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|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.
|Friday, May 27th, 2016|
|The Tide Is High
My latest entry in Stephen King Revisited is now available. Titled The Two Princes, it deals with the publication history of The Eyes of the Dragon
. While some may think we jumped ahead in our chronological sequence, the book was published in limited edition a few years before the more familiar trade edition, so that's why it appears where it does.
Yesterday was interesting. Two bookstores and a bar within shouting distance of each other sponsored a block party to celebrate the publication of The City of Mirrors
by Justin Cronin, the final book in his Passage trilogy. (Cronin lives in Houston and a lot of the action takes place in Texas, so these books have been a big deal 'round here. My review can be found here
.) Cronin appeared first at Brazos Bookstore, where he read for about fifteen minutes and then did a fifteen minute Q&A before migrating up the street like the Pied Piper, luring fans along with promise of a steamier passage at his second reading at Murder By the Book. Following the second reading and Q&A, everyone gathered across the street at Under the Volcano for the signing event.
I don't go into Houston very often, and when I do, it's almost always for a book signing. Early yesterday afternoon, the weather alerts started. Bryan/College Station got walloped by a tornado. The storm was migrating south towards us, so I got an early start and could see the dark clouds in my rearview mirror most of the way into town. In the city itself, the weather was fine. The skies were dark and ominous, but there was little more than the odd sprinkle of rain. I had an umbrella, but I never had to use it.
North of I-10, though, the situation was much different. Brenham, about 60 miles from where I live, received 14-16" of rain in a very short span of time (their previous one-day record for rain was 6"). The community where I live got 6-8" and there were reports of inundated roads (mostly feeder roads and intersections at the interstate). The local Emergency Management System admonished people to stay off the roads, especially after dark when it would be impossible to judge how deep the water might be in some places.
So, after getting my book signed (Cronin always makes fun of how much I appear in his Twitter feed), I consulted with my wife, who was at home. It wasn't raining cats and dogs—it was raining horses and cows. So I decided to hole up in a motel for the night rather than risk the 50 mile drive into uncertain terrain. If it hadn't been dark, I might have been more adventurous, but I didn't want to get stranded somewhere unfamiliar. It's funny—in this world of information technology, I had a lot of info, but not the specific information I needed, which was whether I could make it home or not. Complicating matters slightly was the fact that I didn't have a phone charger with me and I was already on the low side of 50%. So I found a place and checked in.
It wasn't a restful night, what with phone calls from the Emergency Warning System every couple of hours throughout the night and the fact that the room above me was occupied by Godzilla, who stormed around like a lumbering elephant. I was up before 5 a.m., which is my normal waking time during the week, and I checked out the situation on the various news channels. Another wave of rain was passing through, this one involving Houston proper, and it was still dark, so I waited until that storm exited my path and it started to get light before setting out for home. It was an uneventful drive. No high water anywhere. But there are threats of more storms later today, so I figured I'd better get while the gettin' was good, as we used to say.
But I got my book signed!
|Monday, May 23rd, 2016|
|Let's do the Lindy Hop again...
I finished Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors
this morning. It's an amazing end to a remarkable trilogy that spans centuries, nay, millennia. There's a lot of back story about Zero in this one, which at first seems like a huge digression until you realize that humanity was destroyed because of the actions of a star-crossed lover. Some brief and intense conflict scenes, and oh, what he does to Manhattan! I'll be seeing him at Murder By the Book in a few days. Looking forward to hearing what he plans to do next.
We went to see Money Monster
(which my mind insists is Monster Money
) on Saturday. The plot is highly improbable (no way the cops would let a guy strapped with a bomb walk out into the open streets), but it is redeemed by fine performances by George Clooney and Julia Roberts, not to mention Jack O'Connell, who I've never heard of before. Clooney plays the host of a cable TV show where he makes wild predictions about the viability of stocks and companies. One of his featured "buys" went so far south it has penguins, and O'Connell bet the family fortune on it. So he's a little miffed. He sneaks into the studio during live filming, armed with a gun and a bomb vest, which he makes Clooney's character put on. It's a little Network
—he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it any more. He doesn't want his $60,000 back: he wants everyone who lost a total of $800 million to get an explanation for the trading glitch that caused the stock to tank. Curiously, the CEO (Dominic West) is nowhere to be found. So Clooney, with the aid of his research team, some Icelandic hackers, and his intrepid camera man, producer and director, set about to get to the bottom of things, all live, all under duress. Directed by Jodie Foster, it's entertaining but doesn't have the power to get you all fired up like The Big Short
did. It also stars Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad
as the police officer in charge of the hostage situation.
We also watched The Royal Night Out
, starring 11.22.63
's Sara Gadon as a young Princess Elizabeth, and Rupert Everett and Emily Watson King George and the woman who we'd come to know as "the Queen mother." The story takes place on the night of V-E day. The war in Europe is over, and everyone in England is taking a moment to celebrate, even though the war continues elsewhere. Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, beg to be allowed to go out amongst the populace, incognito, to join in the revelry but also to hear what the people think about the King's speech and the monarchy in general. It is to be a tightly controlled excursion, but the two women manage to slip their handlers and have a number of experiences. It's very loosely based on reality. Maybe 10%. The real night out was nothing near as exciting as what the movie portrays (Margaret was only 14 at the time, though she's played older in this movie) but it's a fun romp and Gadon is charming and radiant as the future Queen. Plus she gets to put the Lindy Hop skills she acquired filming 11.22.63
to use again.
|Wednesday, May 18th, 2016|
Since finishing my responsibilities for the Shirley Jackson Award, I've been back at the process I think of as "clearing the desk." This involves making a list of everything that has an imminent deadline and knocking them off one at a time, preferably in chronological order.
The big one at the top of the list was a series of eight articles I agreed to write for Matt Cardin's Horror Literature through History
. I've participated in a couple of these before, and have always enjoyed the process, although there can be quite a bit of work involved. Typically I like to pick topics to cover where I am reasonably familiar with the material but haven't necessarily written about them at length before. My biggest piece for this book is a 2000-word entry on Ray Bradbury, which for a while was kicking my butt. Bradbury is a huge topic, even when narrowing the focus to the more horror-oriented side of things. But I finally have a polished draft that I'm happy with and ready to send in to the editor. So I can cross that project off the list, pending editorial requests.
Next up, I'm going to put on my thinking cap to try to come up with stories for two forthcoming anthologies. Maybe I'll try Bradbury's concept. He wrote a story a week every week. First draft on Monday and revisions for the next few days (always on a typewriter in his case). On Saturday he sent the story off to a market, took a breather on Sunday and started again on Monday. He would create a list of nouns and then interrogate himself about why he had chosen those particular words and what they meant to him, hence the preponderance of story titles of the form THE NOUN, especially early in his career.
came to an end. To my way of thinking, it wasn't a series that needed a grand finale. Castle and Beckett could just keep on keepin' on. The series finale was a patch-up job and the show deserved better. One more episode to tidy things up and send it on its way. It's clear that they intended the shooting in Castle's apartment to be the cliff-hanger, but once the powers-that-be decided that Beckett wasn't going to survive, the wheels fell off. Sure, the show was named for Fillion's character, but it wouldn't have been the show it was without Stana Katic. I loved watching her, right from the very beginning. She's the kind of actor who is totally present in the scene, all the time. Even when the focus is on a different character, you can see her reacting. She's not upstaging—she's just living in the scene. I always appreciated it. Plus I liked her clipped Canadian accent.
Anyhow, they shot this "and they lived happily ever after" clip that was only necessary because they couldn't leave us with the Escape from the Planet of the Apes
finale they'd written themselves into. It was okay, but oh-so-rushed, and we deserved better, after eight years. It always feels a little strange to delete a series like this from the DVR schedule. It's so final.
It wasn't a series finale for NCIS
, but it was definitely a watershed moment for the series, with the departure of Michael Weatherly's Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. It was a powerful episode (that featured the final departure of another character, off screen) that gave Weatherly the chance to show some serious chops, especially early in the episode when he's all rage. Then along comes this little girl, and, my, what a cutie she was (actually she was twins). It will be interesting to see where they pick up next season. Whether there'll be any additions to the cast. Apparently they're going to get some mileage out of Joe Spano's character's injuries, which could be good.
|Monday, May 16th, 2016|
|Fangs for the memories
My featured review of Joe Hill's The Fireman
went live at Cemetery Dance online this morning. The review will also appear in the Hill special double edition of the magazine, together with my interview with the author.
You know it's been raining a lot when the egrets and cranes start looking for fish in the ditches in front of the house...and finding something! I'm not quite sure what the egret found so yummy last night, but it put up a fight. Perhaps a crawfish or a frog. We had pea-sized hail on Saturday afternoon, and it has rained significantly each of the past couple of days and will probably do so for the next few.
We watched a strange and intriguing movie on Saturday night called The Family Fang
. It stars Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman (who also directed) as the children of a couple of performance artists (dad is played by Christopher Walken) who used them as kids in most of their public performances. They filmed the reactions of innocent bystanders to some outlandish behavior to capture the essence of life. Once Child A and Child B grew up and left home, the elder Fangs fell on hard times creatively, and they want to get the kids back in the game again. Child A (Kidman) is an actress who has a reputation for outlandish and unpredictable behavior and Child B (Bateman) had a successful novel and a less than successful sophomore book, and is currently blocked to the extent that he's willing to go on assignment to cover a bunch of rednecks who like to shoot potato guns into cornfields.
The story takes a strange twist when the elder Fangs go missing. Their car is found at a rest stop in a region where a number of people have been murdered in recent years, and there's blood in the car. Kidman is convinced this is another bit of performance art and doesn't take it seriously whereas Bateman is somewhat convinced they may have been murdered because he prefers that to the possibility that their parents want them to think they're dead. In the ensuing weeks, the siblings delve into their pasts and make some discoveries. I'd never heard of the film, but it's quite good. Kidman is spectacular, as usual, Bateman is solid and a fine director, and Walken is, well, pretty much Walken.
|Tuesday, May 10th, 2016|
|And now it can be told
Now that the contract is signed, I am pleased to announce that I will have a short story published in a forthcoming (yet to be determined which) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
, which has long been one of my dream markets. I already cracked their sibling publication, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
, so I've had my eyes set on this one for some time now.
I was invited to be part of the Literary Track at Comicpalooza
in Houston next month. I'll be sitting on two panels, one on "Horror Explorations in Literature" on Friday afternoon (Lee Thomas and Nate Southard are two of my co-panelists) and one on "Writing in the Thriller Genre" on Sunday afternoon. I'll also have a signing at the Barnes & Noble booth on Friday afternoon immediately after my panel. This is quite a growing concern, this convention. Among the actors who will be attending are Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Kate Beckinsale, Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Bill Paxton, Tara Reid, Lou Ferrigno, Lennie James, Walter Koenig (!!), Peter Mayhew, and David Prowse. Not to mention the extensive slate of authors, musicians, and people from the comics and gaming worlds. Should be a blast.
We saw Mother's Day
on the weekend, directed by Garry Marshall. OK, so it's not Wuthering Heights
, but we enjoyed it. There were several parallel storylines, some of which interlinked. It stars Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudekis, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale, Hector Elizondo, Britt Robertson (Under the Dome
) and others. Lots of preposterous and unlikely situations, but it was fun. The "bloopers" with the closing credits were amusing, too. We got a kick out of the one where Olyphant's character is trapped in a collapsing inflatable backyard slide and Aniston looks to the camera and says, "Justified!" The movie has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score I've ever seen (7% from 98 critics) but it fares better among the general audience. We'd shared a bottle of wine before seeing it, so that may be the recommended approach to it.
|Monday, May 2nd, 2016|
I've probably sunburned most of my body at one time or another in my life. Rarely much of it at the same time. There was the time I forgot to put sunblock on the back of my knees when I was walking around the beaches of France. Or the time I sunburned (severely) the tops of my feet while I was writing my doctoral thesis. Or the time I sunburned my scalp when we were driving around northern California in a convertible. Add to that list my shins, which I managed to sunburn this past weekend.
We spent four days at our favorite beachside getaway, Surfside Beach, which is less than two hours away by car. The place we usually rent is no longer available, so we tried a new rental property, which was quite nice. Centrally located, good view of the beach, nice big outdoor deck—two of them, in fact. After the first day, we limited ourselves mostly to the lower deck, where we were afforded the shade of the upper deck. Although it was hazy (the threatened torrential rains never materialized, thankfully), the sun was still doing what it does best, which is to fricassee exposed flesh.
We treasure these getaway weekends. They're a kind of reboot. The sound of the crashing waves does something for the soul. Plus the chance to be completely off the grid for a few days is rejuvenating, too.
This year I was a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. The nominees for 2015 were just announced this morning
. Congratulations to all those who made the final cut. I still have a little reading and considering to do as we prepare to vote on the winner. It's been an interesting experience, which has exposed me to a number of works I probably wouldn't have otherwise read.
My latest post at News From the Dead Zone
went up on Friday while we were off the grid. Amazing how that happens. I was greeted by an enormous box on the front porch when we returned. It contains over 1000 sheets of paper needing my signature for a project that has yet to be announced but is really cool, I think. I can't wait to see how it turns out.
A couple of weeks ago we watched an interesting documentary called 1971
. It was about a group of "radicals" who decided to break into an F.B.I. substation in Media, PA and steal every document they could find. Which they did, successfully. They then began to dole the documents out to the media, exposing illegal surveillance activities by the agency and ultimately leading to the first Congressional investigation into the F.B.I. They were never caught, despite an intensive search for the culprits. Now that the statute of limitations is long expired, they are telling their story for the first time. I thought it ended a little abruptly, because I would have liked to have known more about the reactions among their friends and colleagues and family members to the truth coming out. I would also like to have heard a little about any discussions they might have had with the ninth conspirator, who dropped out before the plan was executed, about whether he or she would agree to be named. Still, it is a fascinating look at a moment in time. Interesting, too, how these activists have become more conservative over the years. Also fascinating that The Washington Post was the only one of several involved newspapers that agreed to publish the documents. All the other papers, including the New York Times, turned them back over to the FBI.
|Friday, April 22nd, 2016|
|Patience; the virtue of
You get used to rejection letters after a while; in fact, you even grow to expect them. I know that when I submit something, the odds are about 10:1 in favor of it generating a rejection versus an acceptance. So, when I see a response to a submission, my gut tells me to prepare for the worst.
Last night, I received an email response to a submission that had been out for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I had deemed the submission beyond salvation and I had sent the story to a new market.
The original submission was to one of my "bucket list" markets, one I've been trying to crack for as long as I've been writing. And, lo and behold, the email was not
a rejection but an acceptance. What was the first thing I did (after a brief but energetic happy dance in the living room)? Get on my computer and withdraw the submission from the more recent place I'd sent the story. Happy ending: the editor wasn't the least bit put out that I'd withdrawn the story.
The story in question has an interesting genesis. I originally wrote it for a themed anthology, but it didn't make the cut. So I made a second pass at it and de-themed it, which didn't actually take very much doing. I changed the story's location at the same time. And off it went, 323 days ago. Yes, that's right—the story had been in the queue for about 11 months. In this biz, 3-6 months is the norm.
If the story had been accepted by the original market for which it was written, or to the more recent one that I sent it to, it would have earned 1/8 to 1/4 of what it will make in its new home. But it's not specifically about the money. The story will have far greater visibility in its new home, and that's even more important.
I hadn't read the tale in a while, and my wife had never read it at all, so I read it to her last night. It pleases me immensely that she liked it a lot, and I still like it a lot, too. I'm very proud of it, and I look forward to seeing it in print, though that might take a while.
I haven't received the contract yet. That should take another 30 days or so. I'll announce it more officially once that happens.
|Tuesday, April 19th, 2016|
|A Rancher and a Gentleman
We don't often get snow days here in Southeast Texas, but rain days we get. Yesterday we had the (according to one source) rainiest day ever in the Houston area. Harris County, the county that contains Houston and comes to within a few miles of where I live, received enough rain yesterday alone to fuel Niagara Falls for three and a half days.
The rain started Sunday night, and thunder and lightning occurred throughout the night. When I got up at my usual time and looked out the window from my exercise machine, the water was flowing fast and furious in the ditch out front, and the yard was soggy. Our subdivision must be just a few inches higher than everywhere else around us, though, because we've always been able to withstand these heavy storms (10-12" in one day, apparently) without any threat of flooding. Lots of people in the vicinity weren't so lucky. At least five people died, many in their cars when they were inundated or attempted to drive through standing water. The city came to a standstill. All schools closed. All government agencies closed. The IRS is going to try to extend the deadline for people who waited until the last moment and then couldn't make it to the post office to file returns.
I'm always amazed by how much water is involved. Imagine looking out your front window and seeing six, eight, ten feet of water and then try to figure out how much water that involves everywhere around you to achieve that level! That's what it was like in downtown Houston, which is prone to flooding. Apparently we're going to get more rain today and tomorrow—nothing like what we got yesterday, but with the ground saturated, it probably means more flooding. A lot of schools are still closed today because feeder roads and surface roads are still covered in water in a lot of places, and the rivers and bayous are still rising.
This from a storm that didn't even get a name. It wasn't even a tropical depression.
My wife and I like Sam Elliott, so we decided to give the new Netflix series The Ranch
a try. Elliott is the patriarch, Debra Winger plays his somewhat estranged wife (they live apart but they still hook up regularly), and Ashton Kutcher plays the prodigal son who left to pursue a pro football career but now has to slink back home to small town Colorado and nurse his wounds and ego. The "responsible" brother is played by his That 70s Show
costar Danny Masterson, whose brother Chris I met when I visited the set of Haven
a couple of summers ago.
The humor is fairly sophomoric, but it's Debra Winger who saves the show. Elliott is good, but Winger is the only one who plays it straight. She gets some good, funny lines, but she doesn't play them for laughs, with a deliberate pause for yuks. She delivers them like they're normal, regular dialog, and that works so much better. We're five episodes in (out of ten) and we'll probably watch the rest. Not "must-see" TV but it's okay. Sitcoms seem to have left me behind over the years. The lafftrak on this one gets on my nerves. The only sitcom we watch regularly is The Big Bang Theory
and even that one is starting to wear thin. We also came to realize that sitcoms aren't really binge-able. Two episodes in a row is about our limit.
I'm not at all happy to hear that ABC has decided to not renew Stana Katic's contract for Castle
. I'm hoping it is a ploy to build suspense at the end of the season. Nathan Fillion is fun, but Katic has always been the bigger attraction for me. She's the kind of actor who I enjoy watching when the focus is on another character, because she's always doing something interesting. Not upstaging, but she's present in the scene, not waiting to say her lines. The show won't be the same without her. In fact, I can't think of any way for them to have her leave that maintains the show's premise for another season.
Funny thing—we saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "Muir" something or other, which led to a discussion of the TV show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
, which led to the mutual realization that neither of us had ever seen the 1947 movie on which it is based, so we queued it up on Amazon video last night. The TV show was set in Maine, but the original is on the British coast, with Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, and a very young Natalie Wood. Tierney is a feminist in 1900, unwilling to let anyone tell her how she should feel or live. The score was by Bernard Herrmann, which lends the movie a Hitchcockian atmosphere. It's not perfect: Mrs. Muir ignores her daughter for huge chunks of time, and it leaps ahead twice at the end to a kind of saccharine finale, but it was pretty good, if you can adapt to the glacial pacing of the era. The "coarse language" (blasted this and blast that) is amusing.