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|Tuesday, April 25th, 2017|
|Monday, April 24th, 2017|
|March for Science
On Saturday, I took part in the Houston satellite March for Science. The organizers expected 10,000 people to show up, but the semi-official estimates suggest that 15,000 people showed up. There were a lot of scientists from academia and industry, students, etc., but also a lot of non-scientists who are simply upset at the way science is being dismissed.
There were some very creative signs, some of them quite witty, science-based, punny and nerdy. One woman turned to me and, with a straight face, said that she was surprised to find out that scientists had a sense of humor! The march was supposed to start at 11:00, but we ended up standing around until 11:30, leading us to theorize that, as far as scientists are concerned, protesting isn't an exact science. The delay was probably on account of the crowd size. The original plan was for us to stick to sidewalks but the numbers meant the police had to barricade some streets for us.
The most common chant during the march went like this:
What do we want?
When do we want it?
After peer review!
When we reached City Hall, there were speeches by physicians from the Medical Center, scientists from Rice, NASA and industry, and some award-winning high school and university students. There were hundreds of other satellite protests around the world, including Antarctica. Bill Nye was at the DC march, and Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who
) showed up in London.
I've had Deadpool
on the DVR for months and finally got around to watching it this weekend. I had no idea what to expect beyond the general rumblings I'd heard about it. I don't know the character, and only know a little bit about the mutant universe. I have no idea who the big metal guy was, but I did chuckle at some of the inside jokes: Deadpool expressing his confusion over whether it was Stewart of McAvoy. The visit to the manor where no other mutants could be seen because of the low budget. The breaking of the fourth wall inside of the fourth wall, so that was sixteen walls being broken. However, the real surprise to me was Morena Baccarin (Firefly
), as I've never seen her before. My favorite moment was when she said "ruh roh" when her boyfriend hit the high-scoring slot at the carnival.
I also binged my way through all ten episodes of Season 3 of Bosch
. The story picks up where it left off at the end of Season 2. The trial arising from the discoveries in that season is still in development, and some of Bosch's off-the-books actions endanger the prosecution. There are new murders to solve, too, using storylines and elements clever extracted from the novels The Black Echo
and A Darkness More Than Night
. Titus Welliver has become Harry Bosch for me, and I don't think I'll be able to read a new Connelly novel without seeing him in my head. The story takes Bosch down some dark roads and leaves him in a morally conflicted position. I also got a kick out of how many people roll their eyes when they are in his presence. His teenage daughter has that reaction perfected, but his partners, colleagues, boss, even the chief can be seen rolling their eyes. When I commented about this on Twitter, I got back a pitch-perfect response from whoever is in charge of social media for the show: a tweet containing a short video snippet with Bosch's boss rolling her eyes at him!
|Thursday, April 13th, 2017|
In anticipation of the new Twin Peaks
series, I've been watching the original. I remember how eager we were to see it when it first aired in 1990. There was big buzz around it, and each week we dissected the meaning of all the bizarre stuff that happened. I'd forgotten that the first season was a mere eight episodes. It's a tad dated, but it's still mesmerizing.
Last weekend we saw Going In Style
, the comedy starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin. It was pretty good—I don't think I've ever seen the original version. It's a heist caper more than anything else, and it has some funny scenes and it treats the aging protagonists with respect most of the time.
I'm on the Literary Track at Comicpalooza
in Houston again this year. I'm on a panel on Friday morning, May 12 at 10:00 called "Too Many Plot Bunnies: Managing Runaway Ideas" and a round-table discussion at 4:00 pm on Crime/Mysteries/Thrillers. I'll also be signing at the Barnes & Noble booth at 12:30 Friday, and they'll have copies of The Stephen King Illustrated Companion
, my two Dark Tower books, and the X-files anthology for sale.
|Wednesday, April 5th, 2017|
|Pain-Man has a date
The story was accepted last May, but I found out this morning that "Pain-Man" will be included in the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
. My first appearance there. It's about a man of a certain age who decides to fight crime after a humiliating incident.
I made my first risotto last weekend, and it turned out pretty well. It's more labor-intensive than most of my cooking projects. You have to babysit it for nearly half an hour, adding liquid, stirring, adding more liquid, and so on, but the results were worth it. It went well with the marinated tuna steaks.
I'm really enjoying Hotel Beau Séjour
on Netflix. I'm eight episodes in (out of 10) and we still don't know who killed Kato (and others), but some secrets have been disclosed.
We watched a couple of films last weekend. First up was 20th Century Women
with Annette Benning and Elle Fanning. It's set in 1979 and focuses on a single mother who decides she needs to do something to guarantee that her 15-year-old son gets everything he needs to become a proper man, so she enlists the help of various people in her orbit, including a couple of renters in her rambling old house. The characters are terrific and the plot is ramshackle and spontaneous. There's no end game in sight, just evolution and a gentle reminder to not look for problems where there might not be any.
Then we watched Miss Sloan
, with Jessica Chastain as a lobbyist who jumps ship to take on a gun control bill with a boutique agency. She's hard as nails, calculating, manipulative and cold, and the movie never does answer how she got to be the way she is. There's a passing reference to a youth where she had to lie all the time, but nothing more, and maybe that's for the best. Any answer to that question might have been found wanting. The movie dives deep into the kinds of antics that take place in D.C. all the time, and there's a wonderful twist at the end that makes the whole thing pay off. Sure, the gun lobby hated the movie and reveled in the fact that it made no money at all, but any other issue could have been chosen. The film isn't about gun control so much as the dirty tricks and deals that go on behind the scenes around any hot button topic.
|Friday, March 31st, 2017|
|The Halloween Tree
I'm happy to reveal that my original short story "The Halloween Tree," will be in Volume Four of Halloween Carnival
, an anthology edited by Brian Freeman for Hydra/Random House. One of my Necon friends made the connection between the story title and a blog post from a year ago
and, yes, the story was inspired by a real tree—although events have been greatly fictionalized and expanded.Halloween Carnival
will be released in five eBook installments during October, one per week, with each section containing five stories. Some of them are reprints and some are originals. The full anthology is then to be printed subsequently, I believe.
How's this for a list of who's who in horror: Robert McCammon, Lisa Morton, John R. Little, Keven Lucia, Mark Allan Gunnels (Volume 1
, October 3); Glen Hirshberg, Lee Thomas, Holly Newstein, Del James, Al Sarrantonio ( Volume 2
, October 10); Kelley Armstrong, Kate Maruyama, Michael McBride, Taylor Grant, Greg Chapman (Volume 3
, October 17); Ray Garton, Kealan Patrick Burke, C.A. Suleiman, Paul Melniczek and me (Volume 4
, October 24) and Richard Chizmar, Lisa Tuttle, Norman Prentiss, Kevin Quigley and Peter Straub (Volume 5
, October 31).
I finished the first draft of another short story this week, the one that I got up and wrote notes for several days ago. I'm very pleased by how it turned out. I finished it at the same table at the bar at the local Mexican restaurant as the previous tale, so I gotta think those margaritas are tax deductible. I dictated the story into Word, patched up all the transcription errors and gave it a full edit pass before setting it aside to percolate for a few days before I look at it again.
I'm three episodes into a cool Flemish crime series called Hotel Beau Séjour
on Netflix. In the opening moments, a teenager wakes up in a strange hotel room, realizes something is odd, wanders into the bathroom and finds her own bloody corpse in the bathtub. It takes her a little while to conclude that she is really dead. However, a handful of people in town can still see her, talk to her, interact with her—but no one else. Her body is removed from the tub and turns up again later, having been dumped in the reservoir. There's no real rhyme or reason to the people who can see her: her town-drunk father, her step-sister, her ex-boyfriend's father, a total stranger. And the rules of her ghost-hood are fascinating, too. She can interact with things, but no one else can tell. She can make phone calls that ring, but the person who answers can't hear anyone. She gets on a motorbike and rides away, but the motorcycle is still where it was originally. People bump into her and she feels it, but they don't. She sleeps, has nightmares, drinks coffee. The plot has lots of small town secrets to be revealed, of course. It has a touch of The Returned
feel to it, but Kato is the only walking dead person in the story...so far at least.
I can't wait for the episode of The Americans
where Stan finds out who his neighbors have been all this time. I can't wait.
|Monday, March 27th, 2017|
|When Death Answers Your Letter
A funny thing happened yesterday. I was working on a short story and I reached a point where I was convinced I had written myself into a corner. I had conjured a scenario so specific that I couldn't see my way out. I put the story aside for the rest of the day.
Except somewhere around midnight, I woke up with a handful of bullet points rolling around in my head. If this, then that, then that, then something else, and it would all work, and it would be even better than I'd planned for the story, which I've been battling off and on for the better part of two months. I've written entire other stories in the interim.
I was afraid that if I waited until morning, I'd forget all my perfect little additions and changes, so I got up and went into another room to write down these ideas. I got most of them, and the one that I'd forgotten to transcribe was still with me when I woke up several hours later. So now I know I can finish the story. Funny how things work, sometimes.
We watched Collateral Beauty
, a movie that has a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than what's-his-name's approval rating. Way lower, although audiences seemed to like it. I thought it was okay, up to a point, and then it went a touch too far, and then another. Will Smith plays the owner of a small ad agency who loses his daughter and goes into a spiral. He writes letters to Death, Love and Time. If you've seen the trailers, you know that much, and that the incarnation of those concepts show up in his life to respond. What the trailer doesn't tell you, and what seemed like a pretty terrific idea, is the reason why those concepts are personified by the people they are. They're there to bring him back to reality so he can make some crucial decisions about his company, and they also connect with his three major partners in the firm—a guy who is having Love problems, a guy staring Death in the face and a woman who thinks Time is running out for her. Pretty slick. Good actors, all, too. But then the movie makes a couple of BIG REVEALS at the end that just destroyed it for me. Sure, there was some foundation laid for one of them ("if only we could be strangers again"), but it requires a lot of the audience to truly buy into it, and the other one was just, well, pointless. Did they expect the audience to go "oh, my gosh?" We didn't. I just groaned.
We're on a Stephen Fry binge. We watched the six episodes of Last Chance to See
, in which he joins up with zoologist Mark Carwardine to revisit the endangered species that Carwardine had sought out twenty years earlier in the company of Douglas Adams, which was turned into a book of the same name. Now we're watching Stephen Fry in America
, in which he visits all 50 states in six episodes, scrutinizing America through the eyes of an outsider, sort of a pop-anthropologist. He ends up in some very unlikely places (a coal mine and a nuclear submarine, both of which are small places for a man of his stature, a body farm, a parole hearing) and meets a lot of people who have no earthly idea who he is, except for Sting, who does. It's fun stuff. Light entertainment. He's a bit of a scaredy-cat some of the time, though. Not quite the intrepid traveler that Michael Palin is.
|Tuesday, March 21st, 2017|
|Sense of an Ending
We saw the movie adaptation of Julian Barnes's Man-Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending
last weekend. I haven't read the book (I will now), but the cast alone was enough to convince us to see the film. It stars the always reliable Jim Broadbent as the divorced father of Lady Mary from Downton Abbey
, who is hugely pregnant and single. He's on decent terms with his ex-wife, and runs a tiny classic camera shop.
He receives an unexpected letter from the mother of a girl he knew when he was at university. A girl he fancied but never quite managed to get on with, and who will be played by Charlotte Rampling in the modern era. The letter is posthumous, and it is a bequest of some money and an object, unspecified, that is the movie's McGuffin. Rampling's character has it and won't give it up.
The story can be compared to Ian McEwan's Atonement
in that it is driven by an ill-considered letter written under passionate conditions that has far-reaching implications. However, Broadbent's character has written that letter out of his memory of events from his college days. Suddenly he is forced to reckon with the reality of what he did, and the consequences.
It's the kind of film that kept us talking long after it was over. The big reveal toward the end makes you go back and re-evaluate other things that happened in the movie and question why certain characters did what they did. Ultimately, why did the mother want to will the object to Broadbent? What did she hope to achieve?
Apparently Broadbent's character is treated less well in the novel, but even here he self-centered, demanding and stalker-ish, although by the end he has something of an awakening. This thing from the past belongs to him and he's determined to get it. It asks the question: are we better off revisiting certain things from the past or does it just re-open old wounds and cause new pains? We thoroughly enjoyed it.
|Wednesday, March 15th, 2017|
|Jackie and Ove
I finished the first draft of a 4400-word short story yesterday, sitting at the bar in the local Mexican restaurant while drinking a margarita. I wonder if that makes the margarita tax deductible? Then I dictated it into the computer and spent the morning cleaning up the transcription mishaps. I'll let it sit for a while and then make some more editing passes at it. It doesn't have a market in mind, although it originated from something a couple of friends of mine discussed on Twitter a while back.
I generally watch something on the television during my morning workout session. Today I started a Netflix series called Four Seasons in Havana
, which is billed as Caribbean Noir. It's made up of four 90-minute episodes that adapt crime novels by Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura. They're set in the 1990s, and though noir, the series has the luscious color of the tropics. The main character, the police officer, is an aspiring writer who adores Salinger and is more interested in the literary and artistic side of his country than in crime, although he's very good at that, too. He's divorced, drinks a lot, doesn't have a car or a dog, but he does have a fighting fish and, after the opening to the first episode, a new love interest. I picked up the first novel in the series, too, called Havana Blue
, although it wasn't the first to be translated.
We watched Jackie
, starring Natalie Portman as the former first lady. The wrapping device is an interview she conducted (Billy Crudup plays the reporter) shortly after the assassination in which she does her best to seal her husband's place in history, and succeeds in imprinting the term Camelot in the national memory. The events of the movie focus on the assassination and its aftermath, although there are some flashbacks to the time when the Kennedys allowed cameras into the White House and Jackie conducted a long tour of the place, showing it to America for the first time. Portman is quite convincing as Jackie, but the former first lady comes off as mercurial and indecisive, although one has to consider what she had just been through and continued to go through.
The we watched A Man Called Ove
, based on the novel by Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman. It's about a 59-year-old man, newly widowed, who is something of a grouch. He lives in a gated neighborhood—he's responsible for the gate—and he rules it like a tyrant, making note of any offenses against the list of rules he and a former friend (now nemesis) came up with. To him, everyone is an idiot. A new family moves in: a husband, his Persian wife and their two daughters, and they become determined to thaw him out and be good neighbors. Over the course of the movie, we learn about Ove's tragic life. It's a good-hearted film with comic elements and dramatic elements.
|Tuesday, March 7th, 2017|
|If I say it enough, it will become true
My interview with Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
about their collaborative novella, "Gwendy's Button Box," is up at CD Online.
We were familiar with the name Seretse Khama from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Mma Ramotswe, the protagonist of that series, often reflects about what a great man Sir Seretse was. The man who led Botswana into independence.
So, when we saw the trailer for A United Kingdom
a couple of times last fall, we knew we wanted to see it. Khama was to be King of Bechuanaland, a tiny and poor nation just above South Africa. He studied law in England while his uncle ran the country as regent. However, he upset a lot of people by falling in love with and marrying a white woman. The predominantly black and repressed people of his nation weren't eager to have a white sovereign—and her family and social circle weren't thrilled by her choice of spouse, either. A national crisis ensued, with the British applying pressure because they didn't want to annoy South Africa, in the throes of apartheid but Britain's main source of gold.
The movie stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, and tells a reasonably faithful version of events from the 1940s through the 1950s. It's a love story above all else, but also an interesting look at the birth of a nation and lots of political posturing, including a surprising revelation about a less than stellar moment in Churchill's career.
We also saw The Light Between Oceans
, starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz. Fassbender's character, back to Australia after World War I, signs on as the lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus. He meets Vikander and marries her, and the two live together in relative isolation. She has a couple of miscarriages and then a baby is miraculously delivered into their hands. They make a morally dubious decision and have to live with the consequences when the truth comes out a few years later. It was easy to understand why people do what they do in the film. Tough choices all around. After relating everything about their early lives in minute detail, I wish the film had spent more time looking at events after the major crisis instead of flitting pas years of the characters' lives, where some undoubtedly interesting things must have transpired.
I'm about ¾ through a Norwegian series on Netflix called Occupied
. It's based on an idea from novelist Jo Nesbø. In the near future, Norway stops producing oil and gas to concentrate on green energy from thorium, leaving Europe in the lurch. The EU gets together and nominates Russia to occupy the oil-producing regions in the North Sea, forcing the ruling party in Norway to abandon their platform and continue to supply oil to the continent. It's a fascinating look at the politics of the region and reflects on our current situation in interesting ways. In one memorable scene, the PM threatens to destroy another politician who wants to break away from the party by saying he will revel something about her actions after the occupation. "But that's not true," she says. "If I say it often enough, it will become true," he responds. Sounds familiar.
|Monday, February 27th, 2017|
|Take this Jobs
Always a pleasure to receive my annual check from the Public Lending Right Commission in Canada. Money just for having my books in libraries in Canada. How cool is that? One of the books I have listed is When the Night Comes Down
(you have to be at least a 25% contributor to register a book, so I can't add anthologies in general), and I've earned significantly more from it from the PLRC than I have from royalties.
I had an interesting experience yesterday. Something I tweeted was retweeted by someone with a few million followers. So all through the Academy Awards last night, I was treated to a steady stream of likes and retweets! It was interesting to see something like that propagate. On of my regular moderately popular tweets gets 100-300 engagements. This one has had over 150,000, and counting. It seems to have taken on a life of its own.
We were sort of disappointed by Steve Jobs
, which we watched on Saturday. Not by the movie, per se, but by the fact that so much of it was utter fabrication. The movie's structure was interesting. All the action took place around major product launches: The Macintosh, the NEXT and the iMac. That meant that we never got to see Jobs in his regular environment. Which meant that a lot of crises and confrontations had to be shoe-horned into the hours leading up to the product launches. From my reading afterwards, it appears that virtually none of those arguments happened, and certainly not in the stressful context of the launch prep. There's no doubt that Jobs' treatment of his daughter Lisa was reprehensible for a long time, but there's no mention of the fact that she actually lived with Jobs and his wife (also not mentioned) and their children (ditto) for her last four years before college. Fassbender is good and Kate Winslet is very good, but you have to wonder what the point in making a biopic is if you're going to make up most of the major facts to suit yourself.
Stay tuned tomorrow for my interview with Richard Chizmar and Stephen King about the collaborative novella that Entertainment Weekly
will be launching.
|Monday, February 20th, 2017|
|Moonlight and Mayhem
Book tours seem like tough slogs—not that I'd ever object to having the kind of writing career where I could conceivably be sent on one. It's been fun lately to watch Ian Rankin and Sarah Pinborough ping-pong off each other as they toured the US, with Rankin often appearing at venues where Pinborough would be signing books a few days later. Rankin sang Pinborough's praises at his events—a number of the people who came out to see her at Murder By the Book were there because Rankin had recommended her when he was at the store last week.
Alas, I couldn't get to Rankin's event, but I did make the trip into the city yesterday for Pinborough's Behind Her Eyes
signing. We've crossed paths briefly in the past (at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, which is now seven years ago, if you can believe that), and have exchanged messages on social media. So it was fun to hear her talk about her life in publishing and how she got the opportunity to write a thriller, and the problems of trying to market a book where the twist is so crucial to describing the story.
She was nearly an hour late arriving in Houston because her driver from Austin didn't show up and new arrangements had to be made at the last moment. But I think everyone who came to the store for her appearance waited around, which says a lot. Murder By the Book is a great store, with terrific patrons. If I lived closer, I'd be there all the time. This was the last event in Pinborough's tour, so Houston sent her off today with torrential rain, although the storms were less dreadful than initially predicted.
We saw Moonlight
this weekend, which is now available on iTunes. I knew very little about the story going into it. It consists of three sections detailing the life of a young black man from Miami. The first part is when he's eleven. Then it jumps ahead to when he's seventeen, and finally to when he's twenty-five. His single mother is a crack addict who ignores him and often sends him away so she can have the apartment to herself. He comes to the attention of a local drug dealer, but rather than take advantage of young Chiron, he takes him under his wing, together with his girlfriend. He becomes a surrogate father, teaching him to swim and explaining to him what some of the insults that are cast at him mean. He and his girlfriend provide a safe place for him to go, which is something he's been lacking up to now. His life is no less difficult at seventeen, and at twenty-five he reconnects with a classmate with whom he had a meaningful encounter during that period that didn't end well.
It's an unusual film that toys with audience expectations. Some of it is based on stories from the writer's youth and also the director's. It was filmed in Miami, which creates an unusual juxtaposition of bad neighborhoods that are within walking distance of beautiful beaches. One of the most poignant scenes is the one where young Chiron's interrogation of Juan, the drug dealer, forces the older man to confront the ugly nature of his business.
|Thursday, February 16th, 2017|
|Lunch at the Vinyl Cafe
I wasn't living in Canada when Stuart McLean came onto the national scene with his Vinyl Cafe programme on CBC radio. As with the Tragically Hip, it was a bit of Canadiana that passed me by until many years later.
I was visiting northern New Brunswick one December about fifteen years ago. I had gone to Campbellton (the city where I was born) on an errand for my parents and I distinctly remember stumbling across the CBC radio station during my return trip. I was on the highway, that beautiful elevated section of road that lets you look out across the Restigouche river toward Quebec, when this mellifluous voice started recounting a Christmastime story that involved newcomers to a neighborhood. The Chudary family wasn't familiar with Canadian gift-giving traditions, and their misunderstanding sets off a massive neighborhood gift exchange as everyone struggles to make sure they don't offend anyone else. It's light and funny and endearing, full of warmth and heart, and it was a wonderful introduction to a terrific storyteller.
On my way back to Texas, I found a Vinyl Cafe book in the airport bookstore in Toronto, and I subsequently regaled my wife with the stories therein. Eventually we collected all of his books, and the story about Dave's efforts to cook the turkey one Christmas never fail to crack me up. At the same time, we were impressed by McLean's deep dive into the story after receiving complaints from animal rights supporters that the turkey in question had been abused. He reported, in all due seriousness, on their deliberations about whether the story should be dropped from rotation or perhaps edited to remove the passages that caused offense. Ultimately, they decided to air the piece unaltered, arguing that it was only Dave's opinion that the B-grade turkey he acquired at the last moment looked like it had been abused.
Though he told stories about other people, McLean is best known for his tales of Dave and Morley, their two children, Dave's record store, their colorful neighbors and the disagreements that often ensued from Dave's misguided efforts at something he attempted with the best of intentions. The tales are set mostly in Ontario, but there are frequent trips back to the Maritimes to visit Dave's home. The stories tug on my nostalgia strings, because so much of Dave's upbringing resonates with my own.
I read his stories aloud, because that was how they were received by most of McLean's audience. At heart, he was a storyteller, and he had a wonderful voice and dramatic aspect that brought it all to life. When we learned over a year ago that he had cancer, everyone hoped that before too long he would once again sit on the stool in front of the microphone and a studio audience and tell us another tale about Dave and Morley, their two kids and the dog.
Alas, the Vinyl Cafe has closed.
|Wednesday, February 15th, 2017|
A rare promotional post! My Cemetery Dance Select eBook is available at Amazon (US
), at Barnes & Noble (Nook
), from iBooks
and for Kobo
. For a few bucks you can get four of my previously published short stories on the reading device of your choice: Overtoun Bridge, A Murder of Vampires, Centralia Is Still Burning and What David Was Doing When the Lights Went Out.
Not enough stories, you say? But wait, there's more. In When the Night Comes Down
you can read four stories by me, plus a batch of stories from three other authors. My stories are Silvery Moon, Knock ‘Em Dead, Something In Store and Purgatory Noir. It's available in print but also as for Kindle
Enjoy my reviews of Stephen King's novels? If so, you can get a bunch of them in a nifty little signed, limited-edition chapbook from Cemetery Dance. I called it Twenty-First Century King
. And if King trivia is your thing, Brian Freeman and I have this thing called The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book
, illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne, that can be had in print or as an eBook
. The questions are hard and the clues flagrantly unhelpful! (I wrote the clues, so I get to say that.)
And if you're getting geared up for the Dark Tower movie coming out later this year, what better way to brush up than reading The Dark Tower Companion
) or The Road to the Dark Tower
Check out my Amazon store
for more! And happy reading.
|Tuesday, February 14th, 2017|
While parts of Atlantic Canada (and the eastern U.S.) are getting walloped with snow, we here in southeast Texas had a rough day with heavy winds, hail in some parts, the odd tornado or two, and a bunch of rain. It was a cold front that saw the temperatures drop from the eighties on Sunday (sit in the driveway with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down) to the upper forties overnight (I don't think we'll be dining on the restaurant's patio tonight, alas).
I've been reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
to my wife, so we decided to revisit the movie this weekend. It doesn't hold up quite as well as I might have liked, but it still has some fine moments. It's funny, though—in my memory of the film I had Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker's characters inverted, and I think that if I was casting the movie today, that's they way I would have gone.
During dinner on Saturday, we listened to an Alison Krauss and Union Station live album, and "Man of Constant Sorrow" inspired us to watch O Brother, Where Art Thou?
again (Dan Tyminski of Union Station is the vocalist to whom George Clooney lip-syncs). It holds up a little better than Fried Green Tomatoes
. There's plenty of mugging and over-acting, but it's still watchable.
Then we were tempted by a trailer for an Australian film called The Dressmaker
about a young woman (Kate Winslet) who returns to her tiny hometown after a couple of decades abroad. When she was ten, she was suspected of breaking the neck of a boy and she was effectively banished from the community. She has no recollection of the events of that day, so she's come back to find out if she is, in fact, a murderer. Her mother has declined in the intervening years (the locals call her Mad Molly), but she perks up again after her daughter's return. Liam Hemsworth is the love interest and Hugo Weaving is the cross-dressing local constabulary who bowed to pressure and spearheaded her banishment all those years ago. It's a bit of a revenge tale, and once it starts going down that track it derails a bit. Characters behave uncharacteristically, merely so we feel like they deserve what happens to them. It has the out-of-kilter feel of a Wes Anderson movie, but it's not quite quirky enough to be that and doesn't play it straight enough to be taken seriously. Plus there's an unearned death at the 2/3 point that just felt arbitrary and unnecessary to me.
|Monday, February 6th, 2017|
When I bought tickets to the Yo Yo Ma concert, I didn't realize at the time that it was going to be on Super Bowl weekend. Not the night of the big game, but the night before. We kept reading about all the activities that would be taking place in the theatre district all weekend long, and how bad traffic was going to be, how difficult the parking, etc.
So we allowed plenty of time and found out it was much ado about nothing. We got to the theatre district in the same amount of time it would have taken under normal circumstances, and we paid our $10 to park in the garage near Jones Hall, same as always. (On Sunday afternoon, some of the surface lots were charging $100 and $200 for a parking spot!) We had early dinner reservations (which somehow got lost), but there was no trouble getting seated, either.
There were major events going on all around us, though, and there was a large police presence. We saw several Department of Homeland Security vehicles go by, and there was no shortage of black SUVs and marked police cars lining the streets.
The concert was quite something. The Houston Symphony Orchestra opened with Gershwin's American in Paris and then the cello master joined them for Dvorák's cello concerto. After all the obligatory applause and handshaking and bowing and encore calls, Yo Yo Ma came back by himself and played something that I didn't recognize. His playing is so dexterous that at times it seemed like there were more notes being played than was humanly possible. It was a night to remember, for sure.
I'm not a huge football fan, but I usually watch some playoff games and the Super Bowl. This year's game was one for the books, no doubt about it. We heard that a bunch of people, presumably hoping to beat the crowds and traffic, opted to leave NRG Stadium in the fourth quarter, when it looked like Atlanta had the game wrapped up, only to end up watching on TV screens in the parking lot when everything went south for the southern team and north for the Patriots.
We had to take a 45-minute break in the second quarter to talk to our daughter, so I pushed "pause" and we picked up where we left off at the end of our conversation. That meant I had to stay off social media for the rest of the game to avoid "spoilers"! Think what you will about Brady and the Patriots, it was an impressive performance and a comeback for the ages. Made for an exciting game, no doubt about it.
We were equally impressed by the halftime show. Lady Gaga put on a memorable performance. The drones that made the animated star patterns at the beginning were pretty impressive. Something we'll no doubt see more often in the future.
|Monday, January 23rd, 2017|
Well that was interesting.
About a week ago, I did a quick search and found out that Houston was hosting a Women's March to run in parallel with the one in Washington. My wife and I decided to attend. She has a history of participating in protests in the past, but this was my first.
When I registered us, there were only about 2500 RSVPs. The number of attendees grew quickly in the week or so that followed.
We had elaborate plans. There was a restaurant in Houston that my wife wanted to have breakfast at, although it was a fair distance from where we needed to be for the march and rally. We decided to park centrally and figure out the public transit. As that grew more complicated, we decided to go to a place in the theater district we were familiar with. Forgetting that downtown Houston is a dead zone on Saturday mornings. Nothing was open, except for a McDonalds, so we settled for that. (A few blocks away, as we later discovered, there was an Einstein Bros. Bagels that we would have preferred. Alas.)
Everyone gathered at Jamail Skatepark at 10:45. There were a lot of people. A lot. Of all ages, genders, nationalities, etc. Kids in strollers. Gay Muslims. People even more senior than us. Even though it was a Women's March, men were definitely welcomed and embraced. There were some very creative and funny signs, all of them correctly spelled with proper grammar and punctuation. Texas Congressman Al Green gave us our call to action and then we set out on the 15-minute march to Houston City Hall.
The route took us along the Interstate and overpassing some major thoroughfares. We got lots of honks of encouragement along the way and no animosity whatsoever. Spirits were high and there were lots of chants as we marched. At least one guy had a drum.
When we reached the Hermann Square in front of City Hall, the scope of the group became more apparent. The police estimate at least 20-22,000 people in attendance
, likely the largest public gathering in the history of the city. The organizers spoke, as did members of city council and state representatives. The chief of police talked, as did Phyllis Frye, the first openly transgendered judge in the country. News choppers showed up and we received word that Mayor Turner was on his way to speak as well. Everyone issued a call to action, with most of the attention focused on 2018's mid-term elections, although there are bills coming up in the Texas legislature that require public response as well. I've never been terribly politically active, beyond voting when I could, but the current environment has fired up a lot of people who've never been to a rally before. Hopefully this lasts...as long as necessary.
It was a fascinating experience. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, after a terribly rainy few days. It was overcast, so it was neither hot nor cold, and there was an occasional breeze, which made it all very tolerable. As with the other marches and rallies around the country (and the world—even in Antarctica!), it was orderly and peaceful. The police were congenial and many in the crowd thanked them for their service along the way.
As things started to wind down, we decided to grab lunch rather than deal with the congestion. By then the downtown had awakened and we had more options.
My first two book reviews of 2017 are up at Onyx Reviews:
|Monday, January 16th, 2017|
You know you're in Texas when the ice cream truck, with its annoying, endless chiming melody, goes down your street in the middle of January. And you think that if you'd been outside you might have bought something! It's nearly 80° today, and there were tornado alerts earlier this morning. Looking like a soggy week here.
Hopefully it won't be too rainy come the weekend. I'm about to do something I've never done before; take part in a protest march. We've signed up to participate in the Women's March in Houston on Saturday. Nearly 6000 people have signed up to attend. Should be interesting. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I've become more politically active and vocal since the outset of the recent election campaign. Before I became a citizen, I didn't really feel like I had a voice in this country. But I do now, and I'm going to use it—at least during the tenure of the forthcoming administration.
We saw Hidden Figures
on the weekend. An excellent film about a little-known aspect of the NASA program: how many African American women worked on the mathematics that put John Glenn into orbit, and subsequent aspects of the program, too. Three women are the focus: one aspires to be the first black woman engineer with NASA (despite the fact that the only school providing the extension courses she needs is segregated), one who runs the Colored Computing division, although her request to be acknowledged as a supervisor, with the attendant respect and salary are regularly turned down, and one who proves her computational and mathematics skills under pressure. It's a good ensemble, also featuring Kirsten Dunst, who doesn't think she's prejudiced but is; Jim Parsons, who has to swallow his pride when a black woman computer solves problems his team has thus far failed; and Kevin Costner as the leader of that group. Costner is surprisingly good as a man whose team is under a great deal of pressure to get a man into orbit. I love the scene where he solves an issue with bathrooms. I don't always care for his performances, but I liked this one a lot. There's also a nice romance subplot featuring Taraji P. Henson's character and Mahershala Ali, who plays Remy Danton in House of Cards
, and I appreciated the scene where Octavia Spencer's character picks up a Fortran book, determined to teach herself the programming language to guarantee that the new IBM mainframe won't make her and her fellow mathematicians obsolete. I taught myself Fortran some 30 years ago, and it was a valuable skill indeed!
I finished Behind Her Eyes
by Sarah Pinborough (review forthcoming, but #WTFThatEnding
indeed!) and started Final Girls
by Riley Sager, which I'm enjoying thus far.
|Wednesday, January 4th, 2017|
We watched quite a few movies over the past week or so. First there was Manchester By the Sea
, which deserves all of the praise it has been getting. There's a scene late in the film between Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck that is simply devastating. Essentially the movie is about how there are some things people are unwilling to forgive—in others or in themselves. The big reveal is a major gut punch, when it comes, it makes everything clear. Plus the scenery is gorgeous: reminds me of Eastern Canada, where I grew up, or the drive from PVD to NECON, except in winter.
Then we watched Barry
on Netflix, which makes a good companion piece to Southside With You
. This movie covers the year when Obama transferred to Columbia University. It's a time when he's not sure where he's from (it's a complicated story, and you get to see him fine-tune his answer to the question) or where he belongs. He doesn't feel comfortable with the black community but he faces all the expected bias from the white community. He also has a serious girlfriend, but he wonders why she's with him—his perception is somewhat skewed by his mother's (Ashley Judd) relationship with his father.
Then we saw La La Land
. Our decision to go came at the last minute, and we ended up in a tiny auditorium that was mostly full, having to sit in the third of those rows at the front where no one ever sits. If there was ever going to be a movie to see from that perspective, this would be the one. It's larger than life and slightly skewed from reality. I thought it was beautiful—I was swept away by it completely, and I would happily have sat there and watched it all over again straightaway. The story is fairly simple: man and woman meet, eventually connect, but are thwarted by their careers—at first because of a lack of a success and then, later, the opposite. It doesn't have the expected outcome, except you get that, too, kind of. The fact that people break into song-and-dance routines bothered me not the slightest, and the show-stopper by Emma Stone during her big audition was incredible. I'm also impressed by the fact that Ryan Gosling did all of the keyboard work for real. He's very good.
We also enjoyed the Doctor Who
Christmas special, which was a riff on superheroes. And I watched a British series called Paranoid
that opens with a shocking murder and then gets a bit bogged down with some of the most screwed-up coppers to grace a miniseries. Their personal problems got in the way of the investigation time and time again. It stars Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones
) and features a rather manic Kevin Doyle (Molsely from Downton Abbey
). I liked Danny Huston in this—he was also in American Horror Story
(as the Axeman), but on the whole I wasn't terribly satisfied with the series compared to some of the others that have come out of the UK recently. We haven't seen the new Sherlock
yet, but soon.
|Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017|
|Maybe a record! 2016 Books
I read a lot of books last year.
In large part, the increase over previous years is thanks to my tenure on the jury for the Shirley Jackson Awards. I read a lot of anthologies and collections, plus a whole stack of standalone short stories that don't appear on this list (I estimate that I read at least a thousand short stories in 2016). Plus a number of novels, novellas, novelettes, novelishes, and other variations on the theme.
I also read the five existing Game of Thrones novels, which was an accomplishment in its own right. Plus I finished my reread of the Travis McGee books.
Without further ado, here is my 2016 reading list. Hyperlinks lead to reviews. I didn't do as many of those this year. Not enough time. Can't do everything!
- Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan
- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin
- The Dreadful Lemon Sky - John D. MacDonald
- The Fireman - Joe Hill
- The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine - Alexander McCall Smith
- The Empty Copper Sea - John D. MacDonald
- What We Become - Arturo Perez-Reverte
- Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
- The Green Ripper - John D. MacDonald
- The City of Mirrors - Justin Cronin
- Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson
- Free Fall in Crimson - John D. MacDonald
- Cinnamon Skin - John D. MacDonald
- End of Watch - Stephen King
- The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson
- The Lonely Silver Rain - John D. MacDonald
- The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
- The Glittering World - Robert Levy
- Song of Kali - Dan Simmons
- When We Were Animals - Joshua Gaylord
- Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh
- Lord Byron's Prophecy - Sean Eads
- Dollar Deal: The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers - Shawn S.Lealos
- Experimental Film - Gemma Files
- In the Lovecraft Museum - Steve Tem
- Wylding Hall - Elizabeth Hand
- The End of the End of Everything - Dale Bailey
- Get in Trouble - Kelly Link
- Gutshot - Amelia Gray
- The Nameless Dark - T.E. Grau
- You Have Never Been Here - Mary Rickert
- Nightscript I: An Anthology of Strange & Darksome Tales - C.M Muller, ed
- She Walks in Shadows - Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, eds
- Ain't Superstitious - Juliana Rew, ed
- Blurring the Line - Marty Young, ed
- Midian Unmade - Del Howison & Joe Nassise, eds
- Insert Title Here - Tehani Wessely, ed
- Licence Expired - Madeline Ashby & David Nickle, eds
- Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond - Scott A. Jones, eds
- Whispers from the Abyss - Kat Rocha, ed
- The Doll Collection - Ellen Datlow, ed
- Exigencies - Richard Thomas, ed
- Cassilda's Song - Joe Pulver, ed
- Dreams from the Witch House - Lynne Jameck, ed
- Ghost in the Cogs - Scott Gable, Scott & C. Dombrowski, eds
- Hanzai Japan - Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington, eds
- Seize the Night - Christopher Golden, ed
- Aickman's Heirs - Simon Strantzas, ed
- 18 Wheels of Horror - Eric Miller, ed
- Penumbrae - Richard Gavin, Patricia Cram, and Daniel A. Schulke, eds
- The Bestiary - Ann VanderMeer, ed
- Black Wings IV - S.T. Joshi, ed
- Innsmouth Nightmares - Lois H. Gresh, ed
- That is Not Dead - Darrell Schweitzer, ed
- Kill for a Copy - Rob McEwan, ed
- Giallo Fantastique - Ross E. Lockhart, ed
- Cthulhu Fhtagn! - Ross E. Lockhart, ed
- nEvermore! - Nancy Kilpatrick & Caro Soles, eds
- Hides the Dark Tower - Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, eds
- The Burning Maiden - Greg Kishbaugh, ed
- Breakout - Nick Gevers, ed
- The Box Jumper - Lisa Mannetti
- Unusual Concentrations - S.J. Spurrier
- Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli
- In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson
- Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page - Stuart McLean
- Shadow Season - Tom Piccirilli
- Arson Plus and Other Stories - Dashiell Hammett
- Modern Lovers - Emma Straub
- Stop the Presses - Robert Goldsborough
- A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin
- A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin
- A Storm of Swords - George R. R. Martin
- A Feast for Crows - George R. R. Martin
- A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin
- The Highwayman - Craig Johnson
- Disappearance at Devil's Rock - Paul Tremblay
- Rise the Dark - Michael Koryta
- You Will Know Me - Megan Abbott
- Revolver - Duane Swierczynski
- I Am Providence - Nick Mamatas
- Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre
- The End of Everything - Megan Abbott
- Six Scary Stories selected and introduced by Stephen King
- Burial - Neil Cross
- Alex - Pierre Lemaitre
- Irene - Pierre Lemaitre
- The Girl from Venice - Martin Cruz Smith
- The Wrong Side of Goodbye - Michael Connelly
- Camille - Pierre Lemaitre
- An Obvious Fact - Craig Johnson
- A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms - George R.R. Martin
- In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper - Lawrence Block, ed.
- Witness to a Trial - John Grisham
- The Trespasser - Tana French
- The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens - George R.R. Martin
- Last Wish and The Gulf - Poppy Z. Brite
- The Whistler - John Grisham
- The Godsend - Bernard Taylor
- Hearts in Suspension - Jim Bishop, ed.
- Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
- Ararat - Christopher Golden
- Precious and Grace - Alexander McCall Smith
- The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life - John le Carré
- Rather Be The Devil - Ian Rankin
- Blood and Lemonade - Joe R. Lansdale
- Quicksand: What it Means to Be a Human Being - Henning Mankell
|Tuesday, December 27th, 2016|
|The third day of Christmas
We had a brief cold spell last week where the temperatures dropped to below freezing. So, when it suddenly went back up to the eighties again, the flora and fauna in the area became understandably confused. The azalea bush in front of our house produced a single flower over the past couple of days. Presumably it thinks spring is here. Who knows—maybe it is? The unseasonably warm temperatures show no signs of abating any time soon. We sat on the patio of a nearby restaurant for a mid-afternoon dinner on Christmas Eve and again last night at our local pizzeria. I had to switch the climate control back from heating to cooling. I guess it's better than snow.
We saw Passengers
last week, the space odyssey starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, with Michael Sheen and Lawrence Fishburn. It was pretty good. I certainly understand the controversy surrounding the movie, but I'm having a hard time condemning it in as strong words as some have done. There's an assumption in movies that if someone does something bad or wrong or ill-considered that he must pay for it at some point, but the real world doesn't operate that way, so I don't always expect that divine justice will be meted out for all cinematic transgressions. I know that the hand-waving explanations ("yes, but later in the movie he...") won't satisfy everyone, but they did me. And my wife, as well, who hadn't read about the complaints about the film. On an unrelated note, every time I saw Michael Sheen, I thought of Lloyd the bartender from The Shining
. We were standing at the food counter when I realized that the millennial working the ticket booth had given me the senior discount. It must have been the bad light outside the multiplex that led her to believe I looked over 62, right?
On Christmas Eve we went to the local church to watch the pageant and sing carols, something that always takes me back to my childhood, when I was involved in such productions. Then we watched Love, Actually
, which was on a round-the-clock loop up against A Christmas Story
. However, we soon discovered that the movie had been edited (most notably during Nighy's early colorful rant), so I pulled it up on Amazon Prime and we watched it uncensored. We'd seen it on VHS, probably, when it first came out, so I remembered some but not all of it. I tend to agree that the movie doesn't get falling in love right in most of the stories, where the prime ingredient seems to be physical attraction (other than the Martin Freeman storyline where the characters actually fall in love while talking to each other). The Liam Neeson storyline is just a ton of fun, especially in the way that this step-dad relates to the boy, very direct, honest and coarse. I didn't care for the way the Laura Linney story petered out, either. It's easy to watch, but the movie doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny.
On Christmas Day, I put an iPod loaded with every Christmas song we own (about 400 of them, with a total running time of nearly 24 hours) on random shuffle and we listened to the music while we read and relaxed. I don't normally like shuffle—I'm an album kinda guy—but it was fun to hear Sarah McLaughlin one minute and Trans Siberian Orchestra the next and Twisted Sister the next. We also watched Southside With You
, the movie about Barack Obama's first date with Michelle Robinson, who was his supervisor at a Chicago law firm and very reluctant to get involved with him. Parker Sawyers looks a lot like Obama from certain angles, and he certainly mastered his rhythms and styles. I had a harder time seeing Michelle Obama in Tika Sumpter, but it's a nice story, mostly based on fact, although the meeting they attend might not have happened on their first date.
Last night we saw Lion
, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. It's based on the true story of a little boy (4-5 years old), who lives in rural India in abject poverty. Through a series of misadventures, he ends up trapped on an out-of-service train that takes him over a thousand kilometers from home, to Calcutta. Not only can he not convey the name of the village where he comes from, he can't speak Bengali, the local language, only Hindi. After some Oliver Twist-esque experiences, he ends up being adopted by a family in Tasmania, where he grows up to be Dev Patel. It's about 2008 and he's introduced to Google Earth, which sends him on a years-long quest to try to figure out where he came from based on only his geographic memories. It's a feel-good movie, probably Patel's best work. We liked it a lot. Interestingly, you don't find out why the movie has that title until the text updates just before the closing credits. It's a funny reveal.