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|Friday, September 16th, 2016|
|Netflix for short stories
This is my 27th
anniversary at the day job. Technically, it's tomorrow, but I won't be at work on that day, so I'm calling today the anniversary. This time next year, I will have worked for the same company for exactly half my life (although the company has undergone a couple of name and ownership changes over the years). In this era, that's a pretty good record, but I still have a couple of decades to go to achieve the longevity my father did with his company.
I finished writing another new short story by hand the night before last and dictated it into Word yesterday morning, which has become my new way of doing things lately. The story is a little over 4000 words and it didn't change much during my first editing pass, other than to correct grammar and transcription errors. My favorite dictation error converted "Ghostbusters" to "Ghost bus tours," although I also liked the change for "Ghost Riders in the Sky" to "Ghostwriters in the Sky." This is my third new story in a few weeks. I have at least one more to write and a couple more markets to find submissions for. Then it's back to novel land.
I don't think I mentioned this review of the audio version
of The X-files: The Truth is Out There
. It says, in part: “'Phase Shift' was easily the highlight of the anthology for me, and centers around a house and its inhabitants confronted by a strange anomaly. This is a really good story with a strong, and strongly executed, premise, the ending of which highlights the particular darkness one may confront in such an odd situation. Sorry for being vague, but this is a good one to go into blindly." I approve of this message!
A couple of weeks ago, Nick Mamatas contacted me about a new project called Great Jones Street
, named after a New York/SoHo street that was also the title of a Don DeLillo novel. Their plan is to become the Spotify or Netflix of short fiction. Nick was curating the mystery section of the project and solicited a couple of reprints from me. So far, they've been great to work with: the contract came almost immediately and payment within a week after that. My stories aren't available yet, so I won't name them here. Stay tuned: there's an app for everything these days!
The cover and table of contents for the double issue (#74/75) of Cemetery Dance
magazine is now available at their website
. I have four pieces in this trade-magazine-formatted issue: an interview with Joe Hill (to be fair, most of the content in that piece is his, not mine), two featured reviews and one essay. But do I get my name on the cover? ;)
I finished Marcella
on Netflix last week, and am now looking forward to the next season. It's a British crime series in which the main character, a female Detective Sargent, has violent fugues when put under great stress, so she has gaps in her memory. Sort of like the alcoholic fugues featured in The Girl on the Train
. Now I'm onto season 2 of Narcos
and enjoying it. It's very violent, but it's a fascinating look at a turbulent time and place. My wife and I are nearing the end of the third season of Game of Thrones
. Looks like it's time for a...Red Wedding (to be heard in Billy Idol's voice).
|Monday, September 12th, 2016|
|Pate de foie gras
I finished a new short story this weekend and got it off to its potential market. I have a few more of these that I'd like to tackle in the next four to six weeks. Then it's back to novel land, a territory I haven't visited in a while.
We saw Sully
this weekend, the Clint Eastwood biopic about Captain Chesley Sullenberger's successful landing of an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River after losing both engines when the aircraft encountered a flock of Canada geese. Tom Hanks is very good in portraying Sully as a man who was sure of his decision but who wasn't terribly comfortable with the spotlight of publicity.
Because the movie needed an antagonist, the NTSB investigation is depicted as confrontational. They argue that Sully made the wrong decision, that he could have made it back to La Guardia or over to Teterboro, NJ, according to all the computer simulations. The panel included Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad
) and Jamie Sheridan (The Stand
). Laura Linney was Mrs. Sully, relegated to the wings (at home) while the drama unfolded.
The crash itself is depicted in a very straightforward manner. In fact, the entire picture is solid filmmaking without any unnecessary flash or pizzazz. There are a couple of scenes where Sully imagines what might have happened if he'd made different decisions that will probably be disturbing to New Yorkers, especially given the weekend the movie debuted. The only odd thing about the movie was the way it ended. It just stopped, after a joke made by the copilot during the NTSB hearing. Fade to black and then end credits. It felt abrupt.
At the end, the audience that saw the movie with us applauded. It's been a long time since I've experienced that. It is a feel-good film, with a few patriotic tugs, but I wonder at clapping for a motion picture, where there's no one present to receive the adulation. It was a spontaneous reaction. I was reminiscing with my wife afterward about how, in the very early days of air travel (in my lifetime), people used to applaud whenever a plane landed. Every time. I wonder when that stopped. Probably at around the same time that people stopped dressing up to go on a flight. (My father always wore a suit and a hat when he flew.)
|Tuesday, September 6th, 2016|
I got my semi-annual royalty check for When the Night Comes Down
, the Dark Arts collection that contains four of my stories. I can now buy that pack of gum I've been saving up for! The book is available in both trade paperback and eBook if you ever want to sample a variety of my writings.
I also sold a new short story, which is always nice. I signed the contract but the book hasn't been announced, so I'll hold off announcing the details until later. I will say that the story involves a couple of characters who have appeared in other stories of mine.
My wife and I were off the grid on a four-day cruise over the long weekend to celebrate her birthday. People generally ask us where we went, but it doesn't really matter, because we didn't get off the ship! They used to have this thing called the cruise to nowhere, and that would suit us just fine. There was just one stop, in Cozumel, where we've spent time before, so we decided to avoid the throngs of tourists and enjoy the mostly empty ship. We even got in a round of minigolf on the upper deck! It was a very nice, relaxing four days indeed. We had some great meals, lots of wine, took in a couple of shows and read a bunch. The image above is the menagerie of towel animals that we ended up with in our stateroom by the end of the trip. A different one appeared each evening during the turn-down service.
After finishing The End of Everything
by Megan Abbott, I read Burial
by Neil Cross, the guy who created and writes Luther
, a compelling crime novel about a guy who covers something up then gets involved with someone directly affected by what he covered up and then has the whole thing come crashing down around him a few years later. Gritty and tense.
Then I read Alex
by Pierre Lemaitre, translated from the French. It's the second book in a trilogy, but it was the first to be translated into English of the three. It starts with a kidnapping, but by the end of the first section, you realize that the person who took the title character had understandable motivations and the victim is more than she seems. By the end of the second section, there's another reversal and you come to the conclusion that the victim-cum-villain had her own particularly understandable motives for what seems like a rash of random crimes. The book deftly plays with the readers sympathies. It has some quirky characters and a very tight plot. I went from there straight into Irene
, the first book in the trilogy. Alas, I know the ultimate fate of the title character, but the story doesn't start with that situation, but with another set of gruesome murders. Good stuff.
|Wednesday, August 24th, 2016|
I finished the first draft of a new short story this morning, my first in a while. The draft took about seven days, and the story came in at about 4900 words, which is quite a bit longer than I expected. However, it was over 5000 words before I did a pruning edit on it yesterday, and that was before I added the final two pages this morning.
I hand-wrote the first 4000 words and then I dictated it into Word on Monday morning so I could work on the computer from that point forward. I always have to proofread very carefully after I do that because the built-in voice recognition module of Windows 10 is quite good, but not perfect. I still have a couple of plot details to reconsider, but then it's on to the proofing/revising stage. I have a week to get it ready for submission, but I hope to have it mostly done by the end of the weekend.
I moved away from Canada in the late 1980s, so I mostly missed out on The Tragically Hip. However, with all the publicity around their final concert tour, culminating in the final show on Saturday night, I've been re-educating myself on their music. I picked up a copy of "Yer Favorites," a 2-CD collection of songs selected by the fans, which is a good introduction to their most popular songs. I watched some of the simulcast of the final concert on the CBC YouTube channel on Saturday, too.
I met Michael Koryta a couple of years ago at NECON and we've become friends ever since. He came into Houston for a signing at Murder By the Book last Friday. He almost didn't make it: his flight was scheduled to land around noon, but that was the middle of a torrential downpour, so he got diverted but finally made it into Houston with a little time to spare for the 6:30 event he was doing with local author Bill Crider. Afterward, we went out to dinner with a couple of the MBTB people, which was a lot of fun. If you haven't read any Koryta, check out his latest two books, which are part of a trilogy: Last Words
and Rise the Dark
. My introduction to him was The Prophet
, which I can also highly recommend. Also high on my list: Those Who Wish Me Dead
. I need to catch up on some of his back list.
|Monday, August 15th, 2016|
|Murder on the High Cs
After five or six consecutive days with the temperatures exceeding 100° and the heat index in the mid 100-teens, we've had some relief. In the form of torrential rain, but we'll take it. After a very soggy beginning to the year, we've been a while without any precipitation at all, so it's a welcome return.
It rained a bit during the day on Saturday, but it was Saturday evening when the heavy stuff started. We could hear it from inside the movie theater at the local multiplex, pounding on the roof. When we got out, our car was in the attached parking structure. It wasn't raining at the moment, anyway, so we contemplated going somewhere to eat. One glance at the dark, dark skies (it was 6:20 pm) had us reconsidering, so we headed toward home, thinking we might stop somewhere closer to the house. Then the skies opened up in a deluge, so we went straight home. Unlike many of our neighbors, we actually use our garage to store our cars, so we managed to avoid getting wet at all.
We saw Florence Foster Jenkins
, starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg (from The Big Bang Theory
). Streep played the title character, a real-life socialite who aspired to being an opera singer despite having no talent or aptitude whatsoever. By carefully curating the attendees and excluding any critical media, she manages to produce a number of engagements over the years, including a final event at Carnegie Hall where a more true response to her painful caterwauling bubbles to the surface. (I wish I could take credit for coming up with today's subject line, but someone else beat me to it.)
Helberg plays a young pianist hired to accompany her (apparently Helberg actually plays the piano throughout). His reactions to that first practice session are worth the price of admission alone. Afterward, we debated whether her husband (they had a chaste marriage because she developed syphilis thanks to her first husband when she was 18) was an enabler or was truly devoted. He allowed her to get into these situations and helped shield her from criticism by doling out wads of cash to compliant journalists. (By the same token, he was a mediocre actor and she confessed to hiding some of his worst reviews from him, too.) In the final analysis, she was happy doing what she did, so I guess there was no harm done, except to some eardrums and some musical sensibilities! Streep is her usual very good self, and Grant is a definite step above his usual bumbling, stammering persona. We won't, however, be buying the soundtrack.
I got caught up on some delinquent book reviews recently. Check out Onyx Reviews for the following:
I'm working on my first new short story in a while, too. Writing it longhand. I have no idea where it's going, but I'm getting there a day at a time.
|Monday, August 8th, 2016|
Turned in my 40th column for Cemetery Dance
magazine last night. That's a lotta words, especially factoring in how long the early ones were.
We watched a fascinating movie on Netflix called The Birth of Sake
, a documentary about the sake makers at the family-owned Yoshida Brewery in northern Japan. For seven months a year, these men devote their lives to all the steps needed to convert rice into wine. They live at the brewery and get two days off a month during this period. Some of them get up at 5 am every day to tend to the vats. Others have to check on things every couple of hours during the night. It's an intensive process, far more demanding than normal wine making. Many breweries have automated the process, but Yoshida is one of the few that still does it the traditional way. You have to believe that their attention to detail produces a significantly superior product in order for their sake to be competitive in the marketplace, but boy it sure does look like a lot of hard work.
We also watched Miles Ahead
, the Don Cheadle-driven (co-written, directed, co-produced, starring) biopic of Miles Davis. I saw Davis at the JVC Jazz Festival in June 1991, three months before he died. At that time, he couldn't or wouldn't speak when he was on stage. He held up placards with single words on them from time to time. In this film, Ewan McGregor plays a putative reporter from Rolling Stone
who wants to get the big story of Davis's prolonged hiatus. The McGuffin is a tape of Davis's most recent recording sessions, claimed by the studio but stolen by Davis at gunpoint. A lot of people are after that tape, and viewers hope that there's something worth hearing on it. Unlike many biopics, this one doesn't show much of Davis's life overall, focusing instead on this very brief period in the late seventies, with the occasional flashback. It's almost a gangster movie, with shootouts and street chases. Fun stuff.
Getting out of the house, we saw the 3D version of Star Trek: Beyond
, which was fun but not terribly memorable. We only opted for 3D because that showing fit with our schedule. There aren't many 3D moments in the movie, but there is a level of added depth. Probably not worth the surcharge. I liked the Jaylah character quite a bit. Idris Elba was virtually unrecognizable save for his voice throughout much of the movie. There were entire minutes that I had no real idea what was happening because so much was going on at once. A little bit chaotic and dark.
I finished my re-watch of Stranger Things
yesterday, in preparation for doing a tag-team review with Hank Wagner for Dead Reckonings
. It was every bit as good the second time around.
|Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016|
|The Little Things
It's always gratifying to receive an Honorable Mention from Ellen Datlow. In the introduction to the newest Best Horror of the Year, she mentions notable fiction in October Dreams II
, including my story "The Boy in the White Sheet."
And here's a trip and a half: someone posted this photograph on Facebook. Its from Guillermo del Toro's book At Home with Monster
s, part of his massive library. Someone else observed that the tall volume with the silver spine on the second shelf is my book, The Stephen King Illustrated Companion
. How cool is that?
We watched Hello, My Name is Doris
on the weekend. It's an indie film starring Sally Field as a woman of a certain age who has been looking after her mother for many years. The mother has just died and she's now faced with all the possibilities of effectively being liberated from incarceration. She's worked for the same company for years, doing data entry, and essentially being ignored. One day, a new, young coworker speaks to her in the elevator and she becomes infatuated with him. She has Walter Mitty-like fantasies about him and learns from the 13-year-old daughter of a friend (Tyne Daly) how to make a fake Facebook page to learn more about him. She pretends to like his favorite band, and they end up going out on the town a couple of times. He sees her, but he has no romantic interest in her. In fact has a girlfriend. It's not a comedy, it's not a drama, it's not a tragedy...it's hard to say what it is...except it's good. Field is fantastic in this part. She's a hoarder and an eccentric, but she becomes fully alive despite her brother's efforts to "fix" her. Peter Gallagher has a small bit as a motivational speaker (impossible = I M possible), Stephen Root plays her brother and Max Greenfield is the object of her obsession. Natasha Lyonne is severely under-utilized as a background character, my biggest gripe with the film.
We also finished the first season of Quantico
. It has taken us a long time to get through it, what with kidney stones and trips to Japan and all. I have come to the conclusion that the big problem with network TV series is that there are too many episodes. This means they have to pad out plots and concoct too many fake cliffhangers and plot twists to keep things going for 22-23 weeks. I have the same issue with The Blacklist
. I have become increasingly fond of the 8-12 episode series. Quantico
is okay—we'll probably dip into the second season—but the acting is spotty, and the series verges on being soap-opera-esque at times. The final reveal made sense, but this was after the suspicion had been shifted onto literally every other character at some point in the season, so we were a little bit red herringed out by the end.
We're also watching the second season of Marco Polo
on Netflix. The thing Kublai Khan does at the end of the second episode almost put us off continuing, but we decided to give it another episode and we're back on track again. It's a good replacement for Game of Thrones
. Similar sorts of intrigues. I'm three episodes into my re-watch of Stranger Things
, too, prepping for the conversational review Hank Wagner and I are doing for Dead Reckonings
|Tuesday, July 26th, 2016|
|How NECON cured my jet lag
Fifteen hours of sleep over a three-day period, on top of two cross-country flights will do it!
I got into Providence on Thursday afternoon after a couple of uneventful flights that took me through Charlotte. It was an early morning departure, so I got my sleep deprivation off to a good start. I can make the drive from PVD to NECON in my sleep, I've done it so often over the past dozen years or so. There was a pot-luck dinner at the convention hotel, a new development, so that was good. Spent the evening in the quad having great conversations with a number of people. I talk more over the NECON weekend than I do for the rest of the month.
One person I met was a fortuitous blast from the past. The first time I went to NECON was shortly after I had a story accepted to Borderlands 5
. It was the Monteleones who mentioned the conference to me and suggested I might like to attend. A while after that, the anthology was sold to Time Warner for the paperback release. One weekend, while my wife was out of town, I went to the local pub, which is located right next to the interstate. I was sitting on the deck and the traffic noise was loud. My cell phone rang, which was a rare enough event at the time. Caller ID showed a NY area code. It was the editor from Time Warner, who really liked my story ("One of Those Weeks") and wanted to talk to me about it. She also asked if I had a novel to show her. At the time I didn't. The editor was at NECON and remembered the story. She asked again if I had a novel, and this time I do, so that's cool. Fingers crossed.
I was on one panel, wherein we discussed awards, what they're good for, and some of the recent controversies surrounding them. I took part in the pub quiz, and while we didn't win, we didn't end up with zero points, either! It was a lot of fun. Then, for the first time, I was invited to take part in the roast. That set off a few alarm bells, because there's generally a lot of subterfuge around the process, with reversals and twists, so I thought there was a small chance I might end up on the receiving end. I was part of the "rapid round," where ten people who'd never taken part in a roast before got 15 seconds to hit the victim (Rio Youers) with their best shot. The risk, of course, was that someone would use your joke before your turn came up, but that didn't happen.
The con was a good mix of veterans and newbies, and it was fully subscribed. I think that's the first time that's happened when I've been in attendance. Everyone seemed to have a grand old time--I know I did. I had to get up at crazy o'clock on Sunday morning to get my 8:00 flight (there aren't many options that get me back from PVD other than very early morning or late evening), which got me home shortly after noon. Lack of sleep caught up with me a few hours later--I nodded off a few times while we were watching a movie, so I did something I rarely do: I took a nap. That helped greatly and I now feel like I'm completely over the jet lag that had been messing with my sleep since my return from Okinawa.
Time to get back to the regular routine.
|Monday, July 18th, 2016|
|Stranger and stranger
I had the weekend to myself, so I watched a lot of Netflix.
First, I finished Season 1 of Bloodline
, wherein all is revealed. Leave it to a cop to be able to set up the near-perfect frame-up job. "Near" being the operative word, which sets up Season 2: the cover-up and the repercussions.
Then I binged my way through the eight episodes of Stranger Things
. I'm not a child of the eighties—the seventies was my formative decade—but I lived through the 80s, so I was familiar with all the allusions, from the Ford Pinto to Realistic electronics from Radio Shack to the music featured in the series. It's a mash-up of just about everything you can imagine from that decade, and more. Off the top of my head, I found myself thinking of E.T.
, Close Encounters
, It, Firestarter
, Super 8
, The Goonies
, Altered States
, Stand By Me
, and so on.
The entire young cast could have been lifted en masse and dropped into the It
remake. In fact, the guy who plays Mike (aka Turtle Face) will be Richie Tozier in the new film. My favorite character was Dustin, he of no front teeth. He was a real trip. I was thrilled to see Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. She was so incredible in Intruders
(based on the Michael Marshall Smith novel), where she had to channel a 70-year old foul-mouthed man. She's only 12, but she has serious acting chops.
Good to see Winona Ryder again, too. She has a difficult part, because for most of the eight hours she has to be in full-on hysteria. I found it interesting that you could tell her character knew how crazy she sounded at times to everyone else. I particularly enjoyed her scenes with Eleven later in the story, where she gets to be motherly and less hysterical. Matthew Modine's evil scientist was the weakest part, I thought. He has no redeeming traits whatsoever. Monotone bad guy. But the rest of the cast and characters were stellar, and the story was terrific, too. I might watch it again before too much time passes.
I also watched the first two episodes of The Night Of
on HBO. It's a remake of a British series called Criminal Justic
e, and the focus is on the justice system. A guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time gets arrested for a crime he probably didn't commit. The first episode is a case study in everything a person in that situation should not do. John Turturro plays a sketchy ambulance-chasing lawyer (originally it was supposed to be De Niro) who happens to be in the right place at the right time to insinuate himself into what he sees as a potentially lucrative case. The series is gritty and as realistic a portrayal of the system as I've ever seen on film. It doesn't move along very fast, because nothing moves quickly. Thus far there are no bad guys. The lead detective, Box, is very good at his job and doesn't mind testing the limits of a suspect's rights, but he thinks he has his guy and he just wants to wrap up the package for the prosecutor. Interesting to see James Gandolfini's names among the executive producers. I guess that's something you can do from beyond the grave. It's an eight-part series—I really look forward to seeing the rest, and might track down the original British series, too.
|Wednesday, July 13th, 2016|
|Lester the Lobster
I was sound asleep at 12:30 am the night before last when the guy delivered my delayed baggage, and I feel like I could have slept through the night. However, last night I was wide awake at 1:30 am and remained more or less awake for the next couple of hours. Jet lag, man. It's a drag.
I was trying to remember what the other movie was that I watched on my way to Japan and it finally came to me: a very odd indie film called The Lobster
. It's a dystopian flick set in a time and place where it is against the law to be unattached. If your partner dies or leaves you, you have 45 days to get a new one. You're shipped off to this hotel resort with other singles and if you fail to connect with someone after that period (it's a little fluid, because there are ways of extending your deadline), you are turned into the animal of your choice. Colin Farrell picks a lobster because they have blue blood (status), live a long time and are fertile all their lives. The hotel is run by Olivia Coleman, and John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw are among his fellow desperately seeking singles. It has the feel of a Wes Anderson movie, with voiceover narration provided by Rachel Weisz, who enters the film later as a renegade single who lives in the nearby forest.
What's it all about? I couldn't possibly tell you, but it seems to have something to say about loneliness and togetherness. And poking your eyes out with a sharp stick. It's surreal and absurd and I think I liked it.
I finished the fourth Game of Thrones novel and I think that Martin made a huge mis-step there. Once he discovered that the novel was going to be too long, he decided to split it into two books, which is all well and good. However, instead of slicing it in half temporally, he divides the two books by character, which means that Jon Snow, Daenerys and Tyrion, three of the series' most interesting characters, don't appear in it at all. It's bad enough reading the books now, having to wait a couple of weeks to get to the fifth book to find out what's going on with them. I can't imagine what it was like for people reading the books upon release having to wait six more years (after waiting five years for the fourth novel) to catch up with them. Well, as someone who read The Dark Tower books as they came out, I can sort of sympathize. I can't imagine that HBO did the same thing with the TV adaptation. I'm only at the beginning of the third season there, though.
I started watching the Netflix original Bloodline
last night. Intrigued enough to carry on.
|Tuesday, July 12th, 2016|
I was happy that Air Canada finally delivered my delayed luggage to my door. Less happy that they chose to do so at 12:30 am. As a remedy for recovering from jet lag, I can't recommend getting woken up in the middle of the night highly enough.
So, I'm back from a week in Okinawa, where I got to meet my grand-daughter for the first time. In this picture, she is one week old.
My trip across the Pacific took me to Calgary, then Tokyo and finally to Naha, Okinawa. Breaking the trek into parts seems to help, although the 4-hour layover in Narita was a bit of a killer, making the final 3-hour flight at the end of a 24-hour trip brutal. The layovers were much shorter on the return trip, and I was able to complete the journey in a mere 20 hours.
This was my first time on Okinawa, where my daughter and her husband (and, now, their daughter) have been living since last fall. Until they went there, I didn't have a firm grasp on where Okinawa was, but it's like Japan's Hawaii. It's a long way from the "mainland," and is tropical, has sandy beaches and coral reefs and surf. It's closer to Taiwan and Korea than Tokyo, I believe. It has a slightly different historical tradition than Japan, too, so the culture is somewhat different. It rained a lot during the week, mostly thanks to Super Typhoon Nepartak, which missed the island on its way to Taiwan but caught us with its outer bands. Good thing it missed—at one point it was offering gusts of wind in excess of 200 mph. A buoy registered a pressure of 897 millibars, which is really, really low, indicative of a very powerful storm.
It takes a long time to get anywhere on the island. In the cities and towns, the roads are narrow, with lots of stops. There is a toll expressway, but even there the maximum speed is 80 km/hr (50 mph). Thanks to Google maps, we were able to navigate without too much trouble. I don't know what we would have done without it. The hospital where my granddaughter was born is visible from the expressway, but the route to it from the exit was convoluted, and the fact that we couldn't really read the street signs didn't help! My wife did all the driving (she lived in the UK for 5 years and has more experience driving on the right) and I navigated.
The American military presence in Okinawa is contentious and strongly felt. Kadena is the biggest base, and just about everywhere we went we encountered Air Force personnel, many of them very loud and very brash, which is at odds with Japanese culture. We went to a curry restaurant one night and the place was packed with young men, many of them still teenagers, yelling and roaring at the tops of their lungs. My daughter and her husband have encountered that a number of times before and have been so uncomfortable that they've left the establishment.
We didn't really do much sight seeing, but we covered the stretch from Naha, where the airport is to Nishara (hospital) to Kadena (restaurants and shops) to Onna (apartment) a number of times. That accounts for about half the length of the island. We didn't have many language problems, though our trip to the grocery store was interesting. Figuring out whether those were ham slices or chicken at the deli was a real challenge (we got it wrong).
I watched a lot of movies in transit. On the return flight, I saw Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
with Tina Fey, which was a lot more serious than I expected, but that wasn't a bad thing. The trailers focused on the funny bits (stopping the convoy so she could pee; the clip where the Afghani woman driver accidentally shifts into reverse) but it's a decent look at the lives of embedded reporters, and Fey is a compelling viewpoint character. I liked it a lot. Then I watched a German movie called Grüße aus Fukushima
(Greetings from Fukushima
). It's about a self-absorbed young German woman who has a personal setback, so she joins an organization that sends her to Japan to be a clown to entertain a group of elderly people who are still in a shelter after the tsunami. She has a hard time fitting in, but she befriends one woman, Satomi, who is determined to return to her destroyed family home in the "dead zone" caused by the flood and nuclear incident. It's an east-meets-west kind of story that reveals a lot about the Japanese culture as the two come to understand each other and their personal tragedies. It's also a ghost story. A touching drama in black and white. Completing my international film festival, I watched a Canadian movie called The Confirmation
starring Clive Owen, Maria Bello and Jaeden Lieberher (who will be Bill Denborough in the forthcoming It
. Owen is a recovering alcoholic who is looking after his son for the weekend. He's struggling to find work, and when his valuable carpentry tools are stolen, he is launched on an improbable journey to try to get them back, with son in tow. They meet a bunch of shifty characters (including Patton Oswalt as the shiftiest of the bunch) and learn a lot about each other along the way.
On the trip over, I watched Spectre
, the latest James Bond, which was pretty good, and an hour-long documentary about Queen from their early days through the recording of "Bohemian Rhapsody". I saw something else, too, I'm sure, but I can't recall it at the moment. Thanks jet lag.
I caught up on Aquarius
and Murder in the First
(an interesting and timely plot development involving the Black Lives Matter movement and a scene in which a black cop shoots a black suspect) since I got back, and watched the first episode of Irdis Elba: No Limits
, in which he practices to become a rally driver and tackles his first rally drive in Ireland. My favorite quote from the episode was this: “I'll tell you one thing about flipping cars (i.e., rolling over): once you've done it...you don't want to do it again.” It was also fun seeing Tess Gerritsen cameo-ing on Rizzoli & Isles
in a meta-scene where the author gets to meet her creations.
|Thursday, June 30th, 2016|
I stumbled upon a real blast from the past, a TV show that was a favorite when I was eight or nine. It's called Randall & Hopkirk Deceased
. Imagine if Miles Archer came back as a ghost in The Maltese Falcon
. Hopkirk is killed in the first episode and returns as a ghost for the rest of the series, assisting his partner and friend Randall in solving crimes. He can walk through walls—he teleports, really—but he can't touch or move things (mostly). Given that the show is nearly fifty years old, it's understandably dated, but I was fond of the show back in the day. I know there was a short-lived remake recently, but I never saw any of it.
I finished the second season of Game of Thrones
and am about 80% of the way through the third novel. I'm starting to see a few points of departure between the books and the series. I understand these will increase as time goes on.
I went to see Independence Day: Resurgence
last night. My low expectations were met. It's a pretty bad movie, all in all. I mean, if you're an alien species that needs the molten core of a planet for a power source and you have thousands of planets to pick and choose from, why would you opt for the one where people might not want you to take their molten core? There are so many plot holes and logic problems and so much laughably absurd behavior that the movie could almost be a case study on those topics. Brent Spiner (ST:TNG's Data) is one bright spot in the film as a sort of mad scientist freshly awakened from a 20-year coma (he has a wonderful relationship with another character). It's always fun to see Judd Hirsch, even if his character is so stereotyped as to be almost offensive.
The movie ends with an obvious setup for a sequel, but given this one's dire performance and reviews, I'd be surprised if there's a third film. In my lifetime, anyway.
|Tuesday, June 28th, 2016|
|Five armies vs five kings
I finished my first new short story in a while. I've been thinking about it for weeks and doing the necessary research, but it took me a while to get around to putting pen to paper. On Friday morning, I wrote the first half of the story longhand. Then, when I was in the shower, I realized that I had begun the story in the wrong place. Usually this means that I've started it too soon, but in this case I started it too late. So during breakfast I wrote another several hundred words. I finished the first draft, a very
rough draft, that evening.
Since then I've been proofing and revising it mercilessly. Generally my stories get shorter upon revision, but this one got longer by about a third. It took me a while to get everything to flow the way I wanted it to. Lots of awkward transitions. But I finally got it to the place where it was time to let it go, so I submitted it this morning.
I have a couple of other short stories I want to write. I have a long flight ahead of me this weekend, so I'll probably get a little writing done then, as well as a lot of reading. I'm about ⅔ of the way through the third Game of Thrones novel. I just reached the Red Wedding, which I'd heard about when it happened on the TV series. The funny thing is that I expected it to take place during Joffrey's wedding, not when it actually did, so I was quite taken by surprise. I've been studiously avoiding all the spoilers out there, especially this week after the finale. I know that Joffrey will get his due, but I really don't know much else about what's going to happen, so I'm enjoying this immensely. I'm a few episodes into the second season of the TV series, too. Now I know how to imagine Brienne of Tarth.
I saw all of the Lord of the Rings movies when they came out in the theater and have the extended cut DVDs of all three. Also went to see the first two Hobbit movies but, for some reason, when the third one came out I didn't get around to seeing it. A couple of months ago I stumbled across it on HBO and recorded it. I had some free time on the weekend, so I finally decided to watch it. I think Game of Thrones
has spoiled me. That TV series looks so grim but real, whereas the world of The Hobbit
feels fake to me now. I was acutely aware of the special effects, and the dialog felt stagey and artificial. About 45 minutes into it, I'd had enough, and I deleted it from the DVR. I'd also recorded Mad Max: Fury Road
, which I saw in the theater when it came out, so I watched that instead. I liked it very much the first time, and I think I got even more out of it the second time. Good film.
I finished The Path
on Hulu. An okay series, but I'm not sure I'll bother with the second season. I watched the first episode of the new Orange is the New Black
and will probably continue with it this week. Saw the two-hour premiere of the second season of Aquarius
and the second episode. I think Hodiak (David Duchovny) is one of my new favorite cops. They've given him some terrific lines. The first episode of Queen of the South
was okay. It reminded me a little of Burn Notice
. Based on the previews, it looks like the rest of the season will take place in America, whereas in the novel, Teresa hid out in Europe. The new season of Murder in the First
is off to a good start. Imagine having your lover as the prosecutor against you in a vehicular homicide case! And I've seen TV shows that rip stories from the headlines before, but never so blatantly as on this week's Rizzoli and Isles, where the story was based on the Michael Peterson case that was documented so well in The Staircase
back in 2004. I wrote about the documentary back in January
. Peterson is a novelist whose wife reportedly died after falling down the stairs and a friend of the family died under suspiciously similar circumstances a number of years earlier.
I'm off to see the new Independence Day
movie with my buddy Danel Olson tonight. I have modest expectations of the film.
|Thursday, June 23rd, 2016|
I received my contributor copy of the signed/limited edition of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film
the other day. Impressive, big book! Signed by Danel Olson, Stanley Kubrick assistant Leon Vitali, Academy-Award winning director Lee Unkrich, “woman in the tub” model Lia Beldam, second unit cinematographer Greg MacGillivray, and 13 other contributors, including me. There were only 100 copies available, and it is now sold out, according to the Centipede Press website
I probably didn't have the full Comicpalooza experience. That's the thing when you live close to the convention and only pop in when needed rather than staying at the con and spending all three days there. I went in on Friday morning to spend some time wandering the dealer's room and exhibit hall. Then, at 2:30 I had my panel on Horror Literature, moderated by Doug Goodman and featuring Les Klinger, Nate Southard and Lee Thomas. Then I headed back down to the exhibit hall for my 3:30 signing at the Barnes & Noble booth, which was much better attended than I expected. I had people waiting for me to arrive! I signed their stock of The Road to the Dark Tower
, The Dark Tower Companion
and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion
when I was done, too.
That Republican candidate whose name I don't want to mention on this blog was in my town that evening so my wife met me downtown for dinner to avoid the circus. I didn't have anything on the schedule for Saturday so I didn't go in that day. I went in again on Sunday afternoon, but I didn't factor in the fact that there was an Astros game nearby, so parking was a nightmare. The place I'd parked on Friday was full, the next lot I tried wanted ⅓ more than I'd paid on Friday. I went down one street and found places near the ball park charging $40! Then it started to rain. Hard. I found a lot where they were only charging $10 but they directed me to go in through the exit of the parking garage across the street after I paid. It seemed a little fishy, but everyone was doing it so I thought...why not. Worked out okay, so I guess it was legit.
The panel on Thrillers was also moderated by Doug Goodman, and we were joined by Quincy J. Allen, Tony Burnett and George Wright Padgett. At first we heavily outnumbered the audience, but more people came along during the discussion, so it wasn't that bad. I didn't buy anything at all at the exhibit hall, and I wandered through the autograph and photograph area without parting with any money there, too. I saw David Prowse and Peter Mayhew (Vader and Chewbacca) and many of the other celebrities in attendance, but only from a distance.
I have some extra time on my hands this week and next, so I've been catching up on some saved-up TV shows. I binged through the latest and penultimate season of Orphan Black
earlier this week. It has never again quite hit the lofty heights that it did in the first season, and the conspiracies are getting really hard to follow, but it's still a decent show elevated by Tatiana Maslany's performances. I'm also nearly through the first season of Game of Thrones
, which so far is sticking pretty close to the book. I'm about ⅓ of the way through the third novel in the series. I plan to finish off The Path
, which I've been ignoring for the past couple of weeks and plow through the new Orange is the New Black
season. Not sure what else I'll get up to. Maybe I'll watch Cell
, although I haven't heard much good about it and I was never that fond of the book, either.
|Tuesday, June 14th, 2016|
This weekend, Comicpalooza comes to Houston. I've attended the past couple of years, but this is the first time I was invited to be part of the literary track. I have a panel on Friday at 2:30 (Horror Explorations in Literature
) followed by a signing at the Barnes & Noble booth from 3:30 - 4:30. My second panel is on Sunday afternoon, also at 2:30, on Writing in the Thriller Genre
I finished watching the final season of Banshee
. If you've never seen it, I recommend it. It's over-the-top, bigger than life, but full of terrific characters. It's about Lucas Hood, an ex-con who comes to a small town in Pennsylvania looking for his old flame and the spoils of their lasts job. Through the most unlikely of circumstances, he ends up becoming the town's sheriff, all the while pulling off heists and fielding off a variety of antagonists. His small gang consists of Sugar, the ex-boxer he met on his first day in town, Job, the flamboyant computer hacker and Carrie, the ex-lover, now married to the D.A. with two kids.
At the end of Season 3, Job had been taken prisoner by unknowns. Season 4 starts nearly two years later, with Hood living off the radar while he tries to figure out how to punish himself for some of his mistakes. The season also starts with a Who Killed Laura Palmer?
-esque mystery featuring a prominent character from the previous three seasons. For a small town, Banshee attracts a lot of bad characters, including a former Amish man who runs most of the crime in town (and is now its mayor), along with his psychotic killing machine of a manservent, white supremacists, and the like. Plus, this season, satanists, cartel and a serial killer. The series is best known for its ultra-violent (and highly stylized) fight scenes and for its vivid sex scenes. This season continues in that regard, and it wouldn't be a season of Banshee
without at least one RPG or bazooka blast. Plus good use of a flame thrower. This season also introduced Eliza Dushku (who, as it happens, will be at Comicpalooza) as a crack-smoking FBI agent.
As series finales go, Banshee
had a pretty good one. The serial killer plot was mostly wrapped up at the end of episode 7 (of 8), except not quite. There were several confrontations, both big and small, with guns and bombs and car crashes and ass-whoopings. Hood had an excellent near-death moment where he remembered just about every other time he'd almost been killed. Most things were wrapped up in nice little bows, most people got to say their goodbyes in one way or another. It's nice when a show gets to plan its exit like that. Satisfying.
|Monday, June 13th, 2016|
|A smashing success
I'd like to tell you all about my lithotripsy procedure. I'd like to, but I can't. Because I don't remember a moment of it. They stuck an IV in my arm and hooked me up to some of the same stuff that killed Michael Jackson and I was out like a boxer through the entire process. I came to some time later, wondering when they were going to get started. Apparently it all went off without a hitch. I didn't even suffer any of the bruising or aches that was a possible side effect of having my kidney zapped with sonic blasts. At least, that's what I assume they did. for all I know it was like the picture.
One amusing anecdote. After I had the IV in, the doctor came by and asked me if I'd passed the stone since I last saw him. "I have to ask the obvious question," he said, because he'd had one case where the guy did pass the stone but showed up for his surgery and let them start an IV before proudly holding up the stone in a little vial.
We watched a couple of movies this weekend. First, it was Hail, Caesar!
, the Coen brothers' tribute to the golden age of cinema. It stars Josh Brolin as a studio fixer. The guy who gets actors and directors out of trouble when they fall off the wagon or get pregnant out of wedlock, stuff like that. He's very good at his job. When mega-star Baird Whitlock (an amiably dim-witted George Clooney) is kidnapped, he goes about getting him back in a calm, professional manner. The movie has lots of little set pieces rather than an overall plot. There are a couple of song-and-dance routines, one featuring Scarlett Johansson and another with Channing Tatum straight out of Fred Astaire, sort of. There's a cowboy star who's thrust into a parlor picture directed by Ralph Fiennes that leads to a Pygmalion-esque scene where the director tries to get rid of the oater's drawl. Tilda Swinton plays twin rival gossip columnists, sort like Ann Landers and Dear Abby. It's all very amusing and has probably more inside jokes than we could catch. I was surprised at how well it reviewed...this is one of those films that the reviewers liked significantly better than the general public.
Then we watched Blackway
(previously titled Go With Me
), a straight-up thriller starring Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles and Ray Liotta. Stiles has come back to the small Pacific northwest town where she grew up after her mother died. She crosses paths with Liotta, a by-the-numbers bad dude, and he decides to stalk her. Kill her cat, all that kind of stuff. So she turns to the cops...no help there. She's referred to a logging camp group (Hal Holbrook seems to be the head honcho) and Hopkins agrees to help her get Liotta off her back. I didn't find that the film had a great deal of suspense, and very little by way of character dimension. I have no idea why Liotta was behaving like he did, or why Stiles' character was so determined to stay in town, or even why Hopkins was willing to confront this bad dude, though I suspect it was supposed to be something to do with his daughter. I kept thinking of Stiles as Lumen from Dexter
and wondering when she was going to run into the serial killer, because we all know where he ended up.
|Wednesday, June 8th, 2016|
|Bring me my sonic screwdriver
I finished the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones
, and now I'm ready to move on to A Clash of Kings
. Good stuff. I haven't read any fantasy in a long time, although this is almost more Arthurian historical than fantasy. There are a few supernatural characters, but it's mostly about the House of This versus the House of That, Kings and would-be Kings, etc. I have the first season on DVD to watch in a couple of weeks when I have some free time to binge watch. I'll also be catching up on the current season of Orphan Black
So, lithotripsy, a word which basically means "smash stones." I have to have this non-invasive procedure on Friday because Petra, my pet rock, refuses to budge. It's supposed to be fairly routine, with minimal discomfort, but there's anesthesia involved, so no driving for 24 hours afterword. The procedure uses sound waves to turn the rock into sand, which will then pass more readily. Some possible discomfort from that process, but then it will be all done, I hope. They'll need to analyze the fragments to see what they're made from to see if I can modify my diet to prevent this from happening again. I'm all for that.
We're in the midst of a rare patch of dry weather (my Facebook "blast from the past" notification yesterday reminded me that five years ago we were in the midst of a major drought) these days. The yard is almost completely dry for the first time in a couple of weeks. More rain in the forecast starting over the weekend, but nothing like what we've been through, I think.
|Monday, June 6th, 2016|
|As Gandalf sez...
My review of End of Watch by Stephen King
appears at Cemetery Dance Online today.
My kidney stone and I are remaining close pals. I've named her Petra. I wish she'd leave. For the most part, she is a cooperative visitor but every now and then (like for about eight hours yesterday), she raises an unholy ruckus. In the meantime, I'm drinking water like it's going out of style.
We watched a few movies this weekend. First, we saw Rising Sun
with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. I've seen it a couple of times before, but I always enjoy it, even if it is somewhat West-centric and a little dated. The tech is very dated, but so are the hairstyles.
Then we saw Tokyo Fiance
, the tagline for which could be Amelie
in Japan. In fact, the main character's name is Amelie. She's a Belgian woman who was born in Japan and lived there until she was five. Now she's twenty and returning to Japan as a French teacher. One of her students (her only
student, it seems) is a Japanese man of her age who is fou pour francais
. As they explore Tokyo and its environs, she teaches him French and they fall in love. The ending was a little bit rushed, I thought, but it was a charming little film, good for an outsider's view of modern Japan.
Then we watched Ali
, starring Will Smith. It covers about a decade of the boxer's life, from the early sixties until the Rumble in the Jungle, the boxing match with George Forman in Zaire that returned him to heavyweight champion after several years lost due to his political convictions and legal issues. I didn't find the movie terribly coherent. It skipped along the surface of most events, and if you didn't know the history, you might not be able to orient yourself to what was happening. It spends a lot of time with Malcolm X, but there is only a brief and confusing moment showing Martin Luther King's assassination through the eyes of a secondary character. And while the other actors immersed themselves in their roles, I could never shake the notion that I was watching Will Smith. I tried to see Ali. I tried hard. Just couldn't make it happen.
|Thursday, June 2nd, 2016|
|I got a rock
I didn't ask for a kidney stone for my birthday, but that's what I got!
About a month ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in my abdomen. It tormented me for a while, then went away. I thought it was, perhaps, some sort of temporary obstruction or gas. It didn't bother me again...
Until the day before yesterday. I was standing at my desk at work when the pain hit me again. Exactly the same, only worse. I figured, it passed before, it'll pass again. So I walked around my office, and lay on the floor and sat. The pain came in waves. Never quite going away, but sometimes increasing in intensity. So, eventually, I called my wife to drive me to the ER.
The PA who triaged me said she would put in an order for pain medication. That was around 2 pm. It was nearly 5 pm by the time I got into a room and no one seemed particularly rushed to give me anything. All that time, the pain hadn't relented. Worst I've ever experienced. They (even the female nurses) say that it is comparable to giving birth. I'll never know for sure, but...ow.
Eventually I got a shot of morphine and all was well with the world again. I had a CT scan with iodine contrast and the doctor reported a moderate-sized kidney stone. I got prescriptions for medication to dilate the tubes and some pain medication and that was that. An 80% chance it would pass.
So far, it hasn't. I've only had to use the pain meds once, thankfully, after a brief spell yesterday afternoon. I've been working at home these past two days and will probably do so again tomorrow. We're getting more heavy rain, so it's just as well not to be out on the streets when there's no place for the runoff to go. I'm hoping this thing will decide to come out on its own, although I'm not exactly looking forward to the moment when it does. My father had several bouts of stones when I was a kid and I remember it as not being a happy time at all. Of course, the pain meds are probably a little better now.
We watched Our Brand is Crisi
s last night. It stars Sandra Bullock as a political consultant who has been off the grid for half a dozen years after some erratic and questionable behavior. Ann Dowd enlists her for the presidential campaign in Bolivia, where their candidate (who looks a LOT like Geoffrey Rush) is 28% behind in the polls. Billy Bob Thornton is working for one of the opposition candidates, the frontrunner. He and Bullock have history.
Through a series of savvy and shady maneuvers, Bullock turns the campaign into a tight race. It's based on the real campaign that was managed by James Carville's firm back in 2002, one that had a less than stellar outcome. Bullock is terrific in this film, and her badinage with Thorton is a lot of fun to watch. While it's appropriate to the material, I can't help but think the film's title was something of a deterrent. It has lousy review scores and only made back about 1/4 of its costs during its theatrical run, so I guess it gets branded a flop, but we enjoyed it.
|Tuesday, May 31st, 2016|
|Winter Isn't Coming
The day after I was stranded in downtown Houston because of flooding rains, we got walloped by a second rainstorm of equal intensity on Friday afternoon. All the secondary roads leading south (toward Houston) from our community were under water by the end of the afternoon, as well as many feeder roads and exits off the interstate. (Click here to see some impressive drone video of these major roads
The picture to the right shows the Brazos River in Fort Bend Country (southeast of where I live and work). That area might not have received much rain, but it's downstream from the places that did, so the water ran into the rivers and eventually crested and ran over the banks. A number of communities west of Houston were evacuated. People who didn't leave are now trapped in their homes for the time being.
And it's supposed to rain again for the next few days after today. With the ground so soggy already, there's no place for the water to go. Fortunately, the community where I live has excellent drainage. When I went home on Friday, the ditches were raging torrents. Our front lawn was covered in water and the yard decorations were floating in the back yard, but by the next day the water was all gone and none of it got anywhere it shouldn't.
I posted my review of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub at Onyx Reviews
today. Now I am embarking on a journey to Westeros. Until now, the only thing I've read of the Game of Thrones material was the "The Hedge Knight" novella from Legends
, and I've still seen none of the TV series. My plan is to read a novel and then watch the corresponding season. I assume that will work, right? I do know what most of the actors who play the parts look like from the frequent discussions of the series over the years, so that helps, in a way.
I thought it would be heavy going, but I read more than a third of the first book yesterday. There are a lot of characters to keep track of but, man, what an imagination. This is an amazingly developed world with an intricate history. Looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.