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|Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016|
I've been reading A.O. Scott's movie reviews in the New York Times
for many years. One of my favorite parts is the rating at the end, wherein he explains what gave rise to the R or PG-13 or whatever. They're usually pithy and funny.
I follow him on Twitter. Today, he posted a link to an article about two celebrities of dubious repute. "I've always wondered what the opposite of clickbait was," he wrote. "Now I know." So I wondered what one would call the opposite of clickbait and, after a couple of seconds, it dawned on me: clickbane. I was gratified when Mr. Scott approved!
The last two times we went to the local multiplex, first to see Arrival
and then again last weekend when we saw The Accountant
, the house lights came up about five minutes before the movie ended. Once we could handle, but it seemed to be becoming a trend, and not a good one. It was as distracting as if a bunch of people around us had suddenly turned on their cell phones. So after the second incident, we sought out a manager to report the problem. He apologized, of course, and gave us a couple of passes for free movies, which was nice. That wasn't what we were looking for, but free is good. We just wanted the problem to stop. I also wrote to the theater chain via their website and received a prompt response. I was glad to hear that the manager had taken our complaint seriously and passed it along to the General Manager, who investigated, found the source of the problem and rectified it. That's good customer service.
As far as The Accountant
—it was okay. My takeaway message was that even if you register somewhere on the autism scale, you, too, can become a deadly and highly efficient assassin. Anna Kendrick was good, and it's always nice to see J. K. Simmons. The surprise reveal toward the end wasn't such a big surprise.
I went to see David Morrell at Murder by the Book
last week. He was promoting the third and final volume in his Thomas De Quincey series, Ruler of the Night
. It was good to visit with him again. I've been fortunate in that I've gotten to spend time with him on a number of occasions over the years, and worked with him as the editor of an anthology containing one of my stories once—and I look forward to reading this latest work.
We finished off the first season of The Crown
on Netflix, which was really very well done. We're also watching a quirky Japanese comedy called Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
. It's an anthology show set in a diner that's only open from midnight to seven a.m. Each week, a different meal or food is featured, and there's a little drama that goes along with it among the patrons of the diner. Apparently it's based on a long-running manga of the same name. It's weird, but we're enjoying it.
Other shows I'm currently watching: The Fall
(I'm four episodes into the most recent season): it's a slow burn this time as they prepare to bring the case against the strangler, who has a most unique potential defense strategy. Gillian Anderson is so much better here than she was in the X-files reboot; Westworld
: Only two episodes left in the first season. It has a kind of Lost
vibe and it has something to say about storytelling; Game of Thrones
: I finally made it to the end of Season 5 and I just received the discs for the most recent season, which goes off the map because they ran out of source material; and The Affair
, which just returned for a third season. The medieval French professor looks like she could be an interesting addition to the story.
|Monday, November 14th, 2016|
I turned in an essay I've been working on for the past couple of weeks today and had it accepted by the editor. It's an introduction to a forthcoming reissue that hasn't quite been announced yet, so I won't say more, except that I had fun working on the piece.
My review of Hearts in Suspension
was posted last week. This is the collection of essays produced by the University of Maine Press to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Stephen King's arrival at the UMO campus. It's fascinating to read all of these reminiscences from that long-ago era, especially considering the era on which we are currently embarking.
We received word today that the audiobook edition of The X-files: The Truth is Out There
won the Voice Arts Award for best narration in an anthology. The readers were Hilary Huber and Bronson Pinchot. That's pretty cool. I haven't yet heard my story in audio, but I think I'll get a copy.
I also found a new review of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film
where the reviewer got a kick out of my somewhat irreverent essay.
We've been enjoying the Netflix series The Crown
, which fictionalizes the early years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. John Lithgow is terrific as Winston Churchill, especially when he's getting dressed down by the young monarch. I'm still having a hard time adjusting to Matt Smith as Prince Philip, but I'm getting there.
On Saturday, we saw the new film Arrival
, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams plays a linguist who is conscripted to help the army attempt to communicate with aliens who have parked a great huge space ship over Montana, one of twelve spread around the world. Renner is a scientist of some ilk, although his character doesn't contribute a lot to the story. It's a fascinating look at how communication works, our relationship with time, and the decisions a person might make given significant information about what is to come. It's based on a Nebula-award winning story by Ted Chiang, and we really enjoyed it. For an alien invasion movie, it wasn't all science-y and shoot-y.
|Tuesday, November 8th, 2016|
|Election Day 2016
I became an American citizen four years ago. The reasons I did so were many and varied, but one of them was because I wanted to vote in the federal election in 2012. I wanted to vote for President Obama. I hadn't been able to in 2008. My wife and I are the same age as he is, and we felt that he was someone who truly represented us. I really liked the guy—and the more I've seen him over the years in various contexts, the more I like him. I don't think we'll see another president like him in our lifetime. Some of you may think that's a good thing—that's okay. That's your right.
This year, I started out with a little less certitude. I liked a lot of things I heard Bernie Sanders say, and I was willing to give him a fair hearing. I had doubts about his electability, and I found him increasingly strident over the course of the campaign. Ultimately, I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, and I do so now in the election. I gave money to her campaign. I happily cast my vote for her about two weeks ago, at the onset of early voting in Texas.
A number of people are commenting on the preponderance of campaign signs for the Republican candidate. Often this is in areas where that guy has strong support, so it isn't surprising. However, I think there may be another explanation in some places.
Four years ago, I affixed a magnetic Obama/Biden campaign sticker to the back of my car. An elderly woman accosted me in the parking lot of a local Walmart. She swore at me and she cussed out the president. She vanished before I had a chance to respond—even though I'd formulated a response that would have satisfied me, if not her. I would have said: I became a citizen so I could express my opinion, have a say in the political process. But she was gone, and she probably wouldn't have listened to me, anyway.
Sometime thereafter, someone removed the magnetic sticker from the back of my car. I probably got off easy.
I have stickers and other campaign material that I could use to show my support for the Democratic candidate. However, I didn't dare put them anywhere public. In this environment, I thought it would be like waving a red flag. I figured at a minimum, it would get my car keyed or otherwise defaced. So if you don't see a Clinton/Kaine sign on our front lawn, it's because I don't want someone to vandalize our house, not because we don't support her.
At least it's not as bad here as in some places, where if you don't have a sign supporting the Republican candidate you get nasty-grams from the extremists.
|Tuesday, November 1st, 2016|
|Shining in the Dark
We had a most enjoyable Hallowe'en. It was quite mild, so we put a couple of folding chairs in the driveway and sat outside with glasses of wine and a bowl of candy, waiting for the little ones to come to us. I liked that a lot better than sitting inside and having to respond to the door every time the bell rang, as we've done in the past. I think it encouraged more people to stop by, too. We got to meet some new neighbors and had fun with the little costumed tykes. We didn't get many older kids. Virtually no teenagers, but a good run of toddlers. More Iron Man costumes than anything else, although we had our fair share of princesses.
Between visits, my wife played one of her favorite 70s-era disco compilation CDs and we danced in the driveway. We shut down a little after 8 pm when it seemed like we weren't going to be getting any more visitors.
Lilja and CD announced yesterday the publication of the new anthology Shining in the Dark
, which celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Lilja's Library website. In addition to stories from Stephen King ("The Blue Air Compressor), Poe, Jack Ketchum & PD Cacek, Brian Keene, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stewart O'Nan, Brian Freeman, Rich Chizmar and Kevin Quigley, there's a new story from me called "Aeliana."
|Thursday, October 27th, 2016|
|Gonna buy five copies
I received a copy of the new double issue (#74/75) of Cemetery Dance
magazine the other night, and it is a beauty to behold. I thought I'd contributed "only" four items to this issue, but it turns out I have a fifth, surprise essay in it:
- News from the Dead Zone column
- Interview with Joe Hill
- The Fireman featured review
- End of Watch featured review
- A Man's Heart is Stonier (Stephen King Revisited)
As it happens, I also have an update to the online version of News from the Dead Zone
. Check it out!
I also posted a new book review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye
by Michael Connelly.
Early voting started in Texas on Monday morning at 8:00 am. We decided we wanted to be done with this election, so we showed up at 7:45 after spending a couple of hours on the weekend researching the down-ballot candidates. The railroad commissioner does what
, exactly? There were about 50 people in line ahead of us when we got there, and many more arrived while we waited. The doors opened on time and we were in and out in about twenty minutes. No hiccups or delays. Glad to have that behind us. This was my second time voting in a presidential election. It's always a thrill.
We watched the second season of The Ranch
, starring Sam Elliott, Aston Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Elisha Cuthbert and Debra Winger. It's an okay series. It certainly tries hard, sometimes a little too hard. I've been watching another series called Spotless
, a joint French-British production about a guy who runs a crime scene cleanup company in London. He and his brother are from France originally, and his brother arrives with a dead body stuffed with drugs, which is simultaneously the solution to a lot of problems and the source of many others. The series also features Brendan Coyle, who was Mr. Bates on Downton Abbe
y, as a sort of gentleman anarchist crime lord. Enjoying it so far. Also looking forward to the return of The Fall
on Netflix this weekend. Trying to keep up with Westworld
, but there aren't enough hours in the day...
|Tuesday, October 11th, 2016|
|Turkey Pot Roast?
Had a nice three-day weekend. On Sunday, we decided on the spur of the moment to spend the day in Huntsville State Park, about 45 miles north of us. It's a place where we've spent time over the years, but not so much recently. We made a light lunch, packed only our folding chairs, and spent the afternoon sitting on the edge of the lake under some trees. There was a light breeze, no flies to speak of, and the sounds of families having a good time all around us. I liked watching the cranes stilt-walking through the lake, occasionally dipping their heads in to claim some food. I also wrote the first three pages of a new short story.
Then we went home and watched the debate, which was not very relaxing at all.
I had yesterday off. Our company has always given us Columbus Day, which is also Canadian Thanksgiving. In the morning I finished the first draft of the short story I'd begun the day before and in the afternoon I did some yard work. I also finished the last two episodes of the second season of Happy Valley
, which is a decent crime series with the most ironic title ever. A friend commented that one of the things he likes most about the series is how the characters look so real—not at all glamorous. Warts and all. And accents thick enough to cut with a knife. The revelation of the identity of the serial killer wasn't a huge surprise, but the way that turned out, as well as the fate of the copycat were surprises.
We don't cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, there being only the two of us, but our grocery's deli usually has a nice cooked turkey breast at the heating station where the roasted chickens are. When I went yesterday, the station was almost empty, but there was something they called a turkey pot roast. I had no idea what that could be, but I took it anyway. It looked like a roast, sort of oblong and roundish. I figured it would be some kind of processed turkey when I cut into it but, much to our surprise and delight, it was delicious. It was the leg/thigh portion of the turkey, all dark meat (which I don't normally like). Very moist and falling off the bone cooked to perfection. I'd definitely try that again.
I also watched the new Netflix documentary about the Amanda Knox story. They interview Knox, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, a defense lawyer and a journalist named Nick Pisa, as well as the occasional other interview with DNA specialists, etc. It's only 90 minutes and a little superficial, but I was surprised to be reminded that Knox and Sollecito had only known each other for five days before the murder took place. Also, to hear Magnini, in his own words, explain the arbitrary, random things that made him suspect Knox in the first place. None of it was based on evidence; it was about the way she acted around him. I think he read more Freud than Sherlock Holmes, although he professed a fondness for the latter.
The person who came off the worst was Nick Pisa, the British "journalist" with the Daily Mail who stumbled upon a story that suddenly got him a lot of attention. Front page stories with tawdry headlines. Everything the police fed to him, he published without any filter whatsoever. No confirmation. He comes right out and says, "It's not as if I can say, 'Right, hold on a minute. I just wanna double-check that myself in some other way,'" because to do so would mean that he might miss his scoop.
I think Occam's Razor applies to this case, and the simple explanation is that Rudy Guede, a known burglar, whose DNA was found all over the victim's room, including in her body, was the sole perpetrator. He admitted to being there but tried to say that someone else broke in while he was there and killed the young woman while he was in the bathroom. His story holds no water, and he stated that Knox wasn't present and then changed his story when it suited his purposes. No DNA evidence placed Amanda Knox in that bedroom, even though she lived in the same apartment.
Ultimately, the perceived interference in the "sovereign nation's" judicial system by American interests (the current Republican presidential candidate suggested boycotting Italy at the time) made the prosecutor double down and cling to his belief. The lawyer who defended Guede was equally dismissive of American intervention in the case. He points to a building from 1308, the first faculty of law in Europe, at which time, he says, people in America were in caves painting buffalo. Fortunately, cooler and more logical heads prevailed, though it took many years for the case to be dismissed once and for all and the acquittals upheld.
|Wednesday, October 5th, 2016|
|Chaba the Hutt
It was an interesting weekend because we were following the track of the hurricane. Not Matthew, thought I'm aware that one is threatening the coast, but Chaba, on the other side of the world. It was of interest to us because, for a while, it had Okinawa directly in its sights, and that's where our daughter and her family live.
The interesting thing about typhoons, unlike tornadoes, is that you have quite a bit of advanced notice, so we were able to communicate our concern and relay our advice. We've been through this a couple of times ourselves, here in southeast Texas, so we knew what things might be important. We had a Skype call with them on Sunday night/Monday morning, several hours before the storm was supposed to hit. Fortunately, it drifted farther west than early predictions indicated and it mostly missed Okinawa proper. It turned into a non-event for them, fortunately. Another interesting adventure living in Japan. That's not to dismiss the storm: it caused a lot of damage and several deaths in Korea, and it is still supposed to strike "mainland" Japan, though much diminished.
I received an email from USA Network advising that they had the entire season of Motive
available for binge-watching last weekend. So I did. It's not a very well known show, but I've always enjoyed it. It is produced by CTV and filmed in Vancouver, though they down-played the Canadian setting in the early seasons. ABC picked up the first couple of seasons in the US, which is where I discovered it. I'm not sure if I saw Season 3 at all, because it vanished for a long time. Then USA got the fourth season, which apparently did fairly well for them. They even decided to request a fifth season, but by then production had already shut down, since CTV decided Season 4 would be the last. The final season really does bring the series to a satisfactory conclusion.
The conceit of the show is that, during the cold open, the audience is introduced to the killer and the victim, absent any context. We don't know how their paths will cross or why one wants to kill the other. Then the murder investigation starts and the able detectives of the homicide squad pull it all together. Kristin Lehman (The Killing
) and Louis Ferreira (Declan on Breaking Bad
) are the detectives, though his character, Vega, is promoted to sergeant in the final season. Lauren Holly is the ME. Tommy Flanagan (Chib from Sons of Anarchy
) appears as an Interpol agent for several episodes. Lehman is really good in this role. She has a natural style of acting that makes her seem genuine and honest. I bet they had a great time on the set. They had some strong guest stars as victims and killers in the final season, including Joanna Cassidy, Max Martini (The Unit
), Alicia Witt (Justified
), plus actors you'd probably recognize if you were a Canadian.
I also watched the first episode of Westworld
on HBO, the series remake of the Michael Crichton movie that starred Yul Brynner. It's a lavish series with an interesting cast that includes Anthony Hopkins (who made me think of Malcolm McDowell the first time I saw him), Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Sidse Babett Knudsen (from the Danish series Borgen) and Ed Harris as the mysterious man in black. It's a fascinating premise, exploring the notion of when does an android stop being an object and start being an entity deserving of respect and basic human consideration. It'll be interesting to see where it goes.
|Monday, September 26th, 2016|
|The Search for Spock
My wife had to call AAA yesterday when her car wouldn't start. They told her someone would be there in 30 minutes and gave her a hyperlink so she could monitor the responder's location. The guy got there not in 30 minutes, but in five. And he had just the right battery among his gear to replace hers. Quite impressed with the service.
I posted my review of The Girl from Venice
by Martin Cruz Smith, who is best known for his Arkady Renko books set in Russia (including Gorky Park
). This is a standalone set in northern Italy in the closing weeks of World War II.
I finally (finally
!) finished the fifth Game of Thrones novel, having put it aside several times to read other things. We're about halfway through the fourth season of the TV series. We'll probably pause there to watch the new season of Longmire
on Netflix. I also have just one episode of the second season of Narcos
left to watch.
We watched the documentary For the Love of Spock
on VOD this weekend. It was directed by Adam Nimoy, son of Leonard. It started out as an exploration of the fictional character, but then Leonard Nimoy died in the midst of this project, so Adam decided to expand it to include some of his father's life as well. It's quite—as Spock would say—fascinating. Nimoy cast a wide net when it came to interview subjects, including Nimoy's brother and daughter, many original cast members as well as the cast of the recent reboot, JJ Abrams, and a few random people like Jason Alexander. We were impressed by the massive block of credits. I only just realized that these were the people who had responded to the crowd-funding campaign to raise over $600,000 to cover the cost of licensing the photographs and video clips included in the documentary. Over 9000 people contributed, some as much as $10k, for which they got an associate producer credit.
|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.