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    Tuesday, May 26th, 2015
    2:22 pm
    Glug, glug, glug
    It's been raining pretty regularly for the past two weeks around here, but nothing compared with the storm that blew through here on Monday evening. We went out for TCBY at 6:30 and half an hour after we got home, the storm arrived. I don't think we've ever gotten so many calls from the Emergency Weather Service in one evening. It rained solidly until at least 11 pm, and off and on throughout the night. There was probably some hail mixed in, the thunder was loud enough to shake the house, and the lightening was almost constant.

    Still, the place where we live is just a tad higher than the surroundings, so while we probably got 4 or 5" of rain, the ditches handled most of it. The yard got soggy, but that happens during most downpours. We heard about flooding a few miles from us, closer to the interstate, where surface streets were impassable, but our streets were clear.

    Still, nothing compared to what happened downtown, which was reminiscent of what happened with Tropical Storm Allison a dozen or more years ago. The ground was already saturated, so the bayous filled up and overflowed fast. People attending the Houston Rockets game at the Toyota Center were advised to stay put after the game ended, and many complied, including one of the Rockets players. Some people were still trying to get home at 7 am.

    When we got up this morning, we started checking the media to find out about the situation. The first traffic maps we looked at showed a couple of accidents, but nothing serious. They lied! As we dug in deeper, we found out that many of the major roads were way underwater. I saw a picture that looked like a nice, sedate river well within its banks, only to read the caption and see that it was Highway 288, a major Houston artery that runs past the med center down to the gulf coast. There were abandoned cars all over the place, transports stranded in feet of water. Another picture showed water lapping at the undersides of an overpass under which there was normally 13 feet of clearance. Finally we found an accurate map that showed which roads were flooded. Darned near all of them downtown. Fortunately, neither of us had to go into town, so we can go about our business up here, where it's relatively high and dry.
    Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
    12:53 pm
    The post has no title, just words and a tune
    No drought issues in eastern Texas this year. I've been riding my bike to work lately—it's a little over 2 miles each way, mostly on bike trails—but not this week. Every day on the 10-day forecast except for one has a 30-70% chance of rain, some of it heavy. We've been spared the brutal winds and tornadoes experienced by the northern part of the state, but I'm not biking in this weather. I rolled the dice and won on Friday: when I left the house in the morning it was sprinkling a little and I almost turned back, but I ploughed ahead and managed to not get wet. Ditto on my return trip. I figure anything more than that would be pressing my luck.

    We went to see Woman in Gold on the weekend. The film stars Helen Mirren as a woman who escaped from Austria as WWII was about to begin, leaving behind her parents. The family's apartment was plundered of all of its artwork, most prominent among which was a Klimt painting of her aunt that is adorned in gold foil (hence the title). In the late 1990s, she hires the son (Ryan Reynolds) of a friend to attempt restitution, even though everyone tells her the painting is Austria's Mona Lisa and they'll never get it back. Based on a true story. Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black plays the younger German-speaking version of Mirren's character. An interesting exploration of Austria's attitude toward the war. Jonathan Pryce has a bit part as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is where the case ends up at one point. Beautiful Viennese scenery as an added bonus. I visited the city twice in the 1980s.

    Last night I read Perdido, the novel fragment by Peter Straub published by Subterranean Press. I hope someday he finds the time to go back to this story. It has his trademarked unreliable narrator aspect, as well as a mysterious setting (and, only alluded to, two even more mysterious settings beyond). I'd love to see how the performance piece Murder Among Friends evolves.

    This morning I started Tin Men by Christopher Golden. It's a near-future military thriller with a fascinating premise. The US is now policing the world with soldiers who are tucked up safe and sound in pods in a bunker while wired up to virtually indestructible robots assigned to foreign lands. Unlike many military thrillers I've read (for example, Tom Clancy, who I eventually gave up in disgust), this isn't a jingoistic story. The US isn't pursuing world peace for altruistic reasons, but rather to further its own agenda. Any border crisis that threatens the US's interests is immediately put down, even if the conflict might have shaken out naturally in the long run. It's a fascinating and refreshing approach to the world stage.

    We watched the first two episodes of Grace and Frankie last night. It's a Netflix original starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin about two couples broken up by divorce when the husbands finally come out of the closet and announce their lifelong love for each other (Martin Sheen and Law & Order's Sam Waterston). Alas, I think the series' best moment was probably the last part of the first episode, where Tomlin's character is on a vision quest and Fonda's accidentally ingests some of her peyote beverage (worst-tasting iced-tea ever) and they stumble around on the beach while the visions play out. Hilarious and almost impossible to top. "Stop yelling," Tomlin's character says. "You're upsetting the sand." Otherwise it's a bit tedious and boring. Not sure we'll return to it.
    Friday, May 8th, 2015
    1:00 pm
    What's "up"?
    For the last four days, I've been proofing "Dead of Winter," the novella that I'll be publishing with a Brian Keene novella in a book to be called Dissonant Harmonies. I haven't looked at the manuscript for several weeks, so I was able to approach it with fresh eyes, and I was quite pleased. I only found one real typo (a missing "the"), but I made quite a few minor changes and expanded a section that was unclear to my first reader. I also noticed one verbal tic: In a 40,000 word manuscript, there were 175 instances of the word "up." Some of them are legitimate orientational and directional usages, but a lot of things "ended up" or "wound up." A quick skim through the MS searching for " up " allowed me to remove at least twenty of them.

    How did I end up here? It's the sort of phrase Osvald Knop (pronounced with a hard K), the senior of my two doctoral advisors, would probably have stopped and scrutinized after he uttered it. What does "up" signify in this context? He was a polyglot born in what is now the Czech Republic who once worked in Linus Pauling's lab. He was around sixty when I first encountered him in a third year undergraduate inorganic chemistry course. He had a strange halting and stammering manner of speaking, the result of a rumored lab incident many years before, that rendered him difficult to understand for many, but I was fascinated by what he had to say, so I listened. He was amazingly au courant about contemporary things, and was one of my few professors who confessed to watching prime time TV shows. When we learned symmetery, he used the letter R as the object that was rotated and inverted and mirrored because it lacks internal symmetery, but has a mirror image in the Russian alphabet: я, pronounced "ya." For the longest time, I thought he was just pronouncing "r" backwards.

    I was intrigued by an assignment we did where we had to solve the unit cell dimensions based on a printout of diffraction angles. That was my introduction to crystallography, in 1983. (When I talk to young people who are distraught by not knowing what they want to be when they grow up, I tell them that I didn't even know the field of science that I ended up specializing in existed until I was 22.) When it came time to choose an Honours Project for my fourth year, I chose Knop because I liked him and remembered that assignment. That project led to my interest in the real world of X-ray crystallography, and I went on to do my PhD with him and another faculty member. I found out today that Ossie Knop died last week at the age of 93. I hadn't seen or heard from him in many, many years, but choosing to work with him set me on a course that defined just about everything in my life that came after. I wouldn't be in Texas if I hadn't liked his class. Wouldn't have met my wife of twenty years. Life's funny that way.
    Saturday, May 2nd, 2015
    12:13 pm
    He's still standing
    I'm sure everyone has a similar story: the moment they really became aware of popular music as a kid. I grew up in a rural area, far away from record stores. The department stores, small as they were, had record bins, but it wasn't exactly cutting-edge stuff.

    Remember K-Tel records? They were to music what Readers Digest Condensed Books are to literature. Songs were brutally trimmed of verses and choruses to cram as many as possible onto an LP. Often there were 10-12 songs on each side of the record. I had one that had "Rocket Man" on one side and "Crocodile Rock" on the other, so it must have been 1972-3. I didn't know anything about Elton John at the time, but those two songs stood out. My brother told me that, yes, "Crocodile Rock" was a good song, but not ten or fifteen times in a row.

    The first real LP I ever purchased was his first Greatest Hits album. I quickly became an Elton completist, saving up my money for shopping trips to Moncton, where there were record stores, scouring the bins for rarities like the Friends soundtrack (with its garish and hideous cover) and early albums like Empty Sky. I followed his career from that point onward, and was rarely disappointed, although his experiment into disco, "Victim of Love," which my friends and I disparaged as "Victim of Disco," was a low point. Living in eastern Canada, I never thought I'd ever get to see him in concert. I had no idea then that at some point in the future I would be living in the larger world.

    Then, in 1984, I spent a couple of months in Oxford, England as part of my graduate studies. I found out soon after I arrived that Elton John would be the headliner at a day-long concert at Wemblay Stadium...the day after I was scheduled to return to Halifax. I immediately went to Heathrow to get my tickets changed (things were so much more complicated back then) and took the bus into London on the day tickets for the "Summer of '84" concert went on sale. The day finally came, the last day of June, and I was crammed into Wemblay with 72,000 other fans from noon until 10 or 10:30 pm. Saw a bunch of great acts that day, including Nik Kershaw, Kool and the Gang, Big Country and Wang Chung, but Elton was definitely the highlight. He played for two-and-a-half hours solid. The concert was simulcast on BBC Radio, and a fellow I met in the lab at Oxford kindly taped it for me and sent it to me after I got back to Canada.

    I've seen him a few times since then, including a previous concert at the Woodlands Pavilion, about three miles from my back yard, that was just him and his piano, with Ray Cooper providing percussion support.

    My wife and I went to see him at the Pavilion last night. I was on the website the moment tickets went on sale and the best I could do was lawn seats, but that didn't matter. It was a great, cool, clear evening, a near-full moon, and a sea of adoring fans. He came on without benefit of a warm-up band, only a few minutes past the scheduled starting time of 8:00 and he played until 10:30 without intermission. Started with "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and continued with three more tracks from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," including "All the Young Girls Love Alice." (Last year was the album's 40th anniversary.)

    The concert was heavy on the hits, but with a catalog like his, he can play for that long and still leave out a bunch of popular songs (He didn't play "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," for example). He played three other songs I've never heard him do in concert before: "Holiday Inn," "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll)" and "Hey Ahab," the latter from his duet album with Leon Russell. That song and "Believe" are the only ones that dated from the past twenty years. Everything else was early catalog stuff, but no one minded. He ended with "Crocodile Rock" (see how it all comes full circle?) and the crowd happily supplied all of the falsetto la-la-las. His voice is a bit gruffer and he has changed around some of the melodies so he doesn't have to try to hit some of the high notes, but he was still fantastic, and it's amazing to watch those stubby little fingers do what they do to those ebonies and ivories. His arrangements, especially the extended piano interludes, have changed over the years, giving those old classics new life.

    Good, too, to see that drummer Nigel Olson is still with him, dressed like a politician (according to my wife) and Davey Johnston is still making those guitars and mandolins howl. There was an additional keyboard player, a percussionist and a bass player. That six-man band made the place rock. Dude's 68 years old, and he still seems to be enjoying the hell out of himself and those songs, and his longtime fans, of which I am one.
    Friday, April 24th, 2015
    12:07 pm
    Orienteering
    I've been notified that the Cemetery Dance limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion has been sent to the printer and should ship to customers sometime in July. Furthermore, this is the last week to order and get free shipping within the US.

    I went up to Brooklyn on Tuesday for the round-table discussion featuring Stephen & Owen King, and Peter & Emma Straub at St. Francis College. Any time I've gone to NY before, I've always taken a taxi from the airport, but this time, since I had plenty of spare time, I decided to give public transportation a go. I was very pleased by the results. I took the M60 train from the airport to the subway station, where I picked up the Q train that took me to within 0.2 miles of my hotel in Brooklyn, all for a mere $5.75. Then I took a few wrong turns and it took me almost another half hour to actually find my hotel, so there's that. I had better luck on the return trip—it only took five minutes to get from the hotel to the Q station.

    I met up with a few people who I know virtually from a Dark Tower message board before the event. Saw Peter and Susan Straub get accused of jumping the line when they went into the lecture hall! (I hear Emma Straub had a hard time getting into the building, too.) I sat with Nick Kaufmann and his wife and a friend of theirs, saw Gina & Jane Osnavich, and met up with Jordan Hahn, King's webmaster, after the event for drinks. I'll write more about the event itself at News from the Dead Zone either today or tomorrow, but it was fun. Video from the event should be available soon, but here are the official photographs. You can see me near the top right in #101.

    On the return flight, I watched Birdman, which was an interesting experience. My flight had free WiFi for the entertainment system, so I watched it on my iPad. But I didn't bring any earphones, so I watched it with closed-captioning. It's an interesting film, with it's long dolly tracking shots and occasional flights of fancy. Lindsay Duncan was great as the theater critic who resents Hollywood types breathing the lofty Broadway air. It's dark and gloomy, intense, a little depressing, but worth seeing nonetheless. Great, great cast.

    Quite impressed with the season finale of The Americans. The theme seemed to be the burden that constantly telling lies takes on a person. Philip—who seems to be having a crisis of "faith"—felt it, as did their daughter, Paige, whose actions at the end could throw everything into a spin, assuming Pastor Tim doesn't just laugh her off. Reagan's "evil empire" speech was the soundtrack of the episode's closing moments, and the cold war just got a whole lot chillier.

    And Grey's Anatomy. Holy cow. I did not see that coming. Talk about a game changer.
    Monday, April 20th, 2015
    1:12 pm
    Left Justified
    My latest essay, The Wheel of Fortune, is up at Stephen King Revisited. It puts The Dead Zone in its historical context.

    I picked up a golf club yesterday for the first time in roughly 30 years. The only other time in my life I've "gone golfing," I was a grad student at Dalhousie University. A group of us took a weekday afternoon off and went to a par 3 course near the airport. I was the only one who told my advisor what we were doing. All the others made up excuses. I discovered that I couldn't tee off to save my life, but I was a pretty decent putter. My biggest problem was that I was forced to use right-handed clubs when my natural tendency is to swing left. We had a lot of fun, but I wasn't inspired to take up the sport.

    Yesterday, my daughter's fiance and I went to a place called Top Golf. You rent a "booth," which is sort of like a lane at a bowling alley. It's a bit like a driving range, I guess, except it's game-based. The one we picked made use of the half a dozen or so targets in the field that were divided up into rings and segments. You got more points for putting your drive into a ring closer to the flag, and for hitting a farther target. No points at all if you hit it really well, but missed all the targets. I got left-handed clubs, and found that all of a sudden I could hit the ball pretty well. I couldn't bring myself to do a full swing by bringing the club back over my shoulder—I didn't have that much confidence—but I could drive the ball 150 yards or so with a three-quarter swing. It was fun. Might try it again.

    We watched a movie called 5 to 7 this weekend. It starred Anton Yelchin, who I first remember from Hearts in Atlantis and, more recently, as Chekov in the Star Trek reboot. He plays an aspiring writer living in Manhattan who nails his copious rejection letters to his wall and takes encouragement when an editor hand-writes "sorry" at the bottom of a rejection. He meets a French woman during a smoke break, and things take off from there. The title refers to a euphemism in France for an affair, because during those hours a wayward spouse's whereabouts are generally less certain, but in this woman's case she takes them literally. If the young writer wants to see her, it must be between those hours. Her husband has a mistress. It's all very natural in their culture. The young writer even gets invited to the house to meet the rest of the family and the mistress. His parents are less accepting of the situation, especially his father (a delightful Frank Langella), though his mother (Glenn Close) is rocked on her heels a bit by it, too. It's all very fanciful, but it treats both cultures respectfully. A fun, frilly film.

    I've never seen a single episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica before last weekend. I watched the 3-hour miniseries and then went right into season 1. I can see a kinship with its contemporary, Firefly, especially in the way the cameras track when filming the spaceships from the outside. I'm liking it so far.

    One of my favorite shows came to an end last week. It's always a sad moment when I pull up the DVR menu and delete a show from the series recordings listing. I've been watching Justified since day 1 and I've always enjoyed its laconic dialog, fascinating characters and iconic feel. It's a modern-day western mixed with crime fiction, populated by stupid criminals, that had a fantastic, morbid sense of humor. It was Elmore Leonard to the core, and even when it sagged a bit, it was better than anything else on the tube. I knew the end was coming and I dreaded it, but they pulled it off far better than I could have expected. Life doesn't come to an end for the characters just because the show does. Lives go on, just in a different context. I applaud Graham Yost and Olyphant and Goggins and Carter for a terrific send-off to a fine, fine show.
    Monday, April 13th, 2015
    2:48 pm
    Stoking the star-maker machinery
    We saw a couple of interesting movies this weekend. First was a documentary called The Wrecking Crew that focused on a group of session musicians who worked on just about every famous album you can think of that was recorded in L.A. in the 1960s. The so-called "crew" wasn't an official name and it was applied to a group of as many as 20 or 30 musicians. I was familiar with the concept of the session musician—Toto was formed from a group of them—but I had no idea how pervasive or influential they were. They were far better musicians than many of the acts they supported. They created riffs that their counterparts in the bands couldn't duplicate. They invented some of the most famous bits of these songs. They appeared on albums by The Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, the Association, Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Cher, Captain & Tennille, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, The Partridge Family, Elvis, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and so many more, including Glen Campbell (did you know he played on Elvis and Sinatra albums? Or that he toured with the Beach Boys?), who arose from among their ranks and became a performing musician in his own right. These were the go-to musicians when you needed someone reliable. Some record producers wouldn't book studio time unless they knew certain of them would be available for the session. The documentary was written by the son of one of the best known, Tommy Tedesco. It's not a big budget production, but we came away from it with a better understanding of and appreciation for the music of that era.

    Then, on Saturday we went out to the cinema to see Danny Collins, a film I hadn't even heard of before that day. It stars Al Pacino as a rock star musician who hasn't written a new song in thirty years. He still packs in the audiences, but the crowd is getting noticeably older. He's almost become a lounge lizard, trotting out the same old favorites. Think Barry Manilow. Then one day his manager (Christopher Plummer) tells him that John Lennon had read an interview he did 30 years ago and wrote him a letter, only the letter went to the magazine instead of to him, and it's only just now come to light. It was a personal invitation by Lennon to call him up and talk about the perils of fame (this part of the story is based on a real event). This causes something of a personal crisis for Danny Collins. He sets up camp in a Hilton in NJ (managed by Annette Benning), starts writing songs again, and attempts to right some of his past wrongs. Bobby Cannivale and Jennifer Garner play a couple whose path crosses with his, and they have a delightful but frenetic little daughter. It's a charming movie that upends expectations to a certain extent. The banter between Benning and Pacino is terrific (Benning is utterly charming), and Jennifer Garner's compassion and honesty shine through, too. Plus Pacino seems to be having a blast. He embraces the aging rocker persona and plays it for all its worth.

    I finished rewriting a short story and got it out the door this morning. It was originally written for a Canadian anthology where it wasn't accepted, and the new market had certain geographic constraints that meant I had to relocate the setting. There was one specific detail of the original version that I thought was going to play havoc with the move, but it turned out that this detail was also associated with the new location, so I didn't have to uproot it as much as I thought I would. And I was surprised by how delighted I was when I reread it for the first time in a few months. The last paragraph really made me grin. It's a long-shot market, but I'll have other places to send it if it doesn't make the cut.
    Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
    3:57 pm
    Imitation
    My interview on the Ka-tet podcast, Episode 41 is now live. This link takes you to the index page rather than straight to the MP3 playing page. It's Dark Tower-oriented with an Australian accent. It contains spoilers, and it lasts for nearly three quarters of an hour.

    I received my contributor copies of October Dreams 2 last night. What a beautiful volume. My story is called "The Boy in the White Sheet." I look forward to reading all of the other contributions.

    After watching The Imitation Game, I decided that Alan Turing, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a cross between Sherlock (as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. Apparently it's not quite an accurate representation of the man, and there's a substantial controversy surrounding other inaccuracies in the film, but we enjoyed it. I especially liked the director's response to the criticism. He said that this was art: you don't look at Monet's water lilies and expecting to see what water lilies really look like. It's a representation of water lilies, just as this movie is a representation of Turing's life as a code breaker. It's not a documentary.

    The first season of Better Call Saul finished up last night. The series doesn't have the huge dramatic moments that Breaking Bad did, at least not very often, but it has some terrific character moments. That Bingo game from hell was almost a torment to watch as Jimmy worked though his hurt feelings and anger. Lots of "Easter eggs" from breaking bad, too, including the stories behind some of Saul's anecdotes, like the time he pretended to be Kevin Costner. It'll be interesting to see where they go with it next season, but it seems to me it has a built-in expiration date: the day Walt hires him. Unless, that is, they decide to go off in parallel, because Saul had other things going on besides Walt.
    Monday, March 30th, 2015
    2:19 pm
    This is thriller
    I received a very nice email late yesterday afternoon advising me that my short story "The Honey Trap," published in the MWA anthology Ice Cold, edited by Raymond Benson and Jeffery Deaver, had been nominated for a Thriller Award from the International Thriller Writers. This came as quite a surprise, as I hadn't even thought that it would be under consideration. Someone must have recommended it, or perhaps the editors or the MWA made the stories available for consideration. I was very pleased when the story made the cut for this anthology, so now I'm doubly thrilled by this accolade. I don't know yet who the other nominees in the short story category are, but I imagine the competition will be stiff. The winner will be announced at Thillerfest in July.

    The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film, edited by Danel Olson, is now available for pre-order. And a bargain at only $25 for a 752-page volume. It contains essays (including one by me) and cast and crew interviews. In addition, there is a special gallery of alternate film poster art. There are many behind the scenes photographs as well, provided by crew members. An illuminating introduction from acclaimed Oscar-winning writer/director/producer Lee Unkrich ushers the discussion forward, asking why the snowbound story still means so much for pop culture, filmmakers, and us. The book is scheduled to ship in late May, approximately.

    I turned in my column for Cemetery Dance issue 73 yesterday. I still have to write my review of Finders Keepers for that issue. I still have to do a blog post about it for King of the Year, but that's not due until June, and something for Overlook Connection, by which time I should have said everything I have to about the book.

    I thought the season finale of The Walking Dead was a little low-key. Oh, sure, lots of fights and struggles but what did it all come to? I found the scene between Elizabeth and the old woman on The Americans quite powerful last week, but couldn't help but think that if she'd just stayed downstairs, all of that messiness could have been avoided.
    Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
    3:10 pm
    Things I learned from CSI: MoCo
    My latest Stephen King Revisited essay went live today. It's called "Only Death Can Keep You from the Finish Line," and it's about the history of The Long Walk.

    I went down to Murder By the Book in Houston last night to meet Dan Simmons (photo) on the first leg of his The Fifth Heart tour. I've been corresponding with Dan for at least 15 years, but this is the first time we've ever met. I wrote the tribute to him for the souvenir book when he was Grand Master of the World Horror Convention in New Orleans, but alas he was not able to make that meeting. He talked for a while, then read a section from the novel and then answered questions. He's currently working on a book called Omega Canyon that deals with the Manhattan Project and espionage and Richard Feynman.

    Our local community has a lunchtime talk every month related to law enforcement and safety. I've gone a few times in the past. Today, the speaker was a local CSI, who explained the reality of the job versus what we see on TV. Most of it was common sense, but a few things surprised me. Luminol, used to detect the presence of blood, something CSIs squirt around on TV like air freshener, is a carcinogen, so they use it sparingly. (The luminol glow also fades within 30 seconds, so they have to act quickly when something is detected or else spray again.) Fingerprints sent to AFIS (or related services) generate a batch of hits that are then returned to the CSI for visual comparison. It's not done automatically by the computer. Our sheriff's department has the only dedicated crime scene reconstruction room in the country. The clay in the ground around here is so heavy that most people attempting to bury bodies give up after 6-12" and just cover the corpse over with debris.
    Monday, March 23rd, 2015
    2:25 pm
    What. Did We. Just See?
    I did a Skype interview yesterday afternoon for the Ka-tet podcast. My interviewer was located in Australia, so it was Monday morning (quite early) for him. We talked for about 35-40 minutes about many Dark Tower topics. The podcast will be up within a week, I'm told.

    This weekend, I worked on a batch of new essays for Stephen King Revisited. I'm up to Cujo, which gives me a bit of breathing room since The Stand (original) is the most recent one posted. I've been struck, while working on this project, by the difference between when a book was written and when it was released. For example, King started working on Cujo in 1977, before Night Shift was published. Doubleday books were in the publication queue when he moved to Viking. It's a little bit of cognitive dissonance.

    We went to see The Kingsman on Friday night. It was a very rainy evening. We managed to get from the restaurant to the multiplex between downpours, but we got soaked during our mad dash from the movie theater to the parking garage afterward. What an odd movie. I'm not sure whether it lampoons spy movies or pays tribute to them. The violence is orchestrated to the extent that it's almost ballet or, in one case, disco dancing. The movie cues are hilarious: Pomp and Circumstance playing while peoples' heads explode in puffs of color like fireworks. One part of the film is about a series of tests that recruits have to go through to try to qualify for one open position in the spy agency where all of the members are known by Arthurian nicknames. These are even more grueling than the ones Wesley Crusher had to go through to try to join Starfleet Academy. In parallel, The Kingsmen have to stop a lisping billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson from decimating the world's population to reduce global warming. My favorite character was Merlin (Mark Strong from Low Winter Sun and Zero Dark Thirty). Some of it was so over the top that my mouth gaped, and I had to laugh at other parts, but all in all it was fun. Mind-altering, but fun.
    Friday, March 20th, 2015
    12:44 pm
    Spring has sprung
    There's never any doubt around here when spring has officially arrived. All of a sudden everything is coated in yellow-green pollen. When I leave work in the afternoon, it streams up my windshield like tiny hailstones. I can see my tire tracks in the driveway, and my tires lay down green prints in the garage. For people with allergies, it hellacious. For everyone else, it's just messy. We've already had a couple of days over 80°. The heavy rain we're expecting over the next couple of days should wash some of the pollen away, but I have no doubt there will be more.

    My short story "Groundwood" gets the audio treatment by Nelson W. Pyles at The Wicked Library today. This is the second time they've adapted one of my stories to audio. Check it out when you have a spare half hour or so. The story is set in the groundwood division of a paper mill, something with which I was very familiar back in the late 70s and early 80s. In those days, students could work in the mill during summer vacation and get the same wage as the regular employees, so it was a great way to earn money for university. Of course, the work was grueling at times, and groundwood was one of my least favorite places. We were generally on call. If a regular didn't feel like showing up for work, he'd call in sick, and then one of us would get the phone call. Often it was the 12 - 8 overnight shift. I used to lie in bed, dreading the sound of the telephone until 11:30 or midnight had passed, especially on a Friday night. Even then, there was a chance that you'd get a call if a worker just didn't show up. I'd have to put on my work clothes and drive the 10 miles to the mill. If you were called in late, the hoppers or magazines would be near empty so you had to work twice as hard to get caught up. If you got into the rhythm, you could fill them up and then take a 30 minute break, so a good shift was 45 minutes of hard labor, a 30 minute break, then another 45 minutes of work and so on throughout the shift. The magazines were one floor above the grinders, which used steam to soften the wood, so it was a hot, dank place. We usually found someplace else to be during the 30 minute break. One time, my coworker on our line climbed onto the roof and went to sleep. Didn't come back. I had to find a foreman to take over, by which time the magazines were pretty much running on empty. Worst shift ever.

    "Groundwood" is a zombie story that doesn't have any zombies in it. Well, it does, but they aren't lurching around.

    I received my copy of the signed and numbered edition of 25 Years in the Word Mines by Graham Joyce yesterday. A somewhat poignant arrival. This version has a "chapbook" of extra stories—the slim hardcover companion volume is signed by Owen King (foreword), Kelly Braffet (afterword) and Graham's daughter Ella. Both volumes fit snugly into a slipcase. I look forward to having the chance to read these stories.
    Monday, March 16th, 2015
    3:20 pm
    Second best
    Saturday was an unexpectedly nice day. We had a 9 a.m. meeting at the town center and afterward decided to go see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at a matinee. The old folks are still denizens of this outsourced elder-care hotel in Jaipur, India and life goes on. The owner is getting married and is looking to expand, so he and Maggie Smith go to L.A. to get investors, which means an undercover agent is going to stay with them to evaluate the existing property. These are quaint films that probably grossly underplay what it must really be like to live in India, but charming all the same. The subplots were all pretty good, except for one that was rather silly. It's always good to see Judi Densch and Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy chewing up the screen with a batch of other good actors, including Doctor Who's Penelope Wilton and some Bollywood stars who put on some energetic and entertaining dance routines. Richard Gere is along for the ride this time, too. Afterward, it was nice enough to sit on the patio at our favorite local pub for a late lunch. I think the pub was taken by surprise by the weather, though, because they were severely understaffed. We didn't mind waiting for our food and drinks, but several groups either left or complained about the slow service.

    A new review for The Dark Tower Companion went up late last week, along with an interview I did with the reviewer. I seem to be on a run of interviews. I did one for an Italian site last week, this one and then next weekend I'm doing a podcast with a guy from Australia. It'll be 5 a.m. where he is, so that should be interesting! I'm trying to get ahead on a batch of essays for Stephen King Revisited so I can go back and take another run through my novella to see how it looks after a couple of weeks distance. I also have a CD column due at the end of the month, together with a review for a book that I'm hoping to receive this week. Never a dull moment.

    I don't take on new TV series readily these days, but I thought I'd give American Crime a shot. Good cast tempted me. However, I quit partway through the second episode. I didn't like any of the characters. I generally like Felicity Huffman, but her character is abhorrent. She's supposed to be, but that didn't make her any easier to take. And Timothy Hutton's character, who I guess is supposed to be the audience avatar, is simply dreary.

    Battle Creek, on the other hand, is continuing to entertain me. It's a less serious crime show than many that I watch, and I fear that it's destined to be cancelled before long, but I'm enjoying the ride.

    I've been hanging in with The Walking Dead, but I only watch with one eye while I'm doing other things. I'm not even sure I know the name of the character who died this week, but boy was that ever gruesome. It's almost like they're trying to outdo themselves with the gore. My prediction is that the young woman exhibiting PTSD symptoms is going to go Charles Whitman next week, which is going to give "our guys" the excuse they need to take over Alexandria. It's clear they want to, but they can't just go ahead and do it without looking like villains.

    It's interesting to see how the stress of the race for $1 million is starting to get to some of the "blind date" couples on The Amazing Race. The gloves are starting to come off and they're sniping at each other. There's one woman in particular who is nagging her partner's ears off. "I don't want to rehash the problems we had yesterday, but..." I've always wanted to write a short story that takes place during a reality show. I'd been favoring Big Brother as the template, but I think it would be cool if one of the teammates murdered the other one while on "a race around the world." Just totally lost it and pushed the other person off a bridge or a cliff or a tall building. But that's just me...
    Thursday, March 12th, 2015
    1:32 pm
    St. Me
    My interview with Maurizio Ragusa went live at Stephen King Only yesterday. The interview is also available in Italian. I speak it amazingly well.

    I posted my review of The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, and I submitted a longer piece that attacks the book from a different angle to Dead Reckonings. Even though we've corresponded off and on over the years, since about 2000 I think, I've never had the chance to meet him. I thought that would change when he was named Grandmaster of the World Horror Convention in New Orleans, but he was unable to attend. I had the chance to present him in absentia, though, which was nice. He's coming to Murder by the Book in Houston later this month to promote The Fifth Heart, so I hope to get to meet him then.

    I can't help but wonder how much fun the kid plays Oscar in St. Vincent had with Bill Murray for all those weeks of filming. We watched it the other night—how could we not with that as a title? It's about a single mother (Melissa McCarthy) who moves in next door to the neighborhood grumpy old man, Vincent, and has to rely on him to look after her 12-year-old son after school. The relationship gets off to a rocky start when her movers knock a big branch from a tree onto his car, but he'd already done a number on the vehicle the night before when he was drunk. Oscar is the epitome of politeness and he worms his way into the crusty old guy's heart a bit at a time. It's a feel good movie that flirts with schmaltz, but we liked it. I usually can't stand McCarthy, but she is restrained in this film. The director must have had a firm hand, because he kept the actors from excesses. Naomi Watts if funny as hell as a pregnant Russian prostitute who has a soft spot for Murray's character. We learn more about Vincent as the film goes on, casting him in a more sympathetic light. The finale is high saccharine, but, as I said, we enjoyed the adventure. Chris O'Dowd is amusing as the Oscar's teacher at Catholic school. The closing credits are mystifying genius, featuring Murray singing along to Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm" while he plays with a water hose and a dead plant.
    Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
    2:54 pm
    The Night People
    This is how crazy it can be in Texas. At the moment it is flirting with 80°. When I get up for my writing session tomorrow it will be on the way to the predicted low of 25° and it won't get above 35° until noon on Friday. Yikes.

    Some books stick with me more than others. One that did is The Night People by Jack Finney, author of The Body Snatchers that was turned into a film or two. Though it sounds like it might be about vampires or something of that ilk, it's actually about neighborhood acquaintances who decide to have some nighttime adventures. It starts with one guy who has the irresistible urge to lie down in the middle of a road that's busy in the daytime but mostly idle at night. Things progress. The friends have a picnic on the sidewalk at a strip mall. A cop gets onto their case: he is offended by their shenanigans, even though no one or nothing is being harmed. Things accelerate. The stakes are raised. I remember finding it utterly charming at the time. A paean to non-conformity.

    This book came to mind as I was reading Sarah Pinborough's magnificent The Death House last weekend. I'd heard many kudos about the novel, but I knew absolutely nothing about what it was about, by design. I went into it blind, and I loved every second of it. It's been a long time since a book brought tears to my eyes, and this one did twice. I'm working on a full review for Onyx, but in a nutshell it's akin to Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, with shades of Lord of the Flies and maybe even a soupçon of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The narrator is a Night Person, roaming the eponymous house while everyone else is drugged asleep. But then he meets a kindred spirit, and the adventures begin. Charming, coming of age adventures under the shadow of a known, bleak future. I haven't been getting much reading done this year, but I set aside Saturday and read the whole thing from cover to cover. It's that good. It doesn't come out in the US until the fall, but it's available in the UK now.

    I got Amazon Prime recently so I could watch Bosch (well worth the cost, by the way), so I've been browsing through the other available offerings, and I stumbled upon Oz, about which I'd heard good things. I've seen the first four episodes: I see it as a precursor to Orange is the New Black. More serious than OITNB most of the time, with a marvelously over-the-top narrator, the guy who played Michael on Lost. J.K. Simmons is a nasty piece of work as the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood. I can't believe I've never seen a second of this show before.

    I received my contributor copies of Dead Reckonings #16 last night. Hank Wagner and I teamed up twice this time, once to talk about two books recommended by King (Christopher Golden's Snowblind and Nick Cutter's The Troop), and again to discuss the latest two King novels.
    Friday, February 27th, 2015
    1:14 pm
    A life is like a garden
    As we get older, death becomes a more familiar companion. Certainly not a welcome one, but familiar all the same.

    I didn't come to Star Trek early in life, mostly because where I grew up we only had one television station and Star Trek wasn't on it. There was no such thing as VHS back then, so if it wasn't on the tube, it pretty much didn't exist.

    My first exposure to the show came in 1979 when I went to university. The TV lounge in our dorm had cable, and Star Trek ran every weekday at noon or thereabouts. We had lunch the moment the dining room opened at 11:30 and dashed up to our floor to watch the latest episode. I bought the James Blish novelizations and read them all. I went to see Gene Rodenberry when he came to the Student Union Building (a fact that I had forgotten until I recently stumbled across the ticket stub while sorting through old papers).  I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture on opening night.

    Not long after I moved to Texas in the late 1980s, I heard about a Star Trek convention in downtown Houston, some 40 miles away. I considered myself a hardcore fan by that point. Then I stood in the registration line between two guys in costume who held an intense debate about what Spock had been up to between the first two movies. They had evidence. If their conversation had been written down, there would have been footnotes. I felt waaaay out of their league. I enjoyed the convention, though I was a bit miffed when I realized that most of the vendors there had no interest in Star Trek at all. They were just out to make a buck, selling photocopies of photocopies of scripts and badly produced fan fiction. I got to meet Jimmy Doohan and Marina Sirtis, so there's that!

    I was thrilled to see Leonard Nimoy as the villain of the week on Columbo, playing a doctor who killed a rival physician using dissolving stitches. And, all these years later, I've been following him on Twitter where, among other things of interest, he talked about his battle with COPD and how stupid it was of him to smoke.

    He was taken to hospital last week after collapsing at home. His final tweet from a few days ago read, "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP"

    Today, his grandson posted the following on his Twitter feed:

    Hi all, as you all know, my Grandpa passed away this morning at 8:40 from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was an extraordinary man, husband, grandfather, brother, actor, author-the list goes on- and friend. Thank you for the warm condolences. May you all LLAP. - Dani

    P.s. I will be putting special shirts up on our site, SHOPLLAP.com , where all of the proceeds will go to the COPD Foundation. I hope to hear from you all.
    Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
    1:30 pm
    Tunneling
    You get a rejection letter where you were thisclose to cracking the table of contents. You have to withdraw another story from a longstanding project because it was starting to circle the drain. These things are part of a writer's life.

    And then there's the spontaneous email from a first reader who tells you he was tempted to call in sick to work that day because he wanted to stay home to finish reading your work. Or the random post that you stumble upon from a total stranger who says very nice things about a short story you published many moons ago. These things, too, are part of a writer's life. A couple of the latter is worth far more than a barrel of the former.

    Odd coincidences: Several days ago, I finished a work in which mysterious tunnels play a major role. Then I look at my favorite news site (CBC news, if you're curious) and see a blazing headline about a mysterious tunnel of unknown origin and purpose. Cool, you think. But my tunnel is more mysterious.

    I'm getting close to the end of Bosch, the 10-episode Amazon Prime series based on the novels of Michael Connelly. I don't think I've ever seen Los Angeles look so good on film. It almost looks like a nice place to live. Titus Welliver is good, although I have to keep reminding myself he's Harry Bosch. I can't articulate how I pictured Bosch over the years, but it wasn't like him. The season is based mostly on the novels Echo Park and City of Bones, though some liberties are taken. Bosch's ex-wife and FBI profiler Rachel Walling are blended together into a single character, for example. I'm enjoying it, but I wish there was an easy way to cast it to my TV. Watching on the iPad is okay, but just okay.

    The second season of Broadchurch has wrapped up. Apparently it's been renewed for a third. Nothing is neat and tidy in life, as the season demonstrates. I wish I hadn't watched Gracepoint, because that canceled series polluted my memory of Broadchurch's first season a bit and it took me a while to sort out who was who and what was what again. The season comingles two cases and involves the characters from season 1 along with some new additions. I enjoyed it.

    Very close to the mid-point of Justified's final season. The addition of Jeff Fahey to the cast is welcome. His Zachariah is a crusty old miner and Fahey throws everything into portraying him. He's the only actor I'm aware of who can laugh "heh heh heh" and make it sound like a real thing. A couple of good lines. Ava saying, "Anyone but me just plain tired of the bullshit burdens of southern hospitality?" The prostitute saying, "You'd be amazed how many guys think that if they talk fast enough no one will realize they've got nothin to say," which could be applied to a couple of the show's characters. And Raylan telling Tim, "Wonderful things can happen when you sow seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes."
    Thursday, February 19th, 2015
    1:10 pm
    Dissonant Harmonies
    Seven or eight years ago, Brian Keene and I first bandied about the idea of collaborating on a project. Our motivation was a shared habit of listening to music while we write and writing about listening to music while we write. I once wrote an entire novel (unpublished) listening only to Supertramp albums.

    Brian and I observed that, though our tastes were quite different in many ways, there was also an overlap region that includes groups like the Alan Parsons Project, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Styx, Kansas, ELO, etc. We wondered what it would be like to write something to the other person's music. At first we considered a short story collection, but ultimately the project converged into a pair of novellas, each in the 30-40,000 word range, that would be published together. Cemetery Dance liked the idea, so that's where this thing will end up eventually.

    But it took us a long time to get to this point. We'd raise the subject every now and then. I even made a subtle dig about it in a very short story I wrote a number of years ago. Finally, we got to the point where we established our ground rules about the playlists. I delivered a CD to Brian at NECON last year and he sent me a Spotify playlist shortly there after. Even so, it took us another six months to get to the point where we were ready to write. And we did. As of yesterday, we're both done our first drafts. Still plenty of work ahead, so the book isn't on anyone's publication schedule, but we're getting there.

    To commemorate the event, Brian posted our combined playlist on his website in the form of a Spotify plugin. He had to take a few liberties, because not all of the songs I chose were available on Spotify, but it will give you an idea of what each of us listened to while these stories came together.

    Brian says his story is "about soul-mates, unrequited love, and how sometimes doing the right thing means doing the wrong, all seen through the prism of the Labyrinth’s multiple realities and alternate universes)." Mine is about the brother who left and the one who stayed behind, a series of mysterious disappearances, and the mother of all blizzards that heralds the arrival of something most definitely wicked.
    Wednesday, February 18th, 2015
    2:07 pm
    I don't know what to dream any more
    I finished the first draft of my novella last weekend. It came in at just over 38,000 words. I also dictated the remaining section into Word, so now it's all digitized. I made one quick pass through to fix up the artifacts from voice-to-speech. Now it's time for a good hard edit before I pass it off to someone else to read while I catch up on other things that have been pushed to the side while I concentrated on this work. I'm quite happy with how it turned out, but now it's up to other people to let me know if it's any good. Fingers crossed.

    One strange after-effect of finishing, though. Throughout the four weeks it took me to get from beginning to end, I thought about the story all the time, especially when I was going to sleep at night. I would work out the next day's storyline as my mind drifted off. It was pretty amazing. But now that I'm done, I don't know what to concentrate on when I'm going to sleep. I did manage to identify one plot hole the other night, but beside that, I'm sort of stymied. Guess I'll have to figure out what I'm going to write next and set my subconscious mind to work on that.

    I've been enjoying Better Call Saul, but my wife bailed after the second episode. She's not a big fan of stories with despicable protagonists. I like all the little, subtle nods to Breaking Bad, and glad to see Mike getting something more to do than send Jimmy back to get his parking validated.

    I also enjoyed a six-part series called Babylon that aired on Sundance. It was about a young American female media wonk who is hired by the commissioner of the London police force to handle public relations. It's an odd show, part satire, part straight drama, but it has an interesting arc. No word yet whether there'll be a second series. I don't think it set the world on fire over here.

    I've been limping along with The Walking Dead, but last week's preachy, let's pump the metaphors episode wasn't encouraging. Tonight is the two-hour series finale of The Mentalist. Looks like there might be a wedding. Enjoying this final season of Justified, too, although this week's entry was a little weaker, though a weak Justified is still a ton better than just about anything else. I've been trying to find time to watch the ten episodes of Bosch on Amazon Prime (Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch, based on the Michael Connelly novels), but not yet. I watched the re-cut first episode and part of the second but then I got sidelined. That novella really did consume me for a month, but I liked how much I got written in that short period of time. All of it by hand.
    Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
    3:57 pm
    And he shall be called Frank
    I've reached the 2/3 point of the novella and something odd happened. One of the two main characters, whose name was Jessie, suddenly insisted that his name was Frank. I have no idea how or why this happened. Now, I know that Jessie isn't the traditional male spelling, but there are enough examples to support its use. However, half the time when I put the pen-tip to paper to have him do or say something, my first inclination was to write Frank. I can't explain it. So, from this point forward, Frank it is. I've also finally come up with a name for my fictional town. Until now it was ____port, which, when I was dictating the text into Word became blank-port. I can now fill in the blank.

    I have most of the rest of the story mapped out in my head, in broad strokes. I find it interesting that I had a target of 40,000 words and that seems to be exactly where I'm heading, more or less. The first round of editing is going to be a bitch, though—first comparing the text to the handwritten version to fix up all the incorrect speech-to-text translation, and then making sure it all holds together continuity-wise.

    Justified is cooking with gas this season. There have been some shocking events, but it's hard to top the one that happened last night. They're bringing out all the old familiar faces, too. This week we had Dickie and Loretta, next week it will be Limehouse and Deputy Bob. The clamps are tightening on Ava each week, and Boyd seems oblivious to it all. Looks like she's going walkabout next week. Gary Busey's son was a guest star this week, and he left an impression. Or a divot.

    Banshee is also blowing up the screen this season. Another regular bought the farm in dramatic fashion last weekend. You'd almost think it was the final season of that show, too, the way they're cleaning house. I think it's time for a new police station, though. Maybe one with thicker walls.

    I'm enjoying the PBS series A Path Appears, which is based on the book by NYT reporter Nick Kristof's book, co-written with his wife. The title comes from a Chinese proverb about how, if enough people decide to take a certain route through a field, eventually a path will appear there even if there was none before. The series focuses on some of the most oppressed people, both in the US and around the world, and how local initiatives are attempting to put things right. There are usually two or three stories in each 90-minute episode, and Kristof takes a celebrity activist along with him. Some of these have been very impressive. This week it was Mia Farrow going with him to Kenya. Jennifer Garner was very impressive with her interest in domestic violence issues in West Virginia, and Ashley Judd in Nashville regarding sex trafficking. It's simultaneously depressing because of the subject matter and uplifting when you hear about local people digging deep to do something about an issue in their own town. The guy from Kenya this week was simply awesome. Completely self-educated but smart well beyond his years and resourceful, as well as determined and visionary.
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