had a rider.” There was no prepared trail there, but torn grass and broken branches disappeared into the fog, showing the way it had come through the forest. Come at a run, by the looks of it.

Alexandria followed his gaze, then gently led the horse off the roadway, to the narrow strip of grass that separated the pavement from a sea of trees. She dropped its reins over a small bush and patted the horse again, making soothing noises. After a moment the horse started munching on the grass as if whatever trauma it just suffered never happened.

Alexandria brushed her hands off. “You want to calm a boy down, fill his belly.”

Travis and I exchanged glances. “Is that why—?”

“Yes, dear: That’s why I always keep snacks around, for the both of you.” She looked down at me. “Wulfgar, you want to track?”

You bet I did; I’d been stuck in the back seat of the SUV for hours. While my humans gathered some equipment, I walked to the horse. “Hey, buddy—did you have a human?”

The horse turned to give me a look.

“You—um—have rider on back?” Berlitz doesn’t make horse language programs, but I’d picked some up, here and there. “Big man. Carry. Saddle. You know? Um, you speak German Shepherd? Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

“Bleh. Humans bad.”

He had a strange accent, but apparently it wasn’t German. I sniffed some more. All the leather stuff on his back was newer and well taken care of, and by the looks of him so was he. Well, I already knew he was no stray, so I started sniffing my way from one hoofprint to another.

“Don’t get too far ahead, Wulf.” Alexandria hurried after me, slipping a hiking pack over her shoulders. Travis followed close behind, with an orange pack over his shoulder and more equipment in one hand. I woofed back at them, then continued on.

Humans sure make a lot of noise when they’re tramping through the forest.

Bent down, concentrating on the scene and the hoofprints, I made it about a hundred yards before my nose bumped into a hat. It was a white cowboy hat, with a yellow ribbon around it, and a bow on the left side.

Looking up, I saw its owner.

 
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